GUEST OPINION: Roots of the Gaza violence


 In 2009, I was working in Congress when the eminent South African judge Richard Goldstone came to the House of Representatives to defend the UN report he authored on war crimes committed by both Israelis and Palestinians during that year’s war.

Goldstone stood before a handful of members of Congress and told them that before you condemn the report, you should at least read it. A few staffers and I sent emails across Capitol Hill offering to hand-deliver a paper copy of the entire 575-page report to any member of Congress. Only two took up our offer. That afternoon 344 out of the 435 members of US Congress voted in favor of condemning the report.

I watched from the House floor as members engaged in verbal gymnastics to justify their vote. We need to stand with Israel as the world unfairly blames it, one said. We need to stand up to Palestinian terrorists, another member of Congress said, his face turning red with rage, looking straight at me. Most of them, however, said the same thing: we need to move forward and not point fingers.
 But pointing fingers, Goldstone reminded us, is sometimes the most important thing to do. Without ascertaining who violated the law and therefore who should be held accountable, we create no system of punishment for those who harm civilians. We give them, in short, no incentive not to do such things again. As I left the Capitol building that night, an Israeli friend who worked with me in support of Judge Goldstone reminded me that in Congress the ultimate four-letter word is “accountability.”

Three years later, Goldstone’s fear has come true: The same war is happening again in Gaza and southern Israel. And it is happening again because the United States too often looks away when Israel transgresses.

You can almost copy a news article from 2009 and paste it into a newspaper today to write the story that will surely unfold: Israel kills children who are playing soccer in Gaza. Hamas fires rockets into southern Israel, killing civilians. The US issues statement defending Israel’s right to self defense. The US says Hamas must change its actions but will not deliver these messages to Hamas because the US does not talk to terrorists. Then a few months later, a fact finding report is released saying Israelis used US weapons and failed to distinguish between civilians and combatants. The UN votes on the report, the US vetoes, and the report’s author, like Goldstone, is vilified. Pundits come on TV and debate who fired first and Fox News argues if there is a Palestinian proclivity to violence and hopelessness. And finally, NGOs put together donor pitches about how the solution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict is getting Israelis and Palestinians to spend a summer on a picturesque lake in Maine.

But the solution is not getting Israelis and Palestinians to drink tea together. Nor is the solution to investigate Palestinian culture. The solution lies in addressing US aid to Israel, the check given each year to Israel regardless of whether it behaves. Last year, the US gave $3.1 billion to Israel. In comparison, Ethiopia received just $580 million. And while US law stipulates that no US weapon should be used to carry out human rights abuses, these laws are seldom applied to Israel. Even when 23-year-old American Rachel Corrie was killed by a bulldozer, the US did not press Israel for justice.

This is not to absolve Palestinians of guilt—many Israelis civilians have been killed by Palestinian attacks, and we must not forget that. But we should not think this is an Israeli Palestinian conflict. This is a issue of occupation, a problem imposed by Israel on Palestinians who often respond with inhumane acts of violence of their own.

Thankfully there is rising resentment over our nation's lopsided support. Jon Stewart regularly skewers Israel and there is a growing group of Americans—across all faith lines—who wonder if the US should give Israel so much money given its record. US media coverage has also shifted, too. When the 11-month-old son of the Palestinian BBC journalist Jihad Misharawi was killed Nov. 13, the Washington Post ran a picture of Misharawi holding his dead son on the front cover—something unheard of even five years ago.

But this shift is not reflected among US politicians. This is a crisis of will, after all, not a crisis of solutions.

Zahir Janmohamed is a San Francisco writer and former Congressional aide. Follow him on Twitter @zahirj


Everyone is suffering and it's terrible.

