The latest war between Israel and the Palestinians, which began on July 8 and is continuing as I write this article, could well spell the effective end of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank.
By Britain Eakin
The recent killing of four Palestinian children by an Israeli airstrike while they played soccer on a beach in Gaza should call into question Israel’s claim that it’s waging a war of self-defense. Western journalists who saw the attack witnessed firsthand an ugly reality of life in Gaza — Palestinian civilians are too often caught in the crossfire in this tiny, densely populated and besieged coastal strip.
Early Sunday, an Israeli incursion into the Shujayea neighborhood in Gaza killed at least 60 more Palestinians. Most of the injuries being treated at Gaza’s al-Shifa hospital belong to civilians suffering from shrapnel injuries and amputations. More than 100 children have been killed so far and the Palestinian death toll just surpassed 400 with more than 3000 injured. The UN says more than 70 percent of Palestinian casualties are civilians, a marked increase from previous Israeli assaults.
The toll on civilians has raised United Nations’ concerns of the Israeli use of disproportionate force in Gaza in violation of international humanitarian law. But the use of disproportionate force and the targeting of civilian infrastructure isn’t a new or surprising tactic for Israel. In fact, it’s a primary strategy according to Gabi Siboni, head of the Military and Strategic Affairs program at the Institute for National Security Studies in Israel. This strategy has a well-documented history in Gaza. With the emergence of hostilities, “the IDF will need to act immediately, decisively, and with force that is disproportionate to the enemy’s actions and the threat it poses,” Siboni wrote.
The military response should aim “to inflict enough damage and punishment to require lengthy and immense reconstruction efforts.” This strategy is playing out now in Gaza, just as it did some six years ago during an earlier Israeli assault on Gaza, Operation Cast Lead. Now as then, Israel insisted that it wasn’t targeting civilians, but rather conducting a precision operation of self-defense. Yet after the fact, numerous international human rights groups came to very different conclusions. A 2009 UN investigation (PDF) determined that Operation Cast Lead was not about self-defense, as Israel claimed, but was “directed at the people of Gaza as a whole, in furtherance of an overall and continuing policy aimed at punishing the Gaza population.” (1883-1884)
The investigation concluded that Israeli forces carried out wanton destruction of property, and food and sanitation infrastructure. This included (PDF) the ruin of more than 3000 homes, one of the lagoons at Gaza’s water treatment plant, sewage pipes and water wells, rooftop water tanks, a UN compound, Gaza’s only operating flour mill, agricultural land, chicken farms and a cement factory. The investigation reached the overall conclusion that the destruction of this infrastructure served no military purpose but likely constituted attacks designed to increase the level of suffering among Gaza’s civilian population.
This is known as collective punishment, and it is illegal under international humanitarian law. Now, as it did then, Israel is hitting Gaza’s civilian infrastructure. Israeli forces recently shelled El Wafa Rehabilitation Hospital, the only hospital of its kind in Gaza, causing its staff to evacuate all patients. Sixteen health-care facilities have been damaged, the homes of nearly 1900 families have been destroyed or are uninhabitable and nearly 50,000 people have sought shelter in UN facilities.
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“These are offenses with national [Palestinian] characteristics that are not perpetrated in a similar scope in other parts of the country,” stated a Jerusalem municipal spokesperson.
Even before the commencement of war on July 8 there was unrest. There were 390 incidents of stone throwing in March and April in east Jerusalem, dozens of cars stolen as well as break-ins. There were also numerous such incidents throughout Israel. Since July 8 such incidents have soared.
The $90 million is also obviously to be used to crush the Palestinian revolts that were expected and are now occurring as Israel maintains its bombing campaign against Gaza. Such measures are nothing new. Palestinian resistance to Israel’s oppressive polices throughout the West Bank — accompanied by more ethnic cleansing and confiscation of land — has accelerated even more during the past year. The radical nationalist government in Israel and the radical far right Jewish Home party (HaBayit HaYahud), led by Naftali Bennett, and Israel Our Home party (Yisrael Beiteinu), led by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, are ardent advocates of the total annexation of the West Bank.
Even as the war against Gaza rages, Israel’s radical nationalist government has its eyes set on completing its annexation of the West Bank. Israel now controls nearly all of Area C, comprising 61 percent of the West Bank, which it assumed control of as a result of the 1993 Declaration of Principles (DOP). There are an estimated 60-70,000 Palestinians remaining in Area C, 50,000 of which are in Jericho (Ariha). Israel has complete security control of Area C and shares security with Palestinians in Areas B and C that comprise the remainder of the West Bank.
PA’s dependence on funds
The impotence of the PA and its leadership and its dependence on Israel, the US, EU and UN for funds necessary to keep the PA afloat means that its very existence depends on these funds. As a result of the current war and Israel’s attempt to destroy all Hamas-run infrastructure, as well as its political support, means that the PA is left at the mercy of Israel and the US.
But Israel, unlike the US, is on the ground in the West Bank, and its radical nationalist and religious parties and settlers demand that Israel take full control of the West Bank.
The Jewish Home and Israel Our Home parties are confident that Israel will be able to control the estimated 2.3 million Palestinians living in the West Bank by allowing them some kind of local neighborhood rule. Also, Israel, even though quite a wealthy country, is confident that the US, EU and UN will provide aid for truncated local rule in Areas A and B much like they do in Gaza. Israel’s full dominance of Areas A and B means it will allow only circumscribed local government. Israel thinks that by attrition, expulsions, police and security actions, and electronic and drone surveillance it will be able to control whatever dissent or rebellion will occur. It now does so in Greater Jerusalem, which has a Palestinian population of 306,000 comprising 30 percent of the city’s population.
For the above to be achieved with as little brutality, resistance and public scrutiny as possible, it is necessary that Hamas be politically destroyed in Gaza and that the international community take care of the Gazan Palestinians. Egyptians can‘t and won’t; Iraq and Syria are deep into their own civil wars. Jordan does have a Palestinian population of 3 million, but the Jordanian monarchy is completely tied to the US, Israel and the Gulf Arabs. There will be no help from that quarter. The latter three are also tied in a relationship against their supposed arch-foe Iran.
The US aid in various forms of some $5 billion (and probably much more) a year to Israel helps to assure the implementation of what I discuss above. On July 15 the US Congress approved another $621.6 million for Israel’s missile defense in addition to this $5 billion or more, and prior allocations for Israel’s Iron Dome missile shield.
Thus, the actions of the US Congress support the continued circumscription and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians as well as the confiscation of their land in the West Bank and its annexation by Israel. Apparently most Americans agree.
Robert Olson is a Middle East analyst based in Lexington, Kentucky. This article first appeared in Today’s Zaman, one of Turkey’s leading newspapers. Click here to go to the original.
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