Sunday, December 28, 2008

The 2008 Gaza War -- Update

[JPN Posting – List of Contents

1. Gush-Shalom report about the demonstration in Tel-Aviv.
2. ICAHD piece.
3. Ravid Barak Ha'aretz 'Disinformation, secrecy and lies: How the Gaza offensive came about'
4. Gideon Levy Ha'aretz 'The Neighborhood bully strikes again'
5. Zvi Barel Ha'aretz 'Delusions of victory in Gaza'

Gush Shalom reports that 1000 people took part in a spontaneous demonstration against the war yesterday outside the defense ministry in Tel Aviv, just at the point when 'war propaganda' supporting the attacks 'pours out of all the media and all the parties, from the extreme Right to Meretz.'

The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions gives a lucid analysis of the motives for the war, claiming that it is in essence 'conflict management.' In other words it is about how to stop or at least minimize rocket attacks on Israeli territory without doing anything to change the fundamental injustices to which these attacks are a response, albeit a morally unjustifiable response. The press release helpfully distinguishes between the immediate trigger for the war (the rocket attacks) and its underlying cause.

The remaining three analyses from Ha'aretz fill this distinction out. All three point to the importance of the Israeli military attack on a tunnel between Gaza and Egypt in early November, which killed at least 6 people. As Barel says, the IDF at that point 'unilaterally violated' the ceasefire, and it was this action that led to the increase in rocket attacks on Israel. In addition, Barak shows that Operation 'Cast Lead' had been planned for up to six months and cannot be adequately explained as a response to Palestinian military strikes, despite the morally abhorrent nature of these strikes. This trigger cannot be the underlying cause of the war. Thus the official justification for the war, that it is a response to the Palestinian attacks, is not convincing.

Levy points out that even if the war had been caused by Palestinian attacks, it would still lack justification because of the staggering disproportion between those attacks (the tragedy of one Israeli killed) and the atrocious level of killing and destruction unleashed by the Israeli military (casualties will probably be more than 300 by the time you read this). Further, military forces are now openly attacking civilian and cultural institutions symbolic of Islamic life, bombing for instance the Islamic University in Gaza (see

But then what are the underlying causes? Neither Barel nor Levy can give a convincing answer since their fundamental outlook is that the war is 'unnecessary' – its aims could have been achieved by other means. As in many similar cases, this analysis rests on the plausibility of the assumption that Israeli planners really have these ends in mind, but are not smart enough to recognize that the war will not achieve them. It is also unclear whether ICAHD gives a convincing answer to this question, for rocket attacks could almost certainly have been stopped or at least minimized by diplomatic means, as Barel argues. Rather the Israeli government is pursuing a policy in which Israeli military actions, like the killings in the destruction of the tunnel in November, must be tolerated silently by Palestinians, while Palestinian resistance will be punished in monstrous disproportion. Alistair Welchman]

Gush Shalom report on demonstration in Tel Aviv

Saturday 27/12/08 "The War Belongs to Olmert – The Victims Belong to Us!"

Here they were again - the "first nighters, those who are ready to get out and demonstrate against a new war in its first hours, when war propaganda pours out of all the media and all the parties, from the extreme Right to Meretz, support the war.

No organization called for the demonstration – but more than a thousand men and women gathered spontaneously in order to protest in front of the Ministry of Defense in Tel-Aviv, only a few hours after the murderous Air Force attack on the Gaza strip started.

They were members of the divers peace organizations, from "Gush shalom" and the "Women's Coalition for Peace" to the "Anarchists Against the Wall" and Hadash. The police, apparently afraid that the protesters would storm the building in which the Minister and the Army High Command were conducting the war, took special precautions: the elite police commando unit was backed by mounted police. Reserves were hidden in side streets. At the beginning of the demonstration, some of the police confronted the crowd with loaded and pointed guns.

