All 100 Senators, including Vermont’s Bernie Sanders and Patrick Leahy, joined in passing a Senate resolution on July 17, 2014 supporting “the State of Israel as it defends itself against unprovoked rocket attacks from the Hamas terrorist organization.”
However, the facts differ.
A report issued by the authoritative “Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center” (ITIC) unintentionally debunked the Senate resolution more than a week before its unanimous consent vote in the Senate. The ITIC is a private Israeli think tank that “has close ties with the country’s military leadership,” according to The Washington Post. The weekly ITIC reports regarding rocket fire are frequently quoted on the Israeli government’s own web site.
Israeli forces assault West Bank and Gaza. Then Hamas fires rockets
The ITIC July 8, 2014 weekly report, “News of Terrorism and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (July 2 – 8, 2014),” states:
For the first time since Operation Pillar of Defense [November 2012], Hamas participated in and claimed responsibility for rocket fire [on July 7, 2014].
During the three weeks before Hamas launched those rockets, Israeli forces cracked down on Hamas members in the West Bank and Gaza. “Operation Brothers’ Keeper” was supposedly to find and rescue the three teenage settlers kidnapped on June 12.
According to weekly reports issued by the Palestine Center for Human Rights (PCHR), Israeli soldiers and settlers killed 11 Palestinians and wounded 51 during 369 incursions into the West Bank between June 12 and July 2. Israeli forces raided hundreds of houses on the West Bank each week. Israeli forces also attacked 60 targets in Gaza and engaged in one ground incursion there, wounding 27 people in Gaza during those three weeks.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported on July 3:
Israel’s military operations in the West Bank following the abduction and killing of three Israeli teenagers have amounted to collective punishment. The military operations included unlawful use of force, arbitrary arrests, and illegal home demolitions.
The Israeli forces thus emphatically ended their side of the 19 month cease-fire in June, well before a single rocket was fired by Hamas.
“Operation Pillar of Defense” was the Israeli government’s 8 day aerial assault on Gaza in November 2012 that ended with an Egypt brokered cease-fire on November 20, 2012. Not only do ITIC weekly reports show that Hamas was not involved in any rocket fire at last until June 30, 2014, an article in the Jerusalem Post, “IDF source: Hamas working to stop Gaza rockets,” reported that Hamas was policing other groups in Gaza to prevent rocket fire. Thus, to the extent Israeli forces had observed the 2012 cease-fire agreement, Israeli government officials had scored major success at bringing Hamas rocket fire to zero and recruiting Hamas to police other groups.
Not only that. The facts show that Israeli forces had to work quite hard to get Hamas to end its side of this cease-fire agreement. Even the Israeli forces and settlers going wild on the West Bank from June 12 until June 30 was not enough to shake Hamas into launching a single rocket.
While all the attacks by Israeli forces in the West Bank and Gaza provoked rocket fire from other “terrorist” groups during June-which the ITIC reports had been almost zero during the previous month–the attacks at least up to June 30 did not provoke Hamas itself to fire rockets. To predictably accomplish that feat, Israeli forces had to go further. And they did.
Israeli forces finally provoke Hamas by killing Hamas members
The July 8 ITIC report divulged why Hamas launched and claimed its first rocket fire at Israel in more than 19 months on July 7: On that night Israeli forces had bombed and killed 6 Hamas members in Gaza. The ITIC report includes a picture of the six Hamas members.
The July 10 PCHR weekly report gives further details of the events that immediately preceded the July 7 Hamas rocket launchings. PCHR reports:
Between 01:00 and 16:00, the bodies of 5 members of the ‘Izziddin al-Qassam Brigades (the armed wing of Hamas) were recovered from a tunnel dug near Gaza International Airport in the southeast of the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah. They were identified as: Ibrahim Dawod al-Bal’awi, 24; ‘Abdul Rahman Kamal al-Zamli, 22; Jum’a ‘Atiya Shallouf, 26; and Khaled ‘Abdul Hadi Abu Mur, 21, and his twin brother, Mustafa. Another three members were recovered alive, but one was in a serious condition. It should be noted that the tunnel was repeatedly bombarded by Israeli warplanes and tanks. According to medical sources, the deceased inhaled toxic gases. The ‘Izziddin al-Qassam Brigades declared in an online statement that 5 of its members were killed as a result of airstrikes that targeted places of resistance activities.
On that night the Israeli Air Force also attacked approximately 50 more “terrorist targets” in the Gaza Strip, as described in the ITIC report.
