Israel’s Defense Turned War Crimes

Here’s a piece I wrote that didn’t get printed by the CW, but here it is for you!

This article is being written on July 24 for the August/September issue of the Catholic Worker – 18 days after the beginning of the Israel-Palestine conflict. The first draft was written on the second day of bombardments with about 50 fatalities in Palestine and 0 in Israel. Days have now become weeks and dozens killed have become hundreds killed – 650+ Palestinians, 29 Israeli soldiers, and 2 Israeli civilians. On average, 50 people are now being killed everyday.

The United Nation’s Inadvertent War

Jews in Tel Aviv celebrate following the UN’s decision to partition Palestine / Nov. 30, 1947. (Photo: Jim Pringle/AP)

Jews in Tel Aviv celebrate following the UN’s decision to partition Palestine / Nov. 30, 1947. (Photo: Jim Pringle/AP)

This is not a war between Jews and Muslims. The conflict has been going on since the early 1900s, when the mostly-Arab, mostly-Muslim region was part of the Ottoman Empire and, starting in 1917, a “mandate” run by the British Empire. Hundreds of thousands of Jews were moving into the area, as a part of Zionism among mostly European Jews to escape persecution and establish their own state in their ancestral homeland.

In 1947, the United Nations approved a plan to divide British Palestine into two mostly independent countries, one for Jews called Israel and one for Arabs called Palestine. Jerusalem, holy city for Jews and Muslims, was to be a special international zone.

The plan was never implemented. Arab leaders in the region saw it as European colonial theft and, in 1948, invaded to keep Palestine unified. The Israeli forces won the 1948 war, but they pushed well beyond the UN-designated borders to claim land that was to have been part of Palestine, including the western half of Jerusalem. They also uprooted and expelled entire Palestinian communities, creating about 700,000 refugees, whose descendants now number 7 million and are still considered refugees.

Palestinian Civilians Endure the Brunt of this War

This is just the latest round of fighting in 27 years of war between Israel and Hamas. After some Israeli extremists murdered a Palestinian youth in Jerusalem and Israeli security forces cracked down on protests, compounding Palestinian outrage, Hamas and other Gaza groups launched dozens of rockets into Israel, which responded with many more air strikes.

While Israel targets militants and Hamas targets civilians, Israel’s disproportionate military strength and its willingness to target militants based in dense urban communities means that Palestinians civilians are far more likely to be killed than any other group.

More than 4,000 have been wounded, nearly 500 homes have been destroyed by Israeli air strikes and 100,000 people have sought shelter in schools of the UN Relief and Works Agency, where they need food, water and mattresses. Israel has also struck 46 schools, 56 mosques and seven hospitals.

According to an assessment by aid workers on ground at least 107,000 children need psycho-social support for the trauma they are experiencing such as death, injury or loss of their homes,” said Jens Laerke, spokesman of the UN Office for Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA).

A Ground Invasion is Launched

Hearts sank when it was reported on July 17 that the Israel Defense Force (IDF) would begin a ground invasion. RT began a live video feed of Gaza City. It was like watching a scene from a post-apocalyptic film. Imagine your city without pedestrians crossing streets, the whooshing sounds of cars passing by intermixed with the occasional honk, and the sound of children playing. Replace that with soft howls from the wind, smoke circling from the rubble to the skies and in the distance, booming sounds from bombs.

The ground invasion came hours after diplomatic efforts in Cairo to negotiate a long-term truce between Israel and Hamas failed. It was Israel’s first ground incursion into Gaza since January 2009, when it engaged in a three-week battle with Hamas that killed more than 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.

Rafah, Gaza Strip (Photo: Associated Press)

Rafah, Gaza Strip (Photo: Associated Press)

Approximately 100 people in midtown Manhattan, some sitting in chairs and some on the floors, crowded together for an Iftar fundraiser following the first night of the ground invasion. Iyad Burnat – head of the Bil’in Popular Committee against the Wall — which has led weekly demonstrations since 2005 against the Israeli West Bank barrier joined via Voice Call from the Gaza Strip. People solemnly watched as graphic images of war were projected on a screen in conjunction with Burnat’s call – some heads hung low, avoiding the photographs we have seen and cried from all week. In the distance, some booms can be heard as Burnat speaks:

We haven’t slept. We watch the lights. We ask why us? Why not somewhere else? What if this were happening in America? The children are scared and can’t sleep. They don’t understand why this is happening.

Burnat disconnected from the call after hearing an echo of his own voice which meant IDF was listening. Internet has been disrupted, power has been limited and water towers were demolished during an already existing water crisis. In 2012, a UN report had warned that as much as 95 percent of the water in Gaza is not fit for drinking. Gazans had to rely on contaminated ground water or expensive water purchased from Israel and received only a fraction of the water that the World Health Organization deemed necessary to sustain life.

