By MICHAEL SCHREIBER
As we go to press on July 17, Israel has undertaken a ground invasion of the beleaguered Palestinian enclave of Gaza. Naval gunships, drones, helicopters, and F-16 fighters have kept up a constant bombardment of the territory to accompany the assault by infantry and tanks. Israel has called up at least 50,000 soldiers for the operation.
Three days earlier, Israel had dropped thousands of leaflets on some parts of Gaza, warning residents to evacuate since an attack was imminent. But few people left the area; they had nowhere to go.
Airstrikes at the start of the land invasion killed at least four Palestinian children playing on a rooftop, while several nurses were injured when Israeli tanks barraged the al-Wafa rehabilitation hospital. The hospital had also been hit by airstrikes a week earlier, destroying the holding tanks that supply water to patients.
Since July 8, when Israel began air and missile strikes on Gaza, numerous incidents have taken place that demonstrate the Zionist government’s wanton disregard for civilian casualties. On July 9, for example, a popular seaside café was bombed, killing nine Palestinian men who were watching a World Cup match on television. Nearby on the same day, eight members of a family were killed when their house was bombed. Also on July 9, a Palestinian journalist, Hamed Shebab, was mangled and burned to death when an Israeli missile struck his vehicle—clearly marked “TV” in large red letters.
Israeli officials have admitted targeting mosques, schools, hospitals, and apartment buildings with air strikes. Although such atrocities can never be morally justified, Israel has arrogantly claimed that it has a “right” to destroy civilian facilities when it believes that members of Hamas, the ruling party in Gaza, are hiding there.
Especially egregious has been Israel’s policy of employing collective punishment against families of people whom it suspects of having a political connection to Hamas or other Islamic groups. In this way, several families have seen their homes destroyed and many of their loved ones murdered. The Kaware family, for example, got a phone call from the Israelis warning that their house would be bombed. A number of neighbors stood on the roof of the building with them, in a clear signal to Israeli airplanes that it was full of civilians. Nevertheless, the jets struck—killing eight people, including six children under 13 years old. Twenty-five others were injured.
Immediately prior to the Israeli land invasion, health officials in Gaza reported that over 1500 Palestinians had been injured in the conflict and at least 233 killed. A few days earlier, a Human Rights Watch report cited UN data showing that close to 80 percent of the deaths were civilians. In addition, said the report, about 7500 residents of Gaza had been displaced or rendered homeless because of Israel’s demolition of 1255 houses.
These statistics registering death and destruction will undoubtedly escalate as a consequence of the Israeli ground assault. Gaza is one of the most densely populated territories in the world; many civilians will be unable to escape the volleys from tanks, artillery, and aircraft—let alone the crossfire of close fighting in the streets.
The Israeli government cynically chose the very day that it invaded Gaza, July 17, to indict three Israeli settlers who had tortured and murdered a Palestinian teenager, Mohammed Abu Khdeir. The accused people (one adult and two minors) had acted in retaliation for the earlier kidnapping and murder of three young Israelis. The Israeli government blamed the earlier incident on Hamas—although no evidence of a culprit has yet come to light—and initiated a drive in which hundreds of alleged Hamas members were arrested.
Simultaneously, Israeli authorities and the press whipped up a campaign of mass hysteria against Palestinians, a witch-hunting atmosphere that was geared for incidents like the murder of young Abu Khdeir to take place. Protests by Palestinians were attacked by Israeli police, which in turn helped provoke rocket attacks by Hamas and led to the massive Israeli bombing campaign and ground invasion.
It must be remembered, of course, that although the kidnappings and deaths of the youths provided a spark for the current conflict, Israel has systematically repressed the Palestinian people for generations, jailing or killing anyone who resists. Palestinians—those who are not refugees living in other countries—have been relegated to apartheid conditions, while Israel seizes more and more Palestinian land for its settlements.
In particular, Israel has reduced Gaza into a poverty-stricken prison house, in which it has carried out bombings and assassinations with impunity. After Hamas came to power in Gaza, the Zionist regime tightened its economic blockade of the territory, which it had first imposed following the capture of an Israeli soldier. The Israelis hoped that the descent into utter poverty and degradation would force Gazans to reject Hamas in favor of a regime that might be more apt to accept onerous concessions. More recently, the accession to power of the military-backed al-Sisi regime in Egypt, which is hostile to Hamas, has meant that even the small lifeline of smuggling through tunnels straddling the Egyptian border has been blocked.
Israel has undertaken the current war against Gaza with the expectation that it will, as always, be backed to the hilt by the United States—which gives $3.15 billion a year to prop up the Zionist state. While Obama has affirmed that he is “heartbroken by the violence,” he also piously declared, “Israel has a right to defend itself from rocket attacks.” The fact that Israel has been the prime aggressor in the region, and that its sham claims of “defense” have resulted in untold death and suffering for civilian populations in Gaza, the West Bank, and Lebanon, obviously does not bother Obama sufficiently for him to cease support of Israel’s military—let alone to back the cause of self-determination for the Palestinian people.
People around the world who care about justice for oppressed peoples and the continuing plight of the Palestinians should join the growing campaign for BDS—boycott, divestment, and sanctions on Israel. A mass BDS campaign can be instrumental in forcing the Israeli government to desist from its murderous policies.
At the same time, it is essential that antiwar and social justice forces pour into the streets to protest Israeli aggression and U.S. support for the Zionist regime. The United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC) is calling for mass street protests throughout the United States. Even before the land invasion of Gaza, Israel’s bombing attacks sparked outrage around the world. Protests took place in many U.S. cities—including 1500 people who rallied in San Francisco and 1000 in Chicago.
We must demand an end to the slaughter! Israel: Withdraw all troops from Gaza! Stop the bombing! End the blockade of Gaza! No U.S. aid to apartheid Israel! Free Palestine!