By James M. Wall
Once every two years or so, depending on the U.S. and Israeli strategic and political calendars, Israel, the fourth largest military power in the world, descends on Gaza to “mow the grass”.
That obscene phrase, used to describe Israel’s military engagements with Gaza, was described by the Jerusalem Post as a legitimate Israeli tactic:
“Israel is acting in accordance with a “mowing the grass” strategy. After a period of military restraint, Israel is acting to severely punish Hamas for its aggressive behavior, and degrading its military capabilities – aiming at achieving a period of quiet.”
The “mowing the grass” image is an all-out Israeli air and ground attack on a largely helpless civilian population of 1.8 million Palestinians, all of whom are trapped inside prison-like Gaza walls.
Amira Hass, veteran Israeli writer for Ha’aretz, describes how difficult it is for Israel to understand that the Palestinians “refuse occupation”.
“There is method in madness, and the Israeli insanity, which refuses to grasp the extent of its revenge in Gaza, has very good reasons for being the way it is.
The entire nation is the army, the army is the nation, and both are represented by a Jewish-democratic government and a loyal press, and the four of them work together to stave off the great betrayal: the Palestinians’ refusal to recognize the normalcy of the situation.
The Palestinians are disobedient. They refuse to adapt. This is after we thought it was working for us, with VIP treatment for a few of them and an opportunity for swollen bank accounts for some, and with enormous donations from the United States and Europe that nurture the pockets of imaginary Palestinian rule.”
The current conflict is the third time Israel has “mowed the grass” in Gaza since 2007. There are no signs that Palestinians will stop being “disobedient”.
The odious “grass mowing” tactic has worked before for Israel, calming things down to suit Israel’s agenda. But it is most certainly not a long term solution. It is also a tactic that always damages Israel’s image everywhere, it now seems, except in U.S. political, religious and media circles.
It is difficult to believe Israel lacks the ability to avoid excessive civilian casualties. Amira Hass reports one example that confirms Israel’s ability to identify, with precision, what and who, is being targeted. She writes:
“The armed Hamas operatives who emerged from the tunnel shaft on Kibbutz Nir Am on Monday were dressed as Israeli soldiers. Haaretz’s Amos Harel writes that in the first moments, the field commanders were not sure whether they were soldiers or terrorists.
“Finally, thanks to an aerial photograph taken by a drone, they were found to be Hamas operatives,” writes Harel. “They were carrying Kalashnikov rifles, which the Israeli army does not use.”
So the photographs taken by the drone can be very precise when its operators wish. It can discern whether there are children on the seashore or on the roof — children who, even for the legal acrobats in the Justice Ministry and the army, are not a justifiable target for our bombs.
The drone can also discern that a rescue team has arrived to pull out wounded people, that families are fleeing their homes. All this can be shown in a close-up photograph taken by a drone, at high enough resolution that the operators of the bombs and the shells have no reason to press the “kill” button on their keyboards.
But for some reason, the eye of the drone that can tell the difference between various makes of rifles cannot tell that this figure over here is a child, and that is a mother or a grandmother. Instead, all are given a death sentence.”
Does Israel really believe “mowing the grass” is the best way to deal with its neighboring population? Is that a tactic to build a strong Israel for the future?
Years from now, Israeli veterans of this and other wars, will be asked, “what did you do in your war, Daddy”? The answer Daddy gives about “mowing the grass” will tell us what sort of nation Israel has built for the future.
The children shown above were in an United Nations World Relief Agency (UNWRA) school during an attack.
Amira Hass writes further for Ha’aretz:
The Israeli military shelled a United Nations Relief Works and Agency (UNWRA) school today, killing and injuring some of the Palestinians who had gathered there after fleeing their homes following Israeli messages to do so.
CNN‘s Ben Wedeman, who is reporting from Gaza, said that medical sources told him 30 people were killed. Other reports put the death toll lower; the Associated Press reports that at least seven were killed, while Agence France Press reports nine dead.
UNWRA spokesman Chris Gunness has confirmed that there are “multiple dead and injured at designated UNWRA shelter in Beit Hanoun.” He said on Twitter that the Israeli military had been given “precise co-ordinates of the UNWRA shelter in Beit Hanoun.”
