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"We have no words left"

by Ali Abunimah via UK Guardian
"I will play music and celebrate what the Israeli air force is doing." Those chilling words were spoken on al-Jazeera on Saturday by Ofer Shmerling, an Israeli civil defence official in the Sderot area adjacent to the Gaza Strip. For days Israeli planes have bombed Gaza. Almost 300 Palestinians have been killed and a thousand injured, the majority civilians, including women and children. Israel claims most of the dead were Hamas "terrorists". In fact, the targets were police stations in dense residential areas, and the dead included many police officers and other civilians. Under international law, police officers are civilians, and targeting them is no less a war crime than aiming at other civilians.
Palestinians are at a loss to describe this new catastrophe. Is it our 9/11, or is it a taste of the "bigger shoah" Matan Vilnai, the deputy defence minister, threatened in February, after the last round of mass killings?

Israel says it is acting in "retaliation" for rockets fired with increasing intensity ever since a six-month truce expired on 19 December. But the bombs dropped on Gaza are only a variation in Israel's method of killing Palestinians. In recent months they died mostly silent deaths, the elderly and sick especially, deprived of food, cancer treatments and other medicines by an Israeli blockade that targeted 1.5 million people - mostly refugees and children - caged into the Gaza Strip. The orders of Ehud Barak, the Israeli defence minister, to hold back medicine were just as lethal and illegal as those to send in the warplanes.

Ehud Olmert, Israel's prime minister, pleaded that Israel wanted "quiet" - a continuation of the truce - while Hamas chose "terror", forcing him to act. But what is Israel's idea of a truce? It is very simple: Palestinians have the right to remain silent while Israel starves them, kills them and continues to violently colonise their land.

As John Ging, the head of operations for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, said in November: "The people of Gaza did not benefit; they did not have any restoration of a dignified existence ... at the UN, our supplies were also restricted during the period of the ceasefire, to the point where we were left in a very vulnerable and precarious position and with a few days of closure we ran out of food."

by Electronic Intifada (reposted)

Almost eight years ago, George W. Bush entered office in the early months of the second Palestinian intifada. Rather than resuming the negotiations facilitated by the Clinton Administration, he chose instead to "pull out" and allow Ariel Sharon, who was favored to win the upcoming Israeli elections, a free hand to end the intifada. According to former US Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, Bush asserted that "sometimes a show of strength by one side can really clarify things." [1] President Bush now leaves office with historically low approval ratings and an economy in shambles. As a consequence of his foreign policy misadventures, Bush also leaves the Middle East in flames and America's reputation in tatters. Yet, one thing has remained constant for the aloof president: deference to an Israeli "show of strength" rather than diplomacy. Only a year ago, Bush hosted the Annapolis conference that "relaunched" the "peace process" and then predictably stood by as it stalled out. Unable to launch a war against Iran, capture Osama bin Laden, pacify Afghanistan or Iraq, or broker a Palestinian-Israeli peace, rather than ride into the sunset in the waning days of his presidency, Bush is determined to leave in a final blaze of malicious incompetence. As it has been so often over the past eight years, the site of his enmity is Gaza.

Similarly, in September 2000 then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, smarting from the failed Camp David negotiations and behind Sharon in the polls, determined that a disproportionate show of force, including deploying Apache helicopters to fire on residential areas, would squelch the fledgling second Palestinian intifada. Known as Israel's most decorated soldier, Barak's ego far outstretches his diminutive stature, and his ambitions were similarly oversized. He believed that he could force concessions on the late Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat at the negotiating table and ensure his victory in the upcoming election. Instead, the intifada increased in intensity and Barak and the Labor Party were left to wander the wilderness of Israeli politics. Now hoping to return to political relevance, Barak has masterminded a massive assault on Gaza that builds upon a crippling 18-month-long siege and is designed to dramatically weaken Hamas and reassert Israel's "deterrence factor" in the region. [2]

His counterpart in this effort is Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who has political ambitions of her own, namely to be elected prime minister in the upcoming Israeli elections. Like Condoleezza Rice, her American counterpart and friend, Livni likes to claim that Hamas has prevented the achievement of Palestinian rights, while at the same time pursuing and implementing policies which are designed to ensure precisely that result. Like a number of her predecessors, Livni believes that a high Palestinian body count translates into victory at the Israeli polls.

For over a year Israeli politicians and generals have been threatening a massive bombing strike against Iran in attempt to reverse its nuclear program. They have also been saber rattling toward Hizballah in Lebanon, stating that should the militia attack Israel in response to the assassination of its military commander Imad Mughniyah (who was killed by a car bomb in Damascus in February), it would unleash "immense damage and destruction" across the country similar to its bombing of the Dahiya suburb of Beirut and infrastructure all over the country during the July 2006 War. [3] After all of the ominous threats in the international press, overt "military exercises" and an actual strike on a Syrian "nuclear installation," Israel chose a much easier and softer target in Gaza -- a densely packed but well mapped territory thoroughly infiltrated by informers and collaborators with no air force or anti-aircraft defenses and limited offensive weaponry that can be attacked around the clock by air with impunity.

Yet, the US and Israel would be unable to achieve their goals in the region without the complicity of corrupt and feckless Arab leaders, of which there is no dearth. The shocking images from Gaza the past 48 hours would be enough to spur action from most quarters, except apparently from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Since Hamas' election victory in 2006, Abbas has never missed an opportunity to insult his own people in Gaza. Last year after Hamas breached the Rafah border wall and Gazans poured into neighboring Egyptian towns for supplies and a break from Israel's siege, he referred to it as a "Palestinian occupation" of Sinai. As Israel tightened its siege of the Strip, Abbas has either refused to meet with his counterparts from Hamas or has constantly delayed and undermined negotiations by his representatives. When boats from the Free Gaza Movement attempted to breach the Israeli blockade, he referred to it is a "ridiculous game." Now that Israel is pounding Gaza, Abbas has not cut short his travels abroad and predictably has blamed Hamas for the violence.

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