Reflections on the Gaza war [Operation Pillar of Clouds]: Sara Roy [] + Rashid Khalidi [NPR]+ Eyal Weizmann [LRB] + a JPost editorial

Sara Roy, a economist who’s done extensive work on Gaza over years, now senior research scholar at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University, wrote an article entitled “Where’s our humanity for Gaza”, which is published here on In it, she reports that:

“The Gaza Strip is now in its 46th year of occupation, 22nd year of closure, and sixth year of intensified closure. The resulting normalization of the occupation assumes a dangerous form in the Gaza Strip, whose status as an occupied territory has ceased to matter in the West; the attention has shifted — after Hamas’s 2006 electoral victory and 2007 takeover of the territory — to Gaza’s containment and punishment, rendering illegitimate any notion of human rights or freedom for Palestinians. The Israeli government has referred to its siege policy as a form of ‘economic warfare’ … which was achieved through an Israeli-imposed blockade that ended all normal trade”.

Summarizing Sara Roy’s points:
+ The result has been high and persistent unemployment

+ and near collapse of its agricultural sector — [around 1/3 of Gaza’s total arable land was destroyed during the last Israeli war on Gaza, Operation Cast Lead from 27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009, and is still out of production]. Israeli-imposed buffer zones — areas of restricted access — now absorb nearly 14 percent of Gaza’s total land and at least 48 percent of total arable land [maintained by IDF monitoring and use of live fire in case of breach inside the Gaza perimeter]. See our earlier post, Notes on a Cease-fire, here.

+ and a “sea buffer zone” covers more than half of the maritime area promised to Palestinians in the Oslo Accords [also maintained by Israeli naval patrols, and live firing]. Gaza’s allocated maritime waters are fouled by sewage flows in excess of 23 million gallons daily. [There is also a formal Israeli naval blockade of Gaza since 3 January 2009.]

+ Gaza’s only water supply, a underground aquifer, has been ruined by prolonged over-pumping and sewage and contaminant infiltration [Israel’s blockade policy restricts the entry of materials needed to repair, maintain, and upgrade Gaza’s sewage and wastewater treatment infrastructure.] And almost all of Gaza’s municipal wells used for drinking water are seriously polluted.

+ Impact on health: Just under 10 percent of Gazan children under five suffered from chronic malnutrition in 2010. Birth defects, congenital anomalies, and cancer cases are reportedly rising. This is likely due to environmental contamination, including the possible use of toxic weaponry during Cast Lead.

Earlier, Rashid Khalidi, told NPR radio, on its All Things Considered program on 19 November, , it increases, in the short term, people’s resentment of Israel, its occupation, its blockade, its siege, its incredible disproportionate use of firepower. I mean, we have a 30 to 1 kill ratio today.

NPR: Although they would say, it’s not for Hamas’ lack of trying, they just haven’t gotten better rockets yet.

KHALIDI: Absolutely. You have the Iron Dome system shooting down rockets. You have the complete inaccuracy of many of the short-range rockets. At the same time, everybody can see that the people who are getting hurt the most are
Palestinians and that this resistance, so-called, is inflicting much more harm on the Palestinians than on the Israelis and is doing absolutely nothing to liberate Palestinian territory.

“The calculus that it imposes on Hamas is also quite cruel. Either you sacrifice your own people, as they’re doing in effect, or you take what the Israelis are dishing out in the form of siege and blockade and so forth. It’s cruel, in particular, for the civilian population of the Gaza Strip, which is in the middle between these two rather cynical players”.

Eyal Weizman wrote here in The London Review of Books [LRB] on 24 November that “Mindful of the danger of further exposure to international legal action, during Operation Pillar of Defence Netanyahu ordered the military to exercise restraint so as to avoid the level of destruction seen in 2008-9. Israeli experts in international humanitarian law were more closely involved than they ever have been before in the planning of the attacks, and the military repeatedly proclaimed its commitment to minimising harm to civilians. The number of casualties was much lower than during Operation Cast Lead, when ten times as many Palestinians were killed”.

Indeed, Operation Cast Lead also lasted 22 days [or just over 2.5 times longer], though by contrast more Palestinians were killed in the first day of attacks on 27 December 2008 than during the entire just-concluded 8-day Operation Pillar of Clouds.

Weitzman wrote that “Now that the bombing is over, evidence will be accumulated (and allegations made and contested), not only by speaking to survivors and witnesses but by using geospatial data, satellite imagery of destroyed buildings and data gathered in on-site investigations. But investigation is difficult: in Gaza ruins are piled on ruins, and it isn’t easy to tell them apart. The wars of 1947-49, the military incursions of the 1950s, the 1956 war, the 1967 war, the 1972 counterinsurgency in the refugee camps, the first intifada of 1987-91, the waves of destruction during the second intifada of the 2000s, and now the two attacks of 2008-9 and 2012, have each piled new layers of rubble on top of those produced by their predecessors”.

He added, however, that “Israel’s real power over Gaza is invisible. It is the ability of the Israeli air force to maintain a perpetual ‘surveillance and strike’ capability over Gaza – drones can stay in the air around the clock – that made the territorial withdrawal possible. Together with its control of the Gazan subsoil – manifested in the robbing of much of the water from coastal aquifers – and over the airwaves, including the use of electromagnetic jamming technology, all that is left for the inhabitants of Gaza is the thin surface of the earth that is sandwiched between Israeli-controlled zones”.

