On Bush, As He Leaves

Deepak Tripathi

George W. Bush was not going to leave the White House quietly. After eight days of relentless Israeli bombing of Gaza, he waved the green flag to Israel to invade the Gaza Strip. In his weekly radio address, Bush held Hamas responsible for the latest violence. And he proclaimed that “no peace deal would be acceptable without tougher action to prevent Hamas and other groups from receiving weapons”. Hours later on January 3, Israeli tanks were rolling into the Gaza Strip.

As the removals work in the White House, the conduct of George W. Bush in the last few days of his presidency shows that there is no change in him after eight years. He remains a hostage to his demons. His radio address is going to be remembered alongside television pictures of mutilated bodies of Palestinian children, beamed all over the world. The Bush presidency ends just as it began in 2001 – with war.

A lot has happened in the intervening years. But the overpowering impression he leaves behind is that of a president who put political opportunism to most destructive use, wherever and however he could, to satisfy his own capriciousness and prejudices. With few exceptions, those in Congress in Washington and in other Western capitals simply caved in, because they did not want to be on the ‘wrong’ side. The cost of this failure has been horrendous. As Bush prepares for quieter pastures in Texas, he leaves much of the Middle East and South Asia burning.

Bush and his vice-president, Dick Cheney, have used every significant player that came in their path. From Tony Blair of Britain and General Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan through the Arab and East European countries where abducted detainees were taken to be tortured to Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, and Israel’s leading politicians — the list is long. As the end came near, the Bush-Cheney administration seized the opportunity offered by circumstances in and around Gaza.

A bitter dispute loomed in advance of January 8, when Abbas would complete his normal four-year term as Palestinian Authority president, having been elected in 2005. Hamas, the majority party in the Legislative Council, insisted that Abbas submit his resignation to the speaker and the process begin to hold a new presidential election. But Abbas was determined to hold on to power. His Fatah group argued that a law subsequently passed allowed him to remain in the post until the next council elections in 2010.

As February elections approached in Israel, the Defense Minister and Labor Party leader, Ehud Barak, and the Foreign Minister and leader of the Kadima Party, Tzipi Livni, were in competition within the cabinet. The hard-line Likud leader, Binyamin Netanyahu, goaded them from without. The leaders of Egypt and Jordan felt threatened by the emergence of Hamas and growing Iranian influence in the region. All this provided the ideal ground for Bush and Cheney to create a crisis and unleash the proxies on Gaza to reshape the territory. After Afghanistan and Iraq, it was the turn of Gaza to be subjected to ‘shock and awe’. The command center for the operation is the White House. The proxies are in the region. The more insecure the proxies feel, the easier it is to play on their fears. 

The events in Gaza bear echoes of the Sabra and Chatila massacres in Lebanon in September 1982. Then, Israel let loose its proxies, the Christian Phalange militiamen, on the two refugee camps. Hundreds of Palestinians, men, women and children, were killed and thousands injured. Today, Israeli bullets and bombs also kill women and children in Gaza. And the responsibility lies not in Tel Aviv, but in the White House. Despite all the talk of Hamas intransigence and its refusal to cease rocket attacks in Israel’s border areas, truth does emerge from time to time.

Writing in the Huffington Post (Understanding the Gaza Catastrophe, January 3, 2009), the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories, Richard Falk, gives a detailed account of how the Hamas leadership ‘offered to extend the truce, even proposing a ten-year period’. He writes, “Israel ignored these diplomatic initiatives and failed to carry out its side of the ceasefire agreement that involved some easing of the blockade that had been restricting the entry to Gaza of food, medicine and fuel to a trickle.”

The cynical manipulation of fears and insecurities of others to punish peoples not liked in thw White House has been the trademark of the Bush administration. His latest act is calculated to overthrow, or greatly weaken, Hamas in Gaza and, at the same time, to try to lock the path of the incoming administration of Barak Obama for the foreseeable future. Israel may finish its ‘military job’ in Gaza in the next few weeks or months. Many more will die of bullets, lack of treatment, hunger and malnutrition. The rest will have to endure conditions worse than before. The sense of humiliation and betrayal will sink in deeper among Palestinians. The prospects of any diplomatic engagement with Hamas will have been set back, possibly for years. And America’s image abroad takes another battering.

