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Will Obama Sanctify Israel's Targeting of Civilians in Gaza?

The Fishbarrel War

by GARY LEUPP

"It was just like shooting fish in a barrel,” recalled the U.S. pilot, describing the carnage along the “highway of death” stretching from Kuwait to Basra on February 26-27, 1991. While tens of thousands of Iraqi conscripts withdrew from Kuwait in compliance with UN resolutions, terrified boys commandeering school buses and milk trucks when military vehicles weren’t available, U.S. aircraft bombed as many of the helpless as possible. The point was to debase Saddam’s defeated army for the foreseeable future. Of course, Iraq remained helpless and bleeding for another dozen years before Bush II destroyed what was left of it.

Similarly over the weekend, when Israel rained down death onto the vast concentration camp which is the Gaza Strip. There was no contest. The point was to eliminate the Palestinian authority structure in place: all the government offices, all the police force. As the London Telegraph headline put it: “Israel changed the rules forever with Gaza airstrike.”

The purposewas to kill all those in the Hamas political party, democratically elected in 2006, and in the security apparatus of Gaza. As the Telegraph puts it: “Membership alone of the security structures of Hamas was yesterday turned by Israel into grounds for attack. To put on a Hamas police baseball cap is to make oneself a target. This means that any Hamas traffic cop on a street corner in Gaza – or manning a makeshift ‘border’ checkpoint – can expect to be attacked.”

Thus the Israeli state is not merely hitting civilians (which is what ordinary policemen are, in the of the U.S. government) as collateral damage, and officially regretting it as most governments do. It is targeting them. It destroyed within hours every security station in Gaza. AP headline: “Chaos in Gaza as Israel’s strikes continue.”

So the message came from on high, from the Israeli warplanes: “Vengeance is mine! Let there be chaos in Gaza!”

Israel’s applying state terror, secure in the assumption that since the U.S., EU, Japan and most other significant international players consider Hamas a “terrorist” organization, have offered only token protest of the Israeli strangulation of the Gazan population and justified the most draconian and murderous measures as understandable responses to Hamas’s rocket attacks on Israeli towns there will be few negative international repercussions. At the end of the day, they figure, Hamas will be so vitiated that those pathetic efforts at resistance will stop, Palestinian factions preferred by Israel and allied with Washington will regain control over Gaza, and a new U.S. administration will ascend to power just as a new chapter in Palestinian humiliation begins.

Like shooting fish in a barrel.

Now of course Israeli PR people, whom foreign minister Tzipi Livni has called back from their European vacations for emergency duty, will insist with that air of self-righteousness peculiar to those who truly believe that God is on their side, or that if there is no God, there are enough people believing that there is, and that Israel somehow arose from and survives out of some unique divine favor, will ignore the most obvious truths in their desire to believe the most transparent deceptions:

We had no alternative. We had to protect our people.

How many Israelis have in fact been killed by Qassam, Grad, or Katyusha rockets, fired by Palestinians from Gaza, compared to “retaliatory” Israeli attacks? How many Palestinians in Gaza have been killed by “retaliatory” Israeli fire?

And while we’re asking questions: when Israeli officials complain of Palestinian fire hitting Ashdod or Ahkelon, do they ever think about who was living in those towns in 1948 before the Zionists established their settler-state?

There they are, 1.3 million Palestinians in Gaza, trapped, nowhere to go. They can’t flee to Egypt; border guards will fire on them. They can’t flee by sea. The airport is inoperative. Like fish in a barrel. At least 300 are dead at this point. This is the most intensive Israeli assault on Palestinians in over twenty years and proportionately a far more devastating blow than the loss of 3000 on 9-11 was to the U.S.

It is oh so easy to say, as White House Deputy Press Secretary Gordon G. Johndroe said Sunday, “These people are nothing but thugs. Israel is going to defend its people against terrorists like Hamas.” But does this clown have any clue or care about the history the founding of the Israeli state, its inception in the displacement of 700,000 Palestinians through tactics including terror (well-documented by Israeli historians like Ilan Pappé) whose demand for justice is never going to go away?

David Axelrod, senior adviser to Barack Obama, blandly told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that “Obviously…as Hamas began its shelling, Israel responded.” Is that all he thinks the audience needs to know? And to what prior history does Hamas respond? Does the candidate of “change” who has surrounded himself with intractable Israel advocates (beginning with chief of staff Rahm Emanuel), who has withheld comment during Israel’s siege while phoning Condi Rice to confer on the situation, have any understanding of the basis for Palestinian rage? Can his staff ever apply a term like “thugs” to those who committing this current fish-in-a-barrel shoot?

Does Obama have the audacity to break with the Lobby he groveled before as a presidential candidate on June 3, even going so far as do declare himself in favor of an eternal undivided Jewish capital of Jerusalem? (Official Washington policy has actually been to favor part of East Jerusalem—occupied by Israel in 1967—as capital of a future Palestinian state.)

For that I have absolutely no hope. He will leave Israel/Palestine to “experienced” people, the people the pundits have so lauded him for appointing, Hillary Clinton at the head of the pack. The people through whom he’s reassured the system that he’s absolutely not going to rock the boat. True believers in change, take notice.

GARY LEUPP is Professor of History at Tufts University, and Adjunct Professor of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s merciless chronicle of the wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, Imperial Crusades.

He can be reached at: gleupp@granite.tufts.edu