Gaza: Unending Cannon Fire and Steel Helmets

[NB: check the byline, thanks. /~Rayne]

Before Congress’s Easter week break earlier this year, there had been negotiations to allow Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu to speak before Congress. He was not granted that opportunity though reports indicated vacillating opinion in the House and Senate.

It would be a grave mistake to allow Netanyahu such a platform; it would confer legitimacy to his policy toward Gaza.

That policy includes genocide. The U.S. may support the right to self defense of nation-states, but it cannot ever support genocide – not even the appearance of doing so by allow a mass murderer a platform.

Gaza’s history, the complexity of geopolitics involved, along with Netanyahu’s narcissistic intransigence and stifling U.S. policy prevent the Biden administration from openly calling Netanyahu’s actions genocide.

But the genocide of Gazans isn’t something new. It’s part of decades of increasing repression. One only needs to look at a map and the numbers — hell, even satellite photos taken over time — to know this situation didn’t develop in the last handful of months.

It continues with the repeated attacks on and murder of humanitarian aid workers who have been trying to fend off famine.

We’ll need far more than maps and numbers to stop this mass murder.

The Congressional GOP caucus allowing Netanyahu to address Congress next month does absolutely nothing to discourage his policy of genocide – rather, it encourages it.


In a nutshell, Gaza is a population the size of Houston crammed into an area the size of Las Vegas — more than 2 million people crammed into 141 square miles. There are only three crossings in and out, two guarded by Israel and one by Egypt, with the perimeter surrounded by a double fence line on three sides and the ocean on the fourth.

Gaza has been under blockade since 2005 following the second Intifada, though Israel has closed the region off and on since 1991.

Israel tightened the blockade after Hamas was elected to power (2006); this change in power was a response to the blockade and the ineffectiveness of the Palestinian Authority to address Gazans’ needs.

After nearly twenty years of Israel’s tightening stranglehold punctuated with fuel restrictions (2007), closed crossings thereby blocking food (2008), and an ongoing need for humanitarian aid (2010-on), it can hardly be surprising a rebellion by Hamas occurred.

Americans have been looking away for years, avoiding the obvious build up to October 7, 2023. We can’t look away any more.

Look at this rather dispassionate map of Gaza before October 7, prepared by the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. These were the facts on the ground before October 7 with which the U.N. and other aid organizations had to work to address Gaza’s needs not met by occupier Israel.

(source: UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs – occupied Palestinian territory, via Wikimedia)

Could Americans live with this, in this? Could they raise children under these conditions, essentially inside a large double fenced cage from which land and housing has been stolen?

Can we begin to understand why there are tunnels in and out of Gaza?

What are we defending by looking away?


The politics of the past which have long shaped and conditioned global public opinion are being used as a means to prevent us from seeing more clearly what’s going on in Gaza and across the Middle East.

At least a couple of commenters at this site have mentioned the 1960 movie Exodus, a fictionalized account of Israel’s founding as a nation-state. This film has colored Americans’ perception of Israel for 63 years, in concert with a lack of education about the entire Middle East.

Americans don’t even learn about their own internal conflicts like the Tulsa race massacre or the cause and effects of the Chinese Exclusion Act. They learn little about the history of conflicts abroad, and about the history of Arab and Persian worlds, they learn even less.

What Americans have learned in K-12 public education is that Nazi Germany and its totalitarian dictator were evil and responsible for the deaths of millions of Jews in the Holocaust – a wholly accurate depiction. Children are exposed to the primary text Anne Frank’s diary and fictional texts like The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. Students are conditioned to see Israel’s creation and statehood as a positive, constructive response to the persecution and genocide of Europe’s Jews in 1930-1940s.

This is the lens through which Americans view the film Exodus.

The American public has been further conditioned by foreign terror attacks of 1990s and 2001, shaping and shaped by government response. As events unfolded, U.S. media coverage rarely ever examined the events from a decolonizing perspective.

All of this material has conditioned much of the U.S. to afford wide latitude to Israel.

U.S. foreign policy which supports democracies and affirms independent sovereign nation-states’ right to self defense reinforces that latitude.

Looking the other away has been cultivated for a lifetime, further reinforced by a fear of being called anti-Semitic if Israel’s policies and actions are called into question.

Jews are not Israel. Israel is not Benjamin Netanyahu, just as Gaza is not Hamas.

And yet all of Gaza is suffering for Netanyahu’s fuck-up, while Jews abroad and a majority of Israelis at home are confronted with the fallout.

By fuck-up I mean one massive intelligence failure followed by many others.


After looking at recent history of Gaza and the conditions in which Gazans live, the October 7 attack isn’t much of a surprise.

What was a surprise: Israel’s intelligence failures the October 7 attack exposed.

Israel has a history of using targeted intelligence to eliminate potential threats, including extrajudicial execution. Why Israel did not act effectively to prevent October 7 looks as stunningly bad as George W. Bush’s failure to respond pre-emptively to al Qaeda’s threat against the U.S. in August 2001.

Israel’s leadership and military knew there was a threat. Netanyahu failed to ensure Israel was protected.

New York Times report says Israel knew about Hamas attack over a year in advance

Netanyahu failed to do his job for an entire year – but his follow-up to his massive fuck-up is obliterating the population of Gaza.

The attack on October 7 wasn’t the only problematic intelligence failure.

Israel has been less than forthcoming about its operations; though its intelligence knew of the existence of tunnels, it can’t explain how it missed a tunnel as large as the one near the Erez crossing at the border with Egypt.

Israel finds large tunnel adjacent to Gaza border, raising new questions about prewar intelligence

Nor can Israel explain deadly attacks on facilities which were alleged to be supported by intelligence but violate international law. Too many of the attacks have been proven unjustified by follow-up reporting, the most common of which is the excuse Hamas has used tunnels beneath buildings which later prove to be false.

Also poorly rationalized is the use of artificial intelligence to target Hamas, again leading to destruction of civilian infrastructure and civilian deaths. This is a form of human experimentation in addition to yet more war crimes.

The January 24 attack on the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) sheltering thousands of Gazans was beyond the pale:

A United Nations building sheltering displaced Palestinians in southern Gaza was hit by Israeli tank fire Wednesday, killing at least nine people and injuring 75 others, according to the UN Relief and Works Agency in Gaza.

Israel’s military said it “currently” ruled out that an Israeli aerial or artillery strike hit the UNRWA Khan Younis Training Center. The IDF also said a “thorough review of the operations of the forces in the vicinity is underway.”

UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini said on X that the entire center, one of the largest UNRWA facilities in Gaza, was sheltering 30,000 people, and is clearly marked as a UN site.

The White House said it is “gravely concerned” by the strike.

(source: CNN, January 25, 2024)

The attack followed months of strikes on other UN and humanitarian aid facilities. The UNRWA attack also suggests a possible fuck-you to the U.S. as there was no apparent advance notice to the Biden administration let alone the UN.

Israel initially denied responsibility for the attack on the UN refugee compound. It later claimed UN personnel were aiding Hamas as a rationalization for the attack.

You’ll note Biden got the CIA involved in negotiations after the IDF attacked UNRWA:

Biden to deploy CIA director to help broker major Gaza deal

That CIA director William Burns has been called upon to perform a diplomatic mission is an indication something bad happened with the January bombing of UNRWA, beyond the obvious human rights violation such an attack on a humanitarian mission represents.

