Israel’s Talking Points, the Media, and the Cement Missile Threat

middle eastIn recent months, said the June 3 story on the front page of the New York Times, Israel “has permitted increased — although still quite limited — movement of goods and people into and out of Gaza. One Israeli official said that under Mr. Netanyahu there had been a 20 percent increase in goods, including some limited building materials under third-party supervision so that Hamas would not get hold of them.

“But Israel remains adamant, saying that if cement and steel were allowed to pass in any serious amount, they would end up in Hamas missiles and other weapons that would be aimed at Israel.”

Unable to get the image out of my mind and being totally ignorant on such matters, I called a couple of people who know about this stuff, inquiring as to how one makes a missile out of cement. Not easy was the response, and one person suggested that the kind of structural steel needed to repair the bridges Israel destroyed in the terrible 2006 onslaught wouldn’t be much help either. A couple of days later the Israeli government sought to clear up the confusion by saying the Palestinian government in Gaza uses cement as ballast for its crude rockets. Could be. But one has only to picture again the tremendous devastation in Gaza to realize that unless the residents have access to more than a “serious amount” of concrete and steel they are never going to rebuild their cities and villages.

But then the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and its far-flung propaganda operation, can be counted on to have an answer – or excuse — for everything.

The purpose in this case is to underscore the contention that the cruel blockade of Gaza is to prevent the smuggling of arms and weapons-making material into the enclave. It is not and never has been. The aim of the blockade is to make life miserable for the 1.4 million Palestinians there in the hope of undermining the Hamas government, which was duly elected four years ago. Gaza is being held for ransom. That’s collective punishment and it’s against international law.

The assertion that the only reason for the blockade is to prevent arms or munitions building materials from entering Gaza is a bold face lie. That is unless you consider food and medicine to be weapons because they might be fed to military personnel.

“Preventing the importing of arms is an element in the blockade,” writes Esther Kaplan in The Nation, “but the blockade also bars the importation of many basics of life, such as fuel to power hospital generators and building materials, including iron and cement, necessary for rebuilding after the devastation of Operation Cast Lead. It bans pesticides and spare parts for farming equipment, which has debilitated the agricultural sector.

According to the Israeli human rights group B’tselem, some 4,000 goods were allowed into Gaza before the siege, and only 150 are allowed in now. (And the guidelines for what may join the list of acceptable items is a tightly guarded secret.) The blockade has severely limited access to electricity, leaving the vast majority of Gazans facing blackouts for eight to ten hours a day. It has cut off students from their university educations and severed family ties. It has left a stunning 70 percent of the population dependent on international food aid just to survive.”

Reflecting Netanyahu’s original line of propaganda attack, Gal Beckerman writing in The Forward, says that on June 2 the Jewish Federations of North America distributed talking points, which read: “When Israeli commandos boarded the ships, they were met with violence from a supposedly nonviolent group, including gunfire from automatic weapons and attacks with knives and axes. Several Israelis were wounded. As a result of the clash triggered by the pro-Hamas group, a number of them were killed or wounded in the confrontation.”

However, on June 1 Caroline Glick, rightwing deputy managing editor of the Jerusalem Post and one-time advisor to Netanyahu, sharply took the Israeli government to task for deficiencies in waging the propaganda surrounding the flotilla. The “information strategy” she wrote in her paper “was ill-conceived.” It should have attacked Turkey for “facilitation of terrorism,” she wrote, it should have prepared “charge sheets against the flotilla’s organizers, crew and passengers for their facilitation of terrorism.” Israeli leaders “stammer,” she wrote, and engage in arguments that are “worse than worthless.”

The following day, the Reut Institute, a Tel Aviv-based think tank that – in the words of the Wall Street Journal – “provides strategic-thinking support to the Israeli government,” and with which Glick is associated, criticized the government for having “no coherent conceptual response” to push back against global critics. Then, on June 3, Netanyahu went before the media to say there was a danger of arms smuggling involved. By that afternoon–U.S. time–U.S. Vice-President Joseph Biden was making the same claim.

As the days have worn on since the bloody events aboard the Mavi Marmara, the arms smuggling message has sharpened. On Saturday Netanyahu said Israel would “not allow the establishment of an Iranian port in Gaza.” Then rightwing columnist Charles Krauthammer got in on the act, claiming that the purpose of the blockade of Gaza is to “prevent Hamas from arming itself with still more rockets.” One of CNN’s resident foreign policy experts, Jill Dougherty, went on the air to explain the purpose of Israel’s Gaza blockade as: “Essentially to stop weapons from being taken into Gaza, and to be used against Israel.”

Of course, there were no weapons making their way to Gaza aboard the Mavi Marmara, hence the steel and cement tale passed on to us by the Times’ Ethan Bronner. And the idea that if the ship reached port in Gaza it would open up a sea smuggling route is sheer fantasy.

Another taking point that has gotten a lot of play over the past two weeks is the notion that the aid ships were not really on a humanitarian mission but rather were aiming for a conflict or “provocation.” This is a smokescreen designed to cover what really happened. The African American students that sat in at lunch counters in North Carolina in 1960 expected a confrontation (little likelihood the owners were going to do the decent thing and make them hamburgers). But they didn’t expect the Tactical Squad to suddenly arrive en mass and start shooting them in the head with assault rifles.

