NOAM CHOMSKY

Returning to Gaza, one element of the unremitting torture of its people is Israel’s “buffer zone” within Gaza from which Gazans are barred entry, almost half of Gaza’s limited arable land according to Sara Roy, the leading academic scholar of Gaza. From September 2005, after Israel transferred its settlers to other parts of the occupied territories, to September 2012, Israeli security forces killed 213 Palestinians in the zone, including 154 who were not taking part in hostilities, 17 of them children.

From January 2012 to the launching of Israel’s latest killing spree on November 14, Operation Pillar of Defense, one Israeli was reported to have been killed by fire from Gaza while 78 Palestinians were killed by Israel fire.

The full story is naturally more complex, and considerably uglier. The first act of Operation Pillar of Defense was to murder Ahmed Jabari. Aluf Benn, editor of Ha’aretz, describes him as Israel’s “subcontractor” and “border guard” in Gaza, who enforced relative quiet in Gaza for over five years. The pretext for the assassination was that during these five years Jabari had been creating a Hamas military force, with missiles from Iran. Plainly, if that is true it was not learned on November 14.

A more credible reason was provided by Israeli peace activist Gershon Baskin, who had been involved in direct negotiations with Jabari for years, including plans for the release of the captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Baskin reports that hours before Jabari was assassinated, “he received the draft of a permanent truce agreement with Israel, which included mechanisms for maintaining the ceasefire in the case of a flare-up between Israel and the factions in the Gaza Strip.” A truce was then in place, called by Hamas on November 12. Israel apparently exploited the truce, Reuters reports, directing attention to the Syrian border in the hope that Hamas leaders would relax their guard and be easier to assassinate.

Throughout these years, Gaza has been kept on a level of bare survival, imprisoned by land, sea and air. On the eve of the latest attack, the UN reported that 40 percent of essential drugs and more than half of essential medical items were out of stock. One of the first of the series of hideous photos that were sent from Gaza in November showed a doctor holding the charred corpse of a murdered child. That one had a personal resonance. The doctor is the director and head of surgery at Khan Yunis hospital, which I had visited a few weeks earlier. In writing about the trip I reported his passionate appeal for desperately needed simple drugs and surgical equipment. These are among the crimes of the US-Israeli siege, and Egyptian complicity.

The casualty rates from the November episode were about normal: over 160 Palestinian dead, including many children, and 6 Israelis. Among the dead were three journalists. The official Israeli justification was that “The targets are people who have relevance to terror activity.” Reporting the “execution” in the New York Times, David Carr observes that “it has come to this: killing members of the news media can be justified by a phrase as amorphous as ‘relevance to terror activity’.”

The massive destruction was all in Gaza. Israel used advanced US military equipment for the slaughter and destruction, and relied on US diplomatic support, including the usual US intervention to block a Security Council call for a cease-fire.

With each such exploit Israel’s global image erodes. The images of terror and destruction, and the character of the conflict, leave few remaining shreds of credibility to the self-declared “most moral army in the world,” at least among people with eyes open.

The pretexts for the assault were also the usual ones. We can put aside the predictable declarations of the perpetrators in Israel and Washington, but even decent people ask what Israel should do when attacked by a barrage of missiles. It’s a fair question, and there are straightforward answers.

One response would be to observe international law, which allows the use of force without Security Council authorization in exactly one case: in self-defense after informing the Security Council of an armed attack, until the Council acts (UN Charter, Article 51). Israel understands that well. That is the course it followed at the outbreak of the June 1967 war, but of course Israel’s appeal went nowhere when it was quickly ascertained that it was Israel that had launched the attack. Israel did not follow this course in November, knowing well what would be revealed in a Security Council debate.

Another narrow response would be to agree to a truce, as appeared quite possible before the operation was launched on November 14, as often before.

There are more far-reaching responses. By coincidence, one illustration is discussed in the current issue of the journal National Interest. The authors, Asia scholars Raffaello Pantucci and Alexandros Petersen, describe China’s reaction after rioting in western Xinjiang province “in which mobs of Uighurs marched around the city beating hapless Han [Chinese] to death.” Chinese president Hu Jintao quickly flew to the province to take charge, senior leaders in the security establishment were fired, and a wide range of development projects were undertaken to address underlying causes of the unrest.

In Gaza too a civilized reaction is possible. The US and Israel could end the merciless unremitting assault and open the borders, and provide for reconstruction — and if it were imaginable, reparations for decades of violence and repression.

The cease-fire agreement stated that the measures to implement the end of the siege and the targeting of residents in border areas “shall be dealt with after 24 hours from the start of the ceasefire.” There is no sign of steps in this direction. Nor is there any indication of US-Israeli willingness to rescind their policy of separating Gaza from the West Bank in violation of the Oslo Accords, to end the illegal settlement and development programs in the West Bank designed to undermine a political settlement, or in any other way to abandon the rejectionism of the past decades.

Some day, and it must be soon, the world will respond to the plea issued by the distinguished Gazan human rights lawyer Raji Sourani while the bombs were once again raining down on defenseless civilians in Gaza: “We demand justice and accountability. We dream of a normal life, in freedom and dignity.           –AntiWar