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Why Is Israel Killing Gazans?*

by John Spritzler

January 12, 2009



Information about Gaza is being framed by both the mainstream and much of the alternative media in ways that obscure the source of the conflict. The American establishment media make clear that Israel is killing many Gazans, including a large proportion of civilians, though the media frame the story as Israel's response to Hamas firing rockets at Israelis. Much of the alternative media frame the story as a war to eliminate Hamas or as Israeli politicians' strategy to get votes. Neither approach offers a way out of seemingly endless conflict.

The Establishment-Approved Discourse

In the establishment-approved discourse, pundits are permitted to debate whether Israel's response to Hamas's rockets is excessive. But they are not permitted to tell their readers the truth about the Israel/Palestine conflict: that Israeli operations in Gaza are part of Israel's historic strategy of ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from what is now called Israel. Nor do they make clear that the conflict was initiated by Israel long before Hamas played any role in it.

Israeli leaders violently drove out 750,000 people, 80% of the non-Jews then living in what is now Israel in 1947-48. This ethnic cleansing was required to make Israel a "Jewish state" with at least an 80%** Jewish population. Israel carried out further ethnic cleansing in 1967, extending its borders into the occupied territories. Most Gazans are refugees from this ethnic cleansing. Israel refuses to let them return to their homes. Palestinians oppose Israel not because of anti-Semitism but outrage at being driven out of their homes and villages by Israel.

If Israel would let Palestinians return to their homes and villages inside Israel, and let Palestinians be equal to Jews under the law inside Israel, then the conflict would end immediately. If the conflict were ended this way, then Hamas would no longer have any support whatsoever from Palestinians for continuing to fire rockets aimed at Jewish non-combatants. Israeli leaders claim to have done everything possible to achieve peace before slaughtering innocent Gazans, but they haven't done the most obvious thing they could do: let the Palestinians return to their homes. The establishment media reveal none of these facts.

Mistaken Views Held By Pro-Palestinians

But what about the discourse on the anti-establishment, pro-Palestinian, side? On this side there is a principled and correct defense of the people of Gaza against the Israeli slaughter. The problem is in the explanations they give for why the Israeli government does what it does. There is muddled thinking here, in my opinion.

We often hear it said that the Israeli attack on Gaza is, even aside from morality, politically stupid. Thus Gary Kamiya on writes, "Israel's actions will not make it safer, and in the long run could endanger its very existence." Israel's leaders are stupid, according to this view, because their actions are based on the patently false premise that Israeli attacks on Gazans will make Gazans turn against Hamas, when the opposite is the case, as evidenced by the fact that after Israel attacked Hezbollah in Lebanon two years ago the Lebanese people rallied to Hezbollah and turned against Israel instead.

Another theme we hear is that Israeli politicians attacked Gazans because they think that this will garner them more votes in the upcoming Israeli election, the premise being that the hatred/fear of Palestinians by ordinary Israelis is the driving force behind what Israeli politicians do. Thus Eric S. Margolis, in his "Window Into Palestine" blog writes:

"Israeli politics are playing a key role in this crisis.

"Ehud Barak, the defence minister and leader of the Labour party, and Tzipi Livni, the foreign minister and leader of the Kadima party, are trying to prove themselves tougher than Benjamin Netanyahu's hard-line Likud party - and one another.

"Israel's elections are only six weeks away, and Likud was leading until the air raids on Gaza began. Kadima and Labour are now up in the polls."

Both of these views are mistaken.

First, Israeli leaders are not stupid. They know that attacking Gazans will increase, not decrease, their support for Hamas. The point of attacking Gazans was never about turning them against Hamas. The point of attacking Gazans is the same as the original point of attacking Palestinians with the ethnic cleansing of 1947-8 and 1967, which is this: To make Palestinians so extremely angry at Israel and so opposed to a Jewish state and so willing to take up arms against it that Israeli leaders will have exactly what they want and need: a credible "anti-Semitic" "enemy of the Jews" to drive ordinary Jews into the waiting arms of the Jewish upper class of billionaires and generals who rule Israel. The Jewish Israeli upper class is getting richer and richer while driving ordinary Jews down the ladder of economic inequality. The way they get away with it is by posing as the defenders of the Jewish people against Palestinian/Arab/Muslim anti-Semitic terrorists.

Israeli leaders attack non-Jews precisely to make them rally around "anti-Israel" leaders. And the more these leaders direct violence against Israeli non-combatants rather than just against Israeli soldiers or settlers who attack Palestinians violently, the better, as far as Israeli leaders are concerned, because it makes the accusation of anti-Semitism all the more credible.

This is why Israel bombed Lebanese civilians in 2006, knowing it would increase their support for Hezbollah. This is why, during the 2006 war against Hezbollah, Israel deliberately left pockets of Hezbollah missiles unharmed, so that their missiles would continue to fall on northern Israel.

