Israel’s latest incursion into the Gaza strip, entitled Operation Protective Edge, is part of the long-term strategy of the Israeli state to blockade and collectively punish the Palestinians in that territory. Since 2006, the Israeli military and state has been maintaining a complete land, sea and air imprisonment of the Gaza strip Palestinian population, a retaliatory response to the democratic election of the Islamist movement Hamas as the government of the Palestinians. The blockade of Gaza has resulted in a humanitarian catastrophe for the Palestinians, with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) documenting the terrible consequences of this tactic. Back in 2009, the UN OCHA released a report stating that the Palestinians, locked inside one of the most densely populated areas in the world, are suffering a prolonged crisis, denying them basic imports, food, medicines, economic activity, the resultant unemployment, and breakdown of infrastructure. The Palestinians are living in conditions that are basically suffocating them, undermining the basic services and necessities for survival. The updated and ongoing reports of the UN OCHA can be found here.
Access to the Gaza strip is tightly controlled by a system of heavily reinforced military checkpoints, the main crossings between Israel and Gaza opened only with the permission of the Israeli authorities. Egypt’s military rulers, General Sisi, does his part in blockading Gaza, helping to imprison the Palestinians as punishment for their election of Hamas, the Islamist political party aligned with and borne out of the Egyptian mother organisation, the Muslim Brotherhood. The military dictatorship in Egypt has effectively sided with Tel Aviv in the latter’s latest offensive against Gaza, though this decision has earned condemnation from international quarters.
The continued strangulation of the Palestinian population in Gaza has eerie parallels with a similar episode during World War Two, an episode that has come to typify the savagery of that conflict, but also serve as an emblem of the resilience of the human spirit. The Warsaw Ghetto, deliberately established by the Germans after their invasion of Poland, served the function of an open-air prison for the surviving Polish Jewish population. This ghetto was blocked off from the rest of the city, enclosed by fortified walls, and access to the ghetto was strictly controlled by military checkpoints. Jewish organisations inside the ghetto tried to meet the basic needs of the imprisoned population, as all imports, movement of goods and services, economic activity and trade were all severely restricted by the Germans.
In 1942, the inhabitants of the Warsaw ghetto, through the various political parties that organised them, decided to rise up and resist the Germans, knowing full-well that they faced militarily superior forces. The Germans deployed the overwhelming might of their military to raze the ghetto to the ground. The heroism of the defenders, suicidal in their bravery, has gone down in legend as one of the most emotionally uplifting, terrifying and emblematic episodes of the twentieth century. The Warsaw Ghetto uprising makes for fascinating and moving reading. As the Australian socialist activist and intellectual John Passant states “The Warsaw Ghetto Jews had no chance of victory. But they fought to restore their humanity and to show that the Nazis were not unbeatable.”
The direct comparison of Gaza today with the Warsaw Ghetto of yesterday is not the sole invention of the present writer. The online magazine Counterpunch published an article in July 2014 entitled Gaza and the Warsaw Ghetto. The author of that article lists the basic similarities in tactics used by the Israeli state of today, and the German state of yesterday. For instance, read the following lines from the beginning of the article:
THE WARSAW GHETTO WAS THE LARGEST OF ALL THE JEWISH GHETTOS IN NAZI-OCCUPIED EUROPE DURING WORLD WAR II. The Gaza Strip is the largest Palestinian ghetto in the Middle East and among the most densely populated parts of the world.
THE GERMANS CLOSED THE WARSAW GHETTO TO THE OUTSIDE WORLD IN 1940. Israel disengaged from Gaza in 2005, but maintains exclusive control of Gaza’s airspace and territorial waters. It controls the movement of people and goods in or out of Gaza. As a result, the European Union and Human Rights Watch as well as agencies of the United Nations consider Gaza to remain occupied by Israel.
