Israeli attacks on a hospital and refugee camp playground in Gaza on July 28 brought the total of Palestinian dead to 1,200, with more no doubt to come. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has just promised his people “a prolonged campaign” in Gaza. If it is, Israel may find itself considered, even by Americans, a pariah state.
Children on a playground will undoubtedly again be among the victims. Those killed on Monday, the Israeli Defense Forces say, were not killed by them, but by Hamas missiles aimed at Israel. Diligent readers will recall that last week’s attack on the UNRWA school at Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza, killing 16 women and children and wounding more than 100, was also a matter of “Hamas rockets or mortar shells falling short,” as the IDF explained to London’s Financial Times.
Later in the day, the explanation was changed to one of Israeli forces responding to “intense fire from the school area,” intending to eliminate the threat. U.N. Refugee Works officials said they had informed the Israelis 12 times of the school’s coordinates, pleading for permission from the IDF to evacuate the civilians, which never was given.
The Israeli military is neither incompetent nor accident-prone, particularly when UNRWA schools and other U.N. or independent international aid agencies are concerned. But in its ranks there is also a theory (no doubt picked up from others) that terrorization works. By those inevitably imperfect but plausible accounts journalists and humanitarian agencies try to compile in such matters, Beit Hanoun was the fourth U.N. school hit in this campaign. On the following Monday, in Gaza, there was the third attack on a hospital since military operations began the first week in July.
This is no novelty. In previous punitive incursions, such as “Cast Lead” (in 2008-2009), into what legally is Palestine, shelling or air attacks on foreign-staffed humanitarian, educational and United Nations refugee installations and medical facilities occurred not infrequently. Fourteen schools out of 641 were destroyed and 280 damaged.
This phenomenon of attacks upon foreign or international facilities and agencies in Palestinian territory is so well recognized as to require little comment. It is why the U.N. demanded the Richard Goldstone Report in 2009, and why Israel and the U.S. worked so hard to suppress it.
This practice is presumably meant to keep foreign witnesses at a distance. It also is true for the foreign press, where Israel limits facilities and uses its influence with foreign owners of television news operations, newspapers and press agencies to block or influence reports of sensitive matters.
A front-page story in the International New York Times, dealing with the problems in contemporary news reporting, mentioned NBC’s Ayman Mohyeldin, an Arabic-speaking and vastly experienced correspondent who was suddenly ordered out of Gaza after sending reports on the apparently arbitrary killing by an Israeli gunboat of four Palestinian boys playing soccer on a beach. His rushed replacements were non-Arab-speaking reporters and unacquainted with the local scene. An uproar in the international press community brought NBC to cancel the change.
Diana Magnay of CNN was reassigned to Moscow after complaining that Israelis were trying to intimidate her. This was common with reporters “embedded” with U.S. military units during the Iraq war. Officials want to control the story, just as Washington PR men and official spokesmen do their best to spin their stories and hide their scandals.
In Israel it is a life-and-death matter because Israel’s international position is a precarious one, illegally occupying and building permanent settlements on land seized in the 1967 war from the Palestinians, and using illegal military methods and imprisonments to control Palestinian resistance, as in Gaza today, the “Cast Lead attack, and during the two Palestinian Intifadas or uprisings of 1987-91 and 2000-2005.
It can afford only so much foreign criticism, including that by Jewish communities in Europe and the U.S. It is significant that in recent days U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made a supposedly inadvertent off-microphone criticism of the Gaza operation on American television, and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has made an ambiguous public remark saying that “while Israel has been provoked,” she preferred that it would not attack Gaza.
The foreign press suggests that Israel may be “beginning to lose the argument” over Gaza. The most recent Gallup poll shows 55 percent of Americans over 65 believing that Israel’s Gaza actions are justified, but only 23 percent of younger Americans (ages 18-29).
Also significant is that powerfully anti-Israel (“anti-Zionist”) polemical videos now are circulating as, in my experience, never before, including by the notorious David Duke, former head of the Ku Klux Klan.
He currently offers an undemagogic video clip that quietly identifies a score of communications industry executives, press and TV editors, personalities, and news commentators, Wall Street bankers, government officials (including all recent — and current — Federal Reserve Chairs), and foreign policy officials in both Republican and Democratic administrations, all of them identified as Zionists — with their net worth or current earnings listed.
It is, of course, classic anti-Semitic (“Shylock” and conspiratorial power) insinuation. I have twice received such videos in recent days, from totally unexpected sources.
It is potentially a powerful message. The message is that American Jews place their loyalty to Israel first. If Israel’s policies continue to send a message of unacceptable conduct, American-Israeli relations could suddenly become transformed.
William Pfaff is a veteran U.S. journalist who frequently writes on foreign policy. © 2014 Tribune Content Agency