In the Gaza Strip, Israel shows itself at its worst. This statement in no way detracts from the evil, both deliberate and incidental, that characterizes its policy toward other Palestinians — in Israel and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Nor does it lessen the horrors of its revenge attacks (aka reprisal operations) in the West Bank before 1967 or its assaults on civilians in Lebanon.
Nevertheless, in Gaza, Israel surpasses its usual evil. There in particular it causes soldiers, commanders, bureaucrats and civilians to demonstrate behaviors and character traits that in any other context would be considered sadistic and criminal or, at best, inappropriate to a civilized society.
Space suffices for only four reminders. The two massacres carried out by Israeli soldiers against Gazans during the 1956 Sinai war have fled our awareness as if they never happened, despite the documentation.
According to a report by the head of UNRWA submitted to the United Nations in January 1957, on November 3, during the conquest of Khan Yunis (and in the course of an operation to collect weapons and to round up hundreds of men in order to find Egyptian soldiers and Palestinian combatants), Israeli soldiers killed 275 Palestinians — 140 refugees and 135 local residents. On November 12 (after the fighting had ended), Israeli soldiers in Rafah killed 103 refugees, seven local residents and one Egyptian.
Survivors’ recollections were documented in a comic book by journalist and researcher Joe Sacco: corpses strewn in the streets, people placed against a wall and shot, people fleeing with their hands raised while soldiers behind them aimed their rifles, exploding heads. In 1982, journalist Mark Gefen of the now-defunct Hebrew daily Al Hamishmar was reminded of his military service in 1956, including those same exploding heads and strewn corpses in Khan Yunis (Haaretz Hebrew, February 5, 2010).
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Just a few months after the Gaza Strip was occupied in 1967, independent researcher Yizhar Be’er wrote, “We took practical steps to thin out Gaza’s population. In February 1968, Prime Minister [Levi] Eshkol decided to appoint Ada Sereni to head the emigration project. Her job was to find destination countries and encourage people to go them, without the Israeli government’s fingerprints being evident.
“Sereni was chosen for the job because of her connections in Italy and her experience in organizing the ha’apala of Holocaust survivors after World War II,” he added, using the term for illegal immigration to pre-state Israel during the British Mandate.
“At one of their meetings, Eshkol asked Sereni worriedly, ‘How many Arabs have you already dispatched?’” Be’er wrote. Sereni told Eshkol there were 40,000 refugee families in Gaza. “’If you allocate 1,000 pounds per family, it will be possible to solve the problem. Would you agree to solve the Gaza problem for four million pounds?’ she asked, and answered herself, ‘In my opinion, that’s a very reasonable price’” (Parot Kedoshot website, June 26, 2017).
In 1991, Israel began a process of effectively imprisoning all Gaza residents. In September 2007, Ehud Olmert’s government decided on a total siege, including limiting imports of food products and raw materials and banning exports.
Bureaucrats in the office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, with help from the Health Ministry, calculated the amount of calories needed each day so that the detainees in the world’s largest prison wouldn’t reach the red line of malnutrition. The jailers — that is, the bureaucrats and army officers — saw their acts as a humanitarian gesture.
In assaults on Gaza since 2008, the Israeli criteria for permissible, proportionate killing according to Jewish ethics have become clearer. An Islamic Jihad fighter who is sleeping is a suitable target. Hamas operatives’ families, including children, also deserve to be killed. So do their neighbors. So does anyone who boils water for tea on an open fire. So does anyone who plays in the police orchestra.
In other words, Israelis have gradually undergone a process of immunization to historical associations. Therefore, it’s no wonder they can wholeheartedly justify lethal fire on unarmed demonstrators, and that parents are proud of their soldier sons who shot fleeing demonstrators in the back.