The Collective Punishment Continues

Gaza_Strip_NASAIn my previous post, I talked about the double standard when it comes to “migrants” and “refugees” when it comes to popular discourse. Today, as the conflict in Gaza enters Day 2, we see yet another double standard reflected in the media. The news presents the Palestinian side virtually uniformly as warlike and bloodthirsty, ready to “push Israel into the sea.” The Israeli side, meanwhile, is portrayed as “under attack,” defending itself from aggression and terrorism. This is despite the fact that Israeli attacks on Gaza have so far yielded over 30 casualties with more than 150 people injured, while Hamas’ rocket attacks have yet to result in a single fatality.

Also obscured is why Hamas resumed its futile rocket attacks to begin with. On June 17th, three Israeli teenagers — Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach – were kidnapped. On June 30th, their bodies were recovered. Incited by political and religious leaders, angry Israelis took to the streets, and on July 2nd, a group abducted and burned alive Muhammad Abu Khdeir, a 16-year-old Palestinian boy. Days later, Israeli police brutally beat and detained Abu Khdeir’s cousin, Tariq. To once again mention contrasts, news reports tended to show the family members of the slain Israeli teens consoling one another and weeping, while reports about the Abu Khdeir boys showed the usual outraged mobs throwing stones. The fact that it was Israeli society that had erupted in a powder-keg of racial hatred has been almost completely ignored.

To make matters worse, Max Blumenthal has documented how the Israeli government fed the Israeli outrage machine to gin up support for the Netanyahu regime. He notes how the Israeli security service, Shin Bet, knew the fate of the Israeli teenagers longBenjaminNetanyahu before it became public knowledge, during which time Netanyahu and other like-minded opportunists had exploited fear of the worst rather than calling for calm. And when the news did come out, Netanyahu did not call for restraint; instead he referred to Palestinians as “human animals” and referenced a poem about a Russian pogrom. For those who don’t follow Israeli politics, Netanyahu’s ultra-nationalist rhetoric actually passes for moderation; those on the right-wing fringe issued much more explicit calls for vigilante “justice” – which in turn led to the barbaric death of Muhammad Abu Khdeir.

Obviously none of that justifies the indiscriminate rocket attacks carried out by Hamas, but neither do those attacks themselves justify the collective punishment meted out by Israel on the densely populated Gaza Strip. To put it plainly, Israel has state-of-the-art precision missiles, bomb shelters, and an Iron Dome to protect themselves from the substandard weapons Hamas has managed to smuggle past the Israeli blockade around Gaza that leaves civilians deprived of much-needed food and medicine. The notion that Israel faces an existential threat from Hamas is about as farcical a story to offer as any, yet that is exactly the one the Western media opts for as the lopsided casualty count continues to climb, with more and more Palestinian deaths. At worst, media outlets giddily cheer on the bombs falling on homes in Gaza, while at best, so-called “wonks” shrug their shoulders at an irrational conflict that they cannot explain as human spreadsheets.

Gratefully, some human rights advocacy organizations – such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International – have followed the Israeli record of collective punishment inSumayya_and_her_cat_in_front_of_her_demolished_home_2002,_2nd_Intifada recent events, noting that the apartments of two men held as suspects in the murder of the Israeli teens had their apartments demolished overnight, damaging even the homes of other families in the same buildings. More long term, Israeli forces have arbitrarily arrested and detained Palestinians, with over 300 Palestinians presently jailed, in addition to checkpoint closures and restrictions on movement.

None of this can be attributed to some vague and inscrutable “age-old feud” between Jews and Arabs. This is about politics and ideology, pure and simple. As last year’s elections demonstrated, Israel has been moving to the extreme right, with settlers hoping for another confrontation and decisive defeat of Hamas, along with increased annexation of Palestinian land. This new offense, which will almost assuredly see Israeli troops occupying Gaza, will not only renew a large Israeli presence in the “Occupied Territories,” but will permit Israel to force even more concessions from Palestine (and definitely retard any further Palestinian efforts to gain formal recognition globally). In the grand scheme of things, this offensive is yet another step in eliminating the Palestinian presence from Israeli territory; after all, a thoroughly “Jewish state” struggles to cope with a non-Jewish population. Be it through dispossession or death, Israel fundamentally wants to see itself rid of its Palestinian population. As Noam Chomsky recently wrote in his essay on the BDS movement, comparisons of Israel to South Africa are misleading: South Africa depended on its black population to be its workforce. Israel has no such reliance on its Palestinians; indeed, it wants nothing more than to purge them.

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