The essential Medialens on how our corporate (and public broadcasting) media selects who deserves Western largesse and those “terrorists” who can just “suck on this” (the classic comment of New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman in 2003 when explaining how the Iraqis should see the invading American troops):
On March 30, 2011 – eleven days into Nato’s war on Libya – Professor Juan Cole wrote from his armchair at the University of Michigan:
‘The Libya intervention is legal [sic] and was necessary to prevent further massacres… and if it succeeds in getting rid of Qaddafi’s murderous regime and allowing Libyans to have a normal life, it will be worth the sacrifices in life and treasure. If NATO needs me, I’m there.’
Cole thus declared himself ready to suit up and reach for the sky with Nato’s bombers. It was an extraordinary moment.
The rationale, of course, was the alleged risk of a massacre in Benghazi by Gaddafi’s forces. Cole told Democracy Now!:
‘They mounted tanks, 30, 40, 50 tanks, sent them into the downtowns of places like Zawiyah, and they just shelled civilian crowds, protesters… And then they started rolling the tanks to the east, and they were on the verge of taking the rebel stronghold, Benghazi. And there certainly would have been a massacre there in the same way that there was in Zawiyah, if it hadn’t been stopped at the last moment by United Nations allies.’
This was mostly a product of the fevered atmosphere generated every time state-corporate propaganda targets a ‘New Hitler’ for destruction (Gaddafi, Milosevic, Saddam Hussein, Assad, et al). Two or three weeks of sustained moral outrage from Washington, London and Paris, echoed across the media, are more than sufficient to generate the required hysteria. Almost anything can then be claimed, with even rational questioning denounced as ‘apologetics for tyranny’. In The Politics of Genocide, Edward Herman and David Peterson wrote:
‘The vulgar politicisation of the concept of genocide, and the “emerging international norm” of humanitarian intervention, appear to be products of the fading of the Cold War, which removed the standard pretexts for intervention while leaving intact the institutional and ideological framework for its regular practice during those years.’ (Herman and Peterson, The Politics of Genocide, Monthly Review Press, 2010, pp.10-11)
With mainstream political parties no longer exercising restraint on the war wagon, the need to ‘do something’ can be turned on and off like a tap.
By way of a rare exception, Seumas Milne noted in the Guardian of Gaddafi that ‘there is in fact no evidence – including from other rebel-held towns Gaddafi re-captured – to suggest he had either the capability or even the intention to carry out such an atrocity against an armed city of 700,000’.
But most of the press was untroubled by a lack of evidence – the West was simply right to act. A leader in The Times commented on October 21, 2011:
‘Without this early, though sensibly limited, intervention, there would have been a massacre in Benghazi on the scale of Srebrenica.’ (Leading article, ‘Death of a Dictator,’ The Times)
An Independent editorial agreed:
‘Concern was real enough that a Srebrenica-style massacre could unfold in Benghazi, and the UK Government was right to insist that we would not allow this.’ (Leading article, ‘The mission that crept,’ Independent, July 29, 2011)
With the above in mind, consider that, on November 16, on the third day of Israel’s latest assault on Gaza, with at least 18 Palestinians already killed, the BBC reported:
‘Israel’s aerial bombardment of Gaza has intensified after it authorised the call-up of 30,000 army reservists, amid reports of a possible ground offensive.’
Israel’s cabinet quickly approved the activation of 75,000 reservists, as well as hundreds of Merkava main battle tanks, armoured bulldozers and other assault vehicles, which were transported into position for attack.
Was a massacre looming? The Israeli deputy prime minister Eli Yishai appeared topromise as much on November 18:
‘We must blow Gaza back to the Middle Ages destroying all the infrastructure including roads and water.’
A prominent front-page article in the Jerusalem Post by Gilad Sharon, son of the former Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, openly advocated mass killing:
‘We need to flatten entire neighborhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza. The Americans didn’t stop with Hiroshima – the Japanese weren’t surrendering fast enough, so they hit Nagasaki, too.
‘There should be no electricity in Gaza, no gasoline or moving vehicles, nothing. Then they’d really call for a ceasefire.’
Was the call to ‘Flatten all of Gaza’ beyond the pale of respectable discourse? Apparently not for the BBC, which quoted a less frenzied comment by Sharon three days later.
Recall the human cost of Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s three-week offensive waged between December 2008 and January 2009. The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem reported:
‘The magnitude of the harm to the population was unprecedented: 1,385 Palestinians were killed, 762 of whom did not take part in the hostilities. Of these, 318 were minors under age 18. More than 5,300 Palestinians were wounded, of them over 350 seriously so.’
There is no question, then, that a ‘Benghazi moment’ had arrived for Gaza around November 16 or shortly thereafter. A Cast Lead-style massacre of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of civilians was a very real possibility. If Hamas rockets had killed more civilians, for example in Tel Aviv, it might well have happened.
Whereas Benghazi was being torn apart by a Western-fuelled insurgency, Gaza is under decades of military occupation and years of siege, greatly strengthening the moral case for external intervention. Escape from a ground assault would have been completely impossible for Gaza’s 1.6 million people, about half of them children. And whereas Benghazi was up against Gaddafi’s tin pot army, Gaza was targeted by the most advanced weaponry US taxpayers’ money can buy. Gaza, certainly, was facing a cataclysm beyond anything Gaddafi could have inflicted on his own people.
By any reasonable accounting, then, the case for a no-fly zone, indeed a no-drive zone – some kind of humanitarian intervention – was far more compelling for Gaza than it had ever been for Libya. And yet our search of the Lexis media database found no mention in any UK newspaper of even the possibility of setting up a no-fly zone over Gaza. There was no reference to Gaza’s ‘Benghazi moment’.