Israel’s fabricated rocket crisis

6 January 2009

In The Iron Wall (2001), Israeli historian Avi Shlaim shows that in July 1981, US diplomat Philip Habib brokered a ceasefire between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel. For the next year, the PLO infuriated Israel by refusing to violate the ceasefire and thereby provide an excuse for Israel’s long-planned attack on PLO refugee camps and bases in Lebanon. Then, on 3 June 1982, a member of the Abu Nidal organization shot and wounded Shlomo Argov, the Israeli ambassador in London. Abu Nidal, or Sabri Khalil al-Banna, was a Palestinian, but he was anything but a PLO stalwart: “Abu Nidal was supported by Iraq in his struggle against Arafat’s ‘capitulationist’ leadership of the PLO. Abu Nidal customarily referred to Arafat as ‘the Jewess’s son.’ The PLO had passed a death sentence on Abu Nidal for assassinating some of its moderate members who advocated a dialogue with Israel.”

The next day, Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin called an emergency cabinet meeting. When his advisor Gideon Machanaimi and Avraham Shalom (the head of the General Security Service) began to discuss the nature of the Abu Nidal organization, Begin cut them off: “ ‘They are all PLO.’ [Army Chief of Staff] Rafael Eitan was equally dismissive. Shortly before entering the conference room, an intelligence aide told him that Abu Nidal’s men were evidently responsible for the assassination attempt. ‘Abu Nidal, Abu Shmidal,’ he sneered; ‘we have to strike at the PLO!’”

Two days later, Israel invaded Lebanon, which would kill over 18,000 people, including the massacres of Palestinian refugees at Sabra and Shatila, and push Lebanon further into a morass of imperial and sectarian violence. Of course, the lying excuse endlessly proffered for the invasion, enshrined in its nickname “Operation Peace for the Galilee,” and obligingly circulated by the American media, was that Israel could no longer be expected to tolerate a constant barrage of PLO rockets across its northern border.

In Israel’s recent rush to invade Gaza, we witness the same predisposition to violence, the same aching aggravation with Palestinian peace offensives, and the same willingness to conflate all resistance, all frustrations, into a single enemy: “They are all Hamas!” And we see that Hamas, like the PLO, refused to oblige Israel with a single provocative act. For more than four months after 19 June 2008, Hamas refrained from any military actions that might endanger the negotiated truce or “calm” with Israel.

The evidence for this is ready to hand. For example, the Wikipedia entry on the events of the summer, “List of rocket and mortar attacks in Israel in 2008” (revised 4 January 2008), based almost exclusively on Israeli newspapers and government sources, confirms that there were no rocket or mortar attacks claimed by or plausibly attributed to Hamas during the calm. This can also be verified by surveying archives of news reports from the period.

The few that were launched, none of them causing any casualties, were claimed by the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, by Islamic Jihad, by “the Badr Forces,” or by nobody. Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh called repeatedly for a cessation of rocket fire, and denounced those factions who broke the truce. A Hamas spokesman criticized Fatah for allowing the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, which is affiliated with Fatah, to fire rockets. Meanwhile, Israeli occupation forces’ murders and settler pogroms continued unabated on the West Bank. They included an attempt by a settler to fire a homemade rocket toward the Palestinian village of Burin, which nearly killed another settler. During the lull, then, Israeli settlers fired more rockets (i.e., one) than did Hamas.

In a document entitled “The Hamas terror war against Israel,” The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs provides striking visual evidence of Hamas’s good faith during the lull. It reproduces two graphs drawn up by the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center at the Israel Intelligence Heritage & Commemoration Center:

090106-holstun2.jpg

Monthly distribution of rockets hit

090106-holstun3.jpg

Monthly distribution of mortar shells

The graphs show that the total number of rocket and mortar attacks shrank from 245 in June to 26 total for July through October, a reduction of 97 percent. Even this was not enough for Israel, which violated the truce by imposing a terror-famine in Gaza for most of these months. But despite these violations, Hamas refrained from launching rockets until Israel definitively cancelled the truce on the night of 4-5 November by sending an Israeli commando squad into Gaza, where it killed six Hamas members. Hamas responded with 30 rockets.

These charts proved too revealing for the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. On the night eve of 4 January 2008, as Israeli occupation forces launched a ground assault on Gaza, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs removed them from its website, substituting an almost illegible graph in which the labels obscure the data, while the caption does all it can to hide the de facto end of rocket and mortar fire during the calm, until 4 November.

This document was also titled “The Hamas terror war against Israel.” But a Korean webpage has cached the original document, preserving the evidence of Israel’s sticky-fingered hasbara, or propaganda.

Clearly, the Israelis violated the truce in order to increase the number of Qassam attacks, not to end them. Qassams provide Israel with its best shot at its favorite media role of plucky little David fighting the Palestinian Goliath. And by nimble revision of its webpage, the Israeli MFA is able to turn cause into effect — turning the retaliatory Hamas Qassams of 6 November into the cause of Israel canceling the truce on 4 November, and smashing it flat on 19 December.

We have heard, and we will continue to hear, a droning litany of “Qassams! Qassams! Qassams!” The repetition will be difficult to resist, but for all of us who remember the reiterated US lies about Iraq of 2002-2003, whether with pride for our skepticism or shame for our credulity, a good first step might be for us to think “WMDs!” every time they say “Qassams!” Like the US Coalition of the Willing, Israel’s Operation Cast Lead has not let the absence of actual provocation get in the way of a good bloodbath. Indeed, chronology itself proves no obstacle, as Israeli commandos, Apaches and F-16s retaliate for rocket attacks that haven’t occurred yet. In the immortal, influential and profoundly depraved words of neoliberal crusader Michael Ignatieff, “Against this kind of enemy … it makes sense to get our retaliation in first.”

When the history of the war on Gaza is written, Hamas’s remarkable restraint during the lull, as Israel attempted to starve Gaza into submission, will form an important prelude to what Joseph Massad has called the heroic Gaza Ghetto Uprising. But for the moment, it’s vital to remember that what we are witnessing in Gaza is not Israeli retaliation, but an act of unprovoked Zionist genocide using American-made weapons, based on a bloody lie about Qassam barrages obligingly circulated by American media. The question for Americans to ask now is this: what must we do, with our American-made mouths, brains, and bodies, to stop it?

Jim Holstun teaches world literature at SUNY Buffalo. He has previously written “Nonie Darwish and the al-Bureij massacre” for The Electronic Intifada. He and Joanna Tinker live in Buffalo, New York.

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