In recent years, Weizman wrote, the IDF “has begun to experiment with new kinds of bombing. After the 2008-9 attack, human rights advocates undertook an investigation using techniques associated with the new field of ‘forensic architecture’. In so doing they discovered the traces of a new Israeli strategy: small-scale craters caused by impacts on what had been the roofs of destroyed buildings. The Israeli military let it be known that it was using this tactic – known as ‘knock on the roof’ – again during Operation Pillar of Defence [n.b. — a/k/a Pillar of Clouds]. It involves firing low-explosive ‘teaser’ bombs or missiles onto houses designated for destruction, with the intention of making an impact serious enough to scare the inhabitants into fleeing their homes before they are destroyed completely. Israel makes much of the fact that it always tries to warn civilian inhabitants of impending bombings. The new procedure is a twist on the established ‘knock on the door’ method, which involved telephoning a house – with a recorded message, or using an Arabic-speaking air-force operator – to inform the inhabitants that in a few minutes the building would be destroyed. Sometimes phones that had been disconnected for months because the bill hadn’t been paid were suddenly reactivated in order to relay these warnings. According to the Israeli military, during the last 24 hours of Pillar of Defence, thousands of such calls were made to residents of Gaza, warning them of incoming strikes. (Israel can penetrate Gaza’s communication networks so easily because its telephone networks and internet infrastructure are routed through Israeli servers, which has advantages both for the gathering of intelligence and the delivery of propaganda.) Of course, many inhabitants of Gaza don’t have a landline or a mobile phone. In these cases, an IDF spokesperson recently explained, the military’s legal experts recommend the use of leaflets to encourage people to leave their houses before they are destroyed. Teaser bombs are just another means of sending a warning. In 2009, an IDF lawyer said: ‘People who go into a house despite a warning do not have to be taken into account in terms of injury to civilians … From the legal point of view, I do not have to show consideration for them.’ To communicate a warning can indeed save a life. But the strategy is also aimed at changing the legal designation of anyone who is killed. According to this interpretation of the law, if a warning has been issued, and not heeded, the victim is no longer a ‘non-combatant’ but a voluntary ‘human shield’. In this and other cases, the laws of war prohibit some things but authorise others. This should give pause to those who have protested against Israel’s attack only in the name of the law”.

And, Weizmann wrote, “In the course of the eight-day aerial bombardment of Gaza by Israel – using drones, F-16s and Apache helicopters – more than 1350 buildings were hit. They included military depots, which are considered legitimate targets under international humanitarian law. But the police stations, TV stations, a local healthcare centre, ministries, road tunnels and a bridge that were also targeted are legally protected as civilian infrastructure. To justify their destruction, Israel argued that ‘they belong to a terrorist entity.’ This is an argument that would render all public buildings and physical infrastructure in the Strip legitimate targets: it is not accepted by international lawyers outside Israel”.

An editorial, entitled “Supplying Gaza”, which was published in the Jerusalem Post on 24 November claimed, however, that as rockets and missiles were being fired out of Gaza, Israel was nonetheless continuing to take care of the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip.

This editorial, apparently written by Sarah Honig [according to some of the many comments posted], states that “Nowhere else in the history of armed conflict was there ever a situation in which a combatant side looked after its mortal enemy’s welfare, fed it, supplied it with essentials and powered it with electricity…despite a dozen years of assorted barrages from Gaza – punctuated by particularly severe episodes, as we witnessed only days ago – Israel makes sure that Gazans are well fed and lack nothing vital.
The bizarre outcome is that we sustain and reinforce, at the expense of Israeli taxpayers, the very terrorists who aim to wipe out these Israeli taxpayers…Moreover, the world does not acknowledge our peculiar largesse, one that forcefully grates against our fundamental interests. Despite shipments of basic commodities to Gaza, we are pilloried as imposers of blockades and creators of humanitarian crises – nonexistent though they are – in the Strip…Although our power plant in Ashkelon facilitates the continued manufacture, import, upkeep and deployment of more missiles, Gazans fired at that very power plant…Our supplies to Gaza help wage war against us. Why should Israelis be expected and required to look after their enemies? Would any such demand be put to any other nation under concerted lethal fire? All this is exacerbated by the Palestinians’ consistent underlying ideology that perceives attacks on Israeli civilians as a God-given right but which denounces Israeli self-defense – no matter how sterile and pinpointed its intention – as illegitimate and a war crime”.

You could get the idea from this that Israel is literally paying for and feeding the people in Gaza — one of the falsehoods that are repeated over and over in the Israeli media, which is now widely accepted as true by the Israel public…

Appealing to the heightened emotion that it was intended to arouse, this editorial suggests “a true and final disengagement from Gaza”. It is high time that Israelis “quit being suckers” [one of the most stinging insults in Israel], it argues: “At the very least this ought to mean – even after the cease-fire – that we cannot continue to take care of our enemies’ daily needs…It is also time to disconnect Gazans from our power grid, telephone and communication services (for which, inter alia, they never pay). Maintaining the absurd status quo heaps folly upon folly”.

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