Thus, reports from authoritative Israeli sources described the multiple provocations that the Senate resolution denied existed. Hamas launched and claimed rocket fire only after Israeli forces had engaged in nearly a month of intensive military operations in violation of the cease-fire agreement and only after Israeli forces had killed 6 Hamas members in Gaza.
Or did Hamas actually fire rockets on June 30?
However, uncertainty about exactly when Hamas rocket fire began is indicated in the July 1 ITIC weekly report:
During the operation the terrorist organizations operating in the Gaza Strip escalated their rocket fire into the western Negev (52 rocket hits have been identified since the beginning of the operation, not including the mortar shells and rockets that fell by mistake inside the Gaza Strip). The IDF responded with the targeted killing of terrorist operatives and by attacking more than 60 terrorist targets in the Gaza Strip. Most of the rockets were fired by rogue terrorist organizations, although in one instance (June 30, 2014), Hamas operatives were apparently involved.
This July 1 ITIC report also states:
On June 30, 2014, 12 rocket hits were identified. Some of them may have been fired by operatives of Hamas’ military-terrorist wing. If Hamas was in fact responsible for rocket fire, it was the first time since Operation Pillar of Defense (November 2012). (emphasis in original)
A June 30 article in The Times of Israel, “Hamas fires rockets for first time since 2012, Israeli officials say,” explains why Hamas “probably launched” the rockets on June 30:
At least 16 rockets were fired at Israel Monday morning [June 30], most of them hitting open areas in the Eshkol region, the army said.
The security sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, assessed that Hamas had probably launched the barrage in revenge for an Israeli airstrike several hours earlier which killed one person and injured three more.
A member of Hamas’s militant wing was killed in the attack, Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra said.
While Israel has maintained it holds Hamas responsible for all rocket attacks, officials have said that smaller groups, such as Islamic Jihad, are usually behind the rocket attacks, while Hamas squads generally attempt to thwart the rocket fire.
Hamas hasn’t fired rockets into Israel since Operation Pillar of Defense ended in November 2012, and has yet to take responsibility for this latest barrage.
Regardless of whether it was June 30, after Israeli forces killed the Hamas member, or July 7, after Israeli forces killed six more Hamas members, the Senate resolution got it wrong. Israeli military operations that began soon after the three Israeli settler teens were kidnapped on June 12 ended what until then was an effective 19 month cease-fire. There is no controversy that Israeli forces then finally provoked Hamas to end its side of the cease-fire either when they directly targeted and killed a Hamas member in Gaza on June 30 or when they directly targeted and killed six more Hamas members and attacked 50 other targets in Gaza on July 7.
Israeli operations do not stop rocket fire; just the opposite
Israeli political and military leaders claim that their operations have been designed to stop rocket fire. For example, the Israeli Defense Force web site states:
On July 7, 2014, the IDF launched Operation Protective Edge in order to restore quiet to the region and stop Hamas terrorism. The single goal of the operation is to stop Hamas’ incessant rocket attacks against Israel’s civilians.
However, the facts show that the Israeli escalations not only never stop rocket fire, they actually dial up rocket fire. The biggest increase in rocket fire followed the July 7 launching of Operation Protective Edge.
Here are the facts:
∙ During the 40 days from May 1 to June 10, before Israeli forces launched Operation Brothers’ Keeper, a weekly ITIC report shows that Israel was hit by a total of 3 rockets, an average of 0.07 rockets per day.
∙ During the 18 days of Operation Brothers’ Keeper, the ITIC reports that 52 rockets struck Israel, an average of 2.9 rockets per day.
∙ However, in response to the Israeli onslaught on July 7 when Israeli forces killed the 6 Hamas members, rocket fire dramatically escalated: the ITIC reports that Israel was hit with 120 rockets on that single day.
∙ On July 25 the Israeli government reported, “since the start of Operation Protective Edge [on July 7], at least 2,400 rockets have been launched at Israel.” During those 18 days of the operation, that was an average of 138 rockets per day.
For comparison, during the 23 days of Operation Cast Lead, which lasted from December 27, 2008 until a cease-fire on January 18, 2009, the ITIC reports that 925 rockets hit Israel, and the average was 40.2 rocket hits per day. To get that operation going, Israeli forces had violated an effective cease-fire on November 4, 2008, entering Gaza and extra-judicially executing six members of Hamas, as reported in the New York Times. In the months before that violation, the cease-fire had brought rocket fire down to near zero, as reported by the ITIC.
