Week Two in Gaza (Monday Update): “Publish it not in the streets of As’kelon”


Monday Noon Update

by James M. Wall

Bill Kristol was in the New York Times Monday, channeling George C. Scott as General Patton,  gleefully rubbing his hands together as he predicts that Gaza will not repeat the failure of the Lebanese 2006 invasion. This time, promises Kristol, “our boys will give the enemy what for”, or words to that effect.

Why? Because the terrain is flat, the enemy is isolated, and boy, do we have the superior war machine. And, of course, “our” cause is just.  This is the best the nation’s newspaper of record can offer? 

No better than the Washington Post, which blessed its readers with Charles Krauthammer over the weekend (syndicated in the Chicago Tribune Monday), with the flat statement that Hamas is the reason for this season of death and destruction. To Krauthammer, Israel is only doing what any peace-loving parent would do for his children: Drive south and kill the children of the other side’s peace-loving parents. (Patton, again).

The US mainstream media is at the barricades once again.  Shock and Awe is back.  Israel is marching to glorious victory,  backed by an almost total US media smokescreen, US funding, and the latest in US military technology. World opinion? Who cares? Israel’s back is covered from the Big Bad UN by US vetoes.  And who pays attention to protests on US streets or in London and Paris government offices? 

The American public and the media that provides that public with its daily dose of Israeli propaganda, are so effectively brainwashed, that the Gaza “rocket rationale” for the invasion is still the dominant plot line. It may take weeks before the real reason (see below) for the invasion reaches the masses.

Greg Mitchell, editor of Editor and Publisher, writes in Huffington Post to deplore the silence of US media outlets and offers this contrast to coverage in Ha’aretz, from Jerusalem:

In the usual process, the U.S. government, media here — and many of the leading liberal bloggers — are silent or playing down questions about whether Israel overreacted in its massive air strikes on Gaza, while the foreign press, and evenHaaretz in Israel, carries more balanced accounts.

Anyone who cares should consult the respected Haaretz site often, if for no other reason than to learn that criticism of Israeli military actions are usually more heated inside that country than in the USA. The New York Times, for example, as of today (Monday), has not yet editorialized on the air assault. You may recall the lockstep support in the U.S. for Israeli’s invasion of southern Lebanon, which included the use of U.S.-made cluster bombs. That invasion turned out to be a genuine fiasco.

The Israeli land assault on Gaza has been treated by US media as a military achievement.  The larger story is the damage to institiutions like the American School in Gaza, built in 2000 with international support.  The school before its destruction is described here.

This first hand report comes from Eyad el Sarrraj, who chaired the school’s board of directors for seven years. His report, sent from the West Bank by Palestinian businessman Sam Bahour, is being circulated further by Pauline Coffman, former chair of the Chicago area Presbyterian Middle East Task Force. 

“Thanks to two Israeli airstrikes, the American School in Gaza, previously known as “an oasis of learning”, became just another pile of rubble and ashes, an ordinary scene in today’s Gaza. The only guard of the school was killed in the attack. So much for American/Israeli values of education. How was the AMERICAN school in Gaza of any help to Hamas or any other faction? . . .  Israel’s war on Gaza is not only aimed at defeating a certain party, but its aimed at making the Palestinians go years back instead of advancing. So much for creating moderate Palestinians!

“Today they flattened the American school which I was the chairman of for seven years and was the best school in Gaza and best playgrounds and design in Palestine. Its graduates went to MIT, Harvard and Princeton. Something the Israelis share with the Islamic fundamentalists (who attacked the school several times because it teaches the American curriculum); they want to keep us backward.”   

As the American School in Gaza lies in ruins, the United States sits quietly by, granting its empire-building sanction to a military invasion of an Arab population which is trapped behind a worldwide wall of indifference, alone and isolated. 

This CBS video footage, narrated by Mads Gilbert, is a rare appearance on a major US television network of the impact of the bombing in Gaza.  Middle East scholar Juan Coles posted this footage, with comments, on his blog, Informed Comment.  

