It’s Time to End the “Last Taboo” and Hold Israel Accountable for Its Actions

It’s Time to End the “Last Taboo” and Hold Israel
Accountable for Its Actions

by Stephen Lendman

The “Last Taboo” was the title of eminent
Palestinian-born writer, scholar and activist Edward
Said’s essay written shortly before his death in
September, 2003.  It was also the title of
distinguished author and documentary filmmaker John
Pilger’s chapter about Palestine in his important new
book Freedom Next Time that’s reviewed and can be read
at sjlendman.blogspot.com .  Said explained his title
in what he wrote: “The extermination of the Native
Americans can be admitted, the morality of Hiroshima
attacked, the national flag (of the US) publicly
committed to flames.  But the systematic continuity of
Israel’s 52-year oppression and maltreatment of the
Palestinians is virtually unmentionable, a narrative
that has no permission to appear.”  It appeared boldly
and courageously in Pilger’s book, and it’s long past
time for it be prominent in the mainstream as well to
finally expose Israeli crimes and demand they end.
It’s especially important now as Israel just began an
intensive military assault against the defenseless
people of Gaza, which, before it ends, may result in
many deaths, great destruction of property and an
overwhelming humanitarian disaster even beyond the one
already existing in The Occupied Territories.

Few people anywhere have suffered more or longer than
the beleaguered Palestinians.  For nearly four decades
they’ve lived under a harsh and unending Israeli
occupation of their land.  They’ve endured a continued
assault to seize it, a loss of their personal and
economic rights and a denial of any chance for justice
or their very humanity.  These courageous people
remain isolated in their own land with little support
from the outside.  Yet it’s never broken their spirit
as they continue their heroic efforts to survive and
struggle to gain their freedom.

The Israeli Assault on Gaza

This article documents events in besieged and now
reoccupied Gaza since the Palestinians responded to
continued Israeli Defense Forces’ (IDF) attacks
against them by striking at an Israeli military post
near Kerem Shalom crossing, southeast of Rafah, on
June 25 killing two IDF soldiers, injuring several
others and capturing a third.  The Israeli response
was swift and deadly but has not yet been unleashed
fully as the IDF decides when to enter Gaza full force
to launch an assault against the defenseless people
there already under seige.  The Palestinian strike
followed a series of bloody June Israeli attacks on
Gaza including the widely reported beach shelling that
killed 8 Palestinians and injured 32 others including
13 children.  The Israelis admitted shelling the beach
but denied responsibility for the deaths.  They
falsely claimed a Palestinian planted mine killed the
civilians there despite the forensic evidence clearly
proving otherwise.  The corporate media reported the
Israeli version of events but ignored the evidence
refuting it preventing the public from knowing the
truth.  It also never reported that the so-called
Israeli Gaza withdrawal of its 8,500 settlers in 21
settlements last August wasn’t that at all.  That
staged media event was little more than the
resettlement of Gaza’s Jewish residents to new homes
in Israel proper and the West Bank on other seized
Palestinian land.  Furthermore, the IDF didn’t
withdraw.  It merely redeployed away from the
settlements it was guarding to new positions on the
border.  Gaza continued to be under de facto
occupation and sealed off whenever the IDF wished, as
it’s now done, and along with the West Bank remains
one of the world’s two largest open air prisons.

The Palestinian June 25 raid was its response to
continued IDF daily attacks against Gaza throughout
June that killed about 30 people, injured many more
and caused much destruction of property.  Following
the incident, the IDF launched “Operation Summer
Rain” that included closing all border crossings,
sealing off the territory to restrict movement in and
out including humanitarian supplies such as food and
medicine, and surrounding the territory awaiting
orders to launch a major assault which it’s now begun.
The IDF has also stepped up its artillery shelling
that has gone on continually for months.  It’s been
firing 200 - 300 or more shells per day into northern
Gaza, many close to civilian homes.  It’s also
launched round the clock air attacks with F16 fighter
jets and helicopter gunships firing air-to-surface
missiles and dropping one-ton bombs on civilian
facilities; it’s conducting mock air raids; and it’s
aircraft are breaking the sound barrier over Gaza at
low altitudes deliberately inflicting eardrum
shattering and terrifying sonic booms against the
helpless people. 

