The savage Israeli onslaught on Gaza, ‘Operation Cast Lead’, which left 1,300 Palestinians dead including 280 children, and over 50,000 homeless, was a calculated act to break the resistance of the Palestinian people.

For three weeks, while horrific pictures filled our TV screens, imperialist politicians repeated the mantra that Hamas must stop launching rockets into southern Israel, and refused to do anything to stop the slaughter, or in the case of the US, condoned it. No wonder that following the ceasefire on 20 January, Hamas leader Khalid Mishaal condemned the EU, declaring ‘Shame on you, it is a crime that you failed to stop the aggression on us and then stop us using the weapons of resistance. This is a disgrace to Europe.’ Israel had targeted schools, hospitals, medical workers, mosques and UN buildings, and used white phosphorus shells and experimental DIME weapons in its onslaught. BOB SHEPHERD reports.

Israel’s onslaught on Gaza was the latest in a long line of brutal acts of terror that began with the massacres and ethnic cleansing of the Nakba in 1948. The Zionists’ goal is the creation of a ‘Greater Israel’ leaving the Palestinian population crushed and confined to isolated cantons under Israeli control. All Palestinian resistance to this project has to be crushed. The fact that the Palestinian population in Gaza are the bedrock of support for Hamas and are in the forefront of resistance led inexorably to the devastating air strikes on 27 December and the massacre that followed.

The Zionists attempted to justify their onslaught by claiming that Hamas had broken a six-month ceasefire agreed last summer, and was raining rockets down on southern Israel. The claim was backed up by the British Labour government and the other imperialist states, but it was a complete lie. Israel had manufactured the breakdown of the ceasefire in order to begin the slaughter in Gaza.

The siege of Gaza
On 12 September 2005, the last Zionist settlers and troops left Gaza. But the purpose of their withdrawal was to freeze any chance of political progress since the Zionists would be able to open and close border crossings as and when they wished, preventing fuel, food and other essential supplies from entering the enclave. As Dov Weisglass, then Prime Minister Sharon’s Chief of Staff, described the unilateral pullout, ‘it supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians’ whilst another of Sharon’s advisers, Arnon Soffer, declared, ‘When 2.5 million people live in a closed off Gaza it’s going to be a human catastrophe. These people will become bigger animals than they are today, with the aid of an insane fundamentalist Islam. The pressure on 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. All day, every day’ (Jerusalem Post, 10 May 2004).

Border crossing closures increased in frequency and duration following the Hamas victory in the elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) in January 2006. Britain, the US and the EU all supported Israel in its condemnation of Hamas, and cut off all aid to Hamas-run institutions. Any aid the imperialists continued to deliver was channelled to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (see FRFI 191). On 5 May 2006, John Ging, director of operations for UNRWA in Gaza, spelled out the consequences: ‘two weeks ago we were counting down to a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, today that crisis is on our doorstep ... there are now shortages of medical supplies in the public hospitals in the Gaza Strip and UNRWA has seen a large increase in the number of refugees coming to its centres seeking food aid and cash assistance’.

Imperialist manoeuvres to undermine the Hamas government culminated in an attempted coup by Fatah in June 2007 in Gaza, which Hamas swiftly defeated. From then on the Zionists effectively locked down Gaza, allowing a level of supplies sufficient to avoid mass starvation but reducing the population to destitution. Over 80% of the population of Gaza came to depend on food aid. These siege conditions persuaded Hamas to agree a six-month ceasefire which came into force on 19 June 2008. Hamas agreed to stop rocket attacks on southern Israel while the Zionists promised to open border crossings into Gaza, and Egypt would open the Rafah crossing. Hamas had been reluctant to agree to any ceasefire that excluded the West Bank, but the conditions of life in Gaza forced their hand. What they didn’t know then was that the Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak was already planning the assault on Gaza.

The ceasefire and its breakdown
A report issued in January 2009 by the Israeli Zionist organisation, Intelligence and Terrorism Information Centre (ITIC) acknowledge that in: ‘The six months of the Lull Arrangement [ceasefire] ... Hamas was careful to maintain the ceasefire’. In the six months preceding the ceasefire ITIC said that an average of 380 rocket and mortar shells were launched each month from Gaza, whilst in the period from 19 June to 4 November 2008, a total of 30 rocket and mortar shells landed in Israel, causing no injuries. During the same period, according to the Palestinian Human Rights Commission, Israeli forces killed 12 Palestinians in the West Bank, and on 10 July killed one Palestinian in Gaza. In other words, Hamas and the other resistance factions more or less stopped the rocket fire while Israel continued to assassinate Hamas and Islamic Jihad members in the West Bank and Gaza.

Yet the Zionists did not relax border crossing closures, and it was they who broke the ceasefire when on 4/5 November their forces entered Gaza and in two incidents killed one Islamic Jihad and six Hamas militants. Hamas and Islamic Jihad retaliated with rocket and mortar fire, to which the Zionists responded by shutting the borders completely. By 13 November, John Ging was saying that ‘We cannot describe the situation in the Gaza Strip except as a terrible and terrifying one. There are 750,000 refugees who depend on what we offer them in food supplies. Israel is preventing us from distributing these supplies.’ (FRFI 206).

On 14 December Khaled Mishaal placed the responsibility for the situation on the Zionists, saying that the ‘enemy did not abide by it [the ceasefire] and we in Hamas and the majority of other Palestinian forces believe that the truce will be over and will not be renewed’. Islamic Jihad leader Khalid Al Batsh said ‘Israel is the sole beneficiary of the truce while we are starving to death…we in the Islamic Jihad movement would rather die in the trenches of resistance than in the hospitals of starvation’. On 25 December, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told Egypt’s President Mubarak about the planned attack.