Robert Fisk, London Independent correspondent, has more on the “few square miles” of Gaza under attack:

Crammed into the most overpopulated few square miles in the whole world are a dispossessed people who have been living in refuse and sewage and, for the past six months, in hunger and darkness, and who have been sanctioned by us, the West. Gaza was always an insurrectionary place. It took two years for Ariel Sharon’s bloody “pacification”, starting in 1971, to be completed, and Gaza is not going to be tamed now.

Alas for the Palestinians, their most powerful political voice –. . .  the late Edward Said . . .– is silent. “It’s the most terrifying place I’ve ever been in,” Said once said of Gaza. “It’s a horrifyingly sad place because of the desperation and misery of the way people live. I was unprepared for camps that are much worse than anything I saw in South Africa.”

The US mainstream media dutifully reports Israel’s rational for bombing Gaza, honoring a cover story with a short life span. This bombing, so the Israelis say, is in retaliation for rocket attacks into southern Israel, some of which reached the city of As’kelon, of which more later. 

The first Israeli bombs fell on Saturday, December 27. Four days later,  the rocket rationale had given way to the real reason for the bombing: regime change. Shock and Awe is back again, a dark reminder of the initial rationale for Israel’s 2006  invasion of Lebanon, that time, retaliation for Hezbollah’s incursion across Israel’s northern border.  

The US Jewish Forward magazine’s Larry Cohler-Esses and Nathan Guttman, described the 2009 shift:

It was on the third and fourth days of its retaliatory air offensive in Gaza that the fork in the road for Israel became clear: another cease-fire agreement, or regime change. On December 29, after days of circumspect public statements, the rhetoric of some of Israel’s most visible officials changed markedly.  “The goal of the operation is to topple Hamas,” declared Deputy Prime Minister Haim Ramon during a December 29 television interview. “We will stop firing immediately if someone takes the responsibility of this government, anyone but Hamas. We are favorable to any other government to take the place of Hamas.”

The initial 2006 rationale for Israel’s invasion of Lebanon–a Hezbollah border incursion into northern Israel–soon gave way to the real reason: regime change. Hezbollah was a “terrorist” group that had to be eliminated. That did not turn out well for Israel. Hezbollah is now a major player in the Lebanese parliament. For Israel, the invasion was a costly failure.

Israel retreated from Lebanon, taking advantage of a delayed cease fire, courtesy of Condi Rice, during which the IDF fired additional cluster bombs during its retreat. The Electronic Intifada has this reminder of what happened:

. . . [In 2006] Israel fired cluster bombs, either US-supplied or manufactured in Israel, on nearly 1,000 individual strike sites across 1,400 square kilometers of southern Lebanon, an area slightly larger than the US state of Rhode Island.  Each cluster bomb can release up to 2,000 bomblets, and about a quarter of the bomblets failed to explode on impact in Lebanon. Since the war, unexploded bomblets have killed at least 30 people and injured some 200 others. . . .

As week two of the 2009 Gaza invasion begins, Israel’s political leaders are busy campaigning for their upcoming February elections. They seek to outdo one another in their zeal to kill the dangerous enemy to the south, the mighty Gaza army armed with all those rockets.  Those campaigners enjoy total freedom to repeat their Lebanon military disaster. Both the outgoing and incoming US administrations are looking the other way as the slaughter in Gaza continues. 

All of the Israeli presidential candidates and the US leaders must have been aware of the long range plans behind the invasion. Global Research’s Michel Chossudovsky connects Robert Negroponte, the current White House point man in the region, to the long-planned attacks:

The aerial bombings and the ongoing ground invasion of Gaza by Israeli ground forces must be analysed in a historical context. Operation “Cast Lead” is a carefully planned undertaking, which is part of a broader military-intelligence agenda first formulated by the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2001: 

“Sources in the defense establishment said Defense Minister Ehud Barak instructed the Israel Defense Forces to prepare for the operation over six months ago, even as Israel was beginning to negotiate a ceasefire agreement with Hamas.” (Barak Ravid, Operation “Cast Lead”: Israeli Air Force strike followed months of planning, Haaretz, December 27, 2008)

It was Israel which broke the truce on the day of the US presidential elections, November 4. . . . 

