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Israel's targets in Gaza

Ben White looks at some of the objects of Israel's military onslaught in Gaza - an attack that has a

In just the first six days of ‘Operation Cast Lead’, the Israeli Air Force carried out more than 500 sorties against targets in the Gaza Strip. That meant an attack from the air roughly every 18 minutes for almost a week - not counting hundreds of helicopter attacks, tank and navy shelling, and infantry raids. At the time of writing, the operation was into its 10th day.

That's an intense number of attacks for a territory of similar size to the city of Seattle.

No surprise then that the casualty figures are high: to date, more than 500 Palestinians dead with thousands injured. Moreover, many of the ‘targets’ struck by Israel seem to be of dubious military value. Indeed, by last Saturday, there was talk of Israel ‘running out’ of targets.

Even in the first wave of airstrikes, one of the most high profile hits was a police graduation ceremony.

Because these were so-called ‘Hamas police’ there was some debate about the legitimacy of the target.

As the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem put it, the dozens of Palestinians killed had been studying “first-aid, handling of public disturbances, human rights, public-safety exercises, and so forth”.

The graduates would then have been “assigned to various arms of the police force in Gaza responsible for maintaining public order”. B’Tselem emphasises that “an intentional attack on a civilian target is a war crime”.

Could it be that in reality Israel has had few genuinely high value targets to hit in Gaza?

So far the government ministries destroyed have included those for education, transportation, housing, as well as the parliament, while Israel has also attacked a university, money changers, civilian apartment blocks, harbours, a bird farm, and a television station.

The Israeli military also hit at mosques, killing departing worshippers, and even destroyed the American International School, killing the caretaker.

The same school had previously been the focus of anti-US violence, though this time around (with the school actually levelled) those who had previously pointed fingers at ‘fundamentalist’ Palestinian vandals have been curiously quiet.

Meanwhile - as part of its media management - Israel has largely prevented the international media from entering the Gaza Strip.

Many analysts and commentators still simply accept Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) statements as gospel, and repeat verbatim the claims that only ‘weapons caches’, ‘tunnels’, or ‘rocket launching sites’, have been targeted. Furthermore, the IDF has apparently used its own video footage of attacks to lie about civilian casualties, both this time around and in the past.

And both the high proportion of civilian targets and the comparatively weak response by Hamas make the level of menace assigned to Hamas by Israeli propaganda look, well, somewhat questionable.

Even taking the Israeli government and IDF at their word about the operation’s objectives, the targets struck thus far are of dubious strategic merit.

If the aim is to destroy Hamas, this is clearly a fantasy. For some Palestinians, the assault on the Gaza Strip will have only consolidated or increased their support for the organisation, but more importantly, you don’t weaken a socio-religious political movement with F-16s and drones (although apparently in the best colonial tradition, you may ‘teach them a lesson’, according to Shimon Peres).

In which case, Israel may well have a different kind of aim for ‘Operation Cast Lead’. The head of the UN’s relief agency in Gaza, John Ging, was reported to have accused Israel of deliberately targeting infrastructure necessary for the governance of Gaza:

"The whole infrastructure of the future state of Palestine is being destroyed," he said. "Blowing up the parliament building. That’s the parliament of Palestine. That’s not a Hamas building. The president's compound is for the president of Palestine."

A Gazan businessman wrote on the Guardian website that post-operation, “it will be extraordinarily difficult for Palestinians, particularly Gazans, to rebuild and develop their institutions of civil service”, before observing that “perhaps this is what Israel's anti-peace camp is after; an end to the persistence of Gaza's ordinary people in wanting the chance of a peaceful and dignified life”.

Mustafa Barghouti has also noted that the choice of targets in Gaza indicates Israel is “hoping to create anarchy in the Strip by removing the pillar of law and order”.

It is thus reminiscent of the general thrust of then-PM Ariel Sharon’s policies as typified in 2002’s ‘Operation Defensive Shield’ which targeted the day-to-day institutions and symbols of the Palestinian Authority.

Finally, it is worth pointing out that the popular discourse regarding Hamas and the Gaza Strip for some years in the West has helped prepare the way for Israel to strike civilian targets and claim self-defence against ‘terrorist infrastructure’.

From the refusal to accept the results of the democratic Palestinian elections to the endless repetition of Israeli propaganda about the unreciprocated ‘good will’ of the so-called ‘disengagement’ in 2005, the Gaza Strip has been signed off as a teeming ‘Hamastan’ of targets just desperate to be martyred.

An IDF spokesperson has said that: "Anything affiliated with Hamas is a legitimate target", the kind of logic that even the BBC mentioned is an echo of Hamas’ own justification for attacking Israeli civilians on the basis they serve in the army.

