In Focus: Middle East Tensions Explode as U.S. Fuels the Fire

In Focus: Middle East Tensions Explode as U.S. Fuels the Fire

May 19, 2021 – Tensions in the Middle East continue to mount as Israel threatens to bomb Gazan schools while the United States, often gracing Israel with her largesse, abstains from international calls for a ceasefire.

Dave DeCamp of Anti-War reports on the issue:

Israeli bombs continue to pound Gaza as the US stands firmly behind its ally and refuses to join international calls for a ceasefire. According to the Palestinian news agency Wafa, at least three Palestinians have been killed in airstrikes late Tuesday and early Wednesday morning in Gaza.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin spoke with his Israeli counterpart on Tuesday and affirmed the US military’s ‘unwavering’ commitment to Israel. In a readout of the call, the Pentagon said that Austin ‘expressed his support for de-escalation of the conflict,’ but the US is actively working against international ceasefire efforts and has blocked three UN Security Council statements calling for a de-escalation.

President Biden spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday and also expressed ‘support’ for a ceasefire. But again, it appears the US is putting no real pressure on the Israelis to stop the bombing and is instead giving them the diplomatic cover to continue.

Israel’s Channel 12 reported on Tuesday that Israel and Hamas were close to agreeing to an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire that would take effect at 6 am on Thursday morning. But the report was denied by Israeli and Hamas officials. Last week, Israel rejected a truce offer from Hamas that was made through the Russian foreign ministry.

Early on Tuesday, there was a six-hour pause in rocket fire from Gaza, which could have been an opportunity for peace. But instead, the Israelis continued to launch airstrikes on the besieged enclave during the lull.

As of early Wednesday in Gaza, Israeli airstrikes have killed 220 Palestinians, including 63 children. In Israel, 12 have been killed by rocket fire from Gaza, including two children.

Demonstrating the brutality of Israel’s air raids, the Norwegian Refugee Council said that 11 Palestinian children receiving trauma counseling from the charity were killed by Israeli airstrikes while sheltering in their homes. Besides refusing to pressure Israel to seek a ceasefire, the US has also failed to condemn or even mention the Israeli killing of children. – Dave Decamp, AntiWar

This situation is hardly new. Israel and the Palestinians have been at odds since the Six-Day War, when Israel seized and occupied land that was not parceled out to it in the Partition from the British who essentially re-drew the ancient map of the area.

Benny Gantz, Israel’s Defense Minister made clear that the assault will continue, as the Israeli Defense Forces add more targets, including schools, to their bombing campaign.

Ellen Mitchell of The Hill reports on the Biden Administration’s massive arms deal to Israel in the middle of a bloody conflict, as the international community calls for a ceasefire:

The Biden administration has approved $735 million worth of precision-guided weapons to be sold to Israel, a congressional aide confirmed to The Hill on Monday.

The sale, which Congress was officially notified of on May 5, has concerned some House Democrats who have pressed the administration to limit military support for the Israeli government in the face of its growing assault on Gaza.

A majority of the possible sale is of Boeing-made Joint Direct Attack Munitions, equipment that can make unguided bombs dropped from aircraft into guided missiles, the aide confirmed.

The window for Congress to block this sale is for all intents and purposes closed. There are four days left in the 15-day expedited review window, and any resolution of disapproval has to be in committee for at least 10 days before there can be a vote to bring it to the floor.

‘The United States should not stand idly by while crimes against humanity are being committed with our backing,’ Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress, said in a statement.

‘It would be appalling for the Biden Administration to go through with $735 million in precision-guided weaponry to Netanyahu without any strings attached in the wake of escalating violence and attacks on civilians,’ Omar added, referring to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. ‘If this goes through this will be seen as a green light for continued escalation and will undercut any attempts at brokering a ceasefire.’

The sale, which was first reported by The Washington Post, was approved five days before Hamas, the militant group that controls the Gaza strip, began firing rockets toward Israel in response to Israeli police action at Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of the holiest sites in Islam.

