Raise your hand if you still believe Israel’s claim that its 23-day assault on Gaza was a necessary retaliation against Hamas for breaking a cease fire. Ok, put your hand down and listen up.
Consider the dates of the assault’s start and abrupt ending. The first Israeli air attack on Gaza came on December 27, 2008. Barack Obama was the president-elect. George Bush would be president until noon, January 20, 2009.
Israel had less than a month left to operate with impunity under the blessing of the out-going U.S. president.
Twenty three days after December 27, Israel’s prime minister, Ehud Olmert, announced that his government would remove its forces from Gaza “at the greatest possible speed”.
The assault troops were out of Gaza by midnight, January 18. 2009. The Palestinian death toll had reached more than 1300. The injured totaled more than 5100.
Two days later, on January 20, 2009, Barack Obama was inaugurated president of the United States.
Before he entered the White House Obama knew what was happening in Gaza. His transition team remained in touch with the Bush White House. The London Guardian provided a daily death and injury report. Bloggers, like this one, also provided statistics on the wounded and dead. Few U.S. papers bothered to even notice.
President-elect Obama insisted he had no control over what was happening in Gaza. That was true. As he put it, “we have only one president at a time”.
Now, six months later, President Obama has everything to do with the aftermath of Gaza, starting with some unfinished grisly and sad business involving the refusal of Israel and Egypt to allow heavy digging equipment to cross into Gaza.
The United Nations Development Fund (UNDP) officially began implementing its rubble removal operation on 9 July. About 420 tons of debris will be cleared at a cost of 12 million dollars, funded by Canada.
Gaza Ministry of Public Works vehicles have been used, but Israel’s and Egypt’s refusal to allow reconstruction materials into the area has forced many residents to dig, hoping to find lost loved ones on their own.
Ibrahim Radwan, undersecretary at the ministry, said that “the delay in finding the missing is due to a lack of necessary funds, estimated by the ministry at 16 million US dollars.” He also cited a lack of machines.
This is what the aftermath of a 23-day military Israeli assault looks like. The side with the machines, the one in absolute military control, determines when bodies may be dug up and given decent religious burials. Ma’an provides the names of the 59 still missing Palestinians. They range in ages from 12 to 79, men, women and children.
Ma’an would not object if you want to print this list of 59 and post it on your church bulletin board. Their deaths were funded by U.S. tax payers which makes their deaths, and now their burials, partly our responsibility.
This is the aftermath of the Gaza assault which Barack Obama now faces. The good news is that in this aftermath, he is displaying a toughness, missing among recent U.S. presidents, in dealing with the Israeli government. Consider these developments.
The Obama administration is making demands Israel is not accustomed to hearing from Washington. Obama is also playing a diplomatic game Israel hasn’t seen for a long time.
Nothing in the past sixteen years has appeared in the Jerusalem media with anything close to this ominous (to Israel) story which ran online July 24:
The US State Department rebuffed speculation that the administration of President Barack Obama was considering imposing economic sanctions against Israel in order to prevent it from continuing West Bank settlement construction.
Spokesman Phillip Crowley told reporters on Thursday that remarks made by deputy spokesman Robert Wood earlier this week had been “misinterpreted.”
Asked at a press briefing on Tuesday whether the US was considering putting financial pressure on Israel to get it to comply with US demands, Wood had said: “It’s premature to talk about that.“ (Jerusalem Post, July 24, 2009).
What is deft about this particular series of statements is that the U.S. both plants the idea that it may be willing to consider sanctions if all else fails; and immediately denies the import of the statement in order to make it appear it was a mistake. But the seed has been planted. Now everyone in the Netanyahu government and the Israel lobby is aware of what the next step could be. They know what’s in store if they continue trying to play hardball regarding the settlement freeze and related issues.
On the same day, July 24, Ha’aretz ran a story by Aluf Benn with this headline: “U.S. Warns Israel: Don’t Build Up West Bank Corridor”.
Nothing in the story about “unhelpful to the peace process”. The language has changed. “Unhelpful” has been replaced by “stiff warning”. And this is a White House that actually knows where and what E-1 is and how Israel intends to use it.
The U.S. administration has issued a stiff warning to Israel not to build in the area known as E-1, which lies between Jerusalem and the West Bank settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim. Any change in the status quo in E-1 would be “extremely damaging,” even “corrosive,” the message said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed in the past to finally build the controversial E-1 housing project – as have several premiers before him, though none has done so due to American pressure. He opened his recent election campaign with a visit to Ma’aleh Adumim in which he declared: “I will link Jerusalem to Ma’aleh Adumim via the Mevasseret Adumim neighborhood, E-1. I want to see one continuous string of built-up Jewish neighborhoods.”
Evidence is also piling up that the Israelis will have some scrambling to do to clean up the damage they left behind in Gaza, in destroyed lives, property, and Israel’s own international reputation. And more than scrambling will be needed to resist “stiff warnings” about “corrosive” behavior from the new American government.
And what about Israeli scholar Avi Shlaim, a loyal Zionist, IDF veteran, and sensitive soul? He is emerging as my new Israeli hero. The first ten days of the assault on Gaza, which led to the deaths of many of those Palestinians still trapped in the rubble of their homes, prompted Shlaim to write a column for the London Guardian, with language rarely, if ever, found in print on the American side of the Atlantic.
Here are the opening lines from the column Shlaim wrote January 7, for the Guardian.
Shalim’s family immigrated to Israel from Iraq in 1950. He has served in the Israeli army, and is now a professor of international relations at the University of Oxford. He has written two highly-regarded books, The Iron Wall and Lion of Jordan: King Hussein’s Life in War and Peace. Another book, Israel and Palestine, will be published in September.
For more on Shlaim’s story as an Israeli scholar shattered by the Gaza attack, read Robert Fisk’s most recent London Independent column.
It gets better. Shlaim is not alone. There is a growing Israeli and international impatience and anger over what Israel did in Gaza.
UN official Richard Falk, for example, suggests that war crime charges could be involved.
Israeli soldiers, reflecting back on their part in the Gaza assault, have described the “excesses” of the army’s conduct.
Even the U.S. mainstream ‘s CNN has suggested that the original excuse Israel gave for launching the attack on Gaza collapses upon closer inspection.
To paraphrase Lyndon Johnson in his comment on the late Walter Cronkite and the war in Vietnam, “If CNN rejects our cover story, then Israel has lost Middle America.”
Surely, Middle America would want President Obama to inform Israel’s Prime Minister that there still 59 bodies lying beneath the rubble Israel left behind after its 23-day assault on Gaza, an assault that was conveniently/deliberately planned to keep it off Obama’s watch.
It is the Aftermath that now rests squarely and heavily on President Obama’s shoulders.
Picture in Gaza above is from Global Research and Rafah Today