"Barak, Barak, Minister of Defense – How many children have you murdered today?" shouted the protesters, whose slogans were backed up by drums. They were especially incensed by the Meretz Party statement the day before, which justified an attack on Gaza, and shouted: "Meretz, Meretz Party – Again for a War?" In the conversations among the protesters, the latest article of the writer Amos Oz, who has been awarded several peace and literature prizes, was mentioned. The article, which justified the military attack, was published at the head of the first page of the mass-circulation daily Yediot Aharonot.

The protesters marched from the Cinemateque Square to the ministry.

A day before the war, Gush Shalom activists took part in a smaller demonstration which took place in the heart of Tel-Aviv, in order to warn against the attack. This action was not reported in any of the Israeli media.



A Press Release from The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD)
December 27, 2008

Let's be crystal clear. Israel's massive attacks on Gaza today have one overarching goal: conflict management. How to end rocket attacks on Israel from a besieged and starving Gaza without ending the impetus for those attacks, 41 years of increasingly oppressive Israeli Occupation without a hint that a sovereign and viable Palestinian state will ever emerge.

Indeed, the Occupation, in which Israel controls Gaza under a violent siege which violates fundamental human rights and international law, is not even mentioned in Israel's PR campaign. Speaking to the international community, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni insists that no country would tolerate its citizens being attacked, a seemingly reasonable statement were it not for Israeli sanctions on Gaza supported by the US and Europe - sanctions that preceded the rocket fire on Israel - or the fact of Israeli Occupation in general. Solely focusing on the rocket attacks conceals the political policy that led to them: "The Hamas government in Gaza must be toppled," Livni has said repeatedly. "The means to do this must be military, economic and diplomatic."

The responsibility for the suffering both in Israel and Gaza rests squarely with successive Israeli governments, Labor, Likud and Kadima alike. Had there been a genuine political process (remember, the closure of Gaza began in 1989), Israelis and Palestinians could have been living together in peace and prosperity already for 20 years. After all, already in 1988 the PLO accepted the two-state solution in which a Palestinian state would arise on only 22% of historic Palestine, alongside the state of Israel on the other 78%. A truly generous offer.

In Israel, however, the effort is to hide its preference for control over peace. Framing its attacks as a response to rockets from Gaza, exploiting an immediate trigger to effectively conceal deeper political intentions and policies, does that. It also conceals Israeli violations of the cease-fire. The fact that the rocket attacks could have been avoided altogether through a genuine political process means that the people of southern Israel are being held hostage by their government as well. Their suffering, and the suffering of the people of Gaza and the rest of the Occupied Territories, must be placed squarely at the feet of the Israeli government.

Israel cannot expect security for its people and political normalcy as long as it occupies Palestinian lands and continues its attempt to impose its permanent rule over the Palestinians by military force. We call on the Israeli government to end its aggression immediately and enter into genuine political negotiations with a united Palestinian leadership. We call on the international community to end its sanctions on Gaza immediately in accordance with international law, initiate an effective political process to end the Israeli Occupation and bring about a just peace - which reflects the will of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.

The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions is based in Jerusalem and has chapters in the United Kingdom and the United States.


Disinformation, secrecy and lies: How the Gaza offensive came about
By Barak Ravid, Haaretz Correspondent, Dec. 28th 2008

Long-term preparation, careful gathering of information, secret discussions, operational deception and the misleading of the public - all these stood behind the Israel Defense Forces "Cast Lead" operation against Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip, which began Saturday morning.

The disinformation effort, according to defense officials, took Hamas by surprise and served to significantly increase the number of its casualties in the strike.

Sources in the defense establishment said Defense Minister Ehud Barak instructed the Israel Defense Forces to prepare for the operation over six months ago, even as Israel was beginning to negotiate a ceasefire agreement with Hamas. According to the sources, Barak maintained that although the lull would allow Hamas to prepare for a showdown with Israel, the Israeli army needed time to prepare, as well.

Barak gave orders to carry out a comprehensive intelligence-gathering drive which sought to map out Hamas' security infrastructure, along with that of other militant organizations operating in the Strip.

