Palestinian children stand by a damaged wall of a house in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip after an overnight Israeli missile strike. AP/Lefteris Pitarakis

The refusal of Hamas in Gaza to accept the peace talks proposed Monday by the Egyptian government, briefly accepted by the Netanyahu government in Israel, is — in the minds of the Hamas leadership — a victory over their enemy. The Israeli bombardment of the Palestinians has proven a policy failure, demonstrated by the Israeli government’s resumption of bombing. The Israelis tried to give up, but failed.

Forty thousand Israeli military reservists have been alerted in recent days, meant as a threat of ground invasion of Gaza, but have yet to attack. Reports say the military command opposes new ground operations because of the damage suffered from guerrilla harassment in withdrawing from the Cast Lead operation in 2008-2009, as well as the casualties suffered in Lebanon during Israel’s 1982 invasion, and its long occupation of Hezbollah-controlled South Lebanon, eventually causing Israeli popular opinion to demand withdrawal. An Israeli officer is quoted as saying that the problem posed by a ground attack into Gaza today is not the attack and operations inside Gaza, but in getting out.

The rockets from Gaza have never ceased, but the international political costs of the bombing campaign and of the gross disproportion of military means employed, have proven to be considerable, even in the United States, where government and public are both disposed to support whatever Israel chooses to do to the Palestinians, and certainly in most, if not all, of Europe.

Resumption of Israel’s attacks means increasing numbers of dead and maimed Gaza civilians and a mounting casualty disproportion in this “war” of air attacks upon a civilian population essentially unprotected from inevitable collateral damage, whatever the precautions. By Tuesday evening the numbers of dead in Gaza had nearly reached 200, whereas the rockets fired from Gaza into Israel — which according to Israel’s official statements have amounted to a “terror” campaign — had yet to cause a single fatality.

Gaza’s people have paid a grievous price to give the Hamas leadership this victory, but they paid a far worse price in human lives and physical damage the last time Israel attacked Gaza in an effort to destroy its militants and intimidate the population. In the “Cast Lead” invasion of December 2008-January 2009, 1,398 Palestinians were killed and 13 Israeli soldiers. The daily price paid since, under the weight of Israel’s permanent sanctions and reprisals, has no real counterpart elsewhere.

This affair is a counterpart in miniature of the whole American-led western punitive incursion into the Arab world since 2001, itself inspired by the Israeli attempt to expand its legal award of a Jewish Homeland in formerly Ottoman Palestine, promised by the British Imperial authorities during the First World War and awarded in 1948 by the United Nations.

The principal Arab states went to war to block that partition, were defeated by the improvised Jewish forces that seized more Palestinian territory than had been officially awarded Israel, defeated the Arab armies, and drove much of the original Arab population into neighboring countries and refugee camps.

It seemed too good to be true. Just as the United States’ “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq in 2003, and its launch the year later of a brilliant American-dominated “New Middle East” extending from Baghdad to China’s frontiers, now is on fire or is burnt-out political ashes, Israel is discovering foyers of fire alight inside and around its claimed territory.

The 1948 victory seemed a brilliant, even divine, gift to Jewish refugees from war-wrecked Europe, who poured into the new country to create their own pioneering settlements and take over the land’s towns and cities, creating an unprecedented modern Jewish urban culture. But the unforgiving Arabs and Egypt attacked again in 1967, with brilliant early successes and then an Israeli rallying and — fatefully — Israel’s retaliatory and illegal seizure of still more of the lands and settlements of the new U.N.-defined Palestine, expelling thousands of new refugees. This was the action that created today’s war between Gaza and Israel.

When Israel’s President Benjamin Netanyahu and his propagandists repeat and repeat that Gaza’s Hamas is responsible for this crisis, they are wrong. In Gaza — as on the West Bank — Israel has been and remains in illegal military control of lands and people who, under international law and the 1948 United Nations decision awarding two defined and separate parts of Mandate Palestine to Jews and Palestinians, should be a free people in possession of their own lives and property.

That is why war goes on by embittered Palestinian militants, accompanied by willing hostages who are their own supporters, meeting brutal reprisals from their Israeli jailers. The United States and the nations of the European Union should defend the Arab victims of these events, and not the perpetrators of their oppression. That, paradoxically, is the only thing they can do that might eventually save Israel as well — from itself.

Visit William Pfaff’s website for more on his latest book, “The Irony of Manifest Destiny: The Tragedy of America’s Foreign Policy” (Walker & Co., $25), at


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