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Israel’s killing of aid workers is no accident. It’s part of the plan to destroy Gaza

After six months – and many tens of thousands of dead and maimed Palestinian women and children later – western commentators are finally wondering whether something may be amiss with Israel’s actions in Gaza. Israel apparently crossed a red line when it killed a handful of foreign aid workers on 1 April, including three British […]

The post Israel’s killing of aid workers is no accident. It’s part of the plan to destroy Gaza first appeared on Dissident Voice.

After six months – and many tens of thousands of dead and maimed Palestinian women and children later – western commentators are finally wondering whether something may be amiss with Israel’s actions in Gaza.

Israel apparently crossed a red line when it killed a handful of foreign aid workers on 1 April, including three British security contractors.

Three missiles, fired over several minutes, struck vehicles in a World Central Kitchen (WCK) aid convoy heading up Gaza’s coast on one of the few roads still passable after Israel turned the enclave’s homes and streets into rubble. All the vehicles were clearly marked. All were on an approved, safe passage. And the Israeli military had been given the coordinates to track the convoy’s location.

With precise missile holes through the vehicle roofs making it impossible to blame Hamas for the strike, Israel was forced to admit responsibility. Its spokespeople claimed an armed figure had been seen entering the storage area from which the aid convoy had departed.

But even that feeble, formulaic response could not explain why the Israeli military hit cars in which it was known there were aid workers. So Israel hurriedly promised to investigate what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described as a “tragic incident”.

Presumably, it was a “tragic incident” just like the 15,000-plus other “tragic incidents” – the ones we know about – that Israel has committed against Palestinian children day after day for six months.

In those cases, of course, western commentators always managed to produce some rationalisation for the slaughter.

Not this time.

“This has to stop”

Half a year too late, with Gaza’s entire medical infrastructure wrecked by Israel and a population on the brink of starvation, Britain’s Independent newspaper suddenly found its voice to declare decisively on its front page: “Enough.”

Richard Madeley, host of Good Morning Britain, finally felt compelled to opine that Israel had carried out an “execution” of the foreign aid workers. Presumably, 15,000 Palestinian children were not executed, they simply “died”.

When it came to the killing of WCK staff, popular LBC talk-show host Nick Ferrari concluded that Israel’s actions were“indefensible”. Did he think it defensible for Israel to bomb and starve Gaza’s children month after month?

Like the Independent, he too proclaimed: “This has to stop.”

The attack on the WCK convoy briefly changed the equation for the western media. Seven dead aid workers were a wake-up call when many tens of thousands of dead, maimed and orphaned Palestinian children had not been.

A salutary equation indeed.

British politicians reassured the public that Israel would carry out an “independent investigation” into the killings. That is, the same Israel that never punishes its soldiers even when their atrocities are televised. The same Israel whose military courts find almost every Palestinian guilty of whatever crime Israel chooses to accuse them of, if it allows them a trial.

But at least the foreign aid workers merited an investigation, however much of a foregone conclusion the verdict. That is more than the dead children of Gaza will ever get.

Israel’s playbook

British commentators appeared startled by the thought that Israel had chosen to kill the foreigners working for World Central Kitchen – even if those same journalists still treat tens of thousands of dead Palestinians as unfortunate “collateral damage” in a “war” to “eradicate Hamas”.

But had they been paying closer attention, these pundits would understand that the murder of foreigners is not exceptional. It has been central to Israel’s occupation playbook for decades – and helps explain what Israel hopes to achieve with its current slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza.

Back in the early 2000s, Israel was on another of its rampages, wrecking Gaza and the West Bank supposedly in “retaliation” for Palestinians having had the temerity to rise up against decades of military occupation.

Shocked by the brutality, a group of foreign volunteers, a significant number of them Jewish, ventured into these areas to witness and document the Israeli military’s crimes and act as human shields to protect Palestinians from the violence.

They arrived under the mantle of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), a Palestinian-led initiative. They were keen to use what were then new technologies such as digital cameras, email and blogs to focus attention on the Israeli military’s atrocities.

