Several days into Israel’s military operation in Gaza, The Real News Network speaks to Phyllis Bennis about the conflict. After giving a brief background on the events that led to the invasion of the Gaza Strip, Phyllis explains the various ways in which the United States facilitates Israel’s activities. According to Phyllis, it is the unquestioning military and political support from Washington that makes Israel’s actions possible.
Historical amnesia and Gaza
JESSE FREESTON (VOICEOVER), TRNN: As the Israeli military continues to push deeper into the Gaza Strip, The Real News spoke to Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies to get her take on the events.
PHYLLIS BENNIS, INSTITUTE FOR POLICY STUDIES: The key question is where we start, because when you decide to start the clock determines how you define the crisis. If you start the clock on the day that a rocket from Gaza, whether it was Hamas or someone else, hit something in Sderot, then everything Israel is doing is a reasonable response to that reality, to rockets. If you take a step back, you could begin with one week before the military strikes began, when the six-month-old ceasefire had begun to fray somewhat on both sides. And Israel responded by cutting off all entry and exit to the Gaza Strip—no food, no electrical fuel, no nothing. And people began eating bread that was made from animal food ground into flour ’cause there was no more wheat, and no trucks with anything of the humanitarian necessities—no medicine, no nothing—could get into Gaza. You could go back six months and look at when the Israeli military, the Ministry of Defense, began planning for this attack, just as they were negotiating the ceasefire, according to the Israeli paper Haaretz. That was the beginning of the planning for this attack. It was not because the ceasefire didn’t work. They were planning this attack even as the ceasefire was being implemented. But ultimately you could go back and back, and you need to go back to 1967, when Israel occupied the Gaza Strip. And what you have is military occupation. The fact that in 2005 Sharon pulled out the settlers and the soldiers from the territory of Gaza did not end the occupation. It was a good move if it had been the beginning of a real end to occupation. But instead Israel maintained control of the borders, of the airspace, of the seas surrounding Gaza, of the port. Everything remained under Israeli control. So the occupation continued despite the fact that the settlers had been pulled out and soldiers were no longer permanently on the ground—they would enter, they would kill people, and they would leave. It’s that context and it’s that time line that we need to start with. So the question of where do we start is exactly the most important question that is not being asked.
FREESTON: The stated goal of Israel’s military operation is to end Hamas’s ability to launch rockets into southern Israel. Are there any examples where similar operations with a similar goal have been successful?
BENNIS: I don’t think so. I think the idea that you can bomb your way to peace really flies in the face of reality. It’s what the US is trying to do in Afghanistan, and what are we seeing? We’re seeing that the Taliban is gaining more support. Now, Hamas is not the Taliban. Hamas was elected by a majority of not only Gazan but of the West Bank Palestinians as well. But I think that the parallel is that bombing doesn’t turn people against those who are the relatively powerless governing structures; they turn people against those who were bombing. In this case, it turns people against the Israelis and it turns people against the United States, because every time someone in Gaza dares to put their head out the window and look to the skies, what do they see? It’s F-16 fighter bombers, it’s Apache helicopters, it’s TOW missiles, all of them made in the US, provided by US tax dollars, uncritical grants of military aid to the tune of almost $3 billion a year. And that’s what people see. So the antagonism will not be towards Hamas; the antagonism will be and is towards Israel and the United States, who’s making the Israeli violations of international law possible.
FREESTON: Now, US law states that countries like Israel who are receiving US military aid can only use that aid for self-defense within their own borders. Is that correct?
BENNIS: That’s right. The Arms Export Control Act is very clear on the limitations on how another country uses arms and military equipment that’s provided by the United States. The problem is somebody has to enforce it; somebody in Congress has to say we should cut our $3 billion a year in military aid to Israel because they’re violating it; someone in the administration has to say we need the Justice Department to confirm that this is indeed a violation of the Arms Export Control Act. But what we hear from Washington is silence. And as long as there’s silence, the fact that Israel is violating US law as well as international law means very little. The laws are only pieces of paper. They are tools. And if we don’t use them, if we don’t pick them up and make them our instruments, they’re worth nothing.
FREESTON: Is it conceivable that Israel could pull off this kind of operation without US support?
BENNIS: There is no question that the Israeli military attack could not have happened without US support, both military and diplomatic. The direct support, the military support, is that the US provides military grants of almost $3 billion a year to Israel, of which 75 percent is spent on US-produced military hardware—weapons, planes, bombers, bombs, etcetera. Twenty-five percent of the US’ money, all of which comes from our taxes, is used for Israel to invest in their own weapons production facility. But this is very directly involved. Between 2001 and 2006, for instance, Washington provided Israel with $200 million dollars’ worth of spare parts just for the F-16 fleet that has been involved in this recent set of bombings in Gaza. The bunker buster bombs that are able to penetrate deeply into the ground—partly because they include depleted uranium that gives them extra weight—are provided from a number of US corporations. They’re paid for by US tax money. Companies like Raytheon, companies that make the TOW and Hellfire missiles, all of them are involved. This is a direct level of complicity. Indirectly, you have the US protection of Israel at the United Nations. The fact that Israel knows that the US will ensure that they are not held accountable in any serious way, in the Security Council or any other agency with any teeth in the UN (the US can’t prevent resolutions from being passed in the General Assembly, but they can try to prevent them from being implemented, and they can prevent them from being passed in the Security Council), that gives Israel a kind of protection that no other country enjoys. So that’s a kind of indirect complicity. But there is no doubt that the US government, through its payments, through its military support, through its economic and political and diplomatic support, is absolutely complicit in these war crimes.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.