On December 8, US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte was in Tel Aviv for discussions with his Israeli counterparts including the director of Mossad, Meir Dagan. “Operation Cast Lead” was initiated two days day after Christmas. It was coupled with a carefully designed international Public Relations campaign under the auspices of Israel’s Foreign Ministry. Hamas’ military targets are not the main objective. Operation “Cast Lead” is intended, quite deliberately, to trigger civilian casualities.  What we are dealing with is a “planned humanitarian disaster” in Gaza in a densly populated urban area. . . . 

Gaza does not have an army that could possibly cope with such a strategy.  But Gaza does have a desperate and angry population that will not easily yield to either bombing or an invading army. It will continue its sporadic rocket firing and it may secure additional military arms, supplied, most likely, by Iran. But Gaza will not offer a serious military threat to Israel’s combined air and ground forces.  Meanwhile, the US vetoes any UN resolutions to halt the attacks and the major powers remain silent.

So why did Israel do it?   Time magazine’s Tony Karon, writing in his blog, has one explanation:

It’s fear of another Holocaust that has driven Israel to bomb the crap out of the Palestinians in Gaza — at least, that’s if you believe what you read on the New York Times op ed page. (Never a good idea, of course, because as I have previously noted, when it comes to Israel and related fear-mongering, there simply is no hysteria deemed unworthy of the Times op ed page.)

[Benny] Morris, a manic fellow at the best of times prone to intellectual mood swings — having laid bare the ethnic cleansing that created modern Israel, Morris then didn’t as much recant as complain that the problem was that Ben Gurion hadn’t finished the job. And since the 2000 debacle at Camp David, of course, he’s been a de facto editorial writer for Ehud Barak, the failed former Prime Minister nicknamed “Mr. Zig-Zag” while in office because of his inconsistency — and who, of course, is the author of the current operation in Gaza.

Another answer to the question, “why did Israel do it?”, involves the aforementioned Ehud Barak:  Israel’s February 18 elections for the parliament and prime minister. There are three leading candidates for prime minister: Current foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Kadima party leader, former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, from the right-wing Likud party, and former prime minister and current Defense Minister Barak.

All three sail comfortably along with US backing, undeterred by any outrage from the United States, where public opinion maintains its ignorance about Israel’s determination to find its security in a hostile Middle East through its military power.

The US mainstream media treats Israel as a 51st “state”, avoiding any serious coverage of the ugly reality of the invasion of Gaza where 40 percent of the population confronting the invasion is under the age of 15. 

Robert Fisk has no patience for American public/political ignorance, writing in his London Independent column:

But watching the news shows, you’d think that history began yesterday, that a bunch of bearded anti-Semitic Islamist lunatics suddenly popped up in the slums of Gaza – a rubbish dump of destitute people of no origin – and began firing missiles into peace-loving, democratic Israel, only to meet with the righteous vengeance of the Israeli air force. The fact that the five sisters killed in Jabalya camp had grandparents who came from the very land whose more recent owners have now bombed them to death simply does not appear in the story.

Fisk finds it ironic that a few of those Hamas rockets landed in the “modern Israeli city” of As’kelon.  He explains:

How easy it is to snap off the history of the Palestinians, to delete the narrative of their tragedy, to avoid a grotesque irony about Gaza which – in any other conflict – journalists would be writing about in their first reports: that the original, legal owners of the Israeli land on which Hamas rockets are detonating live in Gaza.

