News Analysis

President Bush warmly received Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at the White House Nov. 13, less than a week after two fateful events: the midterm elections, where U.S. voters repudiated the Iraq war, and the Nov. 8 Israeli shelling of the Gaza Strip village of Beit Hanoun, where at least 18 Palestinian civilians were killed and more than 45 others wounded.

One might have expected Bush and Olmert to exhibit some restraint, if not contrition, in the face of these events. Instead, what they reportedly discussed was the possibility of a new war — this one against Iran. The events in Beit Hanoun received little, if any, attention, according to news reports.

Many of the dead in Beit Hanoun were women and children who were sleeping in their beds when the U.S.-made shells hit. They ranged in ages from 1 to 73. Eleven were members of the Al-Athamna family.

The Israeli bombing of the village, called a “massacre” by Palestinian and Israeli peace forces, provoked a world outcry, largely overshadowed by the U.S. media’s preoccupation with the Nov. 7 election results. Buried among the news stories on Nov. 11 was the coverage of the Bush administration’s veto of a UN Security Council resolution condemning the Israeli attack.

The death toll in Beit Hanoun surpassed 90 in one week. In the last six years, over 2,300 Palestinians in Gaza, including 300 in the past four months, have been killed by Israeli military action.

Mahmoud Nasser, 33, a resident of Beit Hanoun, told reporter Yousef Algelou, “We rush from one mourning tent to the other because of the operation that only ended yesterday, and already we have to deal with a new massacre. … All this between puddles of blood, lots of blood and body parts. Next to some of the bodies were the schoolbags and sandwiches of children preparing to go to school.”

A coalition of Israeli peace groups, including Gush Shalom, rejected the Israeli government’s claim that the killings were an accident. “This massacre was the inevitable result of the army’s uncontrolled rampage in the Gaza Strip, fully authorized by the government,” it said in a Nov. 8 statement.

“In supposed retaliation for the shooting of missiles which killed nobody in Israel during the entire past year, the army killed nearly a hundred Palestinians in one week,” it continued. “We call upon the government to end the carnage and enter immediate talks with the elected Palestinian government in order to achieve a complete cease-fire and prisoner release, on the way to full negotiations for peace and an end to the occupation.”

The Communist Party of Israel also condemned the attack.

The Palestinian People’s Party called the Israeli shelling of Beit Hanoun an act of “state terrorism” and the “natural result” of U.S. efforts to obliterate the national rights of the Palestinian people. It called for an end to the economic siege of the Gaza Strip and urged the acceleration of the internal dialogue among the Palestinian leadership to defend the interests of all Palestinians.

The trade union federation in the Gaza Strip called for a general strike on Nov. 10 to protest the atrocity and to organize support for the victims and their families.

Both Ismail Haniyeh, the Palestinian prime minister from Hamas, and Mamoud Abbas, the Fatah-aligned president of the Palestinian Authority, sharply denounced the Israeli attack. While unity talks between the two groups were temporarily suspended after the bombing, by week’s end they resumed.

Since Hamas was elected to the leadership of the Authority in January 2006, a U.S.- and European Union-led boycott of financial aid to the Palestinians has devastated the Gaza Strip. The financial strangulation has been compounded by the refusal of Israel to turn over about $55 million a month in tax revenue to the Authority.

As a result, Gaza’s economy has been badly crippled. Unemployment is now around 40 percent, and 79 percent of all households live in poverty.

At press time there was talk of an agreement to have Haniyeh step aside as prime minister in favor of Mohammed Shabir, an academic with ties to both Hamas and Fatah, in hopes of improving the prospects for receiving international aid. The status of the agreement remained uncertain.

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