In July 2014, Israel launched Operation Protective Edge – the third major assault on the Gaza Strip in six years, and the most deadly. One year later, a vitally important book by Max Blumenthal, author of Goliath, tells the stories of this brutal, one-sided war. The 51 Day War is available to order from Truthout today with a donation!
In the introduction to The 51 Day War, Max Blumenthal, describes the context of the 2014 Israeli lethal decimation of Gaza:
The first thing a visitor sees upon entering the Gaza Strip through Israel’s Erez border crossing is a remote-controlled machine gun perched atop a concrete wall that extends as far as the eye can see.
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The first thing a visitor hears is the hum of the Israeli drone that hovers constantly above Gaza and forms the sonic backdrop of its residents’ lives. After just a few minutes in Gaza it becomes abundantly apparent that this is among the most closely surveilled and intensely controlled patches of earth on the planet.
The Gaza Strip is a ghetto of children. Of its 1.8 million residents, a majority are under the age of 18. Most have never left the 360 square kilometers where they were born, raised and confined. There is no discernible future for them beyond the Israeli military occupation that has endured nearly 50 years and a siege that was officially proclaimed in 2007. The formative years of these young people have been marked by three major military assaults. These are their rites of passage. The Palestinians of Gaza have no reason or experience to believe that a fourth war will not arrive soon.
The violence in Gaza has become a ritual that has confounded many outsiders, leading to the rise of simplistic explanations for the bloodshed as the product of religious extremism, endemic anti-Semitism and intractable conflict. But a brief look at the history leading up to the 51 Day War of 2014 presents a different reality.
Eighty percent of Gaza’s residents are refugees from the State of Israel. Their families were among the 750,000 indigenous Palestinians who fled or were forcibly expelled in the period from November 1947 to late 1948 known to them as the Nakba, or the catastrophe. Since Israel was founded, every one of its governments has identified these refugees as a demographic threat whose repatriation would threaten Israel’s Jewish majority and the Zionist project itself. Palestinians in Gaza are ultimately confined and excluded from Israel for one simple reason: They are not Jews. There is simply no place for them in an Israel that defines itself as an exclusive Jewish state, and that will not grant equal rights to these people. That is why Gaza has become a warehouse for a surplus population that the Israeli-American scholar Martin Kramer described as “superfluous young men.” And that is why Gaza resists.
A stateless people with no internationally recognized right to organize an army, navy, or air force, Gaza’s refugee population nonetheless embarked on an armed campaign against Israeli occupation that began in earnest in the early 1950s. Some prominent Israelis understood this. The famous 1956 eulogy by Moshe Dayan, then the Israeli army’s Chief of Staff, for Roy Rotenberg, an Israeli kibbutz guard Palestinian fighters killed near the border of Gaza, was both unusually empathetic about the causes of the conflict and even more committed to continuing it. “Let us not cast the blame on the murderers today. Why should we declare their burning hatred for us,” Dayan asked.”For eight years they have been sitting in the refugee camps in Gaza, and before their eyes we have been transforming the lands and the villages, where they and their forefathers previously dwelled, into our home.”
Summoning his countrymen to persevere in the face of ferocious resistance, Dayan declared, “We are a generation that settles the land and without the steel helmet and the cannon’s muzzle, we will not be able to plant a tree and build a home…. This is the fate of our generation. This is our life’s choice – to be ready and armed, tough and hard, or else the sword shall fall from our hand and our lives will be cut short.”
Dayan’s eulogy was perhaps the clearest distillation of the mentality that has governed Israel’s approach to the Palestinian people in general and to the Gaza Strip in particular for some sixty years. Just as he conceded Israel’s colonial ambitions, he also clearly explained the motives behind Palestinian violence. By the end of 2003, as the Second Intifada approached its conclusion, both Israeli and Palestinian societies were near exhaustion. It was then that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced his intention to pursue “disengagement” with Gaza that would reorient the relationship between the two peoples by hardening their separation.
