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Gaza Catastrophe: Resource Conflict? Natural Gas, Palestinian Elections, and Israel's Subversion of the 'Peace Process'

Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed | 08.01.2009 14:27 | Analysis | Palestine | Terror War | Sheffield

Israel claims it is fighting in Gaza to stop Hamas rocket-fire against Israel, the continuation of which constituted a flagrant breach of the six-months ceasefire. Hence, the objective of the military operation is limited by the aim of putting an end to the rocket-fire. In fact, the current outbreak of violence cannot be understood without analysing the asymmetries in military violence between the two parties; the structural dynamic of the conflict in the context of the character of the Israeli occupation; the central role of recent discoveries of substantial natural gas reserves in Gaza; and joint Anglo-American and Israeli attempts to monopolise the lucrative (and strategic) energy resources through a political process tied to a corrupt Palestinian Authority run by Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah Party. Hamas' unprecedented victory in democratic elections in 2006 fundamentally threatened these plans. Operation Cast Lead, the concurrent Israeli military venture, was operationalised as a war plan in early 2008, and already finalised in detail as far back as 2001 by Israeli military intelligence. Its execution in late December 2008 into January 2009 is designed to head-off not only domestic Israeli elections, but more significantly, the outcome of further incoming Palestinian democratic elections likely to consolidate Hamas' power, to permanently shift the balance of geopolitical and economic power in its favour. The long-term goal is the "cantonization" of the Occupied Territories making way for increased Israeli encroachment, and ultimately the escalation of Palestinian emigration.

Disproportionate Violence - 700: 4

Who bears primary responsible for the violence? You decide:

Nearly 700 Palestinians are dead, and 4,000 Palestinians injured. Around 15,000 civilians - half of them children - have been forced to flee their homes, now turned to rubble. (Save the Children Alliance, 02.01.09) Israeli human rights groups, like B'Tselem (The Israeli Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories) based in Jerusalem, confirm that the Israeli military is committing war crimes by intentionally targeting the civilian population in Gaza.

As I write, here comes news of example: "Israeli shelling kills dozens at UN school in Gaza" reports the London Guardian. More than 40 Palestinians were killed "after missiles exploded outside a UN school" in Jabaliya refugee camp by two Israeli tank shells, "where hundreds of people were sheltering from the continuing Israeli offensive." Several dozen civilians were wounded. The school was clearly marked according to officials. And elsewhere, "at least 12 members of an extended family, including seven young children, were killed in an air strike on their house in Gaza City." Hours earlier, "three young men - all cousins - died when the Israelis bombed another UN school, the Asma primary school in Gaza City," where about 400 Palestinians had sought shelter "after fleeing their homes in Beit Lahiya in northern Gaza." Israel claimed they were targeting Hamas fighters using the UN school as cover, but UN officials confirmed that no Hamas operatives were at the bombed school.

As foreign journalists remain banned from entry into Gaza for for no plausible reason, Israeli human rights groups like B'Tselem are reporting extensively on the deliberate mass destruction of civilian life and infrastructure by Israeli forces. B'Tselem points out that Israeli officials have described how the entirety of Palestinian society can be considered as providing a support network to Hamas, and is therefore a legitimate target. But worse, the stories that B'Tselem brings to light, ignored by mainstream media pundits, are deeply horrifying. Here are some examples:

On 1 Jan. 2009, the Israeli army killed four women and eleven children in the Jabalya refugee camp. B'Tselem comments: "Such extensive loss of civilian life constitutes a grave breach of international humanitarian law and cannot be justified on military grounds." (B'Tselem, 4.01.09) The Israeli human rights group documents dozens of eye-witness testimonies confirming. On 4th January, "soldiers opened fire from a tank toward a passenger taxi outside Gaza City. The four children in the taxi witnessed their mother and another woman killed." On 27th December, two Palestinian toddlers "aged three and six, stepped out of their home to feed chickens in the yard. Before they reached the coop, the house was hit by the bombing of a nearby building." The three year old was killed.

This barely scratches the surface of what has been done. Other Israeli human rights groups, UN agencies, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, Save the Children, along with dozens of other credible independent organizations confirm that Israeli forces are indiscriminately targeting the entire Palestinian civilian population, blowing up residential areas, destroying power plants, bombing sewage facilities, annihilating hospitals, pummelling roads, all into bloody rubble.

Compare the hundreds of Palestinians killed, thousands injured, and tens of thousands made homeless, to the fact that only 4 Israelis have been killed due to Hamas rocket-attacks since the outbreak of conflict in December. (Guardian, 03.01.09) Of course, these deaths are condemnable and outrageous. But they are not cases of massive, systematic massacres of civilians - which are precisely what Palestinians have been experiencing under Israeli politico-territorial domination for the last decade.