All of which would not matter to George W. Bush, for his green light to the Israelis to invade Gaza shows he has no remorse. An instinctive demolisher, he inspected the vast wreckage around him at the end of his presidency and decided to go with a bang — this time in Gaza. As the tragedy unfolds, Barack Obama’s silence may seem odd. But he cannot be a happy man. Silence is the best signal to convey disengagement — if, indeed, it is that.

 The above commentary was published by AlterNet on January 9 and the History News Network, George Mason University, Virginia, on January 15, 2009.

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Prayers for Gaza

No more tears left

My eyes are dry

As I watch the news unfold

The heartache is unbearable

 

It’s slaughter in Gaza

Fire, death everywhere

 

UN is meeting

Around the table they all sit

With food, water, light

The room is warm

 

But no water, food, light or heat

For the people of Gaza

Nothing for Gaza

The UN is meeting.

 

How many days, months, years

Have they lived

Without basic human dignity

But the UN is still talking

 

How many men, women and children will die

Before the UN does something

So many deaths, so much destruction

Crying, screaming, sobbing

 

UN does not hear you Gaza

UN is in meeting

But you’re in my prayers Gaza

May God be with you.

 

By Archana Tripathi, (UK)

Gaza in Perspective

Deepak Tripathi

The bombing of the Gaza Strip has predictably been justified by Israel and the United States as self-defense by a country under attack from a ‘terrorist’ organization. Claims of ‘surgical air attacks’ against ‘carefully selected targets’, to minimize civilian casualties, are repeated by Israeli politicians and government spokesmen in their daily encounters with the world media. In Jerusalem, as in Washington, the blame for the plight of Palestinians is placed entirely on Hamas, which rules the territory.

A little perspective is needed to understand what is really happening in Gaza. Roughly 400 Palestinians were killed and as many as 2000 injured in the first five days of Israeli bombing until December 31, 2008. These casualties include children and young students, civilian officials and local policemen. The Gaza Strip is a small territory, about 140 square miles in area and a population of 1.5 million, making it one of the most densely populated places in the world. Israel, on the other hand, is a country of seven million people.

The scale of bloodshed in Gaza over five days is the same as if almost 2000 Israelis had been killed and 9000 wounded in the same period. Imagine the consequences for Israel in such an event. It begins to explain what the people of Gaza have already endured. And their horror is still not over. In contrast, the actual number of Israeli deaths by Hamas rockets fired randomly towards Israel recently is four.

Not only have Hamas security complexes and government buildings been hit. Mosques, schools, University buildings and civilian homes lie in ruins. Hospitals have been overwhelmed and shortages of medical supplies and food are making the situation increasingly desperate. Underground tunnels to Egypt, used to transport essential supplies as well as weapons and explosives, have been destroyed. Despite all this, the leader of Israel’s Kadima Party, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, says the country has ‘no alternative’ but to carry on. 

The Israeli offensive was launched soon after the end of a six-month ‘ceasefire’ with Hamas. In reality, no such ceasefire ever existed, because the continuing Israeli siege of Gaza amounts to an act of war. Richard Falk, the United Nations special rapporteur, has described the Israeli air attacks on the territory as ‘severe and massive violations of international law as defined in the Geneva Conventions, both in regard to the obligations of an occupying power and in the requirements of the laws of war’. According to Professor Falk, Israel is guilty of inflicting collective punishment on the entire population of Gaza, of targeting civilians and of using disproportionate force, killing civilians and destroying the administrative infrastructure in the territory.

Certainly the Hamas rocket attacks against civilian targets in Israel are unlawful, he says. But that illegality does not give rise to any Israeli right to violate international humanitarian law and commit war crimes or crimes against humanity in response.

The above article was published in the Palestine Chronicle on January 1, 2009.