This intelligence-gathering effort brought back information about permanent bases, weapon silos, training camps, the homes of senior officials and coordinates for other facilities.

The plan of action that was implemented in Operation Cast Lead remained only a blueprint until a month ago, when tensions soared after the IDF carried out an incursion into Gaza during the ceasefire to take out a tunnel which the army said was intended to facilitate an attack by Palestinian militants on IDF troops.

On November 19, following dozens of Qassam rockets and mortar rounds which exploded on Israeli soil, the plan was brought for Barak's final approval. Last Thursday, on December 18, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the defense minister met at IDF headquarters in central Tel Aviv to approve the operation.

However, they decided to put the mission on hold to see whether Hamas would hold its fire after the expiration of the ceasefire. They therefore put off bringing the plan for the cabinet's approval, but they did inform Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni of the developments.

That night, in speaking to the media, sources in the Prime Minister's Bureau said that "if the shooting from Gaza continues, the showdown with Hamas would be inevitable." On the weekend, several ministers in Olmert's cabinet inveighed against him and against Barak for not retaliating for Hamas' Qassam launches.

"This chatter would have made Entebe or the Six Day War impossible," Barak said in responding to the accusations. The cabinet was eventually convened on Wednesday, but the Prime Minister's Bureau misinformed the media in stating the discussion would revolve around global jihad. The ministers learned only that morning that the discussion would actually pertain to the operation in Gaza.

In its summary announcement for the discussion, the Prime Minister's Bureau devoted one line to the situation in Gaza, compared to one whole page that concerned the outlawing of 35 Islamic organizations.

What actually went on at the cabinet meeting was a five-hour discussion about the operation in which ministers were briefed about the various blueprints and plans of action. "It was a very detailed review," one minister said.

The minister added: "Everyone fully understood what sort of period we were heading into and what sort of scenarios this could lead to. No one could say that he or she did not know what they were voting on." The minister also said that the discussion showed that the lessons of the Winograd Committee about the performance of decision-makers during the 2006 Second Lebanon War were "fully internalized."

At the end of the discussion, the ministers unanimously voted in favor of the strike, leaving it for the prime minister, the defense minister and the foreign minister to work out the exact time.

While Barak was working out the final details with the officers responsible for the operation, Livni went to Cairo to inform Egypt's president, Hosni Mubarak, that Israel had decided to strike at Hamas.

In parallel, Israel continued to send out disinformation in announcing it would open the crossings to the Gaza Strip and that Olmert would decide whether to launch the strike following three more deliberations on Sunday - one day after the actual order to launch the operation was issued.

"Hamas evacuated all its headquarter personnel after the cabinet meeting on Wednesday," one defense official said, "but the organization sent its people back in when they heard that everything was put on hold until Sunday."

The final decision was made on Friday morning, when Barak met with Chief of Staff General Gabi Ashkenazi, the head of the Shin Bet Security Service Yuval Diskin and the head of the Military Intelligence Directorate, Amos Yadlin. Barak sat down with Olmert and Livni several hours later for a final meeting, in which the trio gave the air force its orders.

On Friday night and on Saturday morning, opposition leaders and prominent political figures were informed about the impending strike, including Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu, Yisrael Beuiteinu's Avigdor Liebermen, Haim Oron from Meretz and President Shimon Peres, along with Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik.


The neighborhood bully strikes again
By Gideon Levy , Dec. 28th 2008

Israel embarked yesterday on yet another unnecessary, ill-fated war. On July 16, 2006, four days after the start of the Second Lebanon War, I wrote: "Every neighborhood has one, a loud-mouthed bully who shouldn't be provoked into anger... Not that the bully's not right - someone did harm him. But the reaction, what a reaction!"

Two and a half years later, these words repeat themselves, to our horror, with chilling precision. Within the span of a few hours on a Saturday afternoon, the IDF sowed death and destruction on a scale that the Qassam rockets never approached in all their years, and Operation "Cast Lead" is only in its infancy.