The Long-Term View - 5000: 14

Consider, for instance, that on 19th September 2007, Israel's security cabinet unanimously declared the entire Gaza Strip an "enemy entity" - solely due to ongoing Hamas rocket-fire. Yet that rocket-fire was and is a response to continued indiscriminate Israeli military bombardments. In January 2007, Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) staged three days of air strikes killing 30 Palestinians, and on the 17th, the Gaza strip was placed under total closure. In response, over 150 rockets and mortars were fired into Israel between the 15th and 18th of that month by Hamas. Yet while these caused no injuries or fatalities to any Israelis, in that same period, nearly 700 Palestinians (including 224 civilians of whom 78 were children) were killed by Israeli extra-judicial executions.

Indeed, over the last 7 years of conflict, a grand total of 14 Israelis were killed by Hamas' rocket-fire, compared to an estimated 5,000 Palestinians killed by Israeli forces with advanced American and British-supplied military equipment (Guardian, 30.12.08) "Among those killed in the first wave of strikes", reports the Guardian, "were eight teenage students waiting for a bus and four girls from the same family in Jabaliya, aged one to 12 years old."

Who Broke the Ceasefire?

It is a matter of historical record that the tentative six-month ceasefire was broken by Israel. On 4th November 2008, Israeli forces raided Gaza late at night killing 6 Palestinians, eliciting Hamas rocket-fire. (Guardian, 05.11.08) By late December, Israel called for a 48-hour truce in retaliatory attacks. An official from the UN Relief and Works Agency reported that Israel flagrantly violated the lull, exploiting the opportunity to drop 100 tonnes of bombs on Hamas government installations. (Ha'aretz, 30.12.08)

Root Cause of Palestinian Resistance: Structural Genocide in the Occupied Territories

After Hamas came to power in democratic elections, Israel imposed a brutal siege on Gaza in 2005, denying 1.5 million Palestinians electricity, fuel, food imports, medical supplies, and vital maintenance goods and spare parts. As water and sanitation services deteriorated, hunger and ill-health intensified, and mortality rates increased. International aid agencies like Oxfam warned of a major public health crisis.

The UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories, Richard Falk, said that the siege of Gaza warned that the Israeli siege of Gaza, threatening the lives of an entire civilian population, expressed genocidal intent:

"Is it an irresponsible overstatement to associate the treatment of Palestinians with this criminalized Nazi record of collective atrocity? I think not. The recent developments in Gaza are especially disturbing because they express so vividly a deliberate intention on the part of Israel and its allies to subject an entire human community to life-endangering conditions of utmost cruelty. The suggestion that this pattern of conduct is a holocaust-in-the-making represents a rather desperate appeal to the governments of the world and to international public opinion to act urgently to prevent these current genocidal tendencies from culminating in a collective tragedy... But it would be unrealistic to expect the UN to do anything in the face of this crisis, given the pattern of US support for Israel and taking into account the extent to which European governments have lent their weight to recent illicit efforts to crush Hamas as a Palestinian political force."

"Here's One I Prepared Earlier…"

The siege was a strategy to prepare the ground for a protracted military operation, known as "Cast Lead". Although justified on the grounds of stopping Hamas rocket-fire, the operation was planned over six months before the launch of the operation at the end of 2008.

Canadian analyst Professor Michel Chossudovsky from the University of Ottawa has revealed that Operation Cast Lead is in fact the legacy of "a broader military-intelligence agenda first formulated by the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2001", aiming to produce a "planned humanitarian disaster," designed to inflict mass civilian casualties and terror - that is, to weaken resistance, increase Israeli control, and encourage Palestinian emigration. Contrary to Israeli official rhetoric, military targets are secondary to this principal objective.

In this respect, operation beginning in December 08 actually implements what was known as the "Dagan Plan" in 2001 - Operation Justified Vengeance, named after known its founder, retired general and current Mossad commander, Meir Dagan. The operation planned to destroy "the infrastructure of the Palestinian leadership" and collect the arms of "various Palestinian forces and expelling or killing its military leadership." The cumulative impact of this strategy would be to eliminate the viability of Gazan political and military resistance to Israeli penetration, permitting the forcible "cantonization" of the Occupied Territories under the nominal rule of the politically-coopted Fatah faction.

Hints that the scope of the operation, already killing and injuring thousands of Palestinian civilians, would be far broader than hitherto admitted, came when Deputy Defence Minister Matan Vilnai told Israeli Army Radio that the Palestinians would "bring upon themselves a bigger Holocaust because we will use all our might to defend ourselves."

