What's Left
July 24, 2002

How long before the latest Israeli atrocity is consigned to the memory hole?

By Stephen Gowans

Even Washington had to admit the country it regularly runs interference for had stepped embarrassingly far over the line.

"This was a deliberate attack on the site knowing that innocents would be lost in the consequence of the attack," remarked White House spokesmen Ari Fleischer.

Fifteen died, nine of them children, including a two-month old and a 15-month old, after an Israeli F-16 fired a one-ton bomb at a dwelling in Gaza occupied by Salah Shehada, a founder of Hamas.

The bomb hit at night, when residents of one of the most densely packed neighborhoods on earth were asleep. Afterwards, four apartment buildings were demolished, and half a dozen others were damaged beyond repair.

Some reports claimed that at least 140 were injured.

Israel Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, evincing unbridled chutzpah, claimed "The information we had was that there were no civilians near him." What he meant to say is, "The information we have is that people will believe anything."

For his part, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon crowed, "This operation was in my view one of our biggest successes."

World leaders were less enthusiastic.

Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh condemned the operation as "a crime against international law."

Javier Solana, head of foreign policy for the 15-member European Union,  called the attack "an extra-judicial operation, which targeted a densely populated area."

Even George W. Bush was critical, denouncing the bombing as "a heavy handed action that is not consistent with dedication to peace."

Little else Israel does, or has done, is consistent with a dedication to peace, (except a dedication to peace on Israel's terms alone), but that seemed to have slipped Bush's very short attention span. Having not too long ago hailed Sharon as "a man of peace," one wonders whether the occupant of the Oval Office now feels he has egg on his face.  But anyone who could describe Sharon as a man of peace, after the former general led Israel's invasion of Lebanon and then stood by as refugees at Sabra and Shatilla were slaughtered by Christian Falangists, must surely have a Teflon face to which egg never clings. It quickly runs off, never noticed, by either Bush or the compliant Americans who think "patriotism" is believing whatever dross their president utters.

Israel, claiming the world holds it to a higher standard, fired back, comparing its operation to US air strikes in Afghanistan that have killed thousands of civilians.

Fleischer replied with the codswallop he invariably belches up whenever US hypocrisy is pointed out. "It isn't accurate to compare the two," Fleisher blustered. "It is always, no matter what the target, America's policy that we have military operations that always focus on minimizing the loss of civilian casualties."

Funny, that's what the Israelis say.

And yet, somehow, civilians, for all the minimizing of civilian casualties, whether Afghans attending a wedding, or Palestinians asleep in their beds,  keep getting blown away.

Still, if the politicos invoke bold rhetoric to defend the indefensible, they're no match for the media, whose devotion to propping up established power and authority, is unqualified.

David Warren, a columnist with The Ottawa Citizen, weighed in two days after the attack with a breathtakingly bold apologia that ran under the headlines, "Strike aimed to cause least casualties" and "Israel's only other option was a ground attack that would have resulted in far more injuries."

Anyone claiming the use of a one-ton bomb was aimed to cause the least casualties is either vying to win this year's Orwell Awards, or is an arrant imbecile, or both.

Or he's constitutionally unable to see there was indeed an alternative: not to attack. Or better yet, to end the occupation, dismantle the settlements and settle the refugee problem in accordance with international law. Or better still: abandon the whole Zionist settler project altogether.

Or -- and this seems more likely in Warren's case -- the brazen claim represents a human frailty as old as hierarchical societies themselves: sucking up to established power in hopes of receiving a few scraps from the master's table. Warren's master, it might be noted, is Izzy Asper, the newspaper's owner, an ardent supporter of Israel.

But there's something even more obnoxious about Warren's claim than its sophistry; there's also the implicit assumption that frames his odious apology: Israel's use of force is legitimate.

Sharon claimed the operation was a justifiable act of self-defense (the nine children killed, including the pair under two-years of age, presumably posing an imminent threat that Israel had to immediately preempt) and Warren accepts the basis of the view: Israel has a right, moral or otherwise, to target Palestinians for assassination.

(To forestall those who claim that all Palestinians are would-be terrorists, and therefore, the killing of any Palestinian, no matter how young, is always justified on pre-emptive grounds, consider this:  By the same logic the genocidal extermination of all Palestinians is justified.)

The view that pre-emptive attacks are legitimate, much as it comforts those who cultivate the absurd idea that historical anti-Semitism gives Israel the right to do whatever it pleases, is no different than White House flak Fleischer's "it's never a crime when the US does it" -- transparently self-serving twaddle.

Legally, Israel has no right to assassinate. "Targeted killings" is the euphemism Israel's supporters prefer, but the murders are extra-judicial; they're carried out in bold defiance of international law governing how occupied people are to be treated.

But then, where Israel is concerned, international law is worth no more than the paper it is written on.

As an occupying power, Israel is not supposed to demolish homes, or mete out collective punishment, or round up males of fighting age, or arrest the relatives of suicide bombers. Still, it does.

It's not supposed to build settlements on occupied territory, but it has.