Something deeply wrong occurred requiring a person at the highest levels of security clearance to be involved. I can’t help but think the IDF killed a CIA agent or an important asset, perhaps as a fuck-you, perhaps as a means to disrupt US intelligence, or both.

The UNRWA assault was followed by the bombing of Rafah during the Super Bowl when Americans would be distracted — Rafah, where Palestinian civilians had been told to go to avoid IDF bombing.

Israeli strikes hit Rafah after Biden warns Netanyahu to have ‘credible’ plan to protect civilians

95 civilians including 42 children were killed during this attack on Rafah. This was hardly a surgical effort intended to take out Hamas alone.

The attack on Rafah looked like yet another fuck-you to the Biden administration even after months of repeated embarrassing appeals to Netanyahu to protect civilians and allow humanitarian aid, of which one of the earliest came a couple weeks after the October 7 attack:

President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. spoke this afternoon with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. The President welcomed the release of two additional hostages from Gaza earlier today, and reaffirmed his commitment to ongoing efforts to secure the release of all the remaining hostages taken by Hamas – including Americans – and to provide for safe passage for U.S. citizens and other civilians in Gaza.  The President also underscored the need to sustain a continuous flow of urgently needed humanitarian assistance into Gaza.  The President updated the Prime Minister on U.S. support for Israel and ongoing efforts at regional deterrence, to include new U.S. military deployments.  They  agreed to speak again in the coming days.

(emphasis mine; source: The White House, October 23, 2023)

The deaths of more than 100 Gazans attempting to receive food aid in March was yet another likely fuck-you. Israel was supposed to have arranged for the aid delivery which should have included security. Instead there have been claims IDF fired on Palestinians causing a stampede toward the aid trucks.

Mark Regev, the Israeli prime minister’s special adviser, initially told CNN that Israeli forces had not been involved. Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) spokesman, said soon after that soldiers had not fired directly on Palestinians seeking aid, but rather fired “warning shots” in the air.

On March 8, after an internal investigation, the IDF released a timeline suggesting that the aid convoy began to cross into northern Gaza accompanied by its tanks at 4:29 a.m. A minute later, at 4:30 a.m., the IDF said its troops fired “warning shots” toward the east to disperse crowds before firing at “suspects” who they claimed posed a threat. At 4:45 a.m., the military said it fired more warning shots.

But CNN’s analysis of dozens of videos from the night and testimonies from eyewitnesses’ casts doubt on Israel’s version of events. The evidence, reviewed by forensic and ballistic experts, indicated that automatic gunfire began before the IDF said the convoy had started crossing through the checkpoint and that shots were fired within close range of crowds that had gathered for food.

(source: CNN, April 10, 2024)

Israel claims the deaths were cause by trucks running into Palestinians; they’ve resisted calls for full, unedited video of the mass shooting, which does nothing to bolster their claims that the IDF did not fire on the swarm of desperate Palestinians.

The airstrike on World Central Kitchen aid workers in clearly marked vehicles is a massive fuck-you which has been blamed on intelligence:

(source: Al Jazeera, April 2, 2024)

IDF missed the center of the logo identifying the World Country Kitchen aid vehicle by centimeters. Accident, my ass; if they targeted a driver in a left-hand drive car the IDF nailed them.

None of this makes sense, this absolute refusal by Netanyahu to be reasonable and rational let alone moral and ethical if Netanyahu is truly focused on eliminating Hamas and only Hamas. Instead these attacks on civilians look organized and systemic – as if the cruelty was the point.


Saudi Arabia’s absence in news coverage related to negotiations is also troubling; is it because the U.S. media is blind or is it because there’s little to report? Netanyahu trashed Qatar for its efforts, further heightening regional tensions; Egypt and Lebanon have been engaged in negotiations, with Lebanon being bombed on one occasion under the ruse that Hezbollah deserved it though the paramedic center it struck contained no Hezbollah, and in at least one other incident, children were killed.

Could this simply be part of the messy proxy war with Iran, which is more easily seen in the attacks by and on the Houthi in the Red Sea affecting private shipping and military targets.

Israel’s April 2 airstrike on Iran’s consulate in Syria offers a much more direct example of tensions between Israel and Iran; with this attack Israel exercised a total disregard for Syria’s sovereignty and international law.

It also showed Netanyahu cares not one whit whether his government widens the Israel-Hamas war, escalating regional tensions.


The repeated intelligence and military failures and cack-handed political decisions can’t be explained away in relation to attempts to destroy Hamas or to recover hostages – not when Israel killed three of its own hostages.

Especially since Netanyahu supported Hamas for years to prevent a more legitimate Palestinian Authority from pursuing a two-state solution.

Nothing makes sense except that Netanyahu is ethnically cleansing Gaza. Calling the goal or operation “Absolute Victory” or “Total Victory” doesn’t imply a narrow targeted effort.

Is it possible he is doing so for his own corrupt criminal purposes while he is still free and not prosecuted and incarcerated for corruption, relying on national security, political, and religious rationales as cover?

By criminal purposes I mean Netanyahu is continuing the assault on Gaza as a means to delay his trial (imagine Trump using this excuse), and clearing Gaza for some benefit to the missing Saudis (possibly oil and gas development offshore).

Is Netanyahu not only using this genocide to delay his trial but as a means to earn a payout like the $2 billion Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner received, perhaps as a payout for assassinating Iran’s Major General Qasem Soleimani, damaging Iran’s missile program, and greenlighting the murder of a Saudi-born U.S. journalist?

Is Netanyahu clearing Gaza because he wants more Trump property development — and Kushner has already indicated interest in oceanfront property in Gaza?

Is Netanyahu blowing off Biden because this entire genocide is a form of election interference intended to drive down Biden’s polling numbers, because Netanyahu wants Trump in the White House who’ll condone his complete obliteration of Gaza? Is Netanyahu killing Gazans because he wants an equally corrupt leader who’ll ensure he gets all the support he needs, politically and personally?

Is this the point at which Arendt‘s thinking about statelessness matters (see Ed Walker’s essay here), because so long as Palestine is not a second state, its claims to its own natural resources can be blown off and its obstructive people blown away by profiteers?

Energy firms face legal threat over Israeli licences to drill for gas off Gaza (15-FEB-2024)

Offshore Gas Field Could Help Gaza Recovery (23-NOV-2023)

Saudi Arabia Can No Longer Raise Oil Output For Cash (21-FEB-2024)

Perhaps this is why Netanyahu appointed problematic officials ultra-nationalists Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir whose interests in a peaceful accord with Palestinians in Gaza are likely nil.

Consider Ben Gvir’s 2007 conviction for incitement to racism and supporting terrorism. Why would such a person be appointed as National Security Minister if peace was the intention?

Ben-Gvir convicted of inciting to racism

Consider also Smotrich’s disregard for the Palestinian Authority circa 2015, bolstering Hamas:

Most of the time, Israeli policy was to treat the Palestinian Authority as a burden and Hamas as an asset. Far-right MK Bezalel Smotrich, now the finance minister in the hardline government and leader of the Religious Zionism party, said so himself in 2015.