The conflict was also exacerbated by an impending, and since-postponed, Supreme Court hearing on a potential eviction order in a predominately Palestinian neighborhood in Jerusalem.

The rocket fire, which began on May 10, has been met with Israeli airstrikes that have killed nearly 200 Palestinians, including more than 50 children, and leveled several Gaza City buildings, including one hit over the weekend that also housed employees for The Associated Press and Al Jazeera.

The crisis, now in its second week, is the worst between the two sides since a 2014, and nations across the world have called for an immediate cease-fire.

But Netanyahu this weekend signaled that Israel’s strikes and military action would not cease immediately.

The Biden administration, meanwhile, has maintained that Israel has the right to defend itself against Hamas, and has made no indication it would curtail or place stipulations on the $3.8 billion in military aid the U.S. government gives to Israel annually. – The Hill

The United States is already giving foreign aid to Israel annually with no strings attached.  A recent bill introduced into Congress would require conditions be placed on foreign aid that would alert the U.S. as to how it was being used. While Israel constantly claims they have a “right to defend themselves” there is a huge power imbalance between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Israel receives millions in foreign aid and U.S. Military equipment and arms, while “Hamas,” a group facilitated by Israel to provide a counter to the PLO influence, has “rockets” that are nowhere near the military might and precision of the Zionist state.

In the past seven days Israel is attacking Palestinians, not so much Hamas, which so-called terrorist group gives Israel an excuse for attacking Palestinians in its apartheid regime, ridding itself of Palestine, and why Israel created Hamas at America’s suggestion. America has used the same tactics all over the world. That’s how America got child soldiers in Syria to fight ISIS. America created and trained Abu Sayyaf. ISIS. Same thing, different surrogate reasoning. All bad endings.

Israel blames the scapegoat Hamas and then by attacking, dissing or destroying Hamas as they continue the destruction of Palestine by killing Palestinians or just ousting them from East Jerusalem, they externalize the scapegoat to feel free of being sinful for attacking Palestinians. It’s because of Hamas. It’s Hamas fault. But Israel and America created Hamas. Benjamin Netenyahu doesn’t refer to the days killings of Palestinians, he just vows to hunt down Hamas, his friends, wherever they may be. Then Hamas shows how bad they are by launching more firecracker rockets and Israel shoots them down with its Iron Dome defense system. – Michael John O’Brien

If Israel did indeed help create Hamas in order to counter the influence of the secular PLO, then it makes a lot of sense that Hamas is used as a scapegoat for Israel to be able to bomb and attack, while also claiming victimhood status. It would provide the perfect cover for ethnic cleansing, anytime the international community starts to notice what they are doing, Israel can just get Hamas to fire some dingy rockets for the cameras so Israel can say “see, we must defend ourselves against these terrorists.”

Gaza is currently the most densely populated area on earth, while half of its residents are children and clean drinking water is disappearing amid Israel’s humanitarian blockade.

Marjorie Cohn of Truthout explains in an article Israel Isn’t Entitled to ‘Self-Defense’ Against the People Under Its Occupation that you can’t claim to be acting in self-defense when you are the occupier and aggressor:

As Israel continues to pummel the Palestinian people with bombs and artillery shot into Gaza from troops amassed along its borders in preparation for a ground invasion, the Biden administration has reaffirmed its unwavering support for Israel’s war crimes and crimes against humanity against the Palestinians.

Israel could not commit its crimes without the overwhelming support of the U.S. government. U.S. officials are aiding and abetting Israel’s crimes with massive military aid and scotching any criticism of Israel in the UN Security Council.

President Joe Biden said he didn’t think Israel’s attack on Gaza has been a ‘significant overreaction.’ He expressed his ‘unwavering support’ for Israel’s ‘right to defend itself’ from rocket attacks from Gaza, but he did not condemn Israel’s airstrikes that are killing Palestinian civilians and destroying residential buildings, or the Israeli attacks on worshippers at the Al Aqsa Mosque.