It mustn't deny Palestinian refugees the right to return to their land, but it absolutely insists the right be denied, and tars as anti-Semitic those who defend the right.

And it shouldn't occupy Palestinian territory, but occupy it, it does.

To add insult to injury,  international law says an occupied people has a right to use force to throw off an occupation. Instead, legitimate force used by Palestinians to end the occupation is decried as terrorism, while the illegitimate use of force by Israel to enforce occupation and the abridgment of Palestinian rights is called justifiable self-defense.

It's brazen, it's mendacious, and it's Orwellian. It turns the truth on its head. The terrorized become terrorists; the Davids become Goliaths; the criminals become the victims; the racists become the aggrieved.

In view of the impotence of international law to constrain the behavior of Israel's leaders, it  might be more helpful were the roots of the conflict put in more naturalistic terms: You (or rather, ordinary Israelis, who unfortunately are thrust into the frontlines to take the heat) will stop being stung, when you stop plundering the hive for its honey.

But David Warren's unapologetically pro-Israeli position is a far cry from the more subtle and insidious defense typical of North America's media.

Contrast the way Israel's slaughter of 15 Palestinian civilians has been presented with the way Palestinian suicide bomb attacks are portrayed.

The morning after the F-16 attack, my morning newspaper, The (Toronto) Globe and Mail, ran a short headline under the fold that read:

"Hamas leader's home bombed."

This might compare to a headline about a suicide bombing reading, "Bomb set off inside restaurant."

The text of the story that followed referred to the destruction of "multi-story buildings," not apartment buildings or homes, and there were no photographs of the devastation. Yet, photographs of the bloody aftermath of suicide bombings are almost always run on the front page.

A more honest headline would have read: "Israeli jet attacks apartment buildings, killing over a dozen, injuring over 100."

But "Hamas leader's home bombed" seems almost insignificant, and certainly fails to capture the magnitude of the devastation, or the crime.

Moreover, while suicide bombings are invariably denounced in no uncertain terms, the Israeli F-16 attack was accompanied by discussion of whether the attack was justifiable, as if somehow it quite possibly could have been. The newspaper noted that Palestinians regularly launch mortar attacks on Jewish settlements,  presumably justifying a reckless attack on a crowded neighborhood by a jet fighter. And characteristically, the nature of the settlements -- illegal, racist, and provocative -- was overlooked.

The next day, with uniformly negative reaction from around the world pouring in, a follow-up story ran, again under the fold, and this time under the equally unimpressive headline:

"Hamas vows revenge after leader's killing."

"Israel's one-ton bomb attack on crowded Gaza neighborhood condemned by world leaders" would have been a more apt summing up of the article's text, but the editors decided to go with the usual "the middle East is an endless cycle of violence," angle, which it is, though largely because the United States is assiduous in its efforts to block the international community from pressuring Israel to comply with international law, or to even do something as mild as stationing UN observers in occupied territory.

Astonishingly, the much vilified former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic is now on trial for war crimes allegedly ordered in connection with an anti-insurgency campaign against a KLA the US State Department branded, in 1998, as a terrorist organization with ties to Osama bin Laden. Milosevic did not order an invasion and occupation--Kosovo is a province of Serbia--and agreed to international observers, long before NATO decided "Milosevic needed some bombing." Although in NATO's estimation Milosevic may have needed some bombing, the hundreds, if not thousands, of civilians who perished in the attacks, didn't. But then, like Israel's atrocities, the bombings, though "deliberate attacks knowing that innocents would be lost in the consequence of the attacks" were justified, because, well, that's just the way it is: Our crimes aren't crimes.

Compare Milosevic's treatment to Sharon's and the KLA's to Hamas's. While carrying out attacks on civilians and police every bit as bloody as those carried out by Palestinians on Israeli civilians and soldiers, the KLA was never branded as terrorists by the US, or the Western press.

And Milosevic was never called "a man of peace," exercising a legitimate right to self-defense, though his claim to self-defense was a far cry more compelling than Sharon's.  On the contrary, he has been called a "war criminal, a "thug," a "strongman," and though he never ordered attack helicopters and fighter jets to fire missiles into densely populated neighborhoods, much worse. Moreover, he violated no international law, while Israel is in breach of many, and has been for decades.

Sharon, a thug, a strongman, a war criminal, and a man whose commitment to peace is as thin as a Zionist's commitment to a secular, multi-racial state in historic Palestine where all are equal no matter what their religion, has much to answer for, as too does a US foreign policy that allows Israel to, contrary to pro-Israeli propaganda, be held to no standard at all, except the standard of whatever brutal violence and mind-numbing deception it can get away with.

As proof of this, the magnitude of the latest Israeli outrage will soon be forgotten in North America; the US and UK will continue to funnel a king's ransom to Israel for the purchase of arms so that more one-ton bombs can be dropped on more crowded neighborhoods, and whatever slight tarnish Israel now has on its undeserved reputation for being a tolerant, democratic, moral bellwether in the Middle East, will be erased, consigned, in Orwellian terms, to the memory hole.


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