According to various reports, Netanyahu made a similar point at a Likud faction meeting in early 2019, when he was quoted as saying that those who oppose a Palestinian state should support the transfer of funds to Gaza, because maintaining the separation between the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza would prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state.

There had to be a point to all this deliberate fucking around with Hamas, something Netanyahu was willing to throw Israeli lives at, something for which Gazans were expendable.


Meanwhile, the politics of the past and Americans’ ill-formed perceptions have locked the US into a position where it can’t move against Netanyahu without criticism or worse for being anti-Israel, at a time when the US must also rely on intelligence from Israel and other Middle Eastern countries in order to protect oil and gas which are under attack by Iran-backed Houthi.

Except for a blip in January this year, note how there’s little media coverage about the response of oil markets and fossil fuel countries affected by the Houthis’ attacks. This absence combined with relatively stable oil market prices suggest the Biden administration has been told to put up and shut up to maintain the global economy – or the Biden administration’s investment in U.S. oil production has offset Middle East oil production burps.

(source: West Texas Intermediate/NYMEX price per barrel via Macrotrends)

It’s not clear how much the U.S.’s continued support of Netanyahu’s policies in Gaza are spurring Iranian support of the Houthis, but fighting off the attacks comes at the expense of U.S. defense spending in other areas of the world including Ukraine.

It also comes at the expense of resources necessary to stem nuclear proliferation in the region, which includes Iran. Iran has continued to rebuild its uranium refining since Stuxnet, and is now expanding capacity at two locations.

Normalization of Israel-Saudi Arabia relations has been an aim of U.S. policy, including a two-state solution.

The Abraham Accords and possible Israeli normalization with Saudi Arabia. The Biden Administration has followed agreements reached during the Trump Administration that normalized or improved relations between Israel and four Arab or Muslim-majority states—the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco. Biden Administration officials have said that any further U.S. efforts to assist Israeli normalization with Muslim-majority countries would seek to preserve the viability of a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Ongoing efforts to deepen security and economic ties between Israel, the UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco could drive broader regional cooperation—including on various types of defense. After China helped broker diplomatic normalization between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the Administration has declared that Israeli normalization with Saudi Arabia is a U.S. priority. Any negotiations toward that end would likely consider Saudi security and civilian nuclear demands, as well as a pathway toward a two-state solution. Congress has passed and proposed legislation encouraging expanded and deepened regional cooperation involving Israel.

(source: Israel: Major Issues and U.S. Relations, Congressional Research Service, September 27, 2023)

Netanyahu has repeatedly rejected the two-state solution, in spite of the fact his policies treat Gaza and Palestine as a separate state on which it can declare and go to war instead of conducting a police action within the same country. He wants it both ways — to conduct a war and treat the persons in that separate state as non-citizens, but failing to protect the civilian minority citizenry of that same state if it is part of Israel. Yet hanging onto this single state including occupied territory so tightly has not brought Israel any more security.

It’s as if it has never occurred to Netanyahu that Israel’s security might actually depend on ending occupation of Gaza and allowing its citizens to govern themselves.

Consider the aphorism that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. This applies not only to Israel but to the U.S.; we cannot continue to support continued intransigence when it comes at a cost to our nation’s security. Is the bilateral aid in a 10-year memorandum of understanding which the U.S. negotiated with Israel worth more than the current and future cost of the unending Israel-Hamas war to our nation?


There is a limit the U.S. must find and define when it comes to support for Israel. We may believe in the right of sovereign independent nation-states to self defense, but we have failed as a nation when it comes to identifying and fighting just wars. The response to the terror attacks of 9/11 offers the best example of this failure; we spent roughly eight trillion dollars and nearly a million U.S., Iraqi, and Afghans’ lives on what should have been a measured police effort.

A substantive portion of that failure was in no small part based on hidden agendas including continued access to cheap oil.

We should have learned from our failures; other nations including Israel should have learned by observation.

We did not win hearts and minds though we had the sympathy of the world on 9/12, just as Israel did on October 8. Instead the U.S. used its hegemonic power to strive for more than a narrowly tailored effort to find and hold the terrorists accountable.

Look what it earned us more than two decades later, when combined with our handling of Netanyahu.

Israel should have learned already they are failing to win security and a durable peace, and in writing that I don’t mean Netanyahu because the man has proven repeatedly since October he is incapable of anything more that overreaching destruction. The Israeli people need to look long and hard at what has and has not worked for the last 60-70 years.

In a eulogy over a young kibbutz member killed by Palestinians in 1956, Israeli Commander-in-Chief of the Israel Defense Forces Moshe Dayan said,

… Let us not cast the blame on the murderers today. Why should we declare their burning hatred for us? For eight years they have been sitting in the refugee camps in Gaza, and before their eyes we have been transforming the lands and the villages, where they and their fathers dwelt, into our estate. …

In essence Dayan’s eulogy exhorted Israelis not to let down their guard, to embrace the steel helmet and cannon to continue to settle the land, even as he acknowledged the theft of land by colonization and occupation.

Israel has its own lessons to learn, which is that of colonizer which must share a small patch of land at the risk of permanent conflict inside its own borders and beyond.

Under Netanyahu’s leadership, it has given no indication it is learning anything at all about its own history, its reputation and security with its neighbors and across the world, or how it will be seen as history is written.


[Front page photo: satellite image by Maxar published in Business Insider showing Gazans fleeing to north Gaza after IDF told Gazans to leave southern Gaza ahead of bombing. Gazans had already fled to south Gaza 2-3 weeks earlier at IDF’s order.]

There are Heroes, and Then There are Heroes

Hugh Thompson, Jr.

Memorial Day has its roots in the US Civil War, and has expanded to include remembrance of all those who have served their country and have died. In various places, the remembrance may focus on a particular conflict, like the Civil War and Carbondale, IL. It might also center on a location, like Arlington Cemetery or the Pearl Harbor Memorial. It might focus on recipients of the Medal of Honor. In a lot of places, Memorial Day is a big deal.

But on this Memorial Day, with the protests on college campuses in the US and around the world related to the unfolding events in Gaza and the West Bank, my thoughts go to Hugh Thompson, Jr., Glenn Andreotta, and Lawrence Colburn. They were three members of the US Army, who received the Soldiers Medal on March 6, 1998 for their actions 30 years earlier as they flew a mission on March 16, 1968.

Thompson commanded a observation helicopter at the time, tasked with locating enemy firing positions and then directing US forces in response. As their helicopter came over the village of My Lai, they observed no enemy fire, but were shocked to see US military forces killing obvious Vietnamese civilians. At one point, Thompson maneuvered his helicopter between civilians and US forces on the ground, so as to protect the Vietnamese civilians, and he ordered Colburn, his door gunner, to open fire on the US forces if they tried to prevent him from protecting the civilians. Colburn, without hesitation, concurred. Andreotta, the crew chief, was shocked to see the atrocities committed by US forces, and helped locate other civilians who had been shot and needed medical care. As Thompson described it,

Glenn Andreotta—if there was a hero, I don’t like that word, but if there was a hero at My Lai—it was Glenn Andreotta, because he saw movement in that ditch, and he fixed in on this one little kid and went down into that ditch. I would not want to go in that ditch. It’s not pretty. It was very bad. I can imagine what was going through his mind down there, because there was more than one still alive—people grabbing hold of his pants, wanting help. “I can’t help you. You’re too bad [off].” He found this one kid and brought the kid back up and handed it to Larry, and we laid it across Larry and my lap and took him out of there. I remember thinking Glenn Andreotta put himself where nobody in their right mind would want to be, and he was driven by something. I haven’t got the aircraft on the ground real stable. He bolted out of that aircraft into this ditch. Now he was a hero. Glenn Andreotta gave his life for his country about three weeks later. That’s the kind of guy he was, and he was a hero that day.

