The lasting legacy of Operation ‘Cast Lead’

On the 27th December 2008 Israel started a devastating bombing campaign on the Gaza strip. By the 18th January 2009, when both sides agreed a cease fire, 1,400 Palestinians had died – of which 300 were children. Thousands were left homeless and the economy was left in shatters. During this time, International Humanitarian Law as well as basic human rights standards were routinely broken. Repeatedly both sides failed to distinguish between legitimate military targets and civilians. White phosphorus was repeatedly fired indiscriminately over densely populated residential areas. I could go on listing the grave and worrying events that occurred through this period. Others though have written from a far more knowledgeable standpoint.

Israel prides itself on being an open and democratic society. It repeatedly scores well in freedom house’s index measuring the democratic apparatus of a state. It performs well and above all of its neighbours in this regard. Yet, if there is one lasting legacy of Operation Cast Lead it is how Israel, when challenged, failed to uphold basic freedoms within its own borders.

Protests were unlawfully dispersed accused of having a ‘political nature’. Arab citizens of Israel wishing to protest were routinely prevented from doing so, often through an excessive use of force. There was even a case of an Israeli citizen who was arrested for waving an Israeli flag (see Page 6 of this report) in support of operation cast lead because they were ‘too close’ to the anti-war demonstrators. Prosecutors argued his action constituted a ‘provocation’. The three week period of Operation Cast Lead was marked by Israel orchestrating an incredible crackdown on its own citizens.

The state of Israel went to extraordinary lengths to avoid negative press coverage of the atrocities being committed in their name. Nearly all negative international media coverage failed to reach the citizens of Israel. International journalists were banned from entering the Gaza strip. These restrictive actions resulted in a sudden drop in Israel’s press freedom rating. All these examples that occurred during the three week operation testified to how willing Israel was to violate basic standards of freedom of expression and speech with little justification. It highlighted that when pushed, the state was willing to act against the freedoms of its own people.

These restrictions though did not stop with the cease fire – Operation Cast Lead has had a worrying legacy for freedoms within Israel. One report described the state’s reaction after the conflict in the following way: “Instead of taking an honest look at its reflection, Israeli society and its institutions chose to smash the mirror instead”. Those who dared to speak out were silenced and often vilified.

Dr Neve Gordon, chair of the Department of Politics and Government a tBen-Gurion University of the Negev published an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times calling for a boycott of Israeli goods. As a result, the Consul General approached the university demanding a condemnation of the piece. The university obliged in this request. This may not sound severe, but think about it. In a democracy, a representative of the state cannot, and should not approach someone’s employer asking for them to criticise a employee. This is a basic violation of academic freedom but also civic freedom.

This is just one specific example; since the end of Operation Cast Lead we have seen a series of restrictive laws passed aimed at limiting the disquiet. The ‘Nakba Law’ for example prohibits anyone from marking Israel’s day of independence as a day of mourning. The ‘Incitement Law’ threatens anyone who refuses to acknowledge Israelis Jewish and democratic state. These are examples of measures aimed to isolate and silence anyone willing to speak out. In reality they are disproportionately aimed at minorities – often the Arab minority within Israel.

The Goldstone report highlighted war crimes committed by both sides during the conflict. The legacy of these terrible events however spread much further than the mourning and the loss people have experienced. Operation Cast Lead marked a cultural shift within Israel moving the country to a less accepting, less open and less democratic country.

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Filed under Human rights, Media, Middle East, War

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