One thing that has emerged from Israel’s piracy on the high seas, and the resulting tragic deaths and injuries, is that a bright light is being shown on something that has usually been ignored by the Western media: the reality and effect of the blockade. Herein lies the test for the international community, and the Obama Administration in particular. Only the Netanyahu government and its supporters at home and abroad would argue that the crippling siege of Gaza is justified and should continue. Peace loving and progressive people should demand that it be lifted. It would mean a lot for the suffering Palestinian community to have access to steel and cement.

This, of course, must be a prelude to the urgent task of ending the occupation and the birth of a new Palestine.

Following the May31 Israeli military assault on an international flotilla trying to bring humanitarian supplies to besieged Gaza, the Israeli propaganda machine went into overdrive. It wasn’t always well-coordinated but it was unrelenting and it had one big advantage: the reluctance or refusal of the Western media – particularly in the U.S., to ask hard questions and its willingness go along with the Netanyahu government’s framing of the issues. Robert Fisk wrote in The Independent (UK) last Saturday, “The amazing thing in all this is that so many Western journalists – and I’m including the BBC’s pusillanimous coverage of the Gaza aid ships – are writing like Israeli journalists, while many Israeli journalists are writing about the killings with the courage that Western journalists should demonstrate.”

Carl Bloice

Crossposted with permission from The Black Commentator.

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Comments

  1. Paul McDermott says

    I find it interesting that Joe states that the Hamas leadership is demolishing Gazans’ houses and building itself villas in their place. Where are they getting the building materials if the Israelis won’t allow concrete and steel into Gaza? Where are you getting this information anyway?

    Joe also states that the U.N. can’t be trusted to handle a humanitarian mission and then proceeds to give a number of spurious reasons why it can’t, none of which hold any truth. The real question is whether the Israeli government can be trusted? Why doesn’t Israel want an independent international commission to investigate its war crimes? Why did Israel destroy a U.N.-sponsored school in Gaza? Does Israel think it can shield itself from world criticism with its lies and smear tactics?

    In another paragraph Joe says that “Israel was chosen the lesser evil, a blockade, rather than outright violent intervention.” The truth is that Israel has chosen both, a blockade plus targeted assassinations, AND outright violent intervention.

    Joe feels that we as Americans would do better by directing our international standards and humanitarian efforts at Darfur and ending our involvement in Afghanistan. I think we might all agree with that sentiment. But if we are supplying Israel with weapons and billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money, I think we certainly should have a say in how our aid is used (or misused).

    Joe believes Boice is “grasping at straws” but Joe is falling all over himself employing all the sophistry tricks of his hasbara toolkit to make the case for inhumane treatment of 1.5 million people trapped within the largest open-air prison in the world.

  2. says

    Bloice neglects to inform readers that the Hamas takeover of Gaza was ‘democratic’ precisely like Hitler’s takeover in Germany – ‘one-man one-vote, one-time': take-over via one election, then a police state (and in Hamas case a coup and civil-war with Fatah) to ensure that no other free election need occur.

    Israel has long been denounced for punishing terrorists by sparing their lives but blowing up their houses. The Hamas regime has lately been exacting the same punishment on their ‘fellow’ Gazans – often without even bothering to specify crimes being punished – in order to get more land for new villas for Hamas bigwigs.

    As for various stated or alleged reasons for Israel’s blockade, some may be less credible than others, but it suffices that at least one reason is credible and serious. In fact two reasons certainly are: prevention of Hamas rocket attacks, and prevention of an Iranian-allied port or navy base. (For latecomers: the Iran regime has promised to see to the destruction of Israel, and Hamas is that regime’s client.)

    Yes, inflicting economic punishment on a sworn mortal enemy regime IS arguably a kind of ‘collective punishment’ – as is inevitable in waging all earnest forms of warfare (short of surrender). Israel has chosen the lesser evil – blockade, rather than outright violent intervention – much as the USA has to this point chosen sanctions rather than military intervention in Iran.

    ‘The Zionists’ (fringe elements of course excepted) have no plans or call to remove Palestinian Arabs from their homeland. But the Hamas and Fatah charters DO have explicit commitments to doing away with a Jewish state and in Hamas case all local Jews as well. Ethnic cleansing of Palestine territory – no Jewish settlements – is a demand by Palestinian leaders (or Obamites on their behalf); ethnic cleansing – no Arab towns and settlements – has never been (and is not foreseen as) the reality in Israel.

    We Americans will have a better right to speak of ‘international standards’ and ‘humanitarian’ approaches in treatment – indeed of Moslems – after we cease our part in the nigh-pointless civil war slaughter in Afghanistan and re-direct our Mid-East might to stop war and relieve the hunger in Darfur and elsewhere in the region.

    In general Bloice is grasping at straws, and uses an incomplete account of what has emerged in recent days or is well known to those who habitually follow Mid-East events.

