15 January 2009 Edition
World watches as Israel pushes Gaza towards catastrophe
BY EMMA CLANCY
“TERRIFIED, starving, traumatised, thirsty, desperate” – this is how Maxwell Gaylard, the UN’s humanitarian co-ordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territories, described the residents of Gaza last week.
Even those well-versed in Israel’s long history of destruction and violence against the Palestinian people and the state’s neighbours have been stunned by the ruthless cruelty of this invasion, which has now killed more than 900 Palestinians, wounded more than 4,000 and displaced tens of thousands.
The bloody images and stories emerging from the tiny, crowded and besieged Gaza Strip over the past three weeks have galvanised worldwide public opposition to Israel’s invasion, with millions of people in cities around the world joining protests to demand an end to the assault and the blockade of Gaza.
‘World leaders’, by contrast, took two weeks to pass a resolution in the UN Security Council calling for a ceasefire – which Israel promptly dismissed, saying it would withdraw when its objectives had been achieved. A refreshing exception to this generalised international apathy came from Venezuela, whose president, Hugo Chavez, expelled the Israeli ambassador from Caracas, and sent 13 tonnes of humanitarian aid to Gaza.
Aid agencies, which Gaza’s 1.5 million people are now entirely dependent on for food and other necessities, have almost completely suspended aid distribution in fear for the safety of their staff following a UN Relief and Works Agency truck driver being killed by Israel Defence Forces gunfire on 8 January (“It was a Hamas sniper,” the IDF contradicted the UN).
Aid resumed trickling in on Sunday but by Tuesday had only reached 10,000 Gazans and one million Gazans remained without electricity and three-quarters without water. Defying calls for a humanitarian truce, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told the international press in early January: “There is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza.”
On the seventeenth day of the assault on the Gaza Strip, Israel appeared to launch “Stage Three” of the operation which began on 27 December with a sustained bombing spree. On 4 January, Israeli tanks, ground troops and artillery, covered by ongoing air strikes, pressed deep into the outlying suburbs of Gaza’s cities and refugee camps.
While almost all foreign journalists have been barred from entering the area by Israel, the stories emerging from Gaza paint a picture of a humanitarian catastrophe and the deliberate military targeting of civilians.
Reports of atrocities that have filtered through include the IDF shelling of the UN-run Fakhura school in Jabaliyah on 6 January, which killed 42 out of hundreds of Gaza City refugees sheltering there.
“Hamas cynically uses civilians as human shields,” the IDF said in its initial statement, claiming it had been fired on from the school – a claim which the UN has categorically denied. Israeli Government spokesperson Mark Regev said it was “a very extreme example of how Hamas operates”.
As the IDF later changed its story to say that the massacre was actually caused by a mortar accidentally going 30 metres “astray” – before reverting to the original story of insisting the IDF was fired on from within the school – the head of the Israeli Government’s press office, Danny Seaman, was more candid.
Congratulating himself for the impact that barring foreign journalists from the Gaza Strip has had in the media war, Seaman said:
“Take the UN school, for example. There’s a lot of questions as to what actually happened. If the foreign media had been there it would have had much more of an impact on the conflict than it has at the moment.”
Other images that haven’t reached Western eyes are those of Palestinian skin melting as a result of the Israeli use of white phosphorous in densely-populated civilian areas. White phosphorous causes severe burns and can “melt flesh to the bone”, according to human rights agencies.
The Times Online reported on 12 January that more than 50 Palestinians were admitted to Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis after suffering burns from what the hospital director referred to as a “massive case of exposure” to white phosphorus.
While the IDF denied its use and claimed it was not using any weapons prohibited under international law, Human Rights Watch and the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights confirmed that “there is no doubt” that white phosphorus shells were being fired into refugee camps in Gaza in a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Consistent lies, misinformation, myths and omissions have been pushed by Israel and its allies about the nature and objectives of the slaughter in Gaza. While Israel claims Palestinians broke the six-month truce in December, it was in fact Israel that broke it on 4 November, killing six Palestinians. The fact that opening the Rafah border crossing with Egypt was a condition of this truce – never implemented by Israel – has been overlooked by a compliant international media, as has the devastating impact of the siege.
