IDF Soldiers IDF soldiers take part in Operation Protective Edge.. (photo credit: Anna Golikov)

As Israel goes to the polls Elliot Murphy looks at the ongoing cost of last year’s assault on Gaza

As Israel goes to the polls it is worth looking at the some of the facts that have surfaced about the reality and aftermath of last year’s assault on Gaza, information which is unlikely to feature much in the election coverage.

In the month that Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for the UN Secretary-General, called on Israel and Egypt to lift the siege imposed on Gaza, it is useful and instructive to review Dujarric’s possible reasons. A look at Israeli-Palestinian relations since the horrific and brutal Operation Protective Edge last summer presents us with no shortage of justifications for Dujarric’s actions, and as Israelis go to the polls it is worth considering what a fourth term for Netanyahu would mean for the Palestinian people.

Operation Protective Edge was launched on July 8th and claimed the lives of over 2,150 Palestinians, including over 500 children, while wounding thousands more and causing massive damage to basic infrastructure. The reasons for the Israeli offensive are by now well understood.

In April 2014, Gaza’s Hamas and Ramallah’s Palestinian Authority formed a national consensus government under the authority of Mahmoud Abbas. This created new avenues for an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement, but as Norman Finkelstein notes, ‘the very last thing Netanyahu wants is a reasonable Hamas’ which might comply with Israel’s demands.

After the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers, Netanyahu et al found the perfect excuse to begin shelling Gaza. A ground invasion followed on July 17th. Amnesty International described the subsequent 51-day offensive by pointing to the ‘war crimes’ and ‘human rights violations’ perpetrated by the Israeli state, which engaged in a form of ‘collective punishment’ (a term also used by Nick Clegg) against the impoverished Gazans. More notoriously, the IDF initiated ‘targeted attacks on schools sheltering civilians and other civilian buildings that the Israeli forces claimed were used by Hamas as command centres or to store or fire rockets’.

Makarim Wibisono, a leading UN human rights expert, announced on September 29th that ‘Israel’s claim of self-defense against an occupied population living under a blockade considered to be illegal under international law is untenable’ – as assessment echoed by large numbers of Western human rights groups and NGOs. The Israeli authorities refused to co-operate with a UN Human Rights Council investigation into Protective Edge.

Gaza higher educational institutions were also the subject of relentless bombing, prohibited under international law. Student deaths (421) accounted for 27.4% of the total deaths during Protective Edge. Save the Children detailed how ‘An average of 12 children were killed and 77 were injured every day–25 of whom were left with permanent disabilities. On a daily basis, an average of six schools were shelled, 435 families lost their homes, and 37 children were orphaned’.

Over a month after Netanyahu had given the military permission to use ‘full force’ against Gaza (‘When there is no cease-fire, our answer is fire’), a ceasefire brokered by the US and Egypt formally came into place on August 26th, but the violence continued regardless of whether it was accompanied by a formal title.

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights  revealed that Israel repeatedly violated the terms of peaceful settlement during the month after the ceasefire. Attacks on Gaza during September occurred at a rate of over one per day, including attacks on Palestinian fishermen, while Palestinians fired not a single ‘rocket’ (or ‘hand-made projectile’, more accurately) during the same period. Shots continued to be fired into Gaza in the subsequent months. Then on November 18th an Israeli settler shot and seriously injured a sixteen year-old Palestinian after a settler demonstration at Beitin village.

It was later revealed in late January by B’Tselem that IDF soldiers were deliberately provoking Palestinians by sniping them with 0.22 inch calibre bullets – less deadly than conventional ammunition but still potentially lethal. In one particular case, soldiers ‘took action designed to provoke youths to throw stones, ultimately enabling the soldiers to respond with gunfire, wounding the youths’. In an important contribution,Ceasefire’s Hicham Yezza eloquently detailed the names of four dead Palestinian children killed whilst playing football during the siege, noting the general lack of media sympathy compared to the handful of injured Israelis.

During the bombing, 360 of Gaza’s 2,695 factories and workshops were damaged, and 126 of them were completely devastated. There is zero hope of a swift, substantial economic recovery. Meanwhile, Bethlehem is subject to increasing fragmentation, according to an OCHA report. 85% of it is Israeli-controlled (Area C) with the majority of it being ‘off limits for Palestinian development, including almost 38% declared as “firing zones”, 34% designated as “nature reserves”, and nearly 12% allocated for settlement development’.

Intensifying the degradation, the IDF recently cancelled the West Bank’s status as a ‘firing zone’ in order for it to continue the expansion of the Ma’aleh Adumin settlement. According to Haaretz, work has ‘already begun’ on the construction of 88 housing units.