The children in the picture above are lying or sitting on the floor. This is not a hospital. It is clearly-marked UNWRA facility which hurriedly took in as many as 1500 Palestinians, seeking shelter from bombs.
Look closely in the upper right corner of the picture above and you will see the image of a green-clad nurse, offering what little help he can to one of the children.
This is how the world’s fourth largest military power “defends itself”?
Another way Israel defends itself is to raise questions about which side is responsible for attacks. In a factual report on the attack on the Gaza Beit Hanoun school converted to a temporary shelter, the New York Times gives the results of the attack.
“These days, even a school — clearly identified as a shelter run by the United Nations — cannot protect Palestinian civilians in Gaza from deadly attacks. Located in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, it was struck multiple times on Thursday as people who had taken refuge there were gathering in the courtyard and preparing to flee.
At least 16 of them were killed, bringing the total death toll in 17 days of war to more than 750, a vast majority being Palestinian civilians.”
The losses were so heavy and the ultimate responsibility for the explosion that caused the many losses, so damaging that it is quite possible that the Israeli hasbara team told its favorite New York city newspaper to proceed with caution.
Which the New York Times promptly did in the next paragraph:
“There are competing charges over who carried out the attack — Israel; Hamas, which controls Gaza; or one of Hamas’s allies — and that could take time to sort out. What really matters now is that some way be found to stop this carnage.”
Time to sort out, indeed. To even imply that Hamas could be responsible for this destruction in the Beit Hanoun school strains credulity. Perhaps Israel is anticipating a need for cover in future war crimes trials.
NBC nightly television news did not waste any time debating responsibility for the attack. It reported the grisly attack as an Israeli operation.
Even such an intelligent and sensitive leader like U.S. President Barack Obama, has learned to repeat the phrase almost as often as Netanyahu, “Israel has the right to defend itself”.
Palestinians, as any rational individual must know, also have the “right to defend themselves”.
Chris Hedges writes on the obvious limits of “rights”:
Israel does not have the right to drop 1,000-pound iron fragmentation bombs on Gaza. It does not have the right to pound Gaza with heavy artillery and with shells lobbed from gunboats.
It does not have the right to send in mechanized ground units or to target hospitals, schools and mosques, along with Gaza’s water and electrical systems. It does not have the right to displace over 100,000 people from their homes. The entire occupation, under which Israel has nearly complete control of the sea, the air and the borders of Gaza, is illegal.
The current “lawn mowing” process started in 2008, nicely timed to fall between Barack Obama’s November, 2008, election, and Obama’s inauguration in January, 2009. Obama demanded from Israel that it end its invasion before Inauguration Day.
Israel, comrades in arms, always eager to play nice with a new president, met the deadline.
Like Israel’s subsequent invasions that followed in 2012 and 2014, the pattern has been the same.
Israel builds up its military stock pile for up to two weeks of all-out attacks, starting with devastating air strikes, followed by Israeli ground troops crossing into Gaza.
They rarely go beyond two weeks, fearing world disapproval and fading home front tolerance for troops losses. That tolerance point may not be far away. The Washington Post reported this week:
“Seven more Israeli soldiers were killed in fierce fighting Monday [July 21], bringing the Israeli military toll to 27 dead, more than twice as many as in Israel’s last Gaza ground incursion in 2009 and the highest toll since Israel’s war with Lebanon in 2006. Two Israeli civilians have died in the conflict.”
As the weaker of the two parties involved, the Gaza civilian death toll (many women and children) has varied, but so far it has ranged from more than a thousand in 2009, to more than 560 people in Gaza, in this 2014 incursion, many of them women and children, according to the Post.
This invasion, if it follows the usual plan, will lead to a “cease fire” orchestrated by pro-Israel, U.S, anti-Hamas Egypt, Israel, and presumably Hamas. The first run at a 2014 “cease fire” was proposed with no input from Hamas. Hamas refused to be told to sign something on which it was not consulted.
A second effort is currently ongoing.
The Presbyterian Church in the USA (PCUSA) has just finished its every-two year General Assembly national gathering, which included a narrow vote to take the mild step of withholding investment funds from three U.S. corporations involved in Israel’s operations in the occupied territories.