Some became a new breed of activist journalist, embedded in Palestinian communities to report the story western establishment journalists, embedded in Israel, never managed to cover.

Israel presented the ISM as a terrorist group and dismissed its filmed documentation as “Pallywood” – a supposedly fiction-producing industry equated to a Palestinian Hollywood.

Gaza isolated

But the ISM’s evidence increasingly exposed the “most moral army in the world” for what it really was: a criminal enterprise there to enforce land thefts and the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.

Israel needed to take firmer action.

The evidence suggests soldiers received authorisation to execute foreigners in the occupied territories. That included young activists such as Rachel Corrie and Tom Hurndall; James Miller, an independent filmmaker who ventured into Gaza; and even a United Nations official, Iain Hook, based in the West Bank.

This rapid spate of killings – and the maiming of many other activists – had the intended effect. The ISM largely withdrew from the region to protect its volunteers, while Israel formally banned the group from accessing the occupied territories.

Meanwhile, Israel denied press credentials to any journalist not sponsored by a state or a billionaire-owned outlet, kicking them out of the region.

Al Jazeera, the one critical Arab channel whose coverage reached western audiences, found its journalists regularly banned or killed, and its offices bombed.

The battle to isolate the Palestinians, freeing Israel to commit atrocities unmonitored, culminated in Israel’s now 17-year blockade of Gaza. It was sealed off.

With the enclave completely besieged by land, human rights activists focused their efforts on breaking the blockade via the high seas. A series of “freedom flotillas” tried to reach Gaza’s coast from 2008 onwards. Israel soon managed to stop most of them.

The largest was led by the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish vessel laden with aid and medicine. Israeli naval commandos stormed the ship illegally in international waters in 2010, killing 10 foreign aid workers and human rights activists on board and injuring another 30.

The western media soft-pedalled Israel’s preposterous characterisation of the flotillas as a terrorist enterprise. The initiative gradually petered out.

Western complicity

That is the proper context for understanding the latest attack on the WCK aid convoy.

Israel has always had four prongs to its strategy towards the Palestinians. Taken together, they have allowed Israel to refine its apartheid-style rule, and are now allowing it to implement its genocidal policies undisturbed.

The first is to incrementally isolate the Palestinians from the international community.

The second is to make the Palestinians entirely dependent on the Israeli military’s goodwill, and create conditions that are so precarious and unpredictable that most Palestinians try to vacate their historic homeland, leaving it free to be “Judaised”.

Third, Israel has crushed any attempt by outsiders – especially the media and human rights monitors – to scrutinise its activities in real-time or hold it to account.

And fourth, to achieve all this, Israel has needed to erode piece by piece the humanitarian protections that were enshrined in international law to stop a repeat of the common-place atrocities against civilians during the Second World War.

This process, which had been taking place over years and decades, was rapidly accelerated after Hamas’ attack on 7 October. Israel had the pretext to transform apartheid into genocide.

Unrwa, the main United Nations refugee agency, which is mandated to supply aid to the Palestinians, had long been in Israel’s sights, especially in Gaza. It has allowed the international community to keep its foot in the door of the enclave, maintaining a lifeline to the population there independent of Israel, and creating an authoritative framework for judging Israel’s human rights abuses. Worse, for Israel, Unrwa has kept alive the right of return – enshrined in international law – of Palestinian refugees expelled from their original lands so a self-declared Jewish state could be built in their place.

Israel leapt at the chance to accuse Unrwa of being implicated in the 7 October attack, even though it produced zero evidence for the claim. Almost as enthusiastically, western states turned off the funding tap to the UN agency.

The Biden administration appears keen to end UN oversight of Gaza by hiving off its main aid role to private firms. It has been one of the key sponsors of WCK, led by a celebrity Spanish chef with ties to the US State Department.

WCK, which has also been building a pier off Gaza’s coast, was expected to be an adjunct to Washington’s plan to eventually ship in aid from Cyprus – to help those Palestinians who, over the next few weeks, do not starve to death.