UNEMPLOYMENT WAS A MAJOR PROBLEM IN THE WARSAW GHETTO, AND OVER 100,000 RESIDENTS OF THE GHETTO DIED DUE TO DISEASE OR STARVATION. The Israeli and Egyptian blockade of Gaza has devastated the economy and caused a shortage of basic medicines and medical equipment. In 2010, British Prime Minister David Cameron said that “humanitarian goods and people must flow in both directions. Gaza cannot and must not be allowed to remain a prison camp.”
Another similarity between the tactics of the Israelis today and Germans yesterday is the formation of a ‘buffer zone’ in the north of Gaza. Israeli forces, during the latest assault on Gaza, demolished the suburbs that are within a three-kilometer area that is continuous with the Israeli border. The Germans created ‘buffer zones’ in the areas they occupied in Europe, the Israelis implemented a so-called ‘security belt’ in the south of Lebanon when they occupied that country back in 1980s. The security zones failed to achieve their objectives.
Of course historical analogies can be pushed too far, and comparisons can be drawn that are wildly exaggerated. However, it is clear from the conduct of the Israeli authorities against Gaza that the parallels with the Nazi German treatment of the Warsaw Ghetto are comparable and instructive.
Counterpunch magazine published another article in July 2014, drawing out the explicit comparison between the Gaza territory and the Warsaw Ghetto. Dave Lindorff, an American activist of Jewish background, wrote that ‘Once it was the Nazis Leveling the Warsaw Ghetto; Now it’s Israel’s IDF Leveling Gaza’. He writes that the Israel Defence Forces are deliberately targeting hospitals, mosques, heavily populated areas and the casualties number women and children. The scale of the assault on Gaza, backed up by a widespread racial animosity throughout Israeli society, incited by various politicians and military figures. Lindorff explains that:
And like the horrific case of the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto, here too we have a small-scale, improbable, resistance being put up by fighters who use home-made rockets, small arms and a network of tunnels to challenge their much better armed attackers. We also have people — ironically this time it’s Jewish citizens of Israel — dragging lounge chairs and refreshments out to hillsides in the evening to watch the fireworks as the IDF’s tanks, bombers and ships off the coast of Gaza pulverize this huge ghetto that is fully under Israeli control.
The comparison between Gaza and the Warsaw Ghetto helps us to understand that this is not a fight between equally matched military forces. The Palestinians, represented by Hamas, are definitely the outmatched and out-gunned party, responding to a military occupation and siege that intends to force them into submission. Israel possesses one of the most powerful, computerised, high-tech military forces in the world – a navy, air force and army that is more than a match for any of its neighbours. The weapons, drones, military hardware and computer software that enables Israel to conduct its attacks on the Palestinians come from the United States and Britain primarily. The United States has willingly provided the F-16 fighter jets and Apache military helicopters that Israel is using to assault Gaza. The US replenishes the parts for armoured vehicles, replaces the spent ammunition cartridges, and provides the Howitzers that Israeli forces use in their continued offensive in Gaza.
Let us not forget the complicity of Britain in Israeli crimes – the drone technology, targeting systems and ammunition currently deployed by the Israeli forces were manufactured by British armaments companies. As explained by a report in The Independent newspaper, republished by the Stop the War Coalition UK;
Among the manufacturers given permission to make sales were two UK companies supplying components for the Hermes drone, described by the Israeli air force as the “backbone” of its targeting and reconnaissance missions. One of the two companies also supplies components for Israel’s main battle tank.
The Hermes drone has been widely used during Operation Protective Edge, the ongoing Israeli military action in Gaza, to monitor Palestinians and guided missile strikes.
There is no mistaking the complicity of the United States and Britain in the crimes of the Israeli military, and their role in enabling the latter to continue the siege of Gaza is a crime in itself. Stop the War Coalition UK published the statement signed by hundreds of intellectuals, activists and prominent campaigners (among them South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu) stating that the western powers who arm Israel are complicit in the crimes of the Israeli state.