The lie that Hamas seized control of Gaza in a ‘coup’ in June 2007, when it had won a landslide election victory the year earlier, has been repeated in practically every report. And, above all, the latest carnage in Gaza has been completely removed from the context of the past 60 years of the violent and discriminatory Zionist colonial-settler project in Palestine.
The timing of the assault was chosen to make the most of the vacuum in Washington as President-elect Barack Obama waits to take power on 20 January and to set the framework for the next US administration’s relationship with Israel.
It is also aimed at boosting the popularity of the architects of the invasion, Livni (from Kadima) and Labour Party Defence Minister Ehud Barak, both candidates for PM against ultra-Zionist far-right parties including Likud, in the lead-up to Israel’s general elections scheduled for 10 February.
Incidentally, Israel – dubbed “the only democracy in the Middle East” by the West – is so democratic that it has just disqualified the two main Arab parties in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, from participating in the upcoming election.
But the overall assault is not just about the election, and Israeli generals have said the operation was long-planned. While Israel does not want to bear the cost of reoccupying the Gaza Strip, which it pulled its 8,500 settlers out of in 2005, its immediate aims are to weaken and disarm Hamas and other Palestinian resistance factions and to finally sever the Strip from the West Bank politically.
Some Israeli politicians have spoken openly of getting rid of Gaza, aiming to make the area and its people Egypt’s responsibility – separating it from a potential future Palestinian state and weakening the position of the national movement in the West Bank.
Palestinians have reiterated their urgent call for the international community to join the boycott, divestment, sanctions (BDS) campaign to isolate Israel – to reverse the humanitarian disaster in Gaza, to stop the atrocities carried out against civilians by the IDF and to prevent the mortal blow being inflicted on Palestinians’ national aspirations for statehood.
International : historical background to Gaza slaughter
Understanding what’s behind Israeli onslaught on Gaza
BY SEÁN Ó FLOINN
THE barbaric war being unleashed on the Palestinian people by Israel in Gaza is not, of course, isolated. It should be understood in the larger context of the Zionist regime’s determination in crushing the justified and legitimate struggle of a besieged Palestinian people, who have been forced to endure second-class citizenship on their own land.
Progressive opinions agree with the view that what lies at the root of this conflict is Zionism: the rigid belief that Jews are only secure in a Jewish homeland in Israel and have a divine right to claim this land.
It is a myth that Palestine was empty when Jewish settlers came. In 1878, almost 97 per cent of the total population was Muslim and Christian Arabs; a mere 3.2 per cent were Jews. The years between 1882 and1914 saw the immigration of 65,000 European Jews.
Despite mainstream right-wing media and political bias that this is a conflict between warring religious factions, between Muslims and Jews, or one instigated by inherently bellicose Palestinians with a penchant for extreme violence against Jews merely protecting themselves, the fact is that the Jews once flourished in the Arab world while they were being persecuted in Europe. There was no historical enmity between Arabs and Jews.
Following the First World War, Jewish immigration increased under British rule and Britain implemented the Balfour Declaration, committing to a Jewish homeland in Palestine. However, this proposal contradicted an earlier agreement promising self-rule for Arabs throughout the region, yet another devious about turn from British imperialism, which was extremely supportive of the Zionist cause. In 1922, Jews made up 11 per cent of the total population.
It was not until the 1920s that the first acts of violence erupted between Palestinians and Jews, as a result of the latter forcefully taking over locals’ land. In the early 1930s, over 100,000 Jews fled to Palestine; another approximately 120,000 additional Jewish immigrants arrived between 1937 and 1945 at the time of Hitler’s brutal Nazi policy of Jewish extermination.
