Phyllis Bennis: The current conflict did not begin with rockets fired at Israel
Guest: Phyllis Bennis is a Fellow and the Director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington DC. She is the author of Before and After: US Foreign Policy and the September 11 Crisis , Ending the US War in Afghanistan: A Primer and Understanding the US-Iran Crisis: A Primer.
Jessica Desvarieux, Producer, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
On November 14, the Israeli government attacked Gaza, killing one of Hamas’s military commanders. Here to discuss all this we have Phyllis Bennis joining us. Phyllis is a fellow and the director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. She is the author of Before and After: U.S. Foreign Policy and the September 11th Crisis, Ending the U.S. War in Afghanistan: A Primer, Understanding the U.S.-Iran Crisis: A Primer, and Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer. Thank you for joining us, Phyllis.
Phyllis Bennis, Fellow, Institute for Policy Studies: Great. Good to be with you, Jessica.
Desvarieux: So, Phyllis, tell us: what’s your take on what just happened recently in Gaza?
Bennis: Well, I think that what we’re looking at is a huge escalation on the part of Israel against Gaza, very reminiscent in a number of ways of the Operation Cast Lead of 2008, 2009, also beginning shortly after the election—the first election, that time—of President Obama, and before the inauguration in both cases.
In this case we saw this huge escalation after a two-day ceasefire negotiated by Egypt had largely held. Israel responded to that ceasefire by carrying out an assassination of the Gazan leader, Ahmed Jaabari, who among other things was indeed a leader of the military wing of Hamas, but in recent years had also been the top negotiator with Israel for, among other things, the prisoner exchange in which the Israeli soldier Ghalit was released, and in return for the release of over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners. In that context, he’s also been—he had been negotiating through various intermediaries, both within Egypt and within the Israeli peace movement, for a longer-term ceasefire between Hamas and Israel. So he was in the position—as has happened before, when Israeli negotiations were underway with the Palestinians, they have responded to the possibility of serious negotiations by assassinating those who were involved in the negotiations. This happened again years ago when another Hamas leader was assassinated in Gaza while he was reading the text of a final proposed peace agreement. That was back in 1996. So this isn’t anything new.
We do need to understand this in the context of the U.S. drone war and the U.S. reliance on so-called targeted assassination. It makes it much harder for those of us trying to change U.S. policy to demand that the U.S. pressure Israel to stop these targeted assassinations, knowing, as we do, that targeted assassinations are very much at the center stage of U.S. policy in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, in Yemen, in Somalia, and perhaps elsewhere. So that’s one side of what we’re seeing.
On the other hand, we’re seeing a major question of how we decide who’s responding to whom. History, you know, Jessica, is determined by when you start the clock. And in this case what we’re hearing pretty much across the board from the mainstream media in the United States is Israel responded to Palestinian rockets, Palestinians have been firing rockets, Palestinians are firing rockets, and Israel responded. Once in a great while, you hear something about Palestinian casualties, but mostly you’re just hearing about Palestinian rockets, and then what’s happening inside Israel with the Palestinian response.
In this case it’s true that before that assassination there had been an anti-tank missile fired by Palestinians, by one of the armed Palestinian factions, at a group of Israeli soldiers, and several of them were wounded. But the question then becomes: well, why did they fire that missile at that time?
And then we can go back to this past Monday, for instance, when Israeli forces killed a young man in Gaza who was approaching the border fence. His family and others all said that he was mentally challenged, that he was mentally ill, had no idea where he was. The Israelis claim they called out to him not to approach the fence. He either didn’t hear, didn’t understand, didn’t pay attention, and they shot him dead. In another attack, two days after that, on Thursday, the Israeli military sent tanks and a bulldozer into Gaza, on land in Gaza, and shot and killed a 13-year-old child who was near a playground, about 1,200 meters, more than a kilometer away from where the soldiers were.
So all of this is going on without anyone really paying attention. It’s only when there is a massive escalation (in this case, it was on the Israeli side of the assassination of a top leader of Hamas) that we saw anybody beginning to pay attention. And there’s a serious danger as a result, I’m afraid, that we’re going to start hearing discussion about how this is now the new normal, somehow; this is now just how Israel is responding, because it will be about Israel responding rather [than] recognizing that at the end of the day this is about occupation.
The form of occupation of Gaza is different. It’s not with Israeli soldiers on the ground. The soldiers and settlers pulled out in 2005. But when international law says very clearly that occupation is defined by having control of a territory from outside, from a government outside, that’s precisely what we have in Gaza. It takes the form of a siege in which Israeli military controls the borders, determines who can go in, who can come out, what goods can go in or out, controls the seas surrounding Gaza, built a wall completely enclosing Gaza, controls the borders, controls the airspace, bombed the airport so no planes can land, prevents Gaza fishermen from going out more than one mile out to sea—this is occupation of a different form. And until we understand that that’s the root of this level of violence that we’re seeing, we’re not going to be in any position to end it.
The first thing that has to happen, of course, is a call for an immediate ceasefire on both sides. But until we understand it in the context of occupation, that’s not going to last.
Desvarieux: Well, thank you so much for joining us, Phyllis. We’ll certainly be tracking this story.
Bennis: Thank you.
Desvarieux: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.