In the context of the Gaza Strip - where Hamas as the governing authority is naturally involved with everything from food distribution to medical clinics, and from higher education institutes to parking fines - it now seems every Palestinian is in the crosshairs.

Ben White is an activist and writer. His latest book is "Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination and Democracy"

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Why are right wing parties thriving across Europe?

The resilience of the right in Europe and the Anglosphere.

On 15 September 2008, Wall Street’s oldest investment bank filed for bankruptcy, sending shock waves through the world’s financial markets. Leh­man Brothers was not “too big to fail” ­after all. Its collapse heralded the main, most perilous phase of the global financial crisis – and it seemed to have exposed the limits of right-wing orthodoxy and unbridled free-market capitalism. Indeed, Ed Miliband was spurred to run for the Labour leadership by a belief that politics had shifted to the left after the crash.

Yet, seven years on from Lehman’s implosion, right-wing parties are thriving. In the UK the Conservative Party won a majority in May for the first time in 23 years. Across 39 countries in Europe that we analysed parties of the right are in government in 26 of them. Add in the Anglosphere – Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States – and right-wing parties control the legislature in 30 of the 43 countries. This is four more than before the crash.

Why is this? One big factor is that the centre left has not been able to answer the question of what it exists for when there is no money left. As management of the economy has become a much more important issue, right-wing parties have benefited because they “are often labelled better economic managers”, says Andrew Little, leader of the New Zealand Labour Party. Thomas Hofer, an Austrian political consultant, says: “In times of crises, conservatives might be trusted more, as they are seen to keep an eye on a balanced budget. When there’s growth, social democrats are – or were – trusted to spread the wealth.”

Relentlessly, and often misleadingly, parties of the right, including the Tories, have drummed home this message of superior economic competency. “The PR of the centre right is unbeatable,” says André Krouwel, a lecturer in political science at VU University Amsterdam, even though “empirical evidence shows that left-wing governments or coalitions actually perform better and cause much less deep crises”.

The crash has also damaged the left by making voters more insular and defensive, especially towards immigration. Parties of the centre right, meanwhile, “have always been more associated with a rather tougher line on immigration” and so “are likely to do better at elections where it’s up in the mix”, says the Conservative Party historian Tim Bale. The populist right has been the biggest beneficiary of this shift, attracting working-class people who once voted for left-wing parties but now fear immigration is threatening their livelihoods. The Ukip leader, Nigel Farage, told the NS last year: “Everybody thought that people’s tribal allegiance to Labour was as strong, if not stronger, than the tribal allegiance to the Conservative Party. What we’re actually finding is, they don’t even recognise the tribe.”

Ukip has been stymied by the British voting system, but parties of the radical right elsewhere in Europe often benefit from proportional representation. Ultimately this helps the mainstream right, too: as voters shift from parties of the left to the radical right, “It makes right-wing majorities and coalition formation easier,” Krouwel says.

In some countries leaders of populist-right parties have portrayed themselves as the protectors of a welfare state under attack from liberal immigration policies. The Danish People’s Party, for instance, has branded itself as “representing classical social-democratic values combined with a tough line on immigration”, says Klaus Petersen, a professor at the University of Southern Denmark. He believes that the failure of centre-left parties to acknowledge and help those people negatively affected by the forces of globalisation and immigration has been a big mistake. The consequences are clear in the Nordic countries, historically the fiefdom of social democracy. Right-wing parties today control Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Norway, leaving only Sweden in the hands of the centre left.

Only southern Europe provides much solace for the left. Syriza holds power in Greece but it is only in Italy, largely as a result of Silvio Berlusconi’s self-destruction, that the left displays any great sense of vibrancy (see above). In the west, the Parti Socialiste holds power in France, though François Hollande’s time in office has been tumultuous.

The left is also battling against trends that pre-date 2008. The growth of “individualisation” since the 1970s is the most important structural factor in the success of the right, Krouwel says. “The idea of free and individual choice undermined the traditional drivers of left-wing thought: solidarity and state interventionism.” Right-wing parties have also been helped by the collapse of manufacturing, the decline in trade union membership and the rise in self-employment.

The best could be yet to come for the right. Across Europe and the Anglosphere populations are ageing. “[This] benefits the right, because voters shift right as they get older,” says Eric Kaufmann, professor of politics at Birkbeck College in London. The “old vote” counts even more because so few young people vote: across Europe last year, only 28 per cent of those aged 18-24 voted in the European parliamentary elections, compared to 51 per cent of those 55 and over. In addition, there is an apparent rightward shift in young people’s attitudes. In the UK research shows that the “millennial generation” has moved to the right of its parents in its attitudes to the economy and the state and its confidence in the welfare state.

So much, then, for the idea of the economic crash heralding another dawn of ­social democracy. Instead, it ushered in an age of the right.

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.

This article first appeared in the 01 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory tide