In 1947, the conflict spiralled out of all control, which resulted in Britain washing its hands of the region and handing over the problem to the United Nations. The UN drafted a plan to divide the territory into two states. The one that was to be ‘given’ to the Arabs consisted of just 43 per cent of the land despite the fact that they made up 69 per cent of the population and owned 92 per cent of the land. The UN allocated a disproportionate 56 per cent of the region to the Jewish population which, at that time, was just 31 per cent of the total population and owned 8 per cent of the land. The Jewish population was to be given the most fertile land.
At this stage Zionists started to occupy the large Palestinian cities. The 1948 war entailed a planned expulsion and genocide of Palestinians. Some 300,000 Palestinians were expelled while many fled. After Israel declared itself a state, Arab soldiers from neighbouring countries were sent in but were still outnumbered by the 90,000-strong Israeli forces. The new Israeli state encompassed more than 78 per cent of Palestine, with the Gaza Strip coming under Egyptian control and the West Bank under Jordanian control. Over 700,000 Palestinians became refugees overnight. Another war broke out in 1967 in which Israel occupied the remainder of Palestine, most notably the Gaza Strip and West Bank, displacing over 400,000 Palestinians in the process.
The Israeli theft of Palestinian land continued unabated whilst the Arab nations support for Palestinians was merely vocal.
Palestinians responded with resistance through intifadas, literally ‘shaking offs’. The first intifada took place between December 1987 and December 1993.
The initial intifada petered out at the end of 1993. The next seven years witnessed the Oslo Peace Process between Palestinians and Israelis. However, despite these peace efforts, the Palestinian plight deteriorated. The number of Jewish settlers doubled to 400,000.
In 2000, the Israelis ‘offered’ Palestinians 95 per cent of the West Bank, but this has been likened to a prison analogy whereby the prisoners make up 95 per cent of the prison but the real power lies with the prison officers and governor (i.e. the remaining 5 per cent in control), in this case the Israeli Government. In January 2006, Hamas won enough votes to form a majority government but have never been recognised by the two great ‘champions of democracy’, namely the United States and Israel.
Israel enjoys virtual international immunity due to its close relationship with the US. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which is the pro-Israel lobby on Capitol Hill, has donated almost $44m since 1978 to candidates who vote favourably towards them in Congress. The US funds Israel to the tune of $7m per day, with Israel receiving one-third of the total aid the US gives on an annual basis. Although Israel is currently the most persistent and extensive violator of UN Security Council resolutions, the US has used its veto no less than 40 times to defend Israeli breeches of these resolutions. In fact, according to international law, the entire Israeli occupation is illegal, and the Israeli state continues to fly in the face of the Fourth Geneva Convention which stipulates against constructing settlements, building illegal roads and impoverishing people through economic damage. Put simply, Israel could not continue violating human rights and oppressing the Palestinian people without the financial and political support from the US.
ISRAEL’S MILITARY MIGHT
Israel is one of the most militarily powerful and consistent abusers of human rights on the planet.
It is the fifth largest nuclear power in the world, possessing around 250 warheads. The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) have nearly 4,000 Merkava tanks and over 360 F-16 fighter jets, second only to the US, not to mention their Apache attack helicopters, powerful navy fleet and cluster bombs readily at their disposal. With this sheer military might, Israel continues to squeeze the Palestinians on a daily basis, constantly curtailing their freedom of movement through a myriad of IDF checkpoints and indiscriminately murdering them at any given opportunity. One in two Palestinians are unemployed with three quarters living in poverty, according to the World Bank.
Although Israel unilaterally withdrew its 8,500 settlers from the Gaza Strip in 2005 under Ariel Sharon’s government, the following year it increased its settlers by 12,000 in the West Bank. Israel further strengthened their illegal stranglehold on the region with the construction of the infamous ‘separation wall’. Standing at twice the height of the Berlin Wall and meandering four times longer, it tears through villages separating people from their farms, children from their schools and patients from hospitals. It was constructed as a part of Israeli confiscation of Palestinian land rather than the pretext of aiding Israeli security.
Regrettably, the oppressed have become the oppressors.
For news on activities supporting the people of Gaza and Palestine, log on to the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign website at www.ipsc.ie