For their actions in 1968, Thompson. Andreotta, and Colburn received the Soldier’s Medal, given to “any person of the Armed Forces of the United States or of a friendly foreign nation who, while serving in any capacity with the Army of the United States, including Reserve Component soldiers not serving in a duty status at the time of the heroic act, distinguished himself or herself by heroism not involving conflict with an enemy.”

That last phrase — not involving conflict with an enemy — is central to why these three received the Soldier’s Medal and not the Medal of Honor.

Thompson’s medal was awarded with this description:

Soldier’s Medal, Hugh C. Thompson, Jr., then Warrant Officer One, United States Army:

For heroism above and beyond the call of duty on 16 March 1968, while saving the lives of at least 10 Vietnamese civilians during the unlawful massacre of noncombatants by American forces at My Lai, Quang Ngai Province, South Vietnam. Warrant Officer Thompson landed his helicopter in the line of fire between fleeing Vietnamese civilians and pursuing American ground troops to prevent their murder. He then personally confronted the leader of the American ground troops and was prepared to open fire on those American troops should they fire upon the civilians. Warrant Officer Thompson, at the risk of his own personal safety, went forward of the American lines and coaxed the Vietnamese civilians out of the bunker to enable their evacuation. Leaving the area after requesting and overseeing the civilians’ air evacuation, his crew spotted movement in a ditch filled with bodies south of My Lai Four. Warrant Officer Thompson again landed his helicopter and covered his crew as they retrieved a wounded child from the pile of bodies. He then flew the child to the safety of a hospital at Quang Ngai. Warrant Officer Thompson’s relayed radio reports of the massacre and subsequent report to his section leader and commander resulted in an order for the cease fire at My Lai and an end to the killing of innocent civilians. Warrant Officer Thompson’s Heroism exemplifies the highest standards of personal courage and ethical conduct, reflecting distinct credit on him, and the United States Army.

Thompson and his crew did not act against a foreign enemy, but against members their own US military. The Soldier’s Medal, therefore, was as high an honor as they could receive — but the fact that it took 30 years for the DOD to admit that they deserved it is a stain on the US military. (Stars and Stripes has a great writeup of My Lai and the aftermath, written at the death of Larry Colbrun – the last of the three heroes, and it includes the push it took to get the DOD to award these medals.)

All this came back to mind as I read a Guardian piece yesterday about a prison camp run by the Israel Defense Force:

Prisoners held at an Israeli detention camp in the Negev desert are being subjected to widespread physical and mental abuses, with at least one reported case of a man having his limb amputated as a result of injuries sustained from constant handcuffing, according to two whistleblowers who worked at the site.

The sources described harrowing treatment of detainees at the Israeli Sde Teiman camp, which holds Palestinians from Gaza and suspected Hamas militants, including inmates regularly being kept shackled to hospital beds, blindfolded and forced to wear nappies.

According to the two sources, the facility, located approximately 18 miles from the Gaza border, consists of two distinct sections: an enclosure where up to 200 Palestinian detainees from Gaza are confined under severe physical restrictions inside cages, and a field hospital where dozens of patients with war injuries are handcuffed to their beds and often deprived of pain relief.

One whistleblower, who has worked in the facility as a prison guard, said detainees were forced to stand up for hours, or to sit on their knees. The source, who spoke out at risk of reprisals, said several detainees were beaten with truncheons and not able to move their heads or to speak at the facility.

“The prisoners are detained in a sort of cages, all blindfolded and handcuffed,” the source said. “If someone speaks or moves, they are immediately silenced or they are forced to stand with their hands raised above their head and handcuffed for up to one hour.

“If they are unable to keep their hands raised, the soldiers attach the handcuffs to the bars of the cage. Many of the detainees had infected wounds that were not being properly treated.”


The prison guard’s statements are corroborated by a second whistleblower who spoke to the Guardian and who was part of the medical staff operating in the field hospital in Sde Teiman.

“There were about 15 patients in total, they were all handcuffed and blindfolded,” he said. “They were naked, wearing diapers and were covered by blankets. Most of them appeared to have obvious war injuries, some had undergone amputations and others underwent major abdominal or chest surgery. They were practically naked except for a diaper.”

The member of the medical staff added: “I understand that it is difficult to treat a patient accused of heinous crimes, but it is the job we have chosen and as physicians we should recognise that every human being has a right to appropriate healthcare regardless of their backgrounds.”

There’s a lot packed into that article, and the link under “the facility” in the excerpt above is a big deal. It goes to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, which says this about the conditions in this camp (emphasis in the original):

The testimonies of innocent people held in the Sde Teiman Military Base and released after being interrogated painted a horrifying picture of inhumane prison conditions, humiliation and torture. The detainees are held in a kind of cage, crowded, sitting on their knees in a painful position for many hours every day. They are handcuffed at all hours of the day and blindfolded. This is how they eat, relieve themselves and receive medical care.

Detainees at the facility were physically punished by tying them to a fence for hours with their hands raised. Those whose hands were tired and took them down were beaten. In addition, soldiers at the facility beat detainees, extinguished cigarettes on them, urinated on detainees, and deprived them of food, toilets, and sleep. Additional evidence of the inhumane conditions in the detention facility arises from requests from doctors, who serve in the hospital established at the base, for the purpose of treating detainees. They testify that detainees’ arms and legs are routinely amputated due to handcuffed wounds, lack of medication, inadequate medical care, violence suffered by detainees, and lack of food.

I have no complaints about those who have received the Medal of Honor for their heroic actions in the face of enemy fire. But folks like the heroes of My Lai and the anonymous guard and medic at Sde Teiman publicly confirming what released prisoners have said about the actions of the Israeli Defense Force are even more heroic. It’s one thing to stand up to “the enemy,” but standing up to your brothers and sisters in arms when they violate basic humanitarian norms — putting your own bodies in the path of their weapons — is truly amazing.

Enjoy your BBQ this weekend — a tradition that has been part of Memorial Day since the beginning (at least in Carbondale) — and a raise a glass to Thompson, Andreotta, Colburn, and all those who defend civilians, even in the midst of war.

Because that’s when civilians are most in need of protection.

A New King Arose Who Did Not Know Moses

Organizational Chart of Pharaoh’s Egypt in the days of Moses

It’s hard to understand what’s going on in Israel, Gaza, and throughout the Holy Land without a grasp on the religious background. My knowledge of Islam is scant, but my knowledge of Judaism is better because the Hebrew scriptures lead into my own Christian tradition. And what I know of the Hebrew scriptures brings me great grief as I look at what is going on in Gaza, the West Bank, and throughout Israel.