Until, that is, Israel struck the aid convoy, killing its staff. WCK has pulled out of Gaza for the time being, and other private aid contractors are backing off, fearful for their workers’ safety.

Goal one has been achieved. The people of Gaza are on their own. The West, rather than their saviour, is now fully complicit not only in Israel’s blockade of Gaza but in its starvation too.

Life and death lottery

Next, Israel has demonstrated beyond doubt that it regards every Palestinian in Gaza, even its children, as an enemy.

The fact that most of the enclave’s homes are now rubble should serve as proof enough, as should the fact that many tens of thousands there have been violently killed. Only a fraction of the death toll is likely to have been recorded, given Israel’s destruction of the enclave’s health sector.

Israel’s levelling of hospitals, including al-Shifa – as well as the kidnapping and torture of medical staff – has left Palestinians in Gaza completely exposed. The eradication of meaningful healthcare means births, serious injuries and chronic and acute illnesses are quickly becoming a death sentence.

Israel has intentionally been turning life in Gaza into a lottery, with nowhere safe.

According to a new investigation, Israel’s bombing campaign has relied heavily on experimental AI systems that largely automate the killing of Palestinians. That means there is no need for human oversight – and the potential limitations imposed by a human conscience.

Israeli website 972 found that tens of thousands of Palestinians had been put on “kill lists” generated by a program called Lavender, using loose definitions of “terrorist” and with an error rate estimated even by the Israeli military at one in 10.

Another programme called “Where’s Daddy?” tracked many of these “targets” to their family homes, where they – and potentially dozens of other Palestinians unlucky enough to be inside – were killed by air strikes.

An Israeli intelligence official told 972: “The IDF bombed them in homes without hesitation, as a first option. It’s much easier to bomb a family’s home. The system is built to look for them in these situations.”

As so many of these targets were considered to be “junior” operatives, of little military value, Israel preferred to use unguided, imprecise munitions – “dumb bombs” – increasing dramatically the likelihood of large numbers of other Palestinians being killed too.

Or, as another Israeli intelligence official observed: “You don’t want to waste expensive bombs on unimportant people – it’s very expensive for the country and there’s a shortage [of smart bombs].”

That explains how entire extended families, comprising dozens of members, have been so regularly slaughtered.

Separately, Israel’s Haaretz newspaper reported on 31 March that the Israeli military has been operating unmarked “kill zones” in which anyone moving – man, woman or child – is in danger of being shot dead.

Or, as a reserve officer who has been serving in Gaza told the paper: “In practice, a terrorist is anyone the IDF has killed in the areas in which its forces operate.”

This, Haaretz reports, is the likely reason why soldiers gunned down three escaped Israeli hostages who were trying to surrender to them.

Palestinians, of course, rarely know where these kill zones are as they desperately scour ever larger areas in the hope of finding food.

If they are fortunate enough to avoid death from the skies or expiring from starvation, they risk being seized by Israeli soldiers and taken off to one of Israel’s black sites. There, as a whistleblowing Israeli doctor admitted last week, unspeakable, Abu Ghraib-style horrors are being inflicted on the inmates.

Goal two has been achieved, leaving Palestinians terrified of the Israeli military’s largely random violence and desperate to find an escape from the Russian roulette Israel is playing with their lives.

Reporting stifled

Long ago, Israel barred UN human rights monitors from accessing the occupied territories. That has left scrutiny of its crimes largely in the hands of the media.

Independent foreign reporters have been barred from the region for some 15 years, leaving the field to establishment journalists serving state and corporate media, where there are strong pressures to present Israel’s actions in the best possible light.

That is why the most important stories about 7 October and the Israeli military’s actions in Gaza and treatment of Palestinian prisoners in Israel have been broken by Israeli-based media – as well as small, independent western outlets that have highlighted its coverage.

Since 7 October, Israel has barred all foreign journalists from Gaza, and western reporters have meekly complied. None have been alerting their audience to this major assault on their supposed role as watchdogs.

Israeli spokespeople, well-practised in the dark arts of deception and misdirection, have been allowed to fill the void in London studios.