Averting Democracy: Palestinian Elections, January 2009

The question, of course, is why now? Pundits have pointed at the telling coincidence of imminent Israeli elections, requiring the Olmert cabinet to find new ways to regain some semblance of credibility after the disastrous Hizbullah defeat in southern Lebanon, not to mention the impact of domestic scandals. Yet even more significant is the role of imminent Palestinian elections. As of September 2008, Israeli political observes noted an erupting "constitutional crisis" in the Occupied Territories due to disagreement "between Hamas and Fatah over when the next Palestinian elections will be held." Hamas officials stated that they would "not acknowledge Abu Mazen's legitimacy as President of the Palestinian Authority (PA) after January 2009, when it believes his term in office is due to finish." According to Hamas, "new elections should be held in January 09′ since according to the PA's Basic Law (which also serves as its temporary constitution) Abu Mazen finishes his Presidential term after 4 years." In the event of failure to do so, the Presidency "temporarily passes to the Speaker of the Parliament, Abd al-'Aziz Dweik." As he is currently imprisoned by Israeli authorities, Hamas would resort to appointing Dweik's deputy "who is also a Hamas member."

Given the growing weakness of Abbas and the increasing popularity of Hamas, it was far from likely that the PA would be able to forestall elections until January 2010, as it had wanted to, without severe recriminations and domestic opposition. Both presidential and parliamentary elections were therefore likely in 2009, and would have allowed Hamas to consolidate its power in the Occupied Territories.

Post-1999: Gaza as Locus of Resource Conflict

Israeli military and policy planners clearly recognized that this would create significant difficulties for Israel's own plans for the Occupied Territories. A decade back, the British the oil firm BG International discovered a huge deposit of natural gas just off the Gaza coast, containing 1.2 trillion cubic feet of gas valued at over $4 billion. Controlling security over air and water around Gaza, Israel quickly moved to negotiate a deal with BG to access Gaza's natural gas at cheap rates.

The incentives for Israel are obvious - as the Telegraph reports: "Israel's indigenous gas fields - north of the Gaza Marine field - could run out within a few years and the only other long-term source will be a pipeline from neighbouring Egypt."

The British Foreign Office, described the reserves as "by far the most valuable Palestinian natural resource." Tel Aviv journalist Arthur Neslen cites an informed British source saying, "The UK and US, who are the major players in this deal, see it as a possible tool to improve relations between the PA and Israel. It is part of the bargaining baggage." The project could provide up to 10 per cent of the Israel's energy needs, at around half the price the same gas would cost from Egypt. The Gaza Strip would be effectively circumvented, as the gas would be piped directly onshore to Ashkelon in Israel. Neslen reports another informed source noting "an obvious linkage" between the BG-Israel deal and "attempts to bolster the Olmert-Abbas political process." Yet this process is designed precisely to marginalise the Palestinian people, as Neslen reports that "up to three-quarters of the $4bn of revenue raised might not even end up in Palestinian hands at all. While the PIF officially disputes the percentages, it will provide no others for fear of a public backlash." The "preferred option" of the US an UK is that the gas revenues would be held in "an international bank account over which Abbas would hold sway." No wonder then, that Ziad Thatha, the Hamas economic minister, had denounced the deal as "an act of theft" that "sells Palestinian gas to the Zionist occupation."

Things didn't go quite according to plan. In fact, before any deal could be finalised, Hamas won the 2006 elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council, provoking a bitter power struggle between Hamas and the pro-west Fatah, fuelled by the input of US and Israeli arms to the latter. Ultimately, the Palestinian Authority split in 2007, with Hamas taking control of Gaza and Fatah taking control of West Bank. Having been excluded from the US-UK brokered gas deal between Israel and the PA, one of the first things that Hamas did after getting elected was to declare that the natural gas deal was void, and would have to be renegotiated.

With Hamas declaring the constitutional imperative to hold elections in 2009, as early as January if possible, Israeli military and policy planners recognized the probability of a Hamas win - with all its political implications. At one time even stating its willingness to recognise Israel's right to exist within its 1967 borders, a consolidated Hamas government in control of Gaza's natural resources would fundamentally alter the balance of power in the region, granting Palestinians the prospects of sustained economic growth, foreign investment, unprecedented infrastructure development, and thereby the prospect of a far more equal relationship with Israel, who in coming years needs to increasingly diversify energy supplies. Meanwhile Israel's original Anglo-America sponsored plans for the Occupied Territories - a docile Fatah-controlled patchwork of underdeveloped cantonized Bantustans whose natural resources are controlled by Israel and profited by Anglo-American companies - would be thrown into the sea.