The first two books of the Torah — Genesis and Exodus, in more common parlance — tell two grand stories central to the Jewish people, and by extension, to my own Christian brothers and sisters as well. Over the last several years, and especially since the Hamas attack in early October, these two stories have been echoing through my head, especially with respect to Benjamin Netanyahu, his far-right cabinet, their supporters in Israel, and the dangerous political path they all are following.

The book of Genesis tells the stories of origins – the origin of the world, and the origin of the people of Israel as God’s chosen ones. Genesis ends with the story of Joseph and his brothers, ten older and one younger. The short version of the story is that Joseph was his father’s favorite, so much so that his older brothers were filled with anger, jealousy, and envy. One day, while the brothers were away from home, they beat Joseph and sold him into slavery in Egypt, then told their father that a wild animal had attacked and killed him. While in Egypt, Joseph came to the attention of the pharaoh, and interpreted a dream of pharaoh’s that foretold seven years of great harvests, followed by seven years of severe drought. Pharaoh listened, and stored up grain in the good years, and he named Joseph as the administrator of the grain program. When the drought arrived, Joseph’s brothers back home were caught in it, and came to Egypt to find grain. Joseph recognized them, but they did not recognize him. When Joseph finally revealed himself to them, they feared he would take revenge. Instead, Joseph offered forgiveness. “What you intended for evil, God intended for good.” Joseph told his brothers that while they let their anger rule, God was using Joseph to prepare for the great famine, and thus save his whole family. Because of Joseph’s great service to the pharaoh and all of Egypt, Joseph and his brothers were invited to stay in Egypt, and they did. Genesis ends with reconciliation between the brothers, the forebears of the twelve tribes of Israel.

Where Genesis was about the Lord and the relationships between the insiders, the brothers (and later, the tribes), Exodus is about the Lord and the relationships between the Israelites and the aliens, the non-Israelites. Exodus takes up the Genesis story generations later, when the Israelites had grown numerous in Egypt and “a new king arose who did not know Joseph.” Instead of continuing to respect what Joseph had done long before, the new king feared all these foreigners and ordered them enslaved. The Lord chose Moses to lead them out of slavery, and after a grand struggle (the ten plagues sent to torment Pharaoh), they left Egypt and entered the wilderness, moving toward the Promised Land. God gave Moses the ten commandments, and Moses spent the wilderness years teaching the newly-liberated children of Israel what it means to live as God’s people.

As the Lord spoke with Moses throughout these wilderness years, the Lord had a refrain for Moses and the children of Israel: “Remember that you were a slave in Egypt.” God was not simply reminding them that things were rough in the past. Instead, God was telling the children of Israel how they are to live in the the present and the future, saying in essence: “You used to be slaves, and I didn’t bring you out of slavery so you can become slave owners yourselves.” For example, consider the Lord’s words from Deuteronomy 24 (New Revised Standard Version, with emphasis added):

17 You shall not deprive a resident alien or an orphan of justice; you shall not take a widow’s garment in pledge. 18 Remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this. 19 When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be left for the alien, the orphan, and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all your undertakings. 20 When you beat your olive trees, do not strip what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow. 21 When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not glean what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow. 22 Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I am commanding you to do this.

You are not to be oppressors, said the Lord to Moses and the people, but you are to treat others as you were *not* treated when you were slaves in Egypt. Remember your heritage, said the Lord, and therefore care for the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the alien.

Can you see why passages like these have been echoing in my head in these last few months?

There is a difference between protecting yourself and taking vengeance, and Netanayhu and his allies have been confusing the former for the latter. Around 1200 were killed by Hamas last October and another 200 or so were taken hostage. In return, Israel has killed tens of thousands, leveled entire neighborhoods, forced hundreds of thousands to leave the rubble and seek new homes, and plunged the entire Gaza strip into hunger. Throughout the West Bank and often with explicit support of political leaders in Jerusalem, Israeli settlers have become more brazen in attacking their non-Jewish neighbors, taking their homes and land in violation of Israel’s own laws and international treaties to which Israel is a party.

There is a non-trivial segment of the Israeli political world that does not remember that they were slaves in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord does not want them to be slave-owners. The far-right in Israel, who claim that Israel should possess everything from the Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea, is particularly firm in demanding that non-Jews of all stripes have no rights and no place in this land, because this is the land God promised only to them. Slowly but surely, the rights of non-Jews in Israel have been circumscribed, limited, and even taken away, such that the South African-born Israeli journalist Benjamin Pogrund, a Jew, has begun describing Israel using a word he long opposed using: apartheid. As he wrote last August — before the Hamas attack:

Israel 2023, South Africa 1948. I’ve lived through it before: power grabbing, fascism and racism – the destruction of democracy. Israel is going where South Africa was 75 years ago. It’s like watching the replay of a horror movie.

In 1948, as a teenager in Cape Town, I followed the results of the 26 May election on a giant board on a newspaper building. The winner-takes-all electoral system produced distorted results: the Afrikaner Nationalist party, with its smaller partner, won 79 parliamentary seats against 74 for the United party and its smaller partner.

But the Nats, as they were called, in fact won only 37.7% of the vote against the opposition’s 49.2%. Although the opposition received more votes, the Nats said they had a majority and could do what they wanted.

In the Israel of 2023, I’m reliving some of these same experiences.


We deny Palestinians any hope of freedom or normal lives. We believe our own propaganda that a few million people will meekly accept perpetual inferiority and oppression. The government is driving Israel deeper and deeper into inhuman, cruel behaviour beyond any defence. I don’t have to be religious to know that this is a shameful betrayal of Jewish morality and history.

What was it that the Lord said to Moses and the children of Israel? Oh, yes: “Remember that you were a slave in Egypt . . .”

Pogrund remembers, and his whole piece is worth reading. Sadly, the events of the last five months have made it even more true than the day it was written. I read his piece when it first appeared last August, but these words from near the end continue to echo in my head even today:

We are at the mercy of fascists and racists (both carefully chosen words) who cannot, and will not, stop.

I write about South Africa and Israel because I know both of them, 53 years in one and nearly 26 years in the other. Neither is unique. The same pattern of rightwing repression has happened in our time in Hungary and Poland, in Asia, Africa and Latin America, and earlier in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s.

I did not want to write this article. It was torn out of me, addressed to Israelis because the rightwing government is taking the country into institutionalised discrimination and racism. This is apartheid. South Africa under apartheid was straightforward: white v black. Israel is complex. The 21% Arab minority has the vote. Everyone pays the same national insurance and enjoys the same benefits – medical and social welfare. In hospital, I, a Jew, share a room with Arabs and we are cared for by the same Jewish and Arab doctors and nurses. Everything is open: beaches, park benches, movies, theatres, restaurants. The apartheid label is correct, but caution and thought are needed about comparisons.

In Israel, I am now witnessing the apartheid with which I grew up. Israel is giving a gift to its enemies in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and its allies, especially in South Africa, where denial of Israel’s existence is intense among many black people, in trade unions and communist and Muslim circles. BDS activists will continue to make their claims, out of ignorance and/or malevolence, spreading lies about Israel. They have long distorted what is already bad into grotesqueness, but will now claim vindication. Israel is giving them truth.

