Stop the Destruction of Gaza and Its People!
Stop Funding Israel’s War and Occupation of Gaza!
March in D.C. on Saturday, August 2!
At the beginning of July 2014 the Israeli “Defense” Forces (IDF) launched a massive military attack on the Gaza Strip and its people. It began with air strikes and artillery shelling; a few days later the IDF launched a ground invasion against a people who have no standing army, no aircraft, no tanks, and no heavy artillery.
Gaza is an area in the southwestern corner of Palestine, about the size of Staten Island. Its population is nearly two million, most of whom are refugees from other areas of Palestine. It is one of the most densely populated areas on earth. Israeli forces occupied it from 1967 to 2005. Though Israel withdrew its forces, it has maintained a blockade on Gaza since 2007 and has controlled all entry and exit on the north side. Egypt has blockaded Gaza on the south side since the coup that overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood government of Muhammad Morsi. Unemployment in Gaza stands between seventy-five and eighty percent, and shortages of food, fuel, and electric power are a daily reality. Professor Noam Chomsky has described Gaza as an “open air prison.”
Those conditions have led to a desire to fight back against Israel, by whatever means might be available. For some that might mean firing rockets; for others that might mean acts of sabotage or of individual terrorism. People are angry, and they want to fight back against the expansion of exclusive Jewish settlements, the impossibility of travel through the checkpoints, the house demolitions, and other day-to-day oppressive Israeli policies.
The arrest of 350 Palestinians, including the entire West Bank leadership of Hamas, on suspicion of involvement in the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli youths—Naftali Fraenkel, 16, Gilad Shaer, also 16, and Eyal Yifrah, 19—provoked Hamas fighters to fire rockets at Israeli targets. The torture and murder of a Palestinian boy—Muhammad Abu Khdeir, 16, who was burned to death—exacerbated the anger. The Israeli police weeks later admitted that Hamas as an organization was not guilty of kidnap-murder of the Israeli teenagers.
Israel launched “Operation Protective Edge” on July 8, with a massive onslaught of bombing and shelling from the air and sea. The Israeli government claimed that it was in response to the rockets, even though none hit their targets. Whatever the pretext, it is the imposition of collective punishment—a violation of international law—on the people of Gaza, and words can scarcely describe the horror of it. After the first forty-eight hours, sixty-four Palestinians had been killed, including at least twelve children and an eighty-year-old woman. Many more were injured and homeless, after only the first two days. At that time no Israelis had been killed, neither civilians nor military personnel.
The war came home to Americans on July 16. Ayman Mohyeldin, a reporter for NBC News, was on a beach in Gaza where some young boys were playing soccer. Mohyeldin, who is Arab-American and a native Arabic speaker, even kicked the ball around with the boys. Minutes later, an Israeli ship launched a shell right at them, killing four of the boys—all from one family, two brothers and two cousins. Their names were Ismail Mahmoud Bakr, 9, Ahid Atif Bakr, 10, Zakariya Ahid Bakr, 10, and Muhammad Ramiz Bakr, 11. Mohyeldin broadcast the story to NBC audiences in the United States. Within hours, NBC management ordered him to leave Palestine and return to the United States. They claimed it was for his “security,” but no one was deceived. He was being silenced, and there was a massive backlash against NBC. After several days of phone calls and e-mails demanding Mohyeldin’s reinstatement, NBC relented and put him back on the Gaza beat. Meanwhile, the “Four Little Footballers” have become symbolic of the indiscriminate violence carried out against the Palestinian people by the IDF.
The next day, Israel began a ground assault against Gaza. The justification was, in their words, to destroy tunnels by which Hamas fighters were going into Israel to commit acts of terrorism. Dutifully, the mainstream media now reports the tunnels as being a major problem for the security of the Israeli people. The only tunnels anyone has ever been informed about have been used for smuggling food and other items from Egypt, since the Egyptians have sealed the border at Rafah. Never has Israel complained about tunnels being used for military purposes, until it was time to provide a justification for the ground invasion.
As of July 27, 1,023 Palestinians had been killed, in contrast to 46 Israelis, according to the New York Times. According to the United Nations, eighty percent of the Palestinian dead were civilians, and hundreds were children. Two Israeli civilians and one Thai national were killed on the Israeli side; the remaining forty-three were military personnel.