Operation ‘Cast Lead’
The Israeli air strikes began at 11.30am on Saturday 27 December just as children were leaving school, catching many in the explosions as missiles and bombs hailed down on the densely populated streets of Gaza City. Principal targets were government buildings which Israel characterised as ‘terrorist infrastructure’ so as to destroy Hamas’s ability to govern. An attack on a police graduation ceremony in Gaza City left over 40 dead including the Gaza head of police. By the end of the day, at least 235 Palestinians had been killed and 700 wounded. Gaza’s hospitals were overwhelmed, with a shortage of basic medicines and equipment to treat the wounded. Medical staff told those with less severe injuries to go home as there was no treatment available.

The cynical response of both Britain and the US was to place the blame on Hamas, while hypocritically calling on Israel to avoid civilian casualties. The British Foreign Office called on ‘militants in the Gaza Strip to immediately cease all rocket attacks on Israel’. A White House spokesperson declared ‘Hamas’s continued rocket attacks into Israel must cease if the violence is to stop. Hamas must end its terrorist activity if it wishes to play a role in the future of the Palestinian people … The US urges Israel to avoid civilian casualties as it targets Hamas in Gaza’.

Imperialism’s puppet Mahmoud Abbas blamed Hamas for not renewing the ceasefire agreement and provoking the onslaught. Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces broke up demonstrations in the West Bank after they became expressions of support for Hamas. The Egyptian weekly Al Ahram quoted a Fatah spokesperson as saying ‘If we allow the masses to take to the street, Hamas would be able to re-establish itself very fast here’.

Egypt initially allowed some wounded to cross the border for treatment, but supported the Israeli onslaught by keeping the Rafah crossing closed. On Sunday 28 December as hundreds of people attempted to break through the border fence, Egyptian guards opened fire, killing one Palestinian. On 8 January the Secretary General of the Union of Arab Doctors denounced the Egyptian government for blocking Arab medical volunteers from using the Rafah crossing to enter Gaza.

Continued air strikes hit more government buildings, mosques and universities, including the Islamic University in Gaza City, as well as the border areas around Rafah to destroy the tunnels into Egypt on which Gazans rely for supplies denied by the Israeli siege. On 3 January Israeli armour and troops entered Gaza with a concerted campaign to target medical workers and UN buildings:
• 4 January: an air strike hits two ambulances, killing four paramedics.
• 6 January: a UN school in Jabaliya refugee camp sheltering civilians is shelled, killing 43. Two other schools are hit: one in Khan Younis killing two and the other in Gaza City killing three people.
• 7 January: the central headquarters of the Union of Health Care Committees in Gaza City is bombed, destroying a specialised medical centre and three mobile clinics.
• 8 January: an Israeli tank attacks a UN aid convoy killing one of the Palestinian drivers. UNRWA suspends all aid delivery.
• 10 January: a Norwegian Aid Agency vehicle is destroyed by an Israeli missile just north of Gaza City.
• 15 January: the Al Quds hospital in Gaza City is set on fire after it is attacked with white phosphorus shells. Two other hospitals to the east of the city and a Red Crescent office are also attacked.
• 15 January: the main UNRWA compound in Gaza City is hit with white phosphorus shells, destroying the limited supplies of food and medical aid stockpiled there.
• 17 January: a UN school in Beit Lahiya is shelled with white phosphorus munitions, killing two children.

The racist disregard for Palestinian lives exhibited by the Israeli forces was clearly exposed by an International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) statement on 8 January detailing the denial of medical help to wounded Palestinians for four days. The Zaytoun area of Gaza City had been under shell fire from 3 January but medical teams were refused access until 7 January. The teams found in one house, four small children huddled next to their dead mothers, and, in another, 15 survivors including several who were wounded. The ICRC statement was clear, ‘the Israeli military failed to meet its obligation under international humanitarian law to care for and evacuate the wounded’.

Israel declared a unilateral ceasefire beginning midnight on 17 January with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert declaring a military victory, ‘We have reached all the goals of the war and beyond … this operation strengthened the deterrence of the state of Israel in the face of all those who threaten us’. Palestinian resistance organisations reacted by launching over a dozen rockets after midnight to show they were not defeated. They declared their own conditional ceasefire to begin at 1pm on 18 January.

On 20 January thousands of Palestinians demonstrated across the Gaza Strip in response to a Hamas call. In Gaza City Hamas leader Ismail Radwan, answering the rhetoric of Olmert and Livni declared, ‘They thought they would “topple” Hamas and “stop the flow of Palestinian projectiles onto Israeli towns”, but what have you done, Zionists? Have you toppled our government? Have you stopped projectiles? Have you broken Hamas? Today the legitimate Hamas government, elected by its people has more support than before.’

Behind them the Zionists left utter devastation. The number of dead currently stands at between 1,285 and 1,337; more will die from their injuries. Between 158 resistance fighters (Hamas figures) and 223 (Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, PCHR) were killed. This means that about 85% of the dead were civilians; although over 200 police officers were killed, the Geneva Conventions deem them to be civilians. Nine medical workers were killed. Estimates of the number of children killed range from 285 to 412, the difference mainly depending on whether a child is defined as under 16 or under 18. 5,340 people were injured, including 1,855 children. Damage to civilian infrastructure was devastating: according to PCHR, Israeli forces ‘destroyed 121 industrial and commercial workshops and damaged at least 200 others…60 police stations, five media organisations, two health clinics, and 29 educational institutions have been completely or partially destroyed’. 41 Mosques were also destroyed, as were dozens of irrigation wells; crop destruction amounted to $170 million. 2,400 houses were completely destroyed, and 20,000 damaged, leaving over 50,000 homeless. Such are the consequences of Israeli barbarism.

FRFI 207 February / March 2009


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