I didn’t want to write this post, either. But I look at and listen to the Jews who are protesting the actions of the Netanyahu government and their supporters, who sound more and more like the biblical prophets of old, calling the leaders of Israel to account. I look and I listen, and I could no longer remain silent. The complexity of Israel that Pogrund wrote about last summer is disappearing, faster and faster each day.

Because Bibi Netanyahu is the new king who did not know Moses.


Image h/t to Pastor Daniel Erlander, from his excellent book Manna and Mercy: A Brief History of God’s Unfolding Promise to Mend the Entire Universe.



Stateless In Palestine

The belief that all humans have certain rights, endowed by the Creator as Jefferson put it, is common. The lesson of Chapter 9 of The Origins of Totalitarianism (“Origins”) by Hannah Arendt is that such rights mean little or nothing if there is no one to enforce them. Realist diplomats after WWI knew that the successor states would not enforce the human rights of minorities and refugees unless forced to do so. They created the Minority Treaties to provide that enforcement, backed by the League of Nations.

It didn’t work. It turns out that the important part of Jefferson’s observation is the next phrase: “that to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed….“ Absent the protection of the state, the mystical state of having rights is useless. And even having formal rights, like citizenship, is no protection against denaturalization. Arendt provides an example:

Yet, one need only remember the extreme care of the Nazis, who insisted that all Jews of non-German nationality “should be deprived of their citizenship either prior to, or, at the latest, on the day of deportation” (for German Jews such a decree was not needed, because in the Third Reich there existed a law according to which all Jews who had left the territory—including, of course, those deported to a Polish camp—automatically lost their citizenship) citizenship) in order to realize the true implications of statelessness. P. 280, fn omitted.

The problem of statelessness, and thus rightlessness, which runs through Origins is still with us. One salient example today is the Palestinian people. Arendt wrote about the impact of establishment of The State Of Israel in 1947.

The notion that statelessness is primarily a Jewish problem was a pretext used by all governments who tried to settle the problem by ignoring it. None of the statesmen was aware that Hitler’s solution of the Jewish problem, first to reduce the German Jews to a nonrecognized minority in Germany, then to drive them as stateless people across the borders, and finally to gather them back from everywhere in order to ship them to extermination camps, was an eloquent demonstration to the rest of the world how really to “liquidate” all problems concerning minorities and stateless.

After the war it turned out that the Jewish question, which was considered the only insoluble one, was indeed solved—namely, by means of a colonized and then conquered territory—but this solved neither the problem of the minorities nor the stateless. On the contrary, like virtually all other events of our century, the solution of the Jewish question merely produced a new category of refugees, the Arabs, thereby increasing the number of the stateless and rightless by another 700,000 to 800,000 people.

And what happened in Palestine within the smallest territory and in terms of hundreds of thousands was then repeated in India on a large scale involving many millions of people. Since the Peace Treaties of 1919 and 1920 thé refugees and the stateless have attached themselves like a curse to all the newly established states on earth which were created in the image of the nation-state. P. 289 — 90, fn. omitted, my paragraphing.

The problem of the stateless and rightness Arabs described by Arendt has not been solved. The Palestinian Authority has no ability, or will, to protect the human rights of Palestinians and Gazans. Hamas is a terrorist organization, not a government. No Hamas member from top to bottom cares about the lives of the people of Gaza, let alone their rights, though apparently the “leaders” care about their own safety and luxuries, living the rich life in Qatar.

The State of Israel doesn’t care about the Palestinians either. There’s the ruthless bombing. There’s the settler attacks in the West Bank, which go unpunished. Israel has sold oil leases that were thought to be the property of the Palestinians. Even as the war continues, it announced its intention to build 3,000 new housing units for settlers in the West Bank.

The failure of assimilation

In earlier chapters of Origins, Arendt discusses the history of anti-Semitism in Europe, especially France. She tells the story of Alfred Dreyfus. But probably she wasn’t aware that the French Vichy government deported Dreyfus’ granddaughter, Madeleine Levy, to Auchwitz, where she was murdered in the Holocaust. Nor does she mention the deportation and murder of other assimilated French Jews such as the family of Nissim de Camondo; there are monuments to these dead all over France. I read this part of Origins as saying that assimilation of Jews into European society was a failure, at least up to then.

Arendt was herself a Jew and stateless, and worked for Zionist organizations in the early 1930s in Germany and then in Geneva. Given her premise about human rights, it’s easy to understand why she might favor the goal of Zionism to establish a home state for Jews. If the Jewish people are to have rights they need a state that is willing and able to protect those rights. This is the founding goal of Zionism.

Revisionist Zionism

Rick Perlstein wrote an essay for The American Prospect discussing a book by Eram Kaplan, The Jewish Radical Right: Revisionist Zionism and Its Ideological Legacy. According to Perlstein, Kaplan says that there were two factions in the Zionist movement, Labor Zionism and Revisionist Zionism. Labor Zionism is the faction that seemed to prevail. It’s the faction of the Kibbutzim, people working the land to make the desert bloom. It’s the faction for which Jewish kids collected dimes to plant trees. It’s the founding story of Israel I learned growing up in the 50s.

Perlstein’s essay focuses on Revisionist Zionism. He begins with a discussion of an interview by the excellent Isaac Chotiner of a leader in the settlement movement. Chotiner talked to Daniella Weiss, a leader in the settlement movement for over 50 years. Weiss believes that the State of Israel should include all the land from the Euphrates to the Nile. She says Arabs and other non-Jews who live there now have no political rights:

Q. When you say that you want more Jews in the West Bank, is your idea that the Palestinians there and the Jews will live side by side as friends, or that—

A. If they accept our sovereignty, they can live here.

Q. So they should accept the sovereign power, but that doesn’t necessarily mean having rights. It just means accepting the sovereign power.

A. Right. No, I’m saying specifically that they are not going to have the right to vote for the Knesset. No, no, no.

Weiss may seem like an extremist, but Perlstein tells us she’s stating the ideological position of Revisionist Zionism. Perlstein writes that Kaplan says that the Revisionist faction was a fascist ideology, based on Italian Fascism.

Perlstein describes the ideas of a founder of this faction, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, showing the connection to Benito Mussolini’s fascism, including its emphasis on violence and moral purity as a means of returning to a former glory. Perlstein says the language used by Weiss in the Chotiner interview is the doctrine of Revisionist Zionism.

And make no mistake: What this settler told [Chotiner] was doctrine. “For Jabotinsky,” Kaplan writes, “human rights, civil equality, and even political equality could not create harmony among individuals. Only the common ties of blood, history, and language could bring people together.”

Perlstein tells us that Benjamin Netanyahu’s father was an associate of Jabotinsky, and argues that Netanyahu carries the entire tradition of Revisionist Zionism forward.


1. The blithe disrespect for the human rights of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank is shocking. You have to read it to believe it.

2. Perlstein’s essay is a bare introduction to Revisionist Zionism, and it’s the first I ever heard of it. It’s also shocking.

3. One of the many issues Perlstein discusses is the way his understanding of the history of the State of Israel has changed since he was a child. Perlstein is a historian, but he tells us he never heard of the 1946 bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem until he was 30. Well, I never heard of the Tulsa Massacre until I was in my 60s.