Once again, Israel's violent responses, even if there is justification for them, exceed all proportion and cross every red line of humaneness, morality, international law and wisdom.

What began yesterday in Gaza is a war crime and the foolishness of a country. History's bitter irony: A government that went to a futile war two months after its establishment - today nearly everyone acknowledges as much - embarks on another doomed war two months before the end of its term.

In the interim, the loftiness of peace was on the tip of the tongue of Ehud Olmert, a man who uttered some of the most courageous words ever said by a prime minister. The loftiness of peace on the tip of his tongue, and two fruitless wars in his sheath. Joining him is his defense minister, Ehud Barak, the leader of the so-called left-wing party, who plays the role of senior accomplice to the crime.

Israel did not exhaust the diplomatic processes before embarking yesterday on another dreadful campaign of killing and ruin. The Qassams that rained down on the communities near Gaza turned intolerable, even though they did not sow death. But the response to them needs to be fundamentally different: diplomatic efforts to restore the cease-fire - the same one that was initially breached, one should remember, by Israel when it unnecessarily bombed a tunnel - and then, if those efforts fail, a measured, gradual military response.

But no. It's all or nothing. The IDF launched a war yesterday whose end, as usual, is hoping someone watches over us.

Blood will now flow like water. Besieged and impoverished Gaza, the city of refugees, will pay the main price. But blood will also be unnecessarily spilled on our side. In its foolishness, Hamas brought this on itself and on its people, but this does not excuse Israel's overreaction.

The history of the Middle East is repeating itself with despairing precision. Just the frequency is increasing. If we enjoyed nine years of quiet between the Yom Kippur War and the First Lebanon War, now we launch wars every two years. As such, Israel proves that there is no connection between its public relations talking points that speak of peace, and its belligerent conduct.

Israel also proves that it has not internalized the lessons of the previous war. Once again, this war was preceded by a frighteningly uniform public dialogue in which only one voice was heard - that which called for striking, destroying, starving and killing, that which incited and prodded for the commission of war crimes.

Once again the commentators sat in television studios yesterday and hailed the combat jets that bombed police stations, where officers responsible for maintaining order on the streets work. Once again, they urged against letting up and in favor of continuing the assault. Once again, the journalists described the pictures of the damaged house in Netivot as "a difficult scene." Once again, we had the nerve to complain about how the world was transmitting images from Gaza. And once again we need to wait a few more days until an alternative voice finally rises from the darkness, the voice of wisdom and morality.

In another week or two, those same pundits who called for blows and more blows will compete among themselves in leveling criticism at this war. And once again this will be gravely late.

The pictures that flooded television screens around the world yesterday showed a parade of corpses and wounded being loaded into and unloaded from the trunks of private cars that transported them to the only hospital in Gaza worthy of being called a hospital. Perhaps we once again need to remember that we are dealing with a wretched, battered strip of land, most of whose population consists of the children of refugees who have endured inhumane tribulations.

For two and a half years, they have been caged and ostracized by the whole world. The line of thinking that states that through war we will gain new allies in the Strip; that abusing the population and killing its sons will sear this into their consciousness; and that a military operation would suffice in toppling an entrenched regime and thus replace it with another one friendlier to us is no more than lunacy.

Hezbollah was not weakened as a result of the Second Lebanon War; to the contrary. Hamas will not be weakened due to the Gaza war; to the contrary. In a short time, after the parade of corpses and wounded ends, we will arrive at a fresh cease-fire, as occurred after Lebanon, exactly like the one that could have been forged without this superfluous war.

In the meantime, let us now let the IDF win, as they say. A hero against the weak, it bombed dozens of targets from the air yesterday, and the pictures of blood and fire are designed to show Israelis, Arabs and the entire world that the neighborhood bully's strength has yet to wane. When the bully is on a rampage, nobody can stop him.


