August 31, 2014

Gaza: Back to the Stone Age

Yohannan Chemarapally

A CEASE FIRE agreement between Israel and the Palestinians was finally announced on August 26. Hamas as well as the aggressor is claiming victory. Most observers are predicting that the latest agreement would bring a halt to the terrible suffering of the Palestinians in the Gaza at least temporarily. The international community has chosen to stand aside and watch as Israel continued with its bloodletting in the Gaza Strip from July 8. The Palestinians have said that they would no longer be satisfied with a “quiet for quiet” deal. For a meaningful peace to take hold they have been reiterating their demand for the lifting of the illegal blockade on Gaza. Senior UN and American diplomats are heading for Cairo in a bid to extend the humanitarian truce. Just hours after the ceasefire was announced, seven Palestinians were killed in shelling by Israeli forces. The all-out attack by land, air and sea against the narrow strip of land, the most thickly populated in the world, has been unremitting. It has been reported that the Pentagon was actually replenishing the Israeli armed forces with ammunition so that the killings and devastation of the Gaza Strip could continue unhindered. President Barack Obama had called for an “immediate and sustainable” ceasefire on July 27. The American president was at the same time helping Israel to carry on with its criminal aggression. The Pentagon spokesman justified the decision to keep American weapons flowing to Israel as it militarily took on a hapless civilian population, destroying hospitals, schools and the only power generating utility on the Strip. “The United States is committed to the security of Israel, and it is vital for US national interests to assist Israel to develop and maintain a strong self defense capability”, the Pentagon spokesman said on July 30 as Israel’s killing spree entered its 22nd day. Navi Pillay, the UN’s Human Rights Commissioner has been very critical of Washington’s role in the ongoing massacre. “They have not only provided heavy weaponry which is now being used against civilians in Gaza but they’ve also provided an additional $1 billion for the ‘Iron Dome’ to protect Israelis from rocket attacks”, she said. “No such protection has been given to Gazans to protect them from shelling”. By August end, more than 2,140 Gazans, most of them civilians, have been killed in the Israeli assault. 490 children were among those killed. Also killed were eight UN workers. On the Israeli side, 69 Israelis were killed. Barring four, all of them were soldiers. NOT A CAKE-WALK It has evidently not been a cake walk as Israeli military planners had expected when they launched their assault. The crude missiles from Gaza now have the ability to reach as far as the capital Tel Aviv. One rocket from Gaza landed just two kilometers from Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport. American and European airlines had briefly stopped flying to the Israeli capital because of credible threats from Palestinian missiles. Most international flights land at the Ben Gurion Airport. Israel’s reputed “Iron Dome” anti missile systems is after all not as effective as is being claimed. India is said to be among the seven countries lining up to buy Israel’s “Iron Dome” technology. Fighters belonging to Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other resistance groups have apparently gained more expertise in urban warfare, as is evident from the number of Israeli military casualties. Some experts are saying that the capacity of Hamas and other resistance groups has become like that of the Hezbollah. The Israeli military has suffered its biggest casualty toll since the attack on Lebanon in 2006. Israel lost 130 soldiers and 30 civilians in the month long war against the Hezbollah in Lebanon. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who had rudely brushed aside pleas for a cease fire from his main benefactor, the US, has now started talking about a new formula “reconstruction for demilitarisation” in Gaza. Even Netanyahu, seeing no end to the heroic resistance by the people of Gaza, has acknowledged the need “for social and economic” relief for the Strip, otherwise known as the “biggest open air prison” in the world. Israel had occupied Gaza after the 1967 war. It decided to withdraw its settlers and troops in 2005. Gaza has not known peace or tranquility since then as Israel, the occupying power, immediately imposed its wide ranging blockade of the enclave that is about third the area of New York City. It restricted fishing and farming zones, drastically curtailed exports and imports, prevented mobility of the populace by giving rare exit permits. Gaza had to depend on most of its electricity and water supply from Israel. Israel had tightened its blockade on the Gaza Strip since 2008 after Hamas won the general elections in occupied West Bank and Gaza. After the electoral victory of Hamas, Israel was joined by the US and EU, which also slammed severe sanctions on the Palestinians residing in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank simply because they had voted Hamas into power. The sanctions were partially lifted when talks for a unity government between Hamas and Fatah collapsed in 2007 