Because Sharon’s maneuver entailed the forced evacuation of about 9,000 religious nationalist settlers from the strip, many proponents of a two-state solution to the crisis of Israel– Palestine were convinced that the right-wing warrior king had experienced a sudden change of heart. “[Sharon] realized that the land had to be partitioned between its two peoples, that the occupation could not continue, that the Palestinians would have their own state and that thousands of Israeli settlers would have to be evacuated from the Gaza Strip,” David Grossman, the renowned novelist and voice of Israel’s liberal “peace camp,” wrote hopefully at the time. With support from liberal and centrist elements, Sharon secured approval for his plan.
The Prime Ministers’ advisors were adamant, however, that separating from Gaza should not be confused with peace. “The significance of the disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process,” senior Sharon advisor Dov Weisglass informed the Israeli paper Haaretz in October 2004. “And when you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda. And all this with authority and permission. All with a presidential blessing and the ratification of both houses of Congress.”
Sharon’s plan was conceived with substantial input from a notable academic named Arnon Soffer at the University of Haifa. A professor of “geostrategy” and consultant to successive governments, Soffer became so obsessed with thedetails of Israel’s demographic trench war with the Palestinians that his colleagues referred to him as “Arnon the Arab counter.” Like Weisglass, he advocated Gaza disengagement for reasons that had nothing to do with conflict resolution. “Unilateral separation doesn’t guarantee ‘peace,'” Soffer said in 2004, referring to Sharon’s proposal. “It guarantees a Jewish-Zionist state with an overwhelming majority of Jews.”
Soffer presciently predicted that disengagement would lead to Hamas assuming power in Gaza, and that the unilateral separation could only be enforced through overwhelming violence against Gaza’s civilians. “We will tell the Palestinians that if a single missile is fired over the fence, we will fire ten in response. And women and children will be killed and houses will be destroyed,” he warned. Soffer went on to predict that “when 2.5 million people live in a closed off Gaza, it’s going to be a human catastrophe. Those people will be even bigger animals than they are today, with the aid of an insane fundamentalist Islam. The pressure at the border will be awful. It’s going to be a terrible war. So, if we want to remain alive, we will have to kill and kill and kill. All day, every day.”
In January 2006, in an election in occupied Palestinian territories judged “free and fair” by the US Congressional Research Service, Hamas, the Islamist organization that earned support through religious charity and armed struggle, won 56 percent of seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council. Fatah, the rival to Hamas and original standard-bearer of Palestinian nationalism, joined Hamas in a unity government that existed in name only. The two factions never cooperated. In practice, Fatah rejected the results of the election while Hamas refused arrangements that required it to share power. After months of bitter skirmishes that left scores of Palestinians dead, the US arranged for massive shipments of arms to the Fatah-controlled Preventive Security Services it had been training. On June 10, Fatah’s forces battled for control of Gaza with Hamas’s Al-Qassam Brigades. Fatah was easily routed. Four days later, Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas declared emergency rule in the West Bank, where his security services coordinated with the Israeli army, while Hamas assumed power in Gaza, where the Al-Qassam Brigades maintained a war footing against the occupation.
Israel promptly placed Gaza under siege, restricting access to its border crossings, enforcing severe curbs on its exports, and devising complex mathematical formulas to regulate the caloric intake of each resident. A January 2008 Israeli military study called “Food Consumption in the Gaza Strip – The Red Lines,” estimated the required daily calorie intake in Gaza at 2,279 per person”in order to maintain the basic fabric of life.”
Everything that has happened since the implementation of the Gaza disengagement has borne out the predictions of Weisglass and Soffer: The peace process has been frozen. The prospect of a viable Palestinian state has been shattered. The settlements have expanded and the occupation entrenched. Violent resistance in Gaza has intensified. And the Israeli public has taken a hard right turn, electing governing coalitions filled with zealots clamoring for a war to end all wars.
Beginning in December 2008, Israel launched a military assault on Gaza that left more than 1,400 dead over the course of three weeks, most of them civilians. Violence erupted again in November 2012 with a military escalation that saw more than 400 killed in Gaza – mostly civilians – while Palestinian rockets reached Tel Aviv for the first time. But even after that battle was over, two years later another one loomed on the horizon, the fulfillment of Soffer’s bloody prophecy -“kill and kill and kill.”
Copyright (2015) of Max Blumenthal. Not to be reprinted without permission of the publisher, Nation Books.