Posted by Troll II on Nov. 15, 2012 @ 5:09 pm

The author misses very important points and over simplifies the situation. No matter how even handed he tries to be, he is not. He places greater blame on Israel although Hamas launched deadly rockets into Israel. Hamas does not support a two state solution and does not accept Israel's right to exist. Since its beginnings, Hamas has pledged to destroy Israel. Israel cannot reach a peace agreement with itself. Why did Hamas escalate bombing at this point? It wasn't an impulsive act. Obviously, they wanted to provoke the Israelis to respond. Hamas bombs Israeli civilians, knowing that Israel will return the violence. Hamas hides among civilians, endangering them. Not surprisingly, civilians are killed. Hamas needs to enhance Israel's image as the enemy so as to unify the Palestinians behind Hamas and not behind the Palestinian Authority. Recently, Abbas (PA) signaled that he was willing to forego the return of Palestinians as a condition of peace with Israel. If PA reached peace with Israel, where does that leave Hamas? Powerless. Netanyahu believes he enhances his political standing by being tough on Hamas' violence and diverts Israeli critics' attention away from his policies. But placing that aside, Israel cannot ignore the constant barrage of bombs that Hamas drops on it.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 15, 2012 @ 6:52 pm

The fact is that there is no meaningful vote that we can cast against US policy in Israel Palestine as our tax dollars are recycled by the Israeli government into the AIPAC that in turn uses our foreign aid dollars to influence domestic policy to keep the foreign aid pipeline flowing.

Posted by marcos on Nov. 15, 2012 @ 5:40 pm

Except in your world. AIPAC is not a registered agent of the government of Israel. If you believe it should be then you should go file a lawsuit to get it to do so. AIPAC pisses people like you off because it's incredibly effective - if it weren't then it wouldn't be the locus of all your conspiracy theories. There's also that small fact that most Americans, for whatever reason, are big fans of Israel.

Posted by Troll II on Nov. 15, 2012 @ 6:09 pm

Israel is bad for the Jews.

Posted by marcos on Nov. 15, 2012 @ 7:17 pm

Not for the dispossessed Jews of Holocaust-ravaged Europe, who had no where else to go. Not for the Jews expelled from Arab states where they had lived for thousands of years. Israel was and remains a refuge for them.

Your privilege is showing, again, Marcos.

Posted by Troll II on Nov. 15, 2012 @ 7:33 pm

Israel remains bad for the Jews.

Posted by marcos on Nov. 15, 2012 @ 8:36 pm


Posted by D. native on Nov. 15, 2012 @ 10:26 pm

Israel is bad for the Jews because in the wake of the Holocaust, Israel is systematically ignoring and breaking the international law or war crimes and crimes against humanity that arose in response.

Israel is bad for the Jews because it broadcasts that it speaks and acts for all Jews even though most Jews globally do not support the ongoing illegal and increasingly brutal occupation of Palestine.

All Jews, thus, are presumed to be supporters of Israel's crime spree and are likely to be despised as such by a world that does not hold US/Israel's depraved values.

Sometimes people fight back and I'd want to take all possible steps to ensure that they fight back against those who commit crimes of war and against humanity not "the people" on whose behalf the criminals claim to act.

Posted by marcos on Nov. 20, 2012 @ 10:04 am

Newsflash to the author: Goldstone himself disowned the Goldstone report a year and a half ago:

Another newsflash to the author: Gaza was completely evacuated by Israel in 2005. Not sure how you can still blame the "occupation" for the thousands of missiles fired at Israel since then.

Keeping blinders on isn't going to get you very far. Best of luck as a journalist -- you're gonna need it.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 15, 2012 @ 7:17 pm

In 2008, Israel broke the cease fire. In 2012, Israel escalated its attacks in Gaza to prevent a long term cease fire being brokered by Egypt. Hamas is the elected government of Gaza. Israel rests on stolen land and have never recognized the Palestinians right to exist, except in bantusans.

Lesser evil peace laureate Obomber sides with Israel. Of course, because his extrajudicial killings by drone throughout the Muslim world are inspired by Israel's targeted killings of Palestinian leaders and Mossad attacks on Iranian scientists.

Call me antisemitic. I don't care. I know I'm not. Zionism equals racism. To bring in the Holocaust to justify ethnic cleansing is shameful. What do the Palestinians have to do with Nazi Germany?

The best justification that Israel might have is that they are only replicating the land theft, ethnic cleansing, genocidal apartheid perpetrated by the settlers of the United States, which threw in slavery for good measure.

