Journalist Kate Johnston shares her experiences from Israel during Operation Protective Edge, discussing the role that the debate, natural gas politics and Israel’s defence system played in this latest Gaza tragedy.
This article was first published in Independent Australia.
It wasn’t until two weeks into Operation Protective Edge that I started to work out what was really going on here. I had looked into the Terrorism Vs. Genocide dichotomy, discerning the value of each, yet it had failed to satisfy all the questions in my mind despite representing how the majority the world viewed this war.
As is turned out, the reason behind this latest round in Gaza was much more predictable; natural gas off Gaza’s coast and a lot of it. Yet remarkably, very few Israelis had any idea of its existence.
But what truly shocked me, were the Orwellian style revelations by Israeli whistle blower Dr. Moti Shefer who claimed that the only thing that Israel’s Iron Dome defence system is intercepting is Israeli public opinion.
“The mass media doesn’t control what you think, it controls what you think about.”
“We have to go in every couple years and clean up,” said Sakhi matter-of-factly, a thirty something Israeli man hailing from the north.
Israel had invaded Gaza only days before and already the majority of Israelis were behind it.
I nodded, encouraging Sakhi to continue.
“If we don’t go in, Hamas will get stronger”.
I could see how an Israeli would perceive this latest invasion as just. To Israelis, Hamas meant terror and terror meant the death of more Jews.
I later learnt that this line of thinking was common in Israel and even had a Hebrew expression to describe it; lechasech et hadeshah. ‘Mowing the lawn’; a disturbing idiom referring to the periodic atrocities committed in Gaza.
As Operation Protective Edge ploughed on, I found myself immersed in patriotic Zionism, a force that springs to life when Israel is at war. With one foot in Palestine and the other in Israel I continued my search for the truth, but all I found were mantras.
“Israel has the right to defend itself against terrorism!”
“Hamas brainwashes children and uses human shields!”
“It’s a massacre!”
I heard the same dualistic rhetoric everywhere, but it all seemed so contrived. Surely there was something else going on here.
Gaza’s natural gas reserves
“Let me tell you something that we Israelis have against Moses. He took us 40 years through the desert in order to bring us to the one spot in the Middle East that has no oil.”
– Golda Meir (Israeli Prime Minister 1969-1974).
In an ironic twist of power relations, 1.4 trillion cubic meters of natural gas was discovered of Gaza’s coastline in 2000. The gas reserves are estimated to be worth $4 billion. In 2007, a year before Operation Cast Lead, former IDF Chief of Staff and Minister of Defense Moshe Ya’alon said,
“Proceeds of a Palestinian gas sale to Israel would likely not trickle down to help an impoverished Palestinian public. Rather, based on Israel’s past experience, the proceeds will likely serve to fund further terror attacks against Israel…”
“A gas transaction with the Palestinian Authority [PA] will, by definition, involve Hamas. Hamas will either benefit from the royalties or it will sabotage the project and launch attacks against Fatah, the gas installations, Israel – or all three… It is clear that without an overall military operation to uproot Hamas control of Gaza, no drilling work can take place without the consent of the radical Islamic movement.”
Israel’s Iron Dome defense system
“Social control is best managed through fear.”
– Michael Crichton
It was day four of Israel’s aerial attack on Gaza when I felt compelled to head to the south. South of Israel had always bore the brunt of Hamas’ militant activities with barrages of rockets now raining down daily. Unlike Gaza, most of Israel was fitted with bomb shelters and sirens, making living in the south an uncomfortable yet relatively safe affair.
I headed to Ashkelon, some 15 minutes drive from Gaza. As I waited for a bus to Gaza’s border at the central bus station a siren rang out all around me. I had 30 seconds to take cover before impact. Everyone started running. I followed the crowds before hearing a loud explosion over head and the sound of debris raining down around me. An Israeli explained to me that the explosion I heard was the Iron Dome; an Israeli missile fired to intercept and destroy the incoming Hamas rocket.
I ran outside to look up in the sky, scanning the area for evidence. I returned to the other side, and discovered a small part of the explosion having landed only meters away from where I was sitting. It was curious looking; a small, black and gold cone shaped object laying in the middle of the road.
I continued my search around the central bus station, scanning the perimeter for more evidence before coming across a crowd and an Israeli channel 2 television news crew. In their hands they held some more of the debris. Again, a black and gold cone shaped piece with a plastic part that had English writing on the inside.
Only days had passed from my trip to the south before a friend tipped me off about the Israeli whistle blower, Dr. Moti Shefer. Dr. Moti Shefer is an aerospace engineer and Israel defense prize winner. He said in an interview on Radio 103,
“There is no missile in the world today able to intercept missiles or rockets. Iron Dome is a sound and light show that is intercepting only Israeli public opinion, and itself, of course. Actually, all the explosions you see in the sky are self explosions. No Iron Dome missile has ever collided with a single rocket…”
“The rockets announced as intercepted by Iron Dome either never reach the ground, or are virtual rockets invented and destroyed on the Iron Dome control computer. To this day, no one has ever seen an intercepted rocket fall to the ground.”
“What lands here is what’s launched. The parts we see on the ground are from Iron Dome itself. We’re shooting at ourselves, mainly virtually. The virtual rocket was invented in order to increase the vagueness surrounding Iron Dome. Assume that a real rocket arrives. What does the command and control system do? It creates nine more virtual rockets, and transmits their paths on computer graphics to the rocket launcher operators. The launcher operators see 10 rockets and launch 10 Iron Dome interceptors. People hear 10 booms, one rocket enters, and you get a 90% success rate.”
I let the words wash over me, but was unable to believe them. I had experienced it for myself. The siren, the explosion, the subsequent fear. It took me a few days to accept this new information as a possibility before investigating the claim for myself. From then on, every time a siren sounded, instead of running for cover, I ran for an open area whereby I could watch the spectacle for myself. I never once saw a Hamas rocket. Only the Iron Dome.
As it turned out, quite a few Israelis knew of Shefer’s claims as the story had broke online in Hebrew media. Although the majority of Israelis dismissed it as false, citing a rejection of his ideas as the motivating factor, there were some convinced of the claim’s authenticity.
It has not been my intention to outline a comprehensive account of why Operation Protective Edge began, or to pit blame on either side. Because the truth is both Hamas and Netanyahu’s government are guilty of crimes against humanity. Instead it has been my hope to illuminate those aspects of the conflict seldom discussed in the public domain. We must always remember that war is rarely started for the reasons they tell us. Recent history has taught us this time and time again. In the age of information we have no more excuses. The lies and propaganda have got to stop.
Kate Johnston is a journalist, writer and peace activist who spends her time between Australia and Israel-Palestine. She is currently writing her first feature-film