“This is not a war. It is genocide,” reads a popular slogan on homemade signs at protests against Israel’s current attack on the Gaza Strip.
The body count is enough to illustrate the one-sidedness of the violence. For the first nine days of their assault, Israeli forces pounded the besieged territory from the land, sea and air, but did not send forces in. About 250 people were killed in these nine days. Only one was Israeli.
Israeli ground operations that started on July 17 increased the casualty rate for both Palestinians and Israelis. By August 1, 1592 Palestinians and 66 Israelis had been killed, the New York Times said. That is 24 Palestinians killed for every Israeli.
Dramatically larger than the disparity between the two sides in overall numbers killed is the disparity in the number of civilians killed.
On the Israeli side, only three of the fatalities were civilians — 95% of Israelis killed by Palestinians were combatants.
Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem published figures on July 31 that showed that between July 8 and July 30 less than 14% of the Palestinians killed by Israelis were combatants.
Three Palestinian combatants have been killed for every Israeli combatant while 473 Palestinian civilians have been killed for every Israeli civilian.
About a quarter of the Palestinians killed have been children and adolescents.
The body counts do not show the terrible material damage inflicted by the Israeli assault. Homes, shops, schools, hospitals, agricultural infrastructure, sewerage treatment, water supply, the territory’s power station, cat breeding kennels and a home for disabled people have all been bombed.
The suffering caused by this destruction is amplified by the illegal starvation siege that Israel and its allies have held Gaza under since 2006. This not only deprives the territory of basic necessities but has prevented reconstruction following previous Israeli onslaughts in 2006, 2009 and 2012.
Deliberately targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure is a war crime. Israel claims it tries to avoid killing civilians.
As evidence it cites its practice of dropping “warning” leaflets on areas it is about to obliterate, and sending text messages and recorded phone messages to randomly selected residents.
These warnings usually only arrive a short time before the bombs, shells and missiles.
Using these warnings Israel advises Gaza residents to flee while preventing them from doing so. No area in the Gaza Strip is safe and it is Israel that makes leaving the territory impossible.
The UN has advised Gaza residents to shelter in UN buildings such as schools and has advised the Israeli military of their location and guaranteed that they shelter only civilians and house no Palestinian combatants or weapons.
These locations have been routinely targeted by Israeli forces and have been the scene of many of the civilian casualties.
Central to Israeli propaganda is the claim that Israel is defending itself from mortars and rockets fired from the Gaza Strip by Palestinian resistance groups.
These claims ignore the fact that these mostly home-made weapons are generally used responsively. Before the current Israeli assault, resistance fighters had largely refrained from firing weapons out of the territory for two years.
Since the assault began, mortar and rocket fire from Gaza has been described by Israeli propaganda as attacks on Israeli civilians. Their low kill rate is cited as evidence of Palestinian incompetence and Israeli military prowess, but does not, according to Israel’s narrative, lessen Palestinian culpability because they are targeting civilians.
This ignores the fact that most Israelis killed outside the Gaza Strip by rockets and mortars fired from inside the territory have been soldiers, not civilians.
Israel’s illogical narrative claims that despite killing mostly civilians, Israel’s use of high-tech “precision” weapons means that they are not targeting civilians.
Yet it says Palestinian resistance fighters, who use imprecise low-tech weapons (the only weapons available to them), are guilty of targeting civilians — regardless of the fact that they mostly kill soldiers.
The absurdity of this Orwell-meets-Monty-Python logic is obscured by its endless repetition. The powerful Western imperialist countries, the international groups they control and their corporate media remain unanimous in their support for Israeli violence.
This includes the United Nations. However, the scale of the killing and destruction in Gaza, Israel’s targeting of UN sites and increasing global public awareness created by the rise of international movements in solidarity with Palestine and social media has forced the UN to make some pretence at neutrality.