Posted by Eddie on Nov. 15, 2012 @ 10:50 pm

The author says that the "solution" is no more US money for Israel. This shows a total lack of understanding and utter bias as to what is happening in Gaza.

Nobody forces Islamofacist's to fire unguided missiles into Israeli population centers.
Reading Hamas's Charter which calls for the destruction of Israel and others makes things clearer when judging the situation.

I am not surprised to read half baked thoughts in a SF publication.

The "solution" would be for Palestinians to except Israel's presence and work towards teaching their people that anti-semitism is no way forward.

On a side note, the violence seen across the Arab/Turkish world for a few years now, shows that Arab/ME Muslim society has not yet reached a status quo where peacefully living side by side amongst their own is a common practice. Maybe when ME Muslims stop killing their neighbours we can move forward. Until then we can watch and learn from the 37.000 dead Syrians and 45.000 murdered Kurds.

Posted by Guest Daniel on Nov. 16, 2012 @ 1:53 am

Violently resisting illegal occupation is legal, illegal occupiers killing children and using white phosphorous in civilian areas is a war crime.

Posted by marcos on Nov. 16, 2012 @ 2:45 pm

a sizable horde of Israel apologists will report your commentary as "hate speech" in order to silence you.

I'd seen some recent reports here that the problem of such "grass roots" censorship on Chronicle site had somewhat abated, but based on my latest (rare) visit there to check out their take on the prospective recall campaign against Ross Mirkarimi, I think there's been no change whatsoever.

The only comments to the story which were not glib, anti-Ross, hate-filled, and fact-free nonsense had been replaced with the messages such as "this comment has been removed" and so on.

I remember in the past I'd point out some overtly slanted and/or factually backwards aspect of one of the AP stories they run over there and my comment would garner two or three thumbs-up over the course of an hour -- then from one minute to the next there'd be 12 or 15 down thumbs on it.

I like this site better, because although people can lie, boldly mischarizing your previous statements and such, you are permitted to reply frankly and there is little they can do to muffle your reply.

Posted by lillipublicans on Nov. 16, 2012 @ 4:47 pm

SFBG has maybe 20. So I guess you'd rather be a bigger fish in a smaller and less relevant pool.

Sounds also like you only want to comment where there is no contrary view. Not very enlightened for someone who claims they enjoy debate.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 16, 2012 @ 5:07 pm

Side to kill kids, but not the other? How about neither?

Posted by D. native on Nov. 17, 2012 @ 2:11 pm

Folks: I'[m all for a vigorous debate. I posted Zahir's article in part to stimulate discussion. But you can't call each other names (anti-semite) or make homophobic comments about people; I will delete them as soon as I seem them.

Does anyone agree with Thomas Freidman, hardly an atni-Zionist, who argues that Israel can't be a democracy, a Jewish state, and continue to build settlements in the occupied territories? Two out of three is all you can get.


Posted by tim on Nov. 16, 2012 @ 7:24 pm

Thomas Freidman is hardly someone I'd expect to find proper guidance on the Middle East, but the point you've just elaborated is certainly not controversial.

I much prefer the writings of Robert Fisk, Noam Chomsky; and the analysis of mainstream coverage provided by Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting. FAIR has a great weekly radio show Counterspin.

Posted by lillipublicans on Nov. 16, 2012 @ 7:59 pm

Rather you supplied a bunch of names you feel he should be reading.

BTW - where you born as ugly as your are not or is that a more recent development?

Posted by Troll II on Nov. 17, 2012 @ 1:11 pm

I would say that it can continue to be a democracy and a Jewish state even though it continues to build on occupied land. Tis is simply based on the fact Simple fact is that it continues to be just that: a Jewish deoncratic state building on occupied territory's. Should they build? Probably not, but it doesn't make then not a democracy etc.

Posted by D. native on Nov. 17, 2012 @ 2:14 pm

This article could be summed up as "Yes, both sides have done some bad things, but remember that, no matter what happens, it's all Israel's fault." I don't get how that line of thinking advances the discourse on the subject.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 18, 2012 @ 4:52 pm

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