Also, for comparison, the leap in rocket fire provoked by the November 2012 Israeli assault, Operation Pillar of Defense, was greater than occurred during Operation Cast Lead. During 2012 from January 1 until November 14, the date Operation Pillar of Defense began, the ITIC reports that Israel experienced 787 rocket hits-an average of 2.5 rocket hits per day. During the 8 days of Operation Pillar of Defense, 845 rockets hit Israel–an average of 105 rocket hits per day. Thus Israel was hit by 42 times as many rockets per day during Operation Pillar of Defense as were hitting Israel before its bombing of Gaza began. More than twice as many per day as even during Operation Cast Lead.
The cease fire that brought Operation Pillar of Defense to an end on November 20, 2012 was quite effective, bringing the average down to 0.09 rockets per day during the 13 months through the end of 2013, as derived from the numbers in a graph in the ITIC report .
Israeli officials have their hands on the rocket dial
These facts show that Israeli officials have control over the rocket fire dial: what works effectively to stop Hamas rocket fire is for Israeli forces to observe the cease-fire agreements the Israeli government signs. Conversely, Israeli government officials can provoke rocket fire by violating those cease fire agreements and launching lethal military operations on the West Bank and Gaza. What has been most effective to very dramatically dial up rocket fire is for Israeli forces to launch a massive military operation, as show in December 2008, in November 2012, and in July 2014.
Senate resolution flawed
The Senate resolution names Hamas in nearly every one of its deeply flawed paragraphs. Yet it fails to mention any of the facts about Israel’s military operations in the West Bank and Gaza that preceded Hamas launching any rockets. Nor does it mention the Israeli government’s misleading incitement campaign following the kidnapping of three Israeli settler teens.
Israeli officials deceived the Israeli public
As Jewish Daily Forward Editor J. J. Goldberg wrote in an editorial in the Forward on July 10, “ How Politics and Lies Triggered an Unintended War in Gaza:”
Only on July 1, after the boys’ bodies were found, did the truth come out: The government had known almost from the beginning that the boys were dead. It maintained the fiction that it hoped to find them alive as a pretext to dismantle Hamas’ West Bank operations.
The truth came out when part of the recording of the emergency call from one of the teens was widely circulated on WhatsApp and social media on June 30. The Israeli government then lifted a gag order on part of the recording. A July 1, 2014 report, “ Recording of teen’s emergency call released,” in The Times of Israel, includes a partial transcript and The Jerusalem Post posted part of the recording in which one can hear the gunshots. Putting that together with the blood stains and bullet shells found in the burned out car Israeli authorities must have known that the three teens were dead. Israeli officials suppressed that information and organized a campaign to rescue the three boys “to bring the three Israeli teenagers home safely and as soon as possible” as described by IDF Spokesman Brig. Gen. Moti Almoz.
The frenzy whipped up by Israeli political and military leaders based on the fiction that Israeli forces were seeking to rescue the three teens led to what Netanyahu himself decried on July 4 as “murder, riots, incitement, vigilantism,” including the kidnapping and gruesome murder of 16-year-old Palestinian Mohammad Abu Khdeir on July 2. Police injured 170 Palestinian demonstrators in East Jerusalem protesting after an autopsy revealed that Abu Khdeir was burned alive. After describing the Israeli operations that caused Hamas to pay a “heavy price” on the West Bank, Netanyahu acknowledged in his speech on July 4, that “in Gaza we hit dozens of Hamas activists and destroyed outposts and facilities that served Hamas terrorists.” Thus Netanyahu himself acknowledged the provocation denied by the US Senate resolution.
Imagine in reverse
Let’s turn this around for a moment: Had some country used some pretext to whip up a racist frenzy, attack Israel, and subject the Israeli public to a massive military crackdown including 369 military incursions into Israel and a total of 110 bombing attacks on Israel during which 11 Israelis had been killed, 78 wounded, and 700 arrested, and then had six Israeli soldiers been killed in a single air and ground military operation, would the US Senate have omitted mention of all such facts and voted by unanimous consent that responding Israeli forces were “unprovoked?” Would the US Senate have twisted the facts to vote that the country attacking Israel was defending itself and that Israeli forces were the ones engaging in “belligerent actions?”
Why did the Senate get this so wrong? Why did Bernie Sanders and Patrick Leahy allow their names to be used for pro-war propaganda so at variance with the facts?
This is a substantially updated version of an article that appeared on Counterpunch on July 24, 2014.
James Marc Leas is a Vermont attorney and is a past co-chair of the National Lawyers Guild Free Palestine Subcommittee. He collected evidence in the Gaza Strip from November 27 to December 3, 2012 as part of a 20 member delegation from the US and Europe and co-authored several articles describing findings. He also participated in the National Lawyers Guild delegation to Gaza after Operation Cast Lead in February 2009 and contributed to its report, Onslaught: Israel’s Attack on Gaza and the Rule of Law.