That is why Gaza exists: because the Palestinians who lived in Ashkelon and the fields around it – Askalaan in Arabic – were dispossessed from their lands in 1948 when Israel was created and ended up on the beaches of Gaza. They – or their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren – are among the one and a half million Palestinian refugees crammed into the cesspool of Gaza, 80 per cent of whose families once lived in what is now Israel. This, historically, is the real story: most of the people of Gaza don’t come from Gaza.

When the Palestinians living in As’kelon were driven from their homes in 1948, their “abandoned” homes were quickly filled by immigrant Jewish families. 

Moving into week two of death and destruction in Gaza, we conclude this posting with two historic documents, one modern and another quite ancient.  First, a video clip from a television interview which captures what has to be described as an “historic”  exchange between MSNBC conservative television host Joe Scarborough, and former Carter National Security advisor, Zbignew Brezenski. 

The clip, which is nine minutes long, demonstrates how easily the pro-Israel bias of mainstream US media blends with ignorance of the topic discussed.  Watch the entire clip, but if you want to skip to the exchange between Scarborough and Brezenski, move to the six minute mark.

In Huffington Post’s introduction to the clip, Zbignew Brezenski is quoted speaking candidly to Scarborough about the newsman’s lack of understanding of recent Middle East politics. In a sudden burst of frustration, Brezenski says to Scarborough:

 “You know, you have such a stunningly superficial knowledge of what went on that it’s almost embarrassing to listen to you.” 

What gives this exchange a certain poignancy is the fact that Brezenski’s daughter, Mika, is the co-host of the show with Scarborough. She is obviously uncomfortable with Scarborough as he struggles to regain the upper hand in the interview, sarcastically referring to Brezenski as “chief”, an affectionate name given Brezenski by his grandchildren. 

On a more somber note, Robert Fisk has reminded us that As’kelon, now within the borders of Israel, courtesy of the 1948 war, figures prominently in a much earlier war involving David, who laments the death of Jonathan and Saul. In David’s lament he demands that the news of the death of Saul and Jonathan not be published in As’kelon, nor told in Gath, less their women rejoice.  

Read it aloud. It is both poetic and biblical. It is also a grim biblical reminder that weapons of war will perish and the mighty will fall, no matter how much effort is spent trying to hide the truth of war’s futility from the people of As’kelon or the citizens of Main Street, USA. 

These words are from Second Samuel, Chapter One:

Now it came to pass after the death of Saul, when David was returned from the slaughter of the Amal’ekites, and David had abode two days in Ziklag;  

It came even to pass on the third day, that, behold, a man came out of the camp from Saul with his clothes rent, and earth upon his head: and so it was, when he came to David, that he fell to the earth, and did obeisance. And David said unto him, From whence comest thou? And he said unto him, Out of the camp of Israel am I escaped.

And David said unto him, How went the matter? I pray thee, tell me. And he answered, That the people are fled from the battle, and many of the people also are fallen and dead; and Saul and Jonathan his son are dead also. . . .

. . . . Then David took hold on his clothes, and rent them; and likewise all the men that were with him: and they mourned, and wept, and fasted until even, for Saul, and for Jonathan his son, and for the people of the LORD, and for the house of Israel; because they were fallen by the sword.  . . . 

And David lamented with this lamentation over Saul and over Jonathan his son:  . . . 

The beauty of Israel is slain upon thy high places: how are the mighty fallen! Publish it not in the streets of As’kelon; lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph. . . .

How are the mighty fallen, and the weapons of war perished.”

About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall writings.me, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to jameswall8@gmail.com Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years. James M Wall died March 22, 2021 at age 92. His family appreciates all of his readers, even those who may have disagreed with his well-informed writings.
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1 Response to Week Two in Gaza (Monday Update): “Publish it not in the streets of As’kelon”

  1. Harris Fawell says:

    Thanks for your fine update in regard to the Israeli-Palestinian most distressing issues. Lets hope Obama, upon assuming the office of President, will depart from President Bush’s unfortunate record. We can only wait and hope. Harris

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