‘Blanket statements like these with little context or acknowledgement of what precipitated this cycle of violence — namely, the expulsions of Palestinians and attacks on Al Aqsa — dehumanize Palestinians & imply the U.S. will look the other way at human rights violations,’ Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) tweeted, and said Biden was giving Israel a ‘green light’ to continue its onslaught.

‘By only stepping in to name Hamas’ actions — which are condemnable — and refusing to acknowledge the rights of Palestinians, Biden reinforces the false idea that Palestinians instigated this cycle of violence,’ Ocasio-Cortez said. ‘This is not neutral language. It takes a side — the side of occupation.’

Secretary of State Antony Blinken declared that there is a ‘fundamental difference between a terrorist organization in Hamas that is indiscriminately targeting civilians and Israel, which is defending itself.’ But as Raji Sourani, director of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, wrote in an email to this writer, claims like Blinken’s obscure the fact that nearly all of Israel’s targets have been civilians. And the vast majority of those killed have been Palestinians. Moreover, as an occupying power, Israel cannot use military force against the occupied Palestinian people because under international law, the occupier has a duty to protect the territory it occupies.

On May 13, Israeli troops bombed the Gaza Strip with artillery, tanks and war planes, and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) prepared at least three brigades of troops for action.

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who served as chief of general staff for the IDF during Israel’s 2014 massacre of 2,251 Palestinians in Gaza, threatened to commit additional war crimes. Gantz warned that ‘Gaza will burn’ if Israelis have to sleep in shelters.

Hamas has fired rockets into Israel in response to the Israeli attack on worshipers at the holy Al Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem. Seven Israelis have been killed. But 120 Palestinians have been killed and 900 people wounded, according to Palestinian health officials.

‘This is the worst I witnessed in my life,’ Sourani wrote in his email. ‘No safe haven in Gaza, so bloody and brutal; all the targets, almost are civilians, the most intention to exert pressure on resistance.’ Sourani added: ‘They are terrorizing the two million in Gaza day and night, the peak this morning. We did not believe we will see the sunshine again. Everything is shaking in the house including our bodies. They destroyed the civilian police stations and headquarters, internal security, infrastructure, big building towers, etc. None of these, to the best of our knowledge, has any security significance.’

On March 3, 2021, Fatou Bensouda, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), announced that her office was launching a formal investigation into war crimes committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip since Israel’s 2014 ‘Operation Protective Edge,’ in which Israeli forces killed 2,251 Palestinians.

Bensouda found a reasonable basis to believe that Israeli forces committed the war crimes of willful killing, willfully causing serious injury, disproportionate use of force, and the transfer of Israelis into Palestinian territory. She also found a reasonable basis to investigate possible war crimes by Palestinians, including intentional attacks against civilians, using civilians as human shields, and torture and willful killing.

Seven years after Operation Protective Edge, Israeli officials are once again committing war crimes in the occupied Palestinian territories. In its current ‘Operation Guardian of the Walls,’ Israeli leaders are perpetrating the same war crimes as those they committed in 2014.

Under the ICC’s Rome Statute, ‘inhumane acts committed in the context of an institutional regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over another racial group, with the intent to maintain that regime’ constitutes the crime against humanity of apartheid.

In 2001, the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) sent a delegation to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories and subsequently published a report documenting a system of apartheid.

Richard Falk, former UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories and professor emeritus at Princeton University, and Virginia Tilley, professor of political science at Southern Illinois University, co-authored a report for the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia in 2017. – Marjorie Cohn, Truthout 

Has anyone ever stopped to wonder why U.S. troops have to pledge fealty and loyalty to Israel? Why do our elected representatives have to do this also? What is the true nature of our “special relationship” with our so-called “greatest ally?” Why does no one question this “unwavering support” and pledges to maintain another countries “qualitative military edge?”

In a recent episode of the Scott Horton Show, investigative journalist Max Blumethal appeared to talk about the situation in Israel, having visited the country for his documentary “Killing Gaza.”

Norm Finkelstein, the son of two holocaust survivors gives his opinion on the conflict, which he views in a very different way than the mainstream media portrays the issue.