The Christmas Story is a Very Political Story

Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church, Bethlehem, West Bank

I know that title will irritate many, especially on the theological and political right, but don’t get angry with me. Get angry with Luke.

Luke’s story is built around contrasts, and those contrasts begin with the Roman Emperor Augustus. You don’t get more political than starting your story like this:

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered.

Luke introduces us to the Roman emperor, Augustus, and his governor in Syria, Quirinius, doing what emperors and governors do: issuing orders. Here, the orders are related to the chief function of emperors and governors everywhere: collecting money. “We need to know how many folks live where, so we know how much we can expect to raise in taxes, and how many soldiers and tax farmers we will need to send out to collect it.” So the imperial orders get issued, and the ordinary people do what they do when emperors and governors issue orders: they do what they are told.

Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

Enter Joseph and Mary, some of the countless ordinary folks to whom the orders were given. They do what they have been told, and head off to the ancestral home of Bethlehem, where they can’t find a place to stay and are forced to move into a stable. But this doesn’t matter to Augustus and Quirinius. All that matters to them is that their orders are carried out, regardless of the inconveniences or costs to the ordinary folks. All hail the power of the Senate and People of Rome!

And in that stable, Mary gives birth. Not in a hospital, not in their own home in Nazareth surrounded by family and friends, but in a stable surrounded by animals. To Mary and Joseph, what matters is the new life that has entered their lives under difficult circumstances. To Augustus and Quirinius, the only thing that matters is the count: add one more to the census for the newborn. More people, more taxes to collect.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.

Then Luke brings more of the folks on the bottom of society into the story: the shepherds. And make no mistake: shepherds were definitely on the bottom. The simple fact that they were out in the field at night, tending their flocks, ought to tell you just how much on the bottom they were. Rain or clear, cold or hot, shepherds were out in the fields, tending their flocks. If you are a storyteller wanting to describe the extremes of power and privilege, emperors and governors are at one end of the spectrum, and shepherds are at the other.

So far, this is an ordinary tale of ordinary life in an empire. The folks on top have the power and the money and give the orders, and the folks on the bottom do what they are told.

But not tonight.

Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

Here, finally, is the real contrast that Luke has been building toward: Augustus and his minions on the one hand and God on the other, standing with shepherds and ordinary folks. The messengers of Augustus announce the census, issue the orders, and prepare for the tax collections to come. The messengers of God, on the other hand, announce the birth of a savior, the Messiah, the one whose birth signals a new age.

Note that the angels came to the shepherds, not to the emperor or the governor. The messengers of good news came to those on the margins of society and those at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder, proclaiming that all the power and wealth of the emperor is no match for the power and love of God. In their joy and excitement, the shepherds became angels—messengers of God—themselves, going to the stable where they told Mary and Joseph about what they had heard and seen.

Like I said, the Christmas story is a very political story.

+    +    +

Lots of families display a creche in their homes, showing the stable with its animals, the shepherds and their sheep, the wise men and their camels and gifts, and the holy family with the babe lying in the manger. These nativity scenes come in all shapes, sizes, and styles, from the realistic to the symbolic, from the pious to the kitschy. Many churches have their own nativity displays, and some go so far as to have a “living” nativity scene outdoors on the church lawn with members in costume.

The image at the top of this post is from Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem – part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordan and the Holy Land. (You can click on the picture to get a larger version.) NPR did a story this past week on the churches of Bethlehem and how the fighting in Gaza has changed this holiday season there. Toward the end of the piece is this:

A short walk from the Church of the Nativity is the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church. There, the Rev. Munther Isaac and his congregation chose this year to make a statement about the killing of so many children in Gaza.

Using broken cement and paving stones, they placed the baby Jesus in the center of a pile of debris from a collapsed home, inspired by television images of children being pulled from the rubble, Issac says.

“I always say we need to de-romanticize Christmas,” he says. “In reality, it’s a story of a baby who was born in the most difficult circumstances and the Roman Empire under occupation, who survived the massacre of children himself when he was born. So the connection was natural to us.”

Issac says he’s surprised at the international interest that his church has received as a result of its display of baby Jesus amid the rubble.

Broken cement and paving stones, with the baby Jesus wrapped in a keffiyeh. Of all the creches I have seen, the one sitting to the side of the altar at Christmas Lutheran in Bethlehem tonight is by far the most powerful.

Peace to you, my friends, at this celebration of the birth of the Prince of Peace, and peace to those who work for peace — peace in our families, peace in our communities, and peace in our world.

Will Obama Show Reagan’s Courage and Suspend Tank Transfers to Israel?

In the worst strike yet by Israel against a United Nations school where Palestinian civilians were seeking shelter from the carnage, up to 19 people were killed and 125 were wounded last night when Israeli tanks shelled the school in Jebalya. Citizens in Gaza have very limited options on where to go once Israel issues an ultimatum to evacuate an area. Reuters reports that more than 200,000 have sought refuge in UN schools and other UN buildings since the fighting broke out. Also yesterday, Israeli tanks shelled the only power plant in Gaza, forcing it to be shut down when a fuel tank was hit.

Israel, of course, claims that there was mortar fire from the vicinity of the UN school:

An Israeli military spokeswoman said militants had fired mortar bombs from the vicinity of the school and troops fired back in response. The incident was still being reviewed.

It is hard to see the shelling of the power plant, however, as anything other than collective punishment for all of Gaza. For all of Israel’s yammering about terror tunnels and the scary rockets that Hamas is firing toward Israel, numbers in a CNN article this morning drive home the asymmetry of the conflict. Gaza is home to 1.8 million residents while Israel has a population of 8 million. Israel’s armed forces have 176,000 active personnel. As for Hamas:

The U.S. State Department says there are “several thousand” Gaza-based Hamas militant operatives along with a “reported 9,000-person Hamas-led paramilitary group known as the ‘Executive Force.'”

Tellingly, CNN does not separate Palestinian civilians from Hamas militants when it first touches on casualty figures, stating only that “more than 1200 Palestinians have been killed”. The Reuters article linked above puts the number this morning at 1270. Only later in the CNN article do we learn that Israel estimates that it has killed “more than 300” Hamas militants. That means that Israel’s own estimate is that 76% of the Palestinians they have killed are civilians. For all of Israel’s claims about the “pin-point precision” of its attacks, that is a horrible track record.

Of course, Israel hides behind claims of Hamas using civilians as human shields to justify the high civilian death rate. The problem, though, is that it is impossible to see how Israel faces any sort of imminent danger from any Hamas militants who may be hiding among Palestinian refugees (or even in the terror tunnels!). While the death toll of Palestinian civilians is approaching a thousand in this conflict, a grand total of three Israeli civilians have died, along with 53 soldiers who have died once Israeli forces crossed into Gaza. The UN is taking as many precautions as they can to screen the refugees in their shelters, and they have found and disclosed rockets that operatives tried to hide in shelters three times now.

Given the horrific numbers of civilians killed and the clearly punitive nature of bombing the power plant, it is time to visit the regulations and policies that apply to US arms and arms funding that flows to Israel. Consider this policy pronouncement in Defense News in April of this year, where we learn that:

a State Department official said Washington’s classified Conventional Arms Transfer Policy has been updated to make clear that the US will not transfer arms, equipment or training to countries that commit genocide, crimes against humanity or violate international humanitarian law.