Delusions of victory in Gaza
By Zvi Barel

As of yesterday, politicians and the public at large have been enthralled by a new prospect: that of a wide-scale military operation in the Gaza Strip. Such a prospect answers all their heart's secret wishes: Avenging the rocket fire by Gazan militants, reclaiming Israel's prestige, delivering a fatal blow to Hamas, providing payback for Israel's 2005 pullout from Gaza, sending a strong message to Iran, an implicit one to Hezbollah, and also showing the government's concern for its citizens and scoring some points with the electorate ahead of the elections.

The public's imaginations are let loose as they chant a battle-cry. Fighter planes have already bombed dozens of targets in the heart of Gaza and tomorrow thousands of troops may storm its alleyways. On the third day the Israel Defense Forces might eliminate Hamas leaders Ismail Haniyeh, Mushir al-Masri and Mahmoud al-Zahar. It will seize the Hamas government's buildings and an army spokesman will display captured arm caches containing sophisticated missiles and thousands of guns to the press.

At the same time commando units will free captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit and return him to his parents alive and well. Then the slower more difficult operation will begin involving house-to-house searches and arrests of suspects. The press will lose its interest and calm will return to Sderot. Elections will be held on schedule and party leaders Tzipi Livni, Ehud Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu will fight over credit for the successful campaign in Gaza.

This is an imaginary scenario because we're not being told the real one. Yet. It will only be revealed when a investigatory committee is commissioned to determine what really happened in Gaza.

How many soldiers are expected to be killed in the first wave? How many months is the IDF expected to spend in Gaza, sweeping its houses and tunnels? How many Palestinian civilians will be killed? Will Gilad Shalit survive in such a scenario? Will Hezbollah remain passive during a Gaza offensive? How will the residents of the West Bank, Jordan and Egypt react? What about the new U.S. president? And Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas? Not that he really matters.

According to the government, Israel has full legitimacy to take action against those who threaten its citizens. That is the reason the state was created and no other country would tolerate such attacks on its towns. It's a nice slogan, identical to that of Hamas: Why should Gazan citizens tolerate such a long and severe siege for so long? Can its leadership tolerate a succession of targeted killing against its leaders? And what of the killing of innocent civilians in air strikes? Hamas agreed to a cease-fire to end the violent dialogue.

It should be remembered that Israel chanted the same slogans when the Second Lebanon War began, from which it came back badly bruised. The optimistic scenario did not materialize then and it is hard to believe it will now in Gaza. The legitimacy of the Lebanon war triumphed just as the war was lost.

Unlike the Lebanon war, whose chief priority was to bring back the abducted IDF soldiers which encompassed the destruction of Hezbollah's military "infrastructure," the Gaza operation's motivation is different: Halting rocket-firing at the Negev and destroying Hamas' rule. A new order will be set up in the occupied territories and the PA, and Abbas will be brought back to Gaza under the Israeli military's aegis. Just before we get lost in this dream scenario let us examine reality.

Six months ago Israel asked and received a cease-fire from Hamas. It unilaterally violated it when it blew up a tunnel, while still asking Egypt to get the Islamic group to hold its fire. Are conditions enabling the return of a ceasefire no longer available? Hamas has clear conditions for its extension: The opening of the border crossings for goods and cessation of IDF attacks in Gaza, as outlined in the original agreement. Later, Hamas wants the cease-fire to be extended to the West Bank. Israel, for its part, is justifiably demanding a real calm in Gaza; that no Qassam or mortar shell be fired by either Hamas, Islamic Jihad or any other group.

Essentially, Israel is telling Hamas it is willing to recognize its control of Gaza on the condition that it assumes responsibility for the security of the territory, like Hezbollah controls southern Lebanon. It is likely that this will be the outcome of a wide-scale operation in the Gaza Strip if Israel decides it does not want to rule Gaza directly. Why, then, not forgo the war and agree to these conditions now?

Jewish Peace News editors:
Joel Beinin
Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
Judith Norman
Lincoln Shlensky
Rebecca Vilkomerson
Alistair Welchman
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