Seumas Milne, expert political commentator for The Guardian newspaper, states it plainly in his column; “Gaza is a crime made in Washington as well as Jerusalem.” The carnage unleashed by Israel’s powerful military would not be possible without the active cooperation of the imperial powers, in particular the United States and the United Kingdom. The majority of those targeted, and the majority of Palestinian casualties, are civilians. Israel’s leaders, Milne explains, are attempting to ‘mown the lawn’, a favoured description of their repeated offensives against the Palestinians in Gaza over the years. However, things have not gone according to plan. Not only was the rate of Hamas’ rocket fire unaffected, but the rate of Israeli military casualties, in comparison to their earlier wars, has increased dramatically.
John Rees, one of the conveners of the Stop the War Coalition UK, summarised the results of an article published by the respected IHS Janes security and defence magazine called ‘Palestinian militants inflict substantial casualties on Israeli forces in Gaza’. The Israeli ground troops, unlike previous campaigns, faced an enemy that did not melt away, but stood up and fought on their home ground (much like the imprisoned population of the Warsaw Ghetto). John Rees explains that in contrast to the previous Israeli attack on Gaza, Operation Cast Lead, the numbers of Israeli soldiers dying has greatly increased. During Operation Cast Lead (December 2008 – January 2009) ten Israeli soldiers died, four of them in friendly-fire incidents. During the most recent assault on Gaza, 53 soldiers have been killed.
Interestingly, Janes notes that with the new unity bewteen Hamas and the Palestinian Fatah movement, greater coordination and scope for the resistance has been the benefit. Hamas has adopted the training it has received from the Hezbollah party:
A key element of Hamas’s performance in this regard appears to be its emulation of the tactics of Lebanese Islamist group Hizbullah. A senior official in Hamas’s armed wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, speaking to IHS Jane’s on condition of anonymity on 22 July, stated, “We have benefited from all the Iranian, Syrian, [and] Hizbullah tactical combat schools, and finally formulated [a] Qassam independent one that matches our situation and [leaves us] capable to respond to our enemy’s challenge.”
The costs of this incursion are starting to weigh heavily on the minds of the Israeli leaders. Make no mistake though, the suffering of the Palestinians has been, and continues to be, horrendous beyond description. However, just like the fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto, the Palestinians have taken the fight to the occupier, inflicting casualties and causing enough pain for the occupying forces to rethink their position. Indeed, as Paul Rogers’ article in the Stop the War Coalition UK notes, Israel withdrew its ground troops from Gaza because it was losing, facing the stubborn resistance of a population refusing to be cowed. Rogers explains that:
The Jewish population of Israel is about one-tenth of the population of the UK. This means that the proportional losses in twenty-eight days exceed the UK’s combined losses in six years’ fighting in Iraq and twelve years in Afghanistan.
The attack on Gaza is sadly not over, by no means. However, as Rogers has stated, the IDF has confronted a war of surprises, with Hamas, far from crumbling but actually maintaining its support among the population.
One of the stated reasons for Israel’s incursion into Gaza is to stop Hamas from firing rockets into Israel proper. Hamas has certainly fired into the Israeli state – but from November 2012, which ended Operation Pillar of Defence, until July 2014, Hamas did strictly observe the ceasefire. Israeli forces continued their aerial warfare however, striking any target they deemed was a threat or military installation. As Eric Ruder from the Socialist Worker explained in his article “Resistance is justified when Gaza is occupied”:
During this time, Israel continued to carry out air strikes against whatever targets it deemed legitimate, and Israeli snipers fired on–and killed–farmers if they strayed too close to the Israeli-designated “buffer zone” along the Gaza-Israel border. The terms of the cease-fire also stipulated that Israel would lift its blockade of Gaza–which instead intensified, especially after the Egyptian military took over power after toppling Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi a year ago.
The nature of Hamas, its political program and vision, its origins and current situation, were only lightly touched on in this article. Setting the record straight about Hamas, obtaining a clear picture of this political party, and responding to the egregious lies perpetuated against by the Israeli political establishment and its supporters, is the subject of the next article. Stay tuned.