The 51-Day War: Ruin and Resistance in Gaza by Max Blumenthal (Nation books, 272 pp.)
Max Blumenthal’s The 51-Day War: Ruin and Resistance in Gaza will not be well received by the US corporate media.
The reasons are apparent in the very title.
It’s a 51-day war, not a 50-day war as The New York Times and other corporate media repeatedly say. For the Times, 50 days means the war started on 8 July, when Hamas’ military wing fired rockets into southern Israel, not on 7 July, when Israel, as even some Israeli media acknowledge, broke its ceasefire agreement with Hamas by killing seven of its members in an air strike.
The difference of a day is the difference between portraying Hamas as the aggressor and Israel as acting in self-defense or acknowledging that Israel was the aggressor and Hamas acted in self-defense.
The title also uses the verboten word “resistance.” In the corporate media, Palestinians are never portrayed as resistance fighters. The word conjures up The Resistance in Nazi-occupied Europe, and it implies that Palestinians in Gaza might be occupied, and even oppressed, and therefore might have a just cause, even one that justifies armed resistance. That is a characterization that cannot be tolerated.
Blumenthal’s previous book, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel (2013), met with an establishment media blackout. However, that blackout was so blatantly obvious, it will probably not be repeated this time around. The corporate media will likely attack this book, rather than draw a veil of silence around it.
This likelihood is so in part because Goliath was so accurate in describing the extreme right-wing trend in Israeli society that the author can no longer be ignored.
Anyone who read Goliath would not have been surprised by the burning to death of Palestinian teenager Muhammad Abu Khudair in Jerusalem in July 2014. Nor would they be surprised by the election in March 2015 of Israel’s most extreme government yet, including the appointment of cabinet ministers who have openly advocated genocide.
Conversely, anyone who read the liberal Zionist Ari Shavit’s My Promised Land, which was published in the same period and received widespread attention in the corporate media, would have remained clueless about the extent and depth of the racism in Israeli society.
What makes The 51-Day War different from all other accounts of Israel’s massacre in Gaza in the summer of 2014? A number of things stand out.
First, this is one of the best and most thorough accounts yet of the prelude to the war, which is essential to understanding why Israel attacked Gaza. Since the corporate media suffer from repressed memory, it’s useful to have a chronology that doesn’t omit the key developments leading to the slaughter.
Prelude to war
There was the decision by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to placate his right-wing coalition partners by reneging on a commitment to release Palestinian political prisoners, thus guaranteeing the collapse of negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. The collapse of those talks in turn led to an announced unity government between Hamas and Fatah, which received the qualified blessing of the US government, a development that outraged Netanyahu.
The kidnapping of three Israeli youths in the occupied West Bank provided the excuse the Israeli government was seeking to undermine the proposed unity government. Blumenthal documents how Israel ignored evidence that the kidnapping was the work of a rogue cell (which had defied Hamas in the past) and kept secret the deaths of the youths in order to carry out a sweep against Hamas in the West Bank and use the period to inflame Israeli public opinion in preparation for war.
Second, since Blumenthal was able to enter Gaza during the fighting, we have one of the few accounts of the popular resistance that united the military wings of Hamas, Fatah, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Islamic Jihad as Israel pressed its land invasion.
The result is a rare portrayal of resistance leaders, the unity they achieved and their objectives during the war. Israel’s 2008-09 onslaught codenamed Operation Cast Lead killed approximately 1,200 Palestinian civilians, while only seven Israelis died — four from friendly fire. In 2014, however, Hamas was prepared for the invasion. As a result of tunnel warfare the armed resistance inflicted significant casualties on the Israeli military. More than 70 percent of the nearly 2,200 Palestinians killed by Israel were civilians, in contrast to the 7 percent civilian casualties resulting from Hamas rocket and mortar fire.
Blumenthal notes that the stated objectives of the two sides were diametrically opposed. The spokesperson for Hamas’ Qassam Brigades, Abu Obeida, announced that the resistance was targeting the Israeli military and armed settlers and was “fully committed to keeping civilians on both sides out of the conflict.” In contrast, Israeli military spokespersons openly invoked the Dahiya Doctrine described in a paper titled “Disproportionate Force” that calls for treating “civilian villages” as “military bases.”
The 51-Day War also provides new insights into the religious nationalism that has penetrated the top rungs of Israel’s military, its apparent use of experimental weapons and its deliberate targeting of medical facilities and journalists, 16 of whom were killed. Other accounts have already shown the extent of Israel’s war crimes, including those of the Associated Press, Breaking the Silence and human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, B’Tselem and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel.
These crimes include bombing civilian homes and establishing free-fire zones — what international law defines as collective punishment and disproportionate force and what ordinary people recognize as an unbridled massacre. All of that evidence is reported in this book as well, distilled graphically through the direct experiences of Blumenthal, his colleague Dan Cohen and their translator Ebaa Rezeq.
This work is reminiscent in many ways of John Hersey’s Hiroshima. Hersey was the first US journalist to walk through the ashes of that Japanese city in the wake of the atomic bomb and interview its survivors. The 51-Day War is the first account by a US journalist of an assault that dropped almost the same tonnage of explosives on Gaza as that on Hiroshima.
Read what the survivors have to say.
Rod Such is a former editor for World Book and Encarta encyclopedias. He is active with Americans United for Palestinian Human Rights, Jewish Voice for Peace-Portland Chapter and the Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign.