It's the Occupation, Stupid

Politically, the United States has abused its influential veto power to prevent 42 U.N. resolutions that condemned or severely criticized actions undertaken by Israel. By shielding a reckless ally that contravenes international law, the U.S. myopically sacrifices its own international reputation and security.

This pattern was evident in the summer of 2006, when Israel tried to invade southern Lebanon. Israel killed nearly 1,100 people, displaced 1 million Lebanese, and thoroughly damaged civilian infrastructure. Comparatively, 121 Israeli soldiers died in the conflict and 43 Israeli civilians were killed by Hezbollah rockets.

Deluded by self-victimization and righteous bellicosity, Israel justified its actions by noting that Hezbollah had kidnapped two Israeli soldiers and violated the international border. But those soldiers were only taken after Israel kidnapped two Gaza civilians -- and after Israel had violated the same border nearly every day for the six previous years.

Ultimately, the U.N. concluded both parties breached international humanitarian law. However, the United States parroted Israel's claims, blamed Hezbollah solely, and gave immunity to Israel for its devastating and disproportionate assault.

Furthermore, commentators who relied on the kidnapped soldiers to justify the 2006 invasion ignored Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon, which left nearly 40,000 dead and led to Israel's calamitous 18-year military presence in southern Lebanon -- an occupation that helped give rise to Hezbollah.

The backdrop for this week's humanitarian flotilla was Israel's three-year naval blockade of Gaza, which began after Israel's "unilateral disengagement" from the territory in 2005. Of course, Israel never really left, and the blockade, which is supported by Egypt's construction of an underground wall closing its Gaza border, has transformed one of the world's most densely populated regions into an "open air prison" where civilians, especially children, face a horrific humanitarian crisis. "Israel's continuing blockade of the Gaza Strip, a measure that is depriving its population of food, fuel and basic services, constitutes a form of collective punishment in violation of article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention," Human Rights Watch has decreed.

Never one to be deterred by reality, Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's hard-right foreign minister, recently reiterated "there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza."

Although Israel claims the blockade is necessary to minimize terrorist violence perpetrated by Hamas, many international observers suggest that Israeli policy itself exacerbates extremism and further erodes humanitarian conditions. "We're not helping the people and isolating the extremists," Tony Blair has said. "We're in danger of doing it the wrong way round . . . I've been saying that for the best part of two years that this [the blockade] is a policy that doesn't work . . . At the present time it's very hard to get materials into Gaza. We need to get not just humanitarian materials but materials that can rebuild the infrastructure."

The Gaza situation grew even worse in January 2009, when Israel broke a cease-fire agreement with Hamas and launched Operation Cast Lead, a brutal three-week bombardment that left 1,400 Palestinians and 14 Israelis dead.

An independent investigation led by respected Judge Richard Goldstone, a South African Jew and self-described Zionist, stated that both Israel and Hamas had violated international law, with the latter firing rockets near Israel's civilian population. But the report laid much of the blame on Israel, concluding that it committed war crimes and, in some cases, crimes against humanity. The report specified that Israel employed "the application of disproportionate force and the causing of great damage and destruction to civilian property and infrastructure, and suffering to civilian populations."

Predictably, the report was savaged by the Israeli and American governments, with the U.S. House shamefully passing a resolution denouncing the meticulous report by a 344-36 margin. (The rest of the world isn't nearly as gullible when it comes to Israel's self-defense claims. In 2003, a European poll named Israel the biggest threat to world peace, and a 2008 survey found that Israel was viewed as the biggest obstacle to achieving peace in its conflict with the Palestinians.) In a written memo, U.S. Gen. David Petraeus recently suggested Israel is a threat to U.S. security, citing "the enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors" as "impediments to U.S. interests in the region." Petraeus also wrote that "Arab anger over the Palestinian question" undermines U.S. relationships with "peoples and governments in the Middle East."

6/7/2010 4:00:00 AM
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