A father of one of the three child victims of Israeli airstrikes in Gaza cries during the funeral. The series of Israeli airstrikes in the Gaza strip kills more and more innocent victims, July 17, 2014. (Photo: Cesar Gorriz / Getty Images)

A father of one of the three child victims of Israeli airstrikes in Gaza cries during the funeral. The series of Israeli airstrikes in the Gaza strip kills more and more innocent victims, July 17, 2014. (Photo: Cesar Gorriz / Getty Images)

The third day of the ground invasion, taking place on July 27, was the deadliest day yet of Israel’s two-week onslaught, with at least 110 Palestinians – including 72 in eastern Gaza City’s residential area of Shijaiyah – killed in devastating air and artillery attacks.

28 members of a family were killed in one strike, 11 people in an attack on a high-rise building and four in the shelling of a hospital, medics said.

An elderly woman and her brother were among those killed in three separate raids targeting Bureij and Al-Maghazi in central Gaza, and Rafah in the south.

Photojournalist Khaled Hamad, 25, and medic Fouad Jaber, 28, were killed in the ongoing Israeli shelling. Hamad was killed as he covered the situation on the ground in the district although he was wearing a vest clearly marked “press,” while Jaber died when the Israeli artillery targeted an ambulance trying to evacuate the injured from the embattled residential district.

The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) reported,”With heavy hearts AFSC staff around the world mourns the untimely death of Abdullah Mansor Abu Amara, killed on Sunday July 20th by Israeli military forces in Gaza. Abdullah, 22 years old was an active member of AFSC’s Palestinian Youth: Together for Change project in Gaza and had plans of becoming a lawyer.

The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) reported,”With heavy hearts AFSC staff around the world mourns the untimely death of Abdullah Mansor Abu Amara, killed on Sunday July 20th by Israeli military forces in Gaza. Abdullah, 22 years old was an active member of AFSC’s Palestinian Youth: Together for Change project in Gaza and had plans of becoming a lawyer.

Palestine, We Hear You

Amid tears, including from Al Jazeera veteran correspondent Wael Al-Dahdouh, who walked off camera while recounting deaths of Shijaiyah residents, comes thousands of people protesting for Palestine from Istanbul, Egypt, Japan, Poland, Chili, Scotland, Bangladesh, Morocco, Chicago, Berlin, Brussels, Mauritius, South Africa. In London, a sea of signs calling to “end the siege in Gaza” swam with red, white, green, and black flags with 100,000 people rallying to the Israeli embassy. Demonstrations continue almost daily in New York City.

After French authorities banned Pro-Palestine protests in select cities, NPA and the organizations Europalestine and Indigènes de la République insisted on parading. Thousands of protesters marched from Paris’ Barbès district to Bastille Square to express their support to the Palestinian people and to denounce the Israeli attacks on Gaza. Clashes with the police erupted towards the end of the day, after a group of pro-Palestinian demonstrators made its way to two neighboring synagogues to fight with members of the Jewish Defense League — an organization of far-right religious-political militants.

On July 22, members of Jewish Voice for Peace and Jews Say No! occupied the New York City office of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, a nonprofit group that raises money in the United States to send to the Israeli military. For about an hour, activists read the names of the more than 600 Palestinians killed and demanded the organization stop its fundraising for the military attacking Gaza. Nine were arrested when they refused to leave the premises.

More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the nation’s reserve force. In a letter written in a petition they wrote:

We are more than 50 Israelis who were once soldiers and now declare our refusal to be part of the reserves. We oppose the Israeli Army and the conscription law. Partly, that’s because we revile the current military operation. To us, the current military operation and the way militarization affects Israeli society are inseparable. In Israel, war is not merely politics by other means — it replaces politics. Israel is no longer able to think about a solution to a political conflict except in terms of physical might; no wonder it is prone to never-ending cycles of mortal violence. And when the cannons fire, no criticism may be heard.

The US should stop sending aid to Israel. Last year alone, Washington sent some $3.1 billion in military aid, supplemented by allocations for collaborative military research and joint training exercises. Instead, the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee approved a defense spending bill on July 15 that would provide $621.6 million for Israeli missile defense, including $351 million for the Iron Dome system that intercepts short-range rockets and mortars. The Iron Dome has been successful in shooting down rockets and preventing Israeli deaths.

If Israel continues its massacres averaging 50 people daily, in one month’s time when the next issue of the Catholic Worker is distributed, death tolls could rise to 2,100.

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