In addition, air strikes destroyed the three main
bridges in the Gaza Valley cutting off the northern
part of the Strip from its center and southern parts,
preventing vital transportation from moving normally
to provide essential needs to the people.  The
bombardment also destroyed the main pipe providing
water for the Nusairat and al-Boreij refugee camps and
knocked out the Strip’s only electricity generation
plant cutting off power for 80% of the population and
preventing water pumps and sanitation facilities from
operating.  These actions increase the likelihood of a
growing humanitarian crisis becoming worse with food
shipments, medical supplies and other essentials cut
off which may lead to starvation and a major health
disaster.  They’re also a form of collective
punishment against Gaza’s civilian population which
is a violation of international law according to the
1949 Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of
Civilian Persons in Time of War.  Israel now and in
the past has routinely ignored this Convention,
including article 33 under it that prohibits reprisals
against protected persons and their property.  The
world community so far has yet to take notice or speak
out against what’s ongoing other than weak-kneed and
disingenuous calls by world leaders and UN Secretary
General Kofi Annan for both sides to show restraint.
It’s hard finding the right words to respond properly
to such an outrageous statement, what little else has
been said, and most importantly to what hasn’t been
but should be.

Israeli warships also went further committing a
hostile act by entering Syrian airspace and buzzing
President Bashar al-Assad’s home in Latakia in a
deliberately provocative act before being intercepted
and forced to turn back.  This illegal incursion
reflects Israel’s continued hostility toward Syria’s
leadership which it accuses of harboring and
supporting Hamas leaders the IDF has targeted for
assassination.  It may signal further Israeli action
to come, with the Bush administration’s full support,
against a government both countries see as an enemy.
An ominous sign of such potential action came in a
veiled threat Israel just made against Syria vowing to
strike against “those who sponsor” the Palestinian
resistance.

The West Bank hasn’t been spared either as the IDF
conducted nearly 50 incursions into Palestinian
communities, razing farmland, raiding homes, seizing
five of them for military sites and arresting dozens
of civilians including children.  In addition, on June
29 the IDF arrested most of the Hamas leadership
including eight cabinet ministers, 25 PLC members from
the Change and Reform Party affiliated with Hamas, and
other Hamas officials claiming they were responsible
for the assault against its military post.  All these
actions are further illegal collective punishment
reprisals against Palestinian civilians as are Israeli
threats to extra-judicially assassinate Hamas leaders.
Middle East correspondent Martin Chulov of The
Australian, in fact, reported on July 1 that in a
letter to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas Israel
threatened to kill democratically elected Prime
Minister Ismael Haniyeh if the captured Israeli
soldier isn’t released.  The Prime Minister now fears
for his life and has gone into hiding.  What will it
take to finally get world leaders to take note, show a
semblance of courage and rectitude, speak out
forcefully against this outrageous threat, and condemn
Israel for what it’s now inflicting on nearly four
million defenseless civilians living under its
oppressive heel.

This is a particularly desperate time in the lives of
the 1.45 million Gazans who live in 140 square miles
of the most densely populated place on earth.  Daily
life for them has been almost unbearable as they’ve
had to endure continued Israeli oppression without
letup.  With only their spirit to enable them to
resist and armed with little more than rocks, small
arms and crude homemade rockets, they’re pitted
against the world’s fourth most powerful military
assaulting them at will.  The toll has been
devastating.

The IDF Assault on Gaza Was Planned Well in Advance

What’s now unfolding in Gaza was planned months ago by
the Israelis.  They’ve just been waiting for a
plausible excuse to unleash it.  The capturing, not
kidnapping, of one of their soldiers as a POW provided
it.  So far the US, world community and UN Secretary
General support the Israeli action by their near
silence.  And nothing is said in the major media to
condemn a clear crime or report anything about the
9,000 or more Palestinian civilians forcibly arrested,
now held in indefinite detention and grievously abused
or tortured by the only country in the world to
effectively legalize torture according to Amnesty
International (the US, of course, now also has).  Many
of those in custody are political prisoners held
administratively without charge, and Israeli human
rights monitoring group B’Tselem reports Israel’s use
of torture is widespread and routine against them. 

