Heading Operation Pillar of Cloud
Rabbi Bruce Warshal*

This past month we witnessed a near war with Hamas when Israel initiated Operation Pillar of Defense, its anticipated invasion into Gaza. In Hebrew it was called Pillar of Cloud in reference to the biblical story when God led the Jews through the desert using a pillar of cloud. No doubt this reference was for the benefit of the religious parties in the coalition who assumed that the Israeli military was doing God’s work. For ignorant American Jews it was mistranslated into Pillar of Defense to stress the defense against Hamas rockets and probably to hide the theological implications.

It is true that the amount of rockets coming from Gaza has increased over the three years since Operation Cast Lead in late 2008 and early 2009 (which killed 1400 Palestinians, mostly civilians) from 200 per year to 700. Israelis as well as the American media and the Obama administration constantly stress Israel’s right to defend itself against these rockets, which, of course, it has. But no one dares to see this conflict from the Palestinian point of view. No one asks the question whether these attacks are caused by the Israeli siege, or blockade if you will, of Gaza.

A little history can help. Ariel Sharon never really pulled Israel out of Gaza. From the beginning, the residents in Gaza were trapped in an open air jail. They could not use their perfectly good port because it was blockaded by Israel. Their airport could be made operational in a few months, but Israel will not allow them to use it. Their access into and out of the Strip is controlled by Israel (and for many years by Mubarak’s Egypt in cooperation with Israel). Yet the American conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote with a straight face, “What occupation? Seven years ago, in front of the world, Israel pulled out of Gaza.”

After fair elections in 2006 Hamas assumed control. Unhappy with the outcome Israel and the United States planned a coup that would have unseated Hamas. In response to this Hamas preempted them and evicted Fatah from the Strip. In turn, Israel decided to turn the screws of occupation even tighter. Dov Weisglass, an advisor to then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, said, “The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.”

Gisha, an Israeli human rights organization, obtained a court order that forced the Israeli government to release its records detailing the plans for the “diet.” Jonathon Cook, an English columnist based in Nazareth, summarized these plans: “Health officials provided calculations of the minimum number of calories needed by Gaza’s 1.5 million inhabitants to avoid malnutrition. Those figures were then translated into truckloads of food Israel was supposed to allow in each day…An average of only 67 trucks – much less than half of the minimum requirement – entered Gaza daily. This compared to more than 400 trucks before the blockade began.”

Juan Cole, a Middle East scholar at the University of Michigan, observed the fruit of this “diet.” He wrote: “About 10 percent of Palestinian children in Gaza under the age of 5 have had their growth stunted by malnutrition…In addition, anemia is widespread, affecting over two-thirds of infants, 58.6 percent of schoolchildren, and over a third of pregnant women.”

It pays to read sources other than the Jewish press. Al-Hewar, The Center for Arab Culture and Dialogue, recently published a picture of an elderly grey-bearded Gaza resident holding a scrawled sign that read: “YOU take my water, burn my olive trees, destroy my house, take my job, steal my land, imprison my father, kill my mother, bomb my country, starve us all, humiliate us all, BUT I am to blame: I shot a rocket back.”

Al-Hewar then commented: “To the American Media: It’s the Occupation, Stupid. It is not a war between two countries. It is not a war against terrorism like the US is fighting. It is decades of struggle of an occupied people to be free from the grinding, inhuman oppression of their occupiers and to have their own independent state.”

Yes, sending rockets into Israel is an unacceptable terrorist act. Holding 1.5 million Gaza residents under an inhuman siege is also an act of terrorism that no one seems to talk about. And killing over 100 Palestinians in the recently aborted Operation Pillar of Cloud (May Hashem continue to guide us) is also an act that many sane and impartial observers would classify as an act of terrorism.

True, something over 100 dead is better than 1,400 dead as in Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09. But tell that to Jamal Dalu, a Gaza shop owner, “when an Israeli blast wiped out nearly his entire family: His sister, wife, two daughters, daughter-in-law and four grandchildren ages 2 to 6 all perished under the rubble, along with two neighbors, an 18-year-old and his grandmother,” as reported by the New York Times. Tell that to the BBC journalist in Gaza who lost his 11-month-old baby and who wailed, “What did my son do to die like this?”

Yes, Hamas does not recognize the legitimacy of Israel. Neither did the PLO, but Israel spoke with them and they are now a moderate bargaining partner. Speaking to your friends is of little value. Speaking to your enemies can produce peace. Israel bargained with Hamas to obtain the release of one solitary Israeli soldier. Then why will they not bargain with them to obtain peace? Unless they really do not want a peace agreement.

A peace agreement would create two independent states and would preclude further settlement of the West Bank and the possibility of a Greater Israel. Instead, the metaphor that the Israeli government uses is “cutting the grass,” meaning that a military operation will be required every so many years to keep the Palestinians subservient. Meanwhile West Bank Jewish settlers will continue to gobble up land that will forever preclude an independent Palestinian state.

Cutting the Grass is relatively easy to do if you have the second or third most powerful military in the world. Maybe in a couple of years, when the grass has to be cut again, it will be called Operation God’s Will. I’m sure that it will be translated for us American Jewish cheerleaders as Operation Defense of Poor Little Israel.”

It’s the Occupation, Stupid, not the rockets.

*Rabbi Bruce Warshal is publisher emeritus of the Jewish Journal of South Florida.
He can be contacted at
brucewarshal@comcast.net