Second, the idea that Israeli politicians are driven by what the Israeli public wants turns the real power situation upside down. For example, a public opinion poll in July of 2007 asked, "Do you support or oppose Israel talking to Hamas at the present time regarding a ceasefire, preventing a humanitarian disaster in the Gaza Strip, resolving the issue of crossings, creating basic economic conditions, and securing the release of Gilad Shalit?" 57% of Jewish Israelis answered "Support" versus only 36% who answered "Oppose," in contrast to the politicians, who refused to talk to Hamas.

Suggesting that the Israeli public controls its politicians is as preposterous as the idea that American politicians follow the wishes of the American public. Most Americans opposed the Iraq war in 2004, yet the newly elected Democratic Congress continued to give Bush a free hand in Iraq. Americans are against the bailout of banksters and yet the politicians are for it; Americans want single-payer universal health care and the politicians oppose it.

Israeli leaders kill Gazans because it is part of a long-standing strategy for strengthening the power, wealth and privilege of the Israeli upper class. They don't do it because they are stupid. And they don't do it because the Israeli public makes them do it. The fact that, after decades of elite efforts to make Israelis fearful of Palestinians, politicians can get more votes by attacking Gazans only proves that the elite have been successful; it does not show that the Israeli public calls the shots.

Why The Establishment Media Cover Up the Truth

Why don't the American establishment pundits tell Americans the truth? The reason is because the American corporate elite, who own and control the mass media, don't want Americans to know the truth. They want Americans to think that Arabs and Muslims are irrational, hateful anti-Semitic terrorists who hate Israelis and Americans. They want Americans, in other words, to believe the "War on Terror" story so that the government can continue to project U.S. military might into the vital Middle East and Central Asia, and so that Americans will be frightened and easier for the American ruling elite to control.

Effective Solidarity With Palestinians Requires Winning Public Support With Persuasive Arguments

If we are going to be persuasive in explaining to our fellow citizens why the Israeli government should not have any support from our government, and why we should support the Palestinian struggle against Israel's oppression, we need to avoid arguments that are inherently unpersuasive.

It is not persuasive to argue that Israeli leaders are stupid. Israeli leaders claim their motive for attacking Gazans is noble: self-defense. To counter this claim one must show that their motive is not noble. The persuasive way to do this is to explain that the attack on Gaza is part of a very rational and long-standing strategy to strengthen elite power, not to defend ordinary Jews. When juries find a suspect guilty of a crime, it is because they understand the wrongful but rational reason why the suspect did the crime. A prosecutor wins the case by showing that the defendant killed for money with cold-blooded rationality, not by telling the jury, "He only harmed himself by killing; it was stupid."

Similarly, it is not persuasive to argue that the reason Israeli leaders kill Palestinians is because they can't win elections otherwise. Most ordinary Americans are savvy enough to know that ordinary people, no matter what country they live in, prefer peace and negotiation to campaigns of massive violence against civilians.

Worse than being unpersuasive and wrong, the notion that ordinary Israelis make Israeli leaders slaughter Gazans reinforces the anti-working-class outlook that cripples efforts to build a mass movement against Zionism. If the Israeli public is the enemy, then it follows that the conflict really is exactly what the Zionists say it is: a war between the whole Jewish people and non-Jews. It is impossible to build solidarity against Zionism on this basis. In fact, though the suffering of Jewish working class Israelis is less than that of Palestinians, they are being held in bondage by their masters through the tactics of fear and ethnic cleansing just as surely as are Palestinians.

Our job is to tell people about the key fact of Israeli ethnic cleansing, and explain how Israeli and American elites use ethnic cleansing to control "their own" people. Most people already know that the rich and powerful lie to manipulate and control them. They just need to hear how this basic insight into how the world works applies to the far-away situation in Palestine too.

The history of Palestine and Israel is a classic case of divide and rule. This is how the conflict should be framed. This is also how we might see a way out. The only real answer to division and manipulation is solidarity among working people, Arab and Jew, American and Iraqi and Chinese.


* "Gazans" is, strictly speaking, the wrong word: Palestinians living in Gaza is more correct.

** Israeli historian, Ilan Pappe's, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, page 48 of the hardcover edition, provides the following quotation from a speech by David Ben-Gurion (later Israel's first prime minister) given on December 3, 1947 in front of senior members of his Mapai party (the Eretz Israel Workers Party), in which he said (referring to the UN partition resolution):

"There are 40% non-Jews in the areas allocated to the Jewish state. This composition is not a solid basis for a Jewish state. And we have to face this new reality with all of its severity and distinctness. such a demographic balance questions our ability to maintain Jewish sovereignty...Only a state with at least 80% Jews is a viable and stable state."


John Spritzler is the author of The People As Enemy: The Leaders' Hidden Agenda In World War II, and a Research Scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health.


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