The law against collective punishment is clear and the ratio of civilians to militants killed, along with the repressive blockade and power plant bombing would seem to be slam dunks for proving collective punishment.

Further, none other than the war mongers’ best friend Ronald Reagan actually intervened (pdf) in arms transfers to Israel once when they over-stepped the bounds of humanity:

Questions raised regarding the use of U.S.-supplied military equipment by Israel in Lebanon in June and July 1982, led the Reagan Administration to determine on July 15, 1982, that Israel “may” have violated its July 23, 1952, Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement with the United States (TIAS 2675). Concerns centered on whether or not Israel had used U.S.-supplied anti-personnel cluster bombs against civilian targets during its military operations in Lebanon and the siege of Beirut. The pertinent segment of that 1952 agreement between Israel and the United States reads as follows:

The Government of Israel assures the United States Government that such equipment, materials, or services as may be acquired from the United States … are required for and will be used solely to maintain its internal security, its legitimate self-defense, or to permit it to participate in the defense of the area of which it is a part, or in United Nations collective security arrangements and measures, and that it will not undertake any act of aggression against any other state.

It should be noted that none of the critical terms such as “internal security,” “legitimate self-defense,” or “act of aggression” are defined within this 1952 U.S.-Israeli agreement. The House Foreign Affairs Committee held hearings on this issue in July and August 1982. On July 19, 1982, the Reagan Administration announced that it would prohibit new exports of cluster bombs to Israel. This prohibition was lifted by the Reagan Administration in November 1988

Note that Israeli tanks appear to have been involved in the shelling of both the school and the power plant. That would make tanks and their ammunition perfect candidates to replace the cluster bombs in a repeat of Reagan’s move in 1982. From the figures in this document (pdf, see this pdf for a guide to the categories), it appears that in 2013, the US provided over $620 million worth of assistance in the category of “Tanks and Military Vehicles” to Israel, just among the figures reported by the State Department rather than the Defense Department.

Of course, don’t look for Obama to have the courage to stem the flow of money and weapons to Israel any time soon. In the meantime, it will be up to outside groups to apply what little pressure they can.

Update: From the UN statement on the shelling of the school (the sixth one hit!):

Last night, children were killed as they slept next to their parents on the floor of a classroom in a UN designated shelter in Gaza. Children killed in their sleep; this is an affront to all of us, a source of universal shame. Today the world stands disgraced.

We have visited the site and gathered evidence. We have analysed fragments, examined craters and other damage. Our initial assessment is that it was Israeli artillery that hit our school, in which 3,300 people had sought refuge. We believe there were at least three impacts. It is too early to give a confirmed official death toll. But we know that there were multiple civilian deaths and injuries   including of women and children and the UNRWA guard who was trying to protect the site.  These are people who were instructed to leave their homes by the Israeli army.

The precise location of the Jabalia Elementary Girls School and the fact that it was housing thousands of internally displaced people was communicated to the Israeli army seventeen times,  to ensure its protection; the last being at  ten to nine last night, just hours before the fatal shelling.

Droning Cell Phone Calls

Noah Shachtman is going to convince me to give up my cell phone. Today he notes an AP story reporting that Palestinians believe Israel’s spy drones are jamming cell phone lines and then using them to take out targets.

Palestinians say they know when an Israeli drone is in the air: Cell phones stop working, TV reception falters and they can hear a distant buzzing. They also know what’s likely to come next — a devastating explosion on the ground.

Palestinians say Israel’s pilotless planes have been a major weapon in its latest offensive in Gaza, which has killed nearly 120 people since last week.


Wary Gaza militants using binoculars are on constant lookout for drones. When one is sighted overhead, the militants report via walkie-talkie to their comrades, warning them to turn off their cell phones and remove the batteries for fear the Israeli technology will trace their whereabouts.

The AP goes on to note that the US has used such Predator drone attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan as well–though the AP doesn’t explicitly say these drones triggered using cell phone signals.

In January, a missile fired from a Predator killed Abu Laith al-Libi, a top al-Qaida commander, in Pakistan’s lawless tribal region of north Waziristan. Coalition forces in Afghanistan are believed to have launched a number of missile strikes from drones against Taliban and al-Qaida militants hiding on the Pakistani side of the border, but the U.S. military has never confirmed them.

This report follows on one from last week, in which the Taliban demanded cell phone operators in Afghanistan turn off cell signal for 10 hours a day–or they’d take the towers out.

Taliban militants threatened Monday to blow up telecom towers across Afghanistan if mobile phone companies do not switch off their signals for 10 hours starting at dusk.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujaheed said the U.S. and other foreign troops in the country are using mobile phone signals to track down the insurgents and launch attacks against them.

Since that time, the Taliban have taken out at least two cell towers (h/t oscar).

Two mobile phone antennas were destroyed in southern Afghanistan, officials said Sunday, after Taliban militants threatened to bring down such masts, alleging they are used to locate hideouts.

Read more

The Gazan Jail-Bust and Middle East Dynamics

While we were all glued to CSPAN on the FISA fight yesterday, Hamas engineered a massive jail-break, breaking down the wall between Gaza and Egypt so Palestinians who have been under siege could go into Egypt to get food and supplies. The jail-break may have redefined the dynamics of Middle Eastern politics. While the jail-break had obviously been planned for some time, it occurred at a time when Israel was intensifying the Gaza siege, even while Bush had just traipsed around the Middle East claiming he was serious about seeking peace between Israel and Palestine. While it’s still early, the jail-break has the potential of dramatically altering dynamics in the Middle East.

As Jonathan Edelstein notes, the siege was really more of a joint Israeli-Egyptian siege.

I’ll close by questioning received wisdom, noting a legal paradigm shift, and indulging in some wild speculation.

Questioning received wisdom: I think we’ve been wrong all along in describing the siege of Gaza as an Israeli siege. In fact, ever since Israel left the Philadelphi route, it’s been an Israeli-Egyptian siege, and Egypt has maintained its end for its own reasons. Hamas correctly perceived Egypt as the military and political weak link, and chose to break the siege at the Egyptian border. I’ve actually wondered why it took so long; there have been partial breaches of the wall before, and I remember thinking at the time that Hamas would gain an advantage by widening them. Maybe it wasn’t yet ready, but I think it’s now very clear that they and Israel were never the only players.

Adelstein wonders whether this jailbust might lead to increasing influence from Hamas in Egypt, something Egypt can ill afford.

As for Bob Spencer’s speculation that Gaza might “become some sort of loosely associated part of Egypt,” I wonder if it might end up more the other way. I did some speculating of my own about the Gaza-Sinai relationship in late 2005, at the time the Rafah crossing reopened and before the rocket-closure-raid cycle started developing its own logic. The key points were that Gaza has six times the population of North Sinai governorate, that there was more money in Gaza than in that part of Egypt, that Egyptian security control in that region was tenuous and that the ports of al-Arish and Port Said had the potential to become a key Palestinian import-export route. All these, except possibly the second, remain true, and given that it will be a political impossibility for Mubarak to re-close the border (although he has built walls against his own Bedouin citizens), Sinai al-Shamaliyya might end up becoming a de facto Palestinian economic appendage. Interesting times. Read more