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The Gaza ‘Graveyard’

ByJeremy Salt

The Author

Jeremy Salt is an independent researcher who previously taught the history of the modern Middle East at the University of Melbourne, Bosporus University in Istanbul and Bilkent University in Ankara. His publications include The Last Ottoman Wars. The Human Cost 1877-1923 (University of Utah Press, 2019) and The Unmaking of the Middle East. A History of Western Disorder in Arab Lands (2008), which was shortlisted (five books) in 2009 for the US Council on Foreign Relations Arthur Ross award for “books that make an outstanding contribution to the understanding of foreign policy or international relations.

On October 16, condemning the Hamas attack across the Gaza fence, Anthony Albanese used these expressions: evil, wantonness, mass murder on a horrific scale, the slaughter of innocent people, calculated pitiless brutality, a rain of rockets to kill people without mercy, false equivalence and moral clarity. 

In the Hamas attack, 1400 Israelis were killed, hundreds of them soldiers, police and armed settlers, others unarmed civilians, including children. The evidence indicates that many Israelis were killed by their own soldiers, with settlement buildings destroyed by heavy artillery or air strikes, not by Palestinian assault rifles. More than 200 Israelis were taken hostage and are still being held inside Gaza except for the four who have been released and others killed in Israel’s missile barrages. Across Australia, the political and media reaction has been the same as Albanese’s. Apart from the outrage and moral condemnation, every horror story out of Israel has been believed and repeated day after day, reinforcing the message from Israel’s ‘defence’ minister that the Palestinians who carried out this attack are ‘human animals’ or savage barbarians. 

Since the Hamas attack, the Israeli military has dropped thousands of tons of bombs on/fired missiles at civilian targets in Gaza, including residential towers, hospitals, schools, mosques and churches. The missile attack alone on the Ahli hospital killed more than 470 people; it was a deliberate attack, the hospital having been previously bombed as a warning and told to evacuate to southern Gaza, a clearly impossible task. More than 20 hospitals have been bombed and medical personnel killed. 

All water, power and food has been cut off to Gazans, with the exception of the small amount now allowed to trickle in. Hundreds of thousands of people have been herded to the south, where the UNRWA tents being constructed for them replicate the refugee tents of 1948. Assured by Israel that they would be safe there, their convoys have been bombed and many killed. 

The death toll of 8,306 is more than the number of Bosnian Muslims killed in 1995 during what is called the Bosnian genocide. More than 3,457 of these Palestinian victims are children: not 40, more than 3,457, with, again, the number increasing every day. A whole population of children is deeply traumatised by the killing of their parents and siblings, not knowing whether they, too, will be killed in the next missile attack. Mothers are writing their childrens’ names on their hands so they can be identified when dug out of the rubble. 

Philippe Lazzarini, the commissioner-general of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) says at least 57 UNRWA staff have been killed, 600,000 people are now living in UNRWA schools or other buildings, with none of the basic necessities of life available, beginning with water. In his words the Gaza open-air prison is now “the graveyard of a population trapped between war, siege and deprivation.” 

These are some of the blackest scenes we have ever seen in modern history. With the highest Israeli military and political figures talking of annihilation, some of destruction that will leave Gaza looking like Dresden after the British finished with it, and of a campaign that could last for months, much worse is yet to come. 

Driving the Palestinians into southern Gaza shifts them towards the Rafah gate into the Sinai desert, which is where the Israeli political and military establishment would like to drive them, replicating the nakba (catastrophe) of 1948.  

The massacre of civilians, the destruction of homes, the bombing of hospitals and schools and the deliberate denial of food, electricity and even water are crimes under international humanitarian and criminal law. The crime of genocide is already being widely used to describe Israel’s actions. 

No one can say they don’t know. It is all happening before our eyes yet the government committing these terrible crimes still has the support of the Australian government and the media pack. “Moral clarity” in support of Jewish life evaporates when it comes to the mass murder of Palestinians by the Jewish state. The defenders of indigenous rights at home support the government murdering the indigenous people abroad. The hypocrisy, double standards, callous indifference and refusal to take a moral stand in support of a tormented and murdered people disgrace Australia. 

The Parliament passes a resolution supporting Israel’s ‘right’ to defend itself and Albanese calls on it to “operate by the rules of war” when he knows perfectly well that it is already violating them day after day.  He cannot be excused on the grounds that he does not know the history because he has shown in the past that he does know it. Penny Wong cannot even call for a ceasefire, only for a “humanitarian pause” with Israel allowed to decide whether or not it will allow it.  The craven deference to Israel and the US is apparent in every statement. 

Not even the single horrifying statistic of more than 3000 Palestinian children killed has jolted the conscience of the politicians and the media commentators. Their morally dead indifference to these massacres of the innocent is coupled with vigorous support for Israel and encouragement for it to keep going whatever the further loss of civilian life as long as it is Palestinian. 

Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary-General, was abused by Israel’s ambassador for uttering a simple truth. The Hamas attacks “did not happen in a vacuum,” he said, adding that “the Palestinian people have been subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation.” Unable to deal with the truth, the Israeli ambassador raged against him but no amount of fudging the issues can hide what has led up to Hamas attack on October 7.  Behind the accusations and counter accusations, the past much further back than 56 years is what needs to be understood to put the present into context. 

The starting point is not 1967 or 1945 but the late 19th century when the minor Austro-Hungarian journalist Theodor Herzl called for the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. The fact that it was already populated was no deterrent. How to “spirit” the “penniless population” out of Palestine, as he put it, remained the central dilemma of the Zionist movement from that time forward.  Even after four decades of Zionist settlement, the population ratio by 1918 was still 600,000 Christian and Muslim Palestinians and 60,000 Jews. 

Protected by the British, who killed thousands of Palestinians during their uprising in the 1930s, Zionist colonisation grew apace but even by 1947 Zionist agencies had only purchased 5-6 per cent of the land.  As the Palestinians had been resisting the takeover of their land since the end of the First World War, removing them could only be done through a war of necessity.   

This began in 1948 when the Zionists declared their state. More than 500 Palestinian villages or hamlets were destroyed, thousands of people massacred and 750,000-800,000 driven from their land.  Others who had fled from one part of Palestine were never allowed to return. This began the burial of all signs that Palestine had once been Palestine. In 1967, war was a second opportunity to remove another 350,000 Palestinians from their land, many West Bank refugees from the first war.  

What the Zionists did not destroy in 1948 they kept for themselves, some of the finest stone buildings expropriated by the upper echelon and even household goods and fittings stolen from the houses where Palestinians once lived. All Palestinian agricultural land fell into their hands.  

Defending what they had stolen, and no UN declaration gave them any kind of ‘right’ to remove the people and take their property, the Zionists, now embodied in the state of Israel, attacked mercilessly anyone who dared stand in their way. Massacres, invasions, occupation and settlement in Palestine and surrounding countries have ensued down to the present day. 

Just as they are now enabling the massive destruction in Gaza, the western governments that implanted Israel in Palestine have never taken responsibility for the consequences of their actions. They have never punished or even restrained Israel but on the contrary have continued to fund and arm it, allowing it to run wild and live in permanent violation of international law.  It should be no wonder that we have finally reached the present immensely dangerous point.

Against this history, the media and western government claim of an ‘unprovoked attack’ on Israel is an abuse of the truth. In the immediate Gazan context, Israel has ‘mown the lawn’ on numerous occasions, killing thousands of people in Gaza and destroying the infrastructure that had been built up after the last onslaught only to destroy it again. 

It is using the present situation, while all eyes are focussed on Gaza, to destroy Beduin settlements in the Naqab (Negev) and crush even further Palestinian life on the West Bank, a drone missile fired into the Jenin refugee camp among the latest attacks by the military and settlers. Since October 7 more than 100 Palestinians, including at least 26 children have been killed.

Israel claims its occupation of Gaza ended when it withdrew its settlers in 2005 but as it completely controls the territory from air, sea and land, keeping it in a state of complete subjugation, the occupation has not ended at all. The media also claims Israel has the ‘right’ to defend itself, in other words, to ‘defend’ land taken from the Palestinians and built over with military bases and Jewish settlements, including those a short distance from the Gaza fence.  

About 80 per cent of Gazans on the other side are there because they or their forebears were driven off the land in 1948. In the view of the governments that blindly support Israel, theirs is apparently not the right to resist and demand the return of stolen property or to return to it: in their inversion of common law, the right to stolen property belongs to the thief.  

It is understandable that the politicians and the media would not want to dwell on history before October 7 because it will deliver answers that undermine the distortions they want Australians to believe. Thankfully, as the big demonstrations in Sydney and Melbourne show, many Australians are no longer falling for it. 

Muslims, Christians and Jews had lived peacefully alongside each other in the Muslim world for centuries and there is no reason they could not live alongside each other again. Their position there was safe compared to the anti-semitic hostility rampant in European countries. Until 1914, Baghdad was a vibrant centre of Jewish life and many cities all the way to the Atlantic coast were the same until the disruptive influence of Zionism, whose architects wanted Palestine for the Jews and no one else.  

This is the toxic seed that has grown into an apartheid state maintaining itself not by law, justice and morality but by brute force. The global south knows the truth; the ‘west’ hides it and is now massing ships and aircraft in the eastern Mediterranean to ‘defend’ Israel against any attempt to stop its onslaught on Gaza. 

Australia is now sending warships and a “significant number” of troops and military personnel to the Middle East. The defence minister, Richard Marles, says their purpose will be to protect Australians.  Given Australia’s support for Israel, how they might be used if the war spreads beyond Gaza, we have to wait and see. 



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