A recent IMF report detailed how Gaza’s economy contracted 15% for the first time since 2006, and unemployment levels have drastically soared. Poverty has reached such a height that Gaza’s children are dying in the streets from hypothermia . In the months after Protective Edge, supplies entering Gaza reached only 3.9% of total needs, according to a Gisha report in January, with over 70% of Gazans relying on humanitarian aid.

Ben White described the situation the following month: ‘In the week of 10-16 February, the quantity of goods entering the Gaza Strip through the Israeli-controlled Kerem Shalom crossing was a mere 38% of the pre-blockade levels. The same week, just one truckload of goods exited Gaza: the average pre-blockade was 240’.  Unsurprisingly, Colonel Einav Shalev explained to the Knesset in May 2014 that the IDF’s tactic of confiscating Palestinian-directed humanitarian aid was ‘a punch in the right places’, a comment indicative of the perversity of the settler colonialist mentality.

On October 16th, the IDF shot dead 13-year-old Bahaa Samir Badir in Beit Laqiya. As White bleakly summarised, ‘No rockets = no news’. Three days later, 5-year-old Inas Khalil in Sinjil was ran over and killed by an Israeli settler. On October 24th, Israeli forces shot dead 14-year-old Orwa Hammad in Silwad. According to UN data, Israeli forces injured 454 Palestinians, the vast majority of them in East Jerusalem, between October 28th and November 10th. On November 13th, Israeli forces shot an 11-year-old boy, blinding him in one eye.

The next day, a 10-year-old girl was shot in her car, fracturing her skull – news which would have caused an international scandal had the girl been Israeli. Marwan Bishara recently wrote that, ‘Generally, the practitioners of horror are of two types, thuggish and exhibitionist – medieval style, or, cynical and stealth, modern style’. Yet the IDF manages to be brutal beyond belief during official sieges, before returning to cunning silence as its snipers carefully rob the Palestinians of their children. 

The Wikipedia entry for Operation Protective Edge states the Israeli received ‘armaments support’ from the US, but it also received substantial support from the UK. The UK sold £6.3 million-worth of arms to Israel in 2013, some of which have been used in the attacks on Gaza, facilitating, aiding, and justifying Israel’s war crimes. In February, activists occupied an Instro Precision factory in Kent, owned by the Israeli arms firm Elbit Systems (the supplier of 85% of the drones used in Protective Edge), responding to the BDS call for solidarity. Indeed, 37% of the Palestinian deaths during Protective Edge were caused by drone fire.

The formal IDF ‘operations’ in Gaza may be over for now, but Israel’s regime of occupation (or ‘colonisation’, as Ilan Pappé has corrected), apartheid policies and ethnic discrimination remains. The boycotting of firms ranging from Hewlett Packard  (which produces numerous IT systems for the IDF) to Caterpillar (which produces the bulldozers used to demolish Palestinian homes) to Eden Springs (which runs a plant in an illegal settlement) to Veolia  (which helps operate the Jerusalem Light Rail) should be seen as answering the direct call of the majority of Palestinians.

There is also evidence that the British public are becoming increasingly hostile to Israel’s negotiating behaviour, with twice as many Britons being likely to blame Israel over the Palestinians for the continuation of violence. But as with most issues of human consequence, the gulf between public opinion and state action is substantial. In early March, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond responded to concerns that Israeli land developments were blocking a peace agreement by announcing, rather blithely, that the settlements are ‘just buildings’, and so shouldn’t ‘stand in the way of a sustainable solution’.

Shortly after Protective Edge, a number of Palestinian organisations issued a call for the intensification of BDS measures:

‘We urge you to stand with the Palestinian people in its entirety and to demand that Israel be held accountable for the war crimes and crimes against humanity it has committed and continues to commit against the Palestinian people everywhere. We urge you to intensify boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaigns to further isolate Israel economically, militarily, academically and culturally’.

If responsibility is conferred with privilege, position and power, then those who are fortunate enough to be granted spare time and income should heed the calls of the dispossessed, and begin to educate and motivate those around them to play a part, however small, in the undermining and dismantling of Israel’s settler colonialism.

Elliot Murphy

Elliot Murphy is a postgraduate neurolinguistics student at UCL. He has written for Ceasefire, New Left Project, ZNet, The Linguistic Review, and he holds a first-class English degree from the University of Nottingham. His book Unmaking Merlin: Anarchist Tendencies in English Literature has been published by Zero Books.

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