The images from Gaza are searing, a gallery of death and horror. A dishevelled Palestinian man cries out in agony, his blood-soaked little brother dead in his arms. On a filthy hospital bed a boy of perhaps five or six screams for his father, his head and body lacerated by shrapnel. A teenage girl lies on a torn stretcher, her limbs awry, her face and torso blackened like a burnt steak. Mourners weep over a family of 18 men, women and children laid side by side in bloodied shrouds. Four boys of a fishing family named Bakr, all less than 12 years old, are killed on a beach by rockets from Israeli aircraft.
As I write, after just over a week of this invasion, the death toll of Palestinians is climbing towards 1000. Most are civilians, many are children. Assaulting Gaza by land, air and sea, Israel has destroyed homes and reduced entire city blocks to rubble. It has attacked schools, mosques and hospitals. Tens of thousands of people have fled, although there is nowhere safe for them to go in this wretched strip of land just 40 kilometres long and about 10 kilometres wide. There are desperate shortages of food and water, of medical and surgical supplies.
In an open letter to US President Barack Obama, Dr Mads Gilbert, a Norwegian surgeon working at Gaza’s al-Shifa hospital, writes of “the incomprehensible chaos of bodies, sizes, limbs, walking, not walking, breathing, not breathing, bleeding, not bleeding humans. Humans!
“Ashy grey faces – Oh no! Not one more load of tens of maimed and bleeding. We still have lakes of blood on the floor in the emergency room, piles of dripping, blood-soaked bandages to clear out … the cleaners, everywhere, swiftly shovelling the blood and discarded tissues, hair, clothes, cannulas – the leftovers from death – all taken away… to be prepared again, to be repeated all over.”
The onslaught is indiscriminate and unrelenting, with but one possible conclusion: Israel is not fighting the terrorists of Hamas. In defiance of the laws of war and the norms of civilised behaviour, it is waging its own war of terror on the entire Gaza population of about 1.7 million people. Call it genocide, call it ethnic cleansing: the aim is to kill Arabs.
As none other than Malcolm Fraser tweeted this week: “If any other country went to war killing as many civilians, women and children, it would be named a war crime.” But it is not, although the UN is asking the question of both sides.
Yes, Hamas is also trying to kill Israeli civilians, with a barrage of rockets and guerilla border attacks. It, too, is guilty of terror and grave war crimes. But Israeli citizens and their homes and towns have been effectively shielded by the nation’s Iron Dome defence system, and so far only three of its civilians have died in this latest conflict. The Israeli response has been out of all proportion, a monstrous distortion of the much-vaunted right of self defence.
It is a breathtaking irony that these atrocities can be committed by a people with a proud liberal tradition of scholarship and culture, who hold the Warsaw Ghetto and the six million dead of the Holocaust at the centre of their race memory. But this is a new and brutal Israel dominated by the hardline, right-wing Likud Party of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition. As one observer puts it: “All the seeds of the incitement of the past few years, all the nationalistic, racist legislation and the incendiary propaganda, the scare campaigns and the subversion of democracy by the right-wing camp – all these have borne fruit, and that fruit is rank and rotten. The nationalist right has now sunk to a new level, with almost the whole country following in its wake. The word ‘fascism’, which I try to use as little as possible, finally has its deserved place in the Israeli political discourse.”
Fascism in Israel? At this point the Australian Likudniks, as Bob Carr calls them, will be lunging for their keyboards. There will be the customary torrent of abusive emails calling me a Nazi, an anti-Semite, a Holocaust denier, an ignoramus. As usual they will demand my resignation, my sacking. As it’s been before, some of this will be pornographic or threatening violence.
In fact, that paragraph within the quotation marks was written by an Israeli. Gideon Levy is a columnist and editorial board member of the daily newspaper Ha’aretz. Born in Tel Aviv to parents who fled the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1939, he despairs of what his country has become and the catastrophe its armed forces are visiting upon Gaza. After a recent column calling on Israeli pilots to stop bombing and rocketing civilians, his life was threatened and he now has a bodyguard day and night. It has come to that. In the worst insult of all, Levy is branded “a self-hating Jew”.
Israeli propaganda is subtle and skillfully put. “If Israel were to lay down its arms tomorrow, she would be destroyed; but if Hamas were to lay down their arms, there would be peace,” goes the line, parroted endlessly.
But in all these long and agonising decades, Israel has never offered the Palestinians a just and equitable peace. They would have only a splintered, vassal state, their polity and economy and even their borders and freedom of travel and trade managed and determined by Israel. The occupation of Palestinian lands would remain with the relentless expansion of illegal Israeli settlements on the West Bank of the Jordan and the Dead Sea.
As the Palestine Liberation Organisation official Hanan Ashrawi put it this week in a television interview with the Australian journalist Hamish Macdonald: “No nation can accept being imprisoned, being besieged by land, by air, by sea and deprived of the most basic requirements of a decent life: freedom of movement, clean water. For seven years they have been under a brutal and lethal Israeli siege … You shell them and you bomb them; you destroy homes, you destroy whole neighbourhoods. You obliterate, annihilate, whole families, and then you come and say that this is self defence?”
That is why the killing and the dying goes on. Ad nauseam, ad infinitum. And the rest of the world, not caring, looks away.
firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: MIkeCarlton01