It must be asked why world leaders aren’t speaking out
to condemn this practice.  International law on it is
explicit and long-standing.  It forbids the use of any
form of torture or degrading treatment under any
circumstances.  The Universal Declaration of Human
Rights outlawed it in 1948.  The Fourth Geneva
Convention then did it in 1949 banning any form of
“physical or mental coercion” and affirming detainees
must at all times be treated humanely.  The European
Convention followed in 1950.  Then in 1984 the UN
Convention Against Torture became the first binding
international instrument dealing exclusively with the
issue of banning torture in any form for any reason.

Israel ignores international law (as does its US
ally), treats all Palestinians it holds in detention
with contempt, and feels free to abuse them at will.
The dominant media in the West pay no attention and
have no interest.  These are the ones John Pilger
calls “unworthy victims” in his new book Freedom Next
Time.  The Israeli soldier, on the other hand, is a
“worthy” one, and reports or just hints of his
mistreatment would be headline news.  He also deserves
lengthy front page coverage in our newspaper of record
The New York Times which names him so we all know and
displays his picture.  No Palestinian warrants any
attention at all in the Times or the rest of the
corporate media.  They all remain nameless and
faceless.

What’s now unfolding in Gaza and the West Bank has
been in the works for months.  Since the staged
summer, 2005 Gaza withdrawal, the IDF has been
training for a large-scale incursion and reoccupation
of the territory.  This was reported earlier this year
in Israel’s Maariv daily in an interview the paper did
with IDF Southern Command General Yoav Galant whose
unit is responsible for Gaza.  He clearly stated the
IDF would employ “more aggressive military
activity…....including (re)occupying the Gaza
Strip…...as a result of increased (Palestinian)
attacks.” The general may have forgotten to explain
those “attacks” with crude weapons were Palestinian
responses to daily Israeli attacks on them with the
most sophisticated weapons the IDF has short of
nuclear ones.  He also forgot to explain how Gazans
have suffered as a result of these attacks and near
daily killings as well as from the effects of a near
forty-year brutal occupation of their territory.  The
general, however, was very clear that “we (the IDF)
have a plan to (re)occupy the Strip” (and) “We are in
advanced states of preparing forces for readiness.”
Another IDF official added that “The only way Israel
can stop the rockets is by occupying Gaza.  It is
elementary.  The leadership knows it.”  The official
explained further that in recent weeks the IDF
completed its training to reenter Gaza and informed
its soldiers to prepare and be ready for orders to
move in.

It’s quite true that the Palestinian resistance has
fired about 250 crude homemade rockets from Gaza into
Israel in recent months. It’s also true these have
been in response to the many thousands of unprovoked
IDF artillery shells fired at them as well as frequent
air attacks and other assaults against them.  Little
of this is ever reported by the western corporate
media, especially in the US, and never with any
context to explain the true situation on the ground.
It’s also not reported that the IDF trained to be
ready to react once it got an excuse to do it which
the June 25 incident gave it.  And it would never be
reported or even considered that if the Israeli
leadership and IDF seriously wanted to end retaliatory
attacks against them including suicide bombings, an
easy way to do it would be to stop attacking
defenseless Palestinians.  The fact that it hasn’t
shows it won’t and doesn’t want to. Those “elementary”
considerations are never reported or suggested in the
mainstream.  Apparently the dominant media never
thought of it, but their mission isn’t to think.  It’s
only to report what government officials say.