On July 30, after the sixth attack on a UN school where civilians were sheltering, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said: “This morning, a UN school sheltering thousands of Palestinian families suffered a reprehensible attack. It is unjustifiable, and demands accountability and justice.
“I want to make it clear that the exact location of this elementary school has been communicated to the Israeli military authorities 17 times, as recently as last night, just a few hours before this attack.
“They are aware of the coordinates and exact location of where these people are.”
However, on August 1, when a UN-brokered 72-hour ceasefire broke down after only 90 minutes, Ban joined US President Barack Obama in blaming Palestinian resistance group Hamas.
The ceasefire ended when Israeli soldiers attacking a tunnel inside Gaza clashed with Palestinian resistance fighters. Two Israeli soldiers were killed and one was reported captured.
This was immediately followed by a resumption of Israeli bombing and shelling that killed more than 100 Palestinian civilians in the next 12 hours, as well as a resumption in Palestinian rocket and mortar fire.
Obama’s response was: “Israel has the right to defend itself.”
Ban and Obama unquestionably accepted the Israeli interpretation of the ceasefire as meaning Israeli soldiers were allowed to continue destroying defensive military infrastructure inside Gaza, but that Palestinian combatants were not allowed to resist.
They also followed Israel in describing the capture of an Israeli soldier in combat as “kidnapping” and demanded the unconditional release of the soldier.
Neither the UN nor the US has ever pressured Israel to release the hundreds of Palestinians, including minors, held without charge in Israeli “administrative detention”.
The West’s pro-Israel narrative does not just provide the framework for corporate media reporting of the violence, it provides the framework for all international attempts at negotiation.
This narrative exists to obscure the fact that Israel is a militarised, ethnically exclusive state while the Palestinians are a colonised people.
The conflict is often portrayed as war between Israel and Hamas. However, Hamas is not a state, it is a political movement with an armed wing.
In 2006, when Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories in the West Bank and Gaza held elections for the Palestinian Authority, a Hamas-led coalition won.
The US and Israel tried to reverse this through coup d’etat, although Hamas retained control on the ground in Gaza. Israel’s siege on Gaza was imposed in response.
Hamas' offer rejected
The right of people living under military occupation to resist is recognised by international law. Hamas has also agreed to abandon armed struggle if Israel allows an independent Palestinian state to be formed in the territories it has occupied since 1967 — the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.
The media has reported Hamas rejecting ceasefire proposals. This is because none involve the key demand to lift the siege on Gaza, which is itself a form of violence.
The proposals have been for Palestinian groups to disarm in return for Israel halting its current onslaught, but keeping the siege and its ability to resume the onslaught whenever it chooses.
Despite the corporate media’s best efforts, global public sympathy for Palestinians has risen dramatically with the rising body count.
On July 30, 60 Australian parliamentarians signed a statement condemning Israeli violence, which noted: “In the last two days, Palestinian children have been killed at a rate of one per hour.”
However, the statement also said: “The rockets fired from Gaza are not in any way justified and insofar as they threaten and harm civilians are illegal under international law.
“However, these imprecise rockets cannot be compared with the broad-scale bombing of Gaza by Israel which has one of the world’s largest military forces.”
It is false to say that they are breaching international law or targeting civilians. Also, in a conflict between an apartheid state (in which only one ethnic group enjoys full rights) and a subject population whose ethnicity excludes them from full rights, calling on both sides to lay down their arms is a mistaken approach.
A July 21 resolution by the Australian Greens, while generally supportive of Palestinians and opposing Israeli violence, supported “Amnesty International’s calls for the UN to impose a comprehensive arms embargo on Israel, Hamas, and Palestinian armed groups”.
Israel has one of the biggest and most technologically sophisticated arms industries in the world. Not only does it export weapons worldwide but major powers such as the US buy some of their most advanced weapons from Israel.
An embargo would not diminish Israel's capacity to massacre civilians.
On the other hand, an embargo on Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups would inevitably mean tightening the siege on Gaza.