Israeli Military Objectives

Pundits, slavishly quoting Israeli defence sources, claim that Israel is trying to stop the Hamas rocket-fire, and will keep the operation rolling until they believe that they have degraded Hamas military capabilities sufficiently so as to forever prevent Hamas from firing rockets at Israel again. Ever. Failing this, pundits tend to be confused about the scope of Israel's objectives, noting that the stated aim is rather vague and intrinsically impossible to measure.

Given the preceding analysis, Israel's official war aim is difficult to take seriously. On the contrary, there is little doubt that Operation Cast Lead is aimed at obliterating Hamas as a viable source of politico-military resistance in the Palestinian Territories, paving the way for the "cantonization" of the latter under the erection of the corrupt Abbas-led PA, before imminent 2009 Palestinian elections could consolidate Hamas' socio-political entrenchment. The operation thus has two major objectives:

1) The short-term objective is to allow Israeli and Anglo-American unchallenged monopolisation of the Gaza gas reserves, and continued apartheid-style domination of the Territories.

2) The long-term objective is to create permanent conditions facilitating Israel's re-encroachment on the Territories, encouraging Palestinian emigration and expulsion from their homes, and absorbing their remaining lands under renewed Israeli settler-colonisation programmes.

The war on Gaza is, therefore, a war on democracy; a war on the right of peoples to self-determination; a war on the right of peoples' to utilise their own resources for their own benefit. It continues and extends the policies of repression and discrimination perpetrated by Israel in the Occupied Territories since 1948, when three quarters of a million Palestinians were forced from their homes, and hundreds massacred, by Israeli forces in the Nakba (Catastrophe). Since then, Israel has continued to violate UN resolutions, attempted to grab as much territory as possible from the Palestinians, denied them the right to statehood and self-determination, and instituted racist laws to deprive them of civil liberties and human rights. Even Israeli officials like Ami Ayalon, the retired head of Shin Bet, Israel's domestic security service, have condemned these policies as a form of "apartheid": "The things a Palestinian has to endure, simply coming to work in the morning, is a long and continuous nightmare that includes humiliation bordering on despair… We have to decide soon what kind of democracy we want here. The present model integrates apartheid and is not commensurate with Judaism." (Ma'ariv, 05.12.00)

Israel's illegal occupation of Palestine is supported by the US, Britain, and Western Europe, through financial aid, extensive supplies of arms and military equipment, diplomatic support. In particular, the US has provided direct support since the inception of Israeli's military operation. US Army Engineering Corps officers are in southern Gaza, Rafah, along the Egyptian border to "curb weapons smuggling into Gaza."

The global social justice movement needs to extend its support for Gaza far beyond marching and demonstrations, by pressuring media, government and civil society institutions to recognize that the Gaza crisis is an outcome of long-term policies that can only be understood in the context of recognizing the reality of Israel as a Setter-Colonial Apartheid regime sponsored by Anglo-American power.

Thus, the global social justice movement should look to widening and deepening public understanding of the origins of the current crisis in the contemporary conjuncture of the global imperial system. Yet just as South African apartheid required a massive international campaign of diplomatic and economic boycotting to bring it down, so too will the Israeli Settler-Colonial Apartheid regime require a comprehensive campaign of diplomatic and economic boycotts to weaken the nexus that ties Anglo-American power to Israel, and move toward a meaningful resolution of the conflict based on democracy and equality for Jews and non-Jews, together.

Where can we start, practically? An outstanding example is to call for the establishment of an International Criminal Tribunal for Israel (ICTI) under UN Charter Article 22, as has been advocated by the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC), a London-based NGO with Special Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council. As IHRC Chairman Massoud Shadjareh observed, "The setting up of such a tribunal is long-overdue, and is desperately needed to address the war crimes perpetrated not only in the current attacks on Gaza but in previous campaigns against the Lebanese and Palestinians. The relevant procedures and precedents are in place. It is time for the UN to act if it hopes to regain a shred of credibility amongst the outraged peoples of the world." The IHRC's call for a tribunal resonates with numerous comments from independent experts on Israeli war crimes, such as Francis Boyle, Professor of International Law at the University of Illinois:

"The establishment of ICTI would provide some small degree of justice to the victims of Israeli war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide against the Peoples of Lebanon and Palestine--just as the ICTY has done in the Balkans. Furthermore, the establishment of ICTI by the U.N. General Assembly would serve as a deterrent effect upon Israeli leaders such as Prime Minister Olmert, Foreign Minister Livni, Defense Minister Barak , Chief of Staff Ashkenazi and Israel's other top generals that they will be prosecuted for their further infliction of international crimes upon the Lebanese and the Palestinians." So here's something you can do to make the establishment of an ICTI a real possibility - write to the UN General Assembly President, demanding the creation of an Israeli war crimes tribunal under UN Charter Article 22.

Authors Website:

Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed
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