A lot of words will be written and spoken about the IDF's shelling of a residential area of Beit Hanun early this morning, which killed at least 18 Palestinians as they slept. As I live in the U.S., most of the words I read and hear about it will blame the Palestinians for their own deaths, insisting that if only someone hadn't sometime in the past fired some crappy Qassam missile possibly from somewhere in the vicinity of where those dead Palestinians lived, then the IDF would not be attacking Palestinians and everything would be fine.
This is bullshit. Let us stop pretending that the massive killing of Palestinians in Gaza over the last few months begins and ends with the Qassams, and that if only they would stop firing them, the Palestinians would find a government in Israel willing to sit down and talk peace. This is a lie. It is a story we tell ourselves, to maintain the happy illusion we were raised on, i.e. that poor little Israel is always sincerely seeking peace, but is constantly frustrated by neighbors who don't want it.
Let's return to the real world via two quotes. One from Israeli journalist Gideon Levy:
What would have happened if the Palestinians had not fired Qassams? Would Israel have lifted the
economic siege that it imposed on Gaza? Would it open the border to Palestinian labourers? Free prisoners? Meet with the elected leadership and conduct negotiations? Encourage investment in Gaza? Nonsense. If the Gazans were sitting quietly, as Israel expects them to do, their case would disappear from the agenda here and around the world. Nobody would have given any thought to the fate of the people of Gaza if they did not behave violently.
Well, that's an important first step. A recognition that the firing of missiles out of Gaza does not happen in a vacuum, but has a context; and that that context is Israel's determination to unilaterally impose on the Palestinians a "solution" that will retain Israel's domination over them through indirect rather than direct occupation, rather than allow to emerge through negotiation a viable, successful, independent Palestinian state.
Let us stop pretending that there has ever been an Israeli government that ever meant to get out of the territories occupied in 1967, or meant for the Palestinians ever to live in a genuinely independent state. Successive Israeli government plans for the Palestinians - if they have allowed for the existence of the Palestinians at all - have aimed at forcibly confining the Palestinian population in those areas where they are most concentrated, leaving the most desirable Palestinian land for Israeli colonization and annexation. Successive governments have worked on the assumption that the "Palestinian problem" will be solved by confining them in encircled homelands (what we would have called "bantustans" in the time of apartheid), which will be entirely under Israeli domination, possibly offering a source of cheap labor for Israel but offering nothing more appealing than emigration to the Palestinians. This is not a mindset of the Israeli left or right, it is the mindset of both, whether in the form of the Netanyahu government plan for "Palestine":
the Sharon wall-imposed plan for "Palestine"
or the "Palestine" that Olmert (link is to PDF file) is building even as I write:
What we see this morning in Gaza is where the logic of this unilateral policy leads. Gaza was the first bantustan to be fenced and sealed off, and it is the first to show us how exactly this policy will be imposed.
Here's our second quote, from Arnon ("Arnon the Arab Counter") Soffer, the Israeli demographer whose alarmist warnings about the "demographic threat" were reportedly influential in convincing Ariel Sharon to actually build the walls and fences that would put into effect his long-anticipated plan to bring apartheid South Africa to the Middle East:
First of all, the fence is not built like the Berlin Wall. It's a fence that we will be guarding on either side. Instead of entering Gaza, the way we did last week, we will tell the Palestinians that if a single missile is fired over the fence, we will fire 10 in response. And women and children will be killed, and houses will be destroyed. After the fifth such incident, Palestinian mothers won't allow their husbands to shoot Kassams, because they will know what's waiting for them.
Second of all, when 2.5 million people live in a closed-off Gaza, it's going to be a human catastrophe. Those people will become even bigger animals than they are today, with the aid of an insane fundamentalist Islam. The pressure at the border will be awful. It's going to be a terrible war. So, if we want to remain alive, we will have to kill and kill and kill. All day, every day.(Source)
That is the rationale behind what is going on in Gaza today, and that is why it is positively perverse to pretend that Qassams are the source of the devastation there, when they are actually a relatively minor side-effect of the underlying issue.
Israel's policy is to imprison the Palestinian people in a series of encircled "homelands", while annexing the Palestinian land and water resources to Israel. As Soffer implies, this is not a "solution" to the problem that any Palestinian can willingly accept but, grossly outgunned as they are, what exactly are the Palestinians going to do about it, except send their crappy homemade rockets over the wall? And when they do that, Israel has an answer: it will use its overwhelming firepower to simply bomb the confined Palestinians into submission. Apparently, when enough of their women and children are dead, the Palestinians are supposed to accept whatever unilateral solution Israel imposes on them. That is the logic of Israeli unilateralism; that is the logic of the wall. You have to be utterly insane and delusional to think that this will ever bring Israel security, but apparently those qualities are no longer disqualifiers for holding office in Israel.
And that is why this morning's killings in Beit Hanun are not an accident, but an "accident". Of course the individual tank gunners who fired the fatal barrage didn't mean to kill those particular Palestinians, and in that sense it is an accident. But inasmuch as it is Israeli policy to cage the Palestinians and bomb them into submission, this is not an accident, it is policy. It is the natural outcome of an Israeli government mentality that still thinks military might will allow it to impose unilaterally a solution on the Palestinians, and save it from having to negotiate with them as equals. And, most damningly of all, it is the natural outcome of an Israeli government mentality that finds it less distasteful to blow up innocent people in Gaza than to finally get out of the Occupied Territories and allow Palestinians their independence.
Photo: A Palestinian boy is reflected in a pool of water stained with blood after an Israeli shelling at Beit Hanoun town in the northern Gaza Strip November 8, 2006. Israeli shelling killed 18 civilians, including women and children, on Wednesday, Palestinian officials said, in one of Israel's deadliest strikes in the coastal territory in months. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem (GAZA)