The Gaza Assault Bears Similarity to Lebanon in 1982

The ongoing Israeli assault against Gaza may be
following the same pattern as the 1982 invasion of
Lebanon to destroy the PLO leadership that resulted in
the deaths of about 18,000 mostly Lebanese and
Palestinian civilians.  Back then Israel needed a
pretext to invade to counter the growing
respectability the PLO was gaining by observing a
cease-fire and preferring to pursue negotiations
instead of terror attacks.  This was a catastrophe for
the Israeli government as it threatened to undermine
its hardened position to oppose any political
settlement which it could only prevent by portraying
the PLO as terrorists.  To do it Israel had to find a
way to get the Palestinians to reengage in terrorism
or at least to defend itself to make it look like
terrorism.

Why would the Israeli government then or any other one
want to do this?  It would seem logical to assume they
all would prefer peace and security to continued
conflict.  Sadly, it didn’t then, never did earlier,
hasn’t since, and clearly doesn’t now.  The reason why
goes to the root of Zionists’ aims, especially the
most extreme ones.  Many Zionists want all the land of
“Eretz Israel,” the biblical Jewish homeland many Jews
believe God gave to the 12 tribes of Israel.  It
includes much more than present day Israel and the
Occupied Territories - Lebanon, most of Syria, part of
Egypt and a large portion of Jordan. 

Unlike other countries, Israel has no fixed borders -
deliberately.  It’s been that way so Israeli
governments have lots of wiggle room to establish them
one day as they choose or are able to do.  Most
important is the plan to include as part of Israel the
ancient lands of “Judea” and “Summaria,” the West Bank
biblical parts of Israel the Palestinians call the
Occupied Territories and claim as their homeland.
Israel has maintained the pretense of being willing to
allow the Palestinians an independent state.  But by
refusing to negotiate seriously and continuing to
encroach on Palestinian land with new and expanded
settlements as well as erecting its “separation” wall,
it’s clear Israel’s real intent is to seize all the
land it wants for its own use leaving the Palestinians
only some isolated bantustan-like less valuable parts.

Beginning with the negotiations leading to the Oslo
Accords and their so-called Declaration of Principles,
Israel never negotiated in good faith with the
Palestinians.  From Oslo, Israel got what it wanted -
a Palestinian surrender to recognize its right to
exist, end the armed struggle against it, and allow it
to continue colonizing the Occupied Territories.  In
return, the Palestinian leadership got nothing more
than the right to be Israeli enforcers to control its
restive population - in other words, to accept its
subjugation in return for no rights or benefits except
for some special privileges the leadership got as its
reward for selling out its people.  The Palestinian
people never got what they most wanted - a viable and
independent state of their own in the Occupied
Territories, with established borders and its capitol
in East Jerusalem, and the right of their refugees to
return to their homeland, a right all Jews everywhere
have and which UN Resolution 194 guarantees to all
refugees as well as Article 13 of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights.  Various other Geneva
Conventions also affirm this right, clearly
establishing in international law the absolute and
universal “right of return.”

Israel never accepted this right for Palestinians and
needs to avoid a political solution to deny it to
them.  That position was explained by its Prime
Minister Yitzhak Shamir in the 1980s when he admitted
his nation went to war with Lebanon because there was
“a terrible danger….not so much a military one as a
political one.”  But Israel couldn’t attack without
good reason to do it.  It found none so it
manufactured one after the terrorist Abu Nidal
organization attempted to assassinate the Israeli
Ambassador to the UK in London.  The Israelis blamed
it on the PLO that had nothing to do with it.  It also
went unnoticed or reported that the PLO had been at
war with the Nidal group for years.  It didn’t matter,
and the western media, particularly in the US,
reported that the “Operation Peace for Galilee”
Lebanon invasion was undertaken to protect Israeli
civilians from PLO attacks even though there were
none.  Who would know the difference except the people
living there, and the western media don’t speak to
them unless it’s to affirm Israeli positions.

The situation today in Gaza bears similarity to 1982.
Israel was horrified when Hamas won a clear majority
of the seats in the January, 2006 elections for the
Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC).  Without the
larger than life figure of Yasser Arafat to lead it,
the Palestinian people finally rejected his Fatah
party and its long record of corruption and
subservience to Israeli dominance.  Since the
election, the Olmert led government has clamped down
hard on Hamas, calling it a terrorist organization.
It’s refused to negotiate with it, withheld
Palestinian tax revenues, and succeeded in getting an
international political boycott of the democratically
elected Hamas government as well as most outside aid
to it cut off.  All this has created an unbearable
hardship on the already desperate Palestinian
population. 