    (And just what are his efforts all aimed at? – except maybe once again fruitless focus on Israel as a demon and Palestinian Arabs – whose leadership has for at least 71 years rejected opportunities and deals for a Palestinian state and an end to the conflict – as virtuous victims.)

    Bloice faults Israel for giving reporters several different motivations and justifications in sequence, rather than just repeat a single one, in order to explain a complex of events. This complex included the neo-Islamist Turkish government’s decision to promote a flotilla and went on to include killing of some of those ‘peace activists’ who were in fact violent jihadists.

    Bloice carries on as if one motivation (or justification) must negate another, when in fact different ones – especially in regards different events in the complex – can be and ARE compatible.

    Bloice goes to lengths to note that concrete isn’t used to make rockets, but is used to repair buildings. Yes, but of course. He forgets to note what has long been clear: under Hamas a priority use of the concrete will be hardened bunkers, not innocent civilian buildings. (As noted, Hamas is actually demolishing existing housing.) Under Hamas, even innocent-sounding ‘schools’ are de facto in large part for hate indoctrination.

    Israel likely could allow more kinds and amounts of materials into Gaza were she more confident of some reliable oversight in their use. Could the UN do such oversight? True, the UN has used USA and European funds over 60 years to create its only permanent welfare bureaucracy – namely for Palestinian Arab refugees and their descendants (also automatically called ‘refugees’) to the thousandth generation. However, even if Israel could trust the UN, the UN is not in local control; Hamas is. Materials given to or via the UN can be commandeered by Hamas. UN whistleblowers would have poor career (or in some cases life) prospects.

  3. Paul McDermott says

    TL’s terrible comments on this progressive sight are replete with factual lies and racism.

    For one thing, he repeats the hasbara line that the Gazans ought to clear out and move to the Sinai Desert. This is pure Avitol Lieberman, who exempifies the racist mentality of the Israeli government (and TL Winslow). The sad irony of the matter is that many Gazans originally lived in the area around Sderot before they were driven out in one of Israel’s campaigns of ethnic cleansing.

    Secondly, is TL an expert on nutrition? I hardly think so. He’s getting his info straight from the hasbara talking points. I suggest he check with the international NGOs like the International Red Cross which state that many Gazans lack basic nutrition.

    Thirdly, recent comments by Israeli officials have indicated that the Gazan blockade was designed to punish Gaza for bringing Hamas to power, not to prevent weapons from entering Gaza. (As a footnote, Gazan militants began firing their missiles at Israel as a result of the illegal blockade and targeted assassinations.) The blockade was intended to inflict economic hardship on the people of Gaza, a form of collective punishment illegal under Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. But I’m sure that an ethno-religious nationalist like TL cares little about international law!

    Fourthly, the blockade has done nothing to bring down Hamas. If anything it has created more terrorist sentiment and hatred of Israel and has only strengthened the Palestinians’ determination to resist the Zionists’ plans to remove them from their homeland.

    Fifthly, TL claims that the Palestinians only desire is “to wage ceaseless war against the Jews and exterminate Israel.” Actually, I get the opposite impression, that the Zionists benefit from the cover of ceaseless hostilities to advance their program of ethnic cleansing (house demolitions, deportations, administrative detentions, confiscation of land and resources, etc.). If we make life so miserable for them maybe they’ll leave, so their thinking goes.

    If the Israelis really want to live in peace they will have to abide by the international standands of justice and equality:
    (1) They must end the occupation of lands they occupied in the ’67 war (this includes the Golan Heights). (UN Resolutions 242 &338)
    (2) They must honor the right of Palestinians to have the property which was taken from them restored to them or compensated for (UN Resolution 194).
    (3) Those Palestinians who reside within the borders of pre-1967 Israel should be treated as equal citizens.

    TL and his Zionist pals may refer to the granting of equal citizenship as the “extermination of Israel” but perhaps we should simply refer to it as the end of apartheid in Israel — not such a scary thought but one that will finally allow people in the region to live their lives in peace and justice.

  4. says

    Yes, all them photos of heaps of starved Palestinian corpses in pits are hard to take :)

    Sorry, but the Palestinians are far from starving. They even refused to have the supplies from the Fake Freedom Flotilla trucked in by the Israelis. After what they did to Israel, they’re doing far better than if the situation were reversed. If they don’t like Gaza, why don’t the Palestinians ask Egypt to resettle them in its vast territory? Answer: they want to stay for one reason, to wage ceaseless war against the Jews and exterminate Israel, hoping not for better living conditions but martyrdom in order to receive Allah’s promise of paradise free of Jews forever. Hence, I don’t feel sorry for these rabid hate-filled anti-Semite Allah Akbars whose misery is of their own choosing.

    Here’s a video showing the horrible conditions in Gaza:

    http://atlasshrugs2000.typepad.com/atlas_shrugs/2010/06/shocking-video-muslim-propaganda-gaza-oh-gaza-.html

    See why history awards Jerusalem and environs to the Jews not Arabs, whether they like it or not:
    http://historyscoper.com/tlwjerusalem.html

    Keep up on the news on Islam at:
    http://historyscoper-islamwatch.blogspot.com/

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