Yahoo News has a video segment, discussing Israel’s threats to bomb Gaza schools as strikes escalate and Israel is emboldened.

Chris Hedges writes in Israel, the Big Lie that Democrats and Republicans are using Israel’s propaganda language when they talk about the conflict:

Nearly all the words and phrases used by the Democrats, Republicans and the talking heads on the media to describe the unrest inside Israel and the heaviest Israeli assault against the Palestinians since the 2014 attacks on Gaza, which lasted 51 days and killed more than 2,200 Palestinians, including 551 children, are a lie. 

Israel, by employing its military machine against an occupied population that does not have mechanized units, an air force, navy, missiles, heavy artillery and command-and-control, not to mention a U.S. commitment to provide a $38 billion defense aid package for Israel over the next decade, is not exercising ‘the right to defend itself.’ It is carrying out mass murder. It is a war crime. 

Israel has made it clear it is ready to destroy and kill as wantonly now as it was in 2014. Israel’s defense minister Benny Gantz, who was the chief of staff during the murderous assault on Gaza in 2014, has vowed that if Hamas ‘does not stop the violence, the strike of 2021 will be harder and more painful than that of 2014.’ The current attacks have already targeted several residential high rises including buildings that housed over a dozen local and international press agencies, government buildings, roads, public facilities, agricultural lands, two schools and a mosque.

I spent seven years in the Middle East as a correspondent, four of them as The New York Times Middle East Bureau Chief. I am an Arabic speaker. I lived for weeks at a time in Gaza, the world’s largest open-air prison where over 2 million Palestinians exist on the edge of starvation, struggle to find clean water and endure constant Israeli terror. I have been in Gaza when it was pounded with Israeli artillery and air strikes. I have watched mothers and fathers, wailing in grief, cradling the bloodied bodies of their sons and daughters. I know the crimes of the occupation—the food shortages caused by the Israeli blockade, the stifling overcrowding, the contaminated water, the lack of health services, the near constant electrical outages due to the Israeli targeting of power plants, the crippling poverty, the endemic unemployment, the fear and the despair. I have witnessed the carnage. 

I also have listened from Gaza to the lies emanating from Jerusalem and Washington. Israel’s indiscriminate use of modern, industrial weapons to kill thousands of innocents, wound thousands more and make tens of thousands of families homeless is not a war: It is state-sponsored terror.  And, while I oppose the indiscriminate firing of rockets by Palestinians into Israel, as I oppose suicide bombings, seeing them also as war crimes, I am acutely aware of a huge disparity between the industrial violence carried out by Israel against innocent Palestinians and the minimal acts of violence capable of being waged by groups such as Hamas.

The false equivalency between Israeli and Palestinian violence was echoed during the war I covered in Bosnia.  Those of us in the besieged city of Sarajevo were pounded daily with hundreds of heavy shells and rockets from the surrounding Serbs. We were targeted by sniper fire. The city suffered a few dozen dead and wounded each day. The government forces inside the city fired back with light mortars and small arms fire. Supporters of the Serbs seized on any casualties caused by Bosnian government forces to play the same dirty game, although well over 90 percent of the killings in Bosnia were the fault of the Serbs, as is also true regarding Israel. – Chris Hedges

Hedges claims that the United States is assisting Israel is committing mass murder and war crimes. This perspective is nowhere to be found in the mainstream media (MSM) which provides a one-sided narrative on the Middle East, parroting the propaganda of the Israel Lobby. With Israel now bombing media buildings in Gaza, emboldened by the latest U.S. arms deal and Biden staying out of it, who knows what will happen? How far will Israel go in its own terror campaign?

Further Reading

For more information on this historic conflict, as well as up-to-date alternative news about the latest strikes and bombings, see the following:

Bought-And-Paid-For: Biden’s Long History Pandering to the Israeli Lobby

The Untold Story of Sheikh Jarrah

When Israel Would Give Up Its Nukes

Israel Kills 11 Children Receiving Trauma Care in Their Homes

Human Rights Watch: Israel Guilty of Apartheid

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