What on-the-ground information from Gaza has been reaching western publics – when it is not suppressed by media outlets either because it would be too distressing or because its inclusion would enrage Israel – comes via Palestinian journalists. They have been showing the genocide unfolding in real-time.

But for that reason, Israel has been picking them off one by one – just as it did earlier with Rachel Corrie and Tom Hurndall – as well as murdering their extended families as a warning to others.

The one international channel that has many journalists on the ground in Gaza and is in a position to present its reporting in high-quality English is Al Jazeera.

The list of its journalists killed by Israel has grown steadily longer since 7 October. Gaza bureau chief Wael al-Dahdouh has had most of his family executed, as well as being injured himself.

His counterpart in the West Bank, Shireen Abu Akhleh, was shot dead by an Israeli army sniper two years ago.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Israel rushed a law through its parliament last week to ban Al Jazeera from broadcasting from the region. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it a “terror channel”, claiming it participated in Hamas’ 7 October attack.

Al Jazeera had just aired a documentary revisiting the events of 7 October. It showed that Hamas did not commit the most barbaric crimes Israel accuses it of, and that, in fact, in some cases Israel was responsible for the most horrifying atrocities against its own citizens that it had attributed to Hamas.

Al Jazeera and human rights groups are understandably worried about what further actions Israel is likely to take against the channel’s journalists to snuff out its reporting.

Palestinians in Gaza, meanwhile, fear that they are about to lose the only channel that connects them to the outside world, both telling their stories and keeping them informed about what the watching world knows of their plight.

Goal three has been achieved. The lights are being turned off. Israel can carry out in the dark the potentially ugliest phase of its genocide, as Palestinian children emaciate and starve to death.

Rulebook torn up

And finally, Israel has torn up the rulebook on international humanitarian law intended to protect civilians from atrocities, as well as the infrastructure they rely on.

Israel has destroyed universities, government buildings, mosques, churches and bakeries, as well as, most critically, medical facilities.

Over the past six months, hospitals, once sacrosanct, have slowly become legitimate targets, as have the patients inside.

Collective punishment, absolutely prohibited as a war crime, has become the norm in Gaza since 2007, when the West stood mutely by as Israel besieged the enclave for 17 years.

Now, as Palestinians are starved to death, as children turn to skin and bones, and as aid convoys are bombed and aid seekers are shot dead, there is still apparently room for debate among the western media-political class about whether this all constitutes a violation of international law.

Even after six months of Israel bombing Gaza, treating its people as “human animals” and denying them food, water and power – the very definition of collective punishment – Britain’s deputy prime minister, Oliver Dowden, apparently believes Israel is, unfairly, being held to “incredibly high standards”. David Lammy, shadow foreign secretary for the supposedly opposition Labour party, still has no more than “serious concerns” that international law may have been breached.

Neither party yet proposes banning the sale of British arms to Israel, arms that are being used to commit precisely these violations of international law. Neither is referencing the International Court of Justice’s ruling that Israel is “plausibly” committing genocide.

Meanwhile, the main political conversation in the West is still mired in delusional talk about how to revive the fabled “two-state solution”, rather than how to stop an accelerating genocide.

The reality is that Israel has ripped up the most fundamental of the principles in international law: “distinction” – differentiating between combatants and civilians – and “proportionality” – using only the minimum amount of force needed to achieve legitimate military goals.

The rules of war are in tatters. The system of international humanitarian law is not under threat, it has collapsed.

Every Palestinian in Gaza now faces a death sentence. And with good reason, Israel assumes it is untouchable.

Despite the background noise of endlessly expressed “concerns” from the White House, and of rumours of growing “tensions” between allies, the US and Europe have indicated that the genocide can continue – but must be carried out more discreetly, more unobtrusively.

The killing of the World Central Kitchen staff is a setback. But the destruction of Gaza – Israel’s plan of nearly two decades’ duration – is far from over.

• First published in Middle East Eye

The post Israel’s killing of aid workers is no accident. It’s part of the plan to destroy Gaza first appeared on Dissident Voice.

This content originally appeared on Dissident Voice and was authored by Jonathan Cook.

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