The PCUSA will not meet in General Assembly for another two years. Perhaps they will meet during the next “lawn mowing” exercise when Israel finds an excuse to begin cutting anew.
The World Council of Churches, not as obsessed with “good relations” with local rabbis as the Presbyterians, took the justice route and demanded an end to Israel’s current invasion and its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
The U.S. National Council of Churches issued a press release on July 18 expressing its disapproval of the invasion.
These Israeli “lawn mowing” exercises began after the 2006 elections in the West Bank and Gaza, to choose a new Palestinian parliament and later, a prime minister.
Israel and the U.S. did not like the results of that 2006 election. They did not like the fact that Hamas won the election fair and square, and gained control of all of the West Bank and Gaza.
In that election Hamas won in such Christian strongholds as Bethlehem, in the West Bank. The majority of Bethlehem’s legislative seats went to Hamas.
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter headed an international group of monitors to help guarantee the 2006 election’s validity.
I attended a meeting of the Palestinian Election Commission the day before the election, at the invitation of President Carter and the Commission chair, Hanna Nasir, then the president of Bir Zeit University.
Hamas won the election in 2006. What followed was a brief moment of hope for a positive Palestinian future.
But what does the U.S. government (the congress and then President George W. Bush) and its Middle East mini-me empirical wanna-be, Israel, do about an election that does not follow the colonial template?
Simple, the U.S. and Israel told the losing political party in that 2006 election, Fatah, that it was time to go to war against Hamas. To help out, Israel locked up, on charges that are still not clear, the majority of Hamas’ victorious legislators.
With U.S. Army Lt. General Keith Dayton in charge of training—bringing with him U.S. money for military equipment—the Fatah army was organized and sent into battle to accomplish what the voters in the West Bank and Hamas had rejected.
In short, the colonial playbook was followed: Take power at the polls if possible, and by military force, if necessary. What followed was not meant to happen. The U.S and Israeli-backed Fatah lost that war as it had lost the earlier election.
Hamas quickly solidified its governmental responsibility on the Gaza area of the Palestinian territories. Israel promptly surrounded Gaza with its own version of the iron wall. Israel demanded that Fatah set up its own West Bank Palestinian government with Ramallah as its capital.
Maybe that came from a West Point class, “Divide and Conquer” on how best to build an empire. Great Britain perfected the tactic in the Middle East, India and Africa.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) has struggled since 2007 to govern the West Bank on its own, always under the watchful eye of the Israelis, who dole out tax money taken from Palestinians and return it to the PA to run its government.
Following the failure of the most recent round of peace negotiations, Fatah invited Hamas to join in a unity government.
That sounded promising. But it did not fit the colonial template. Thus followed the latest “grass mowing” Israeli exercise, and many children like those above, continue to suffer.
A “cease fire” to this current conflict could happen at any moment. But then what? Does Israel think the tunnels will not be restored? Of course, they will be restored. Or maybe another and more effective method will be developed to resist the occupation.
Israel is indeed surrounded by Arab states which do not think Israel is a good neighbor in the region. At some point in the future these states may find ways to assist Hamas.
Military might, will not suffice to hold down a captive Palestinian population forever. World opinion has turned against Israel. The next U.S. president will face the same hopeless situation that has been such a burden for President Obama.
It is sad to see a brilliant president with so much promise, like Barack Obama, have to grovel and utter Israel’s mantra of this year, “Israel has a right to defend itself”.
What sort of a neighbor will Israel be in the future?
“Mowing the grass” to routinely kill men, women and children, destroy their homes, hospitals and schools, and deprive them of the freedom to enjoy a normal existence, sounds more like a 20th century Nazi tactic than a tactic appropriate for a 21st century democracy.
It is also a tactic that will fail, because Palestinians will find other ways to resist oppression.
And just maybe a future U.S. president, told to repeat another Israeli talking point on the order of the noxious, “Israel has a right to defend itself”, will gag, and refuse to do so.
Like Martin Luther, the father of the Protestant revolution, that future U.S. president just might refuse to degrade himself or herself, tear up the script, and say those words long attributed to Martin Luther, “Here I stand, I can do no other. God help me.”
The picture above is from the U.S. home page of UNWRA. It was taken by Letteris Pitarakis, for the Associated Press.