The Israelis bombed a major hospital and a United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) school which was serving as a refuge for Palestinians whose homes had been destroyed. They obliterated a Gaza City neighborhood called Sheja’iyeh, killing sixty people within hours, injuring several hundred and leaving thousands homeless. In a cruel act of psychological warfare, the IDF has telephoned Arabs in Gaza, warning them that they have ten minutes to get out of their homes because they will be bombed. These are families with children, who are unable to take clothing or any possessions with them if they try to escape. But where can they go? There is nowhere in the open air prison that is the Gaza Strip that is safe from Israeli bombing and shelling.
On July 29, Israeli bombardment destroyed Gaza’s only electric generating plant. Muhammad ash-Sharif, the plant’s director, said, “The power plant is finished.” Fathi Sheikh Khalil of the Gaza energy authority added, “We need at least one year to repair the power plant…Everything was burned.” The strike on the plant will worsen already severe problems with Gaza’s water supply, sewage treatment, and power supplies to medical facilities.
On July 30, an artillery shell from an Israeli tank destroyed another UNRWA school where over three thousand Palestinians had taken refuge. At least nineteen were killed, and dozens more were injured. Christopher Guinness, speaking for UNRWA, said the attack was “a source of universal shame” and blamed Israel for it.
The American big-business media predictably has slanted its news coverage to try to present the Israeli onslaught as a war between “Israel and Hamas,” in which both sides are more or less equal and in which Israel is “defending itself” from Hamas’s attack. Some have echoed the Israeli propaganda that Hamas’s aim is to destroy the State of Israel and wipe out its population, a claim refuted on July 23 by Hamas chairman Khalid Meshaal. At a press conference in Doha, Qatar, Meshaal said, “I’m ready to coexist with the Jews, with the Christians and the Arabs and non-Arabs,” he said. “However, I do not coexist with the occupiers.”
Because of courageous journalists like NBC’s Ayman Mohyeldin and the proliferation of social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, the truth about the Israeli onslaught has been disseminated, and Israel has lost control of the narrative. Large demonstrations protesting Israel’s war on the Palestinian people have been held in cities throughout the United States, including one in New York City on July 25 estimated by the police at 10,000. Even in semi-rural Newton, New Jersey, whose population is 8,500, over seventy people demonstrated in its central square for an end to the war on the people of Gaza and the continued occupation of Palestine. A national demonstration is planned for Washington, DC, on August 2. The Labor Fightback Network has endorsed this action and urges all who believe in peace and justice to attend.
Outside the United States, the outpouring of anger at Israel has been even larger. An estimated 100,000 marched in London. Demonstrations also have taken place in Dublin, Berlin, and Paris, where the “socialist” government of François Hollande has banned demonstrations against the Israeli aggression.
In stark contrast to the revulsion being expressed throughout the world at Israel’s actions, the United States government continues to support Israel without a peep of criticism. On July 17, the United States Senate passed a resolution in support of Israel’s attack on Gaza by a vote of 100 to 0. Voting “yea” included Senators Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Sherrod Brown, and Al Franken, all of whom enjoy considerable support from activists for peace and justice, and from the labor movement as well. Secretary of State John Kerry, knowing as President Obama knows that the longer Israel’s massacre in Gaza continues the greater the danger that the reaction against it cannot be contained, especially in Middle Eastern countries, has been frantically trying to broker a truce, but has had no success. Hamas has offered Israel a ten-year truce in exchange for lifting the siege on Gaza and other concessions which would be very easy for Israel to accept. Click here for the details. Netanyahu will not even consider it.
Throughout the United States, public opinion has turned decisively against Israel, as the truth about Israel’s horrific violence and the day-to-day misery of the Palestinian people under Israeli occupation become known. Within faith communities, universities, and local communities there is a growing call for boycott of Israeli goods, divestment of Israeli securities held by the churches, educational institutions, and township treasuries, and sanctions to be imposed on Israel until it complies with UN resolutions for an end to the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. The abbreviation “BDS” (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) has come to stand for a strategy that proved effective in helping to end South African apartheid once and for all in 1994. The Presbyterian church has divested its holdings of Israeli securities and has just decided to divest its holdings in Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, and Motorola, companies that do business in the illegal West Bank settlements. The Episcopal Peace Fellowship is calling on the broader Episcopal church to follow the Presbyterians’ lead.
Now it is time for the labor movement to join in the campaign, to join in the vigils, pickets, rallies, and marches for an end to the aggression in Gaza and an end to the occupation and blockade. Many unions hold State of Israel bonds. Rank-and-file trade unionists need to call on their International secretary-treasurers to divest those securities. The labor movement has the power and resources to challenge the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which has used its money to impose its will on the American government, especially the Congress. What it needs now is the will. Fighters for social justice in the trade unions can provide it.