It didn’t matter that Hamas declared a unilateral
cease-fire, wanted negotiations and was willing to
recognize Israel as a legitimate state provided Israel
gave the Palestinians equal recognition, was willing
to return to the pre-1967 borders, released
Palestinian prisoners and stopped killing and abusing
Palestinians without provocation.  Israel refused and,
in fact, was as concerned about the Hamas cease-fire
as it was about the one the PLO observed in 1982 which
Prime Minister Shamir explained was the reason Israel
invaded Lebanon.  Back then, the provocation was the
incident in London against the Israeli Ambassador and
today it’s the capturing of an Israeli soldier.  These
are hardly reasons for going to war unless the
Israelis planned to wage one anyway and only needed a
reason to do it.  The reasons for Israeli actions
today are much the same as in 1982 - to destroy the
Hamas-led government as it did the PLO then and to
reinstitute one again subservient to its wishes.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (aka Abu Mazen) is
that kind of leader, has always been in his past
dealings with Israel, and is the one Olmert wants to
lead a future Palestinian government or someone just
like him.

The current situation in Gaza also has echos of the
IDF’s Operation Defensive Shield in the West Bank in
2002.  It included Israel’s infamous assault against
the people of Jenin, a city of 35,000, retaliating
against suicide bombings that occurred during the
Second Intifada that began after Knesset member Ariel
Sharon’s provocative visit to the holy Al Aqsa Mosque
in September, 2000.  The suicide bombings, in turn,
began in response to extreme Israeli violence against
the Palestinians which by March, 2002 Amnesty
International reported had killed over 1,000 of them
including more than 200 children.  During that
Operation, Israeli forces invaded and attacked all
West Bank cities causing an unknown number of civilian
casualties and deaths.  But the harshest assault
occurred in April, 2002 against Jenin, including its
refugee camp.  The IDF cut the city off from any
outside help, destroyed hundreds of buildings (many
with people inside buried under the rubble), cut off
power and water plus food and other essential needs
from the outside, refused to allow any help to enter
the city (including medical aid), and killed an
unknown number of mostly civilian Palestinian men,
women and children.  No Israeli was ever held to
account for these crimes.

Conditions in Jenin today remain grave as they do
throughout the Occupied Territories as Palestinians
now await the full impact of what an IDF reoccupation
may inflict on them.  As mentioned above, the Lebanon
invasion killed many thousands of innocent Lebanese
and Palestinians.  It also resulted in what noted
British journalist and Middle East expert Robert Fisk
called “one of the most shocking war crimes of the
20th century.”  He referred to what happened at the
Sabra and Shatila camps when Israeli Defense Minister
at the time Ariel Sharon in command of the IDF sent a
proxy Lebanese Phalange militia force into the camps
and allowed them to massacre as many as 3,000 or more
innocent mostly civilian men, women and children.
Beyond a brief and unconvincing censure for his
actions, Sharon never was held to account for his
crime and, of course, later became Israeli Prime
Minister serving until Ehud Olmert succeeded him after
his disabling stroke. 

It now remains to be seen what the final result of the
current Israeli assault against Gaza, the West Bank
and the Palestinian leadership will be.  It may be
some time before we know as it’s just beginning.  But
if the Lebanon and Jenin experiences are examples to
go by, many innocent Palestinian lives will be lost,
and the state of the Palestinian people will only get
far worse before it ever has a chance to become
better.  Will the world community finally take note
and act to stop a likely impending slaughter.  The
past record indicates it won’t.  It’s the purpose of
this writing to demand it does so and quickly and to
hold a criminal Israeli leadership accountable for its
war crimes and crimes against humanity against the
long-suffering Palestinian people who deserve the same
freedoms as all Israelis and everyone else.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  Also visit his blog
site at sj.lendman.blogspot.com


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