and the Fatah regained sole administrative control of the West Bank. Demonising Hamas by characterising it as a “terrorist” organisation, Israel started accelerating its game plan for the scuttling of two state scenario envisaged in the Oslo accords. After the temporary breakdown in Palestinian unity and takeover of the Gaza Strip by Hamas where it has its political base, Israel has launched three large scale military assaults, in 2009, 2012 and 2014 on Gaza. The current one has of course caused the most widespread devastation. WAR CRIME More people have been killed and the infrastructure, rudimentary as it was, has been flattened. Top UN officials are now saying openly that what Israel is doing in Gaza is a “war crime”. Israel was accused of war crimes during “Operation Cast Lead” in 2009 but not a single Israeli official has been charged. Israel, like the US, is for all practical purposes exempt from international law. After Israel deliberately continued targeting homes, hospitals and UN facilities, the UNHRC Chief, Navi Pillay once again condemned Tel Aviv’s “deliberate defiance” of international law. She was speaking the day after Israeli forces targeted a UN run school where 3,300 displaced Gazans had taken refuge. 19 people, many of them children who were sleeping next to their mothers, were killed in that attack. 22 medical facilities have been damaged. More than a quarter of Gaza’s arable land was deemed a “buffer zone” for the residents of the Strip by the Israelis before the current conflict began. Now, after the latest invasion, 44 percent of the narrow Strip is under the control of the Israel. The destruction of Gaza’s only power plant in the last week of July means that water purification plants and sewage pumping stations will not be able to operate. The water in Gaza is otherwise undrinkable. It is estimated that it will take at least a year for the power plant to be functional again. Many Israelis are gloating. A public opinion survey revealed that 85 percent of the population in the Jewish state does not want a cease fire. An Israeli MP, Ayelet Shaked, belonging to Israel Home, a right wing party which is part of the coalition government, called for the elimination of the Palestinian people. “The entire Palestinian people is the enemy. In wars, the enemy is usually an entire people, including its elderly and its woman, its cities and its villages, its property and infrastructure”, she wrote in her Facebook page. Valerie Amos, the UN humanitarian aid coordinator has said that more than 440,000 people have been displaced by the fighting in Gaza and hundreds of thousands more were without food and basic necessities. The Gaza ministry of health spokesman said that one in eight people in Gaza have been displaced after the all-out Israeli military assault began. During a four hour humanitarian cease fire announced on July 30, Israel forces shelled a crowded market in Shujaiyya, killing 17 people including a well known Palestinian journalist. Philippe Krahenbuhl, the top UN refugee official in Gaza said that the territory was “on a precipice” and called for the immediate lifting of the “illegal blockade of Gaza ” by Israel. NEVER ENDING CONTROL OVER PALESTINE The July invasion of Gaza was prompted by the successful formation of a Palestinian unity government in April this year. The peace talks brokered by the Americans had broken down by then after the Israeli government had gone on a settlement building spree in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. Hamas, friendless in the region and with chances of the blockade being lifted on Gaza getting bleaker with regime change in Egypt, had made significant compromises while agreeing to a unity government with its political rival, the Fatah. None of the major political figures of Hamas were represented in the new Palestinian cabinet. Hamas had indicated that it was also open to new elections in Gaza that could have led to a change in government there. The Palestine Authority (PA) President, Mahmoud Abbas fed up with the stonewalling and intransigence of the Israeli government, refused to be led up to garden path anymore by the Americans and the West. He was firm in his decision to continue with the unity government. Israel then started the preparations for another massive assault on hapless Gaza. On May 15, Israeli soldiers killed two Palestinian teenagers. Before that since the beginning of the year, a total of 24 Palestinians were killed by Israelis. The killing of three Israeli teenagers in Hebron in June in the occupied West Bank was the excuse Netanyahu was looking for to up the ante on Gaza. The Israeli prime minister had known that the three were killed soon after they disappeared but he whipped up a national hysteria in Israel by pretending that the boys were alive and were being held as hostages. Israel was quick to blame Hamas for the killings despite the organisation denying any role in the abductions. A Palestinian teenager was lynched in revenge in East Jerusalem by Jewish zealots. Netanyahu used the killings of the three Israeli citizens as the excuse to launch Israel’s latest military rampage in the Gaza Strip. Israel has been using the killing of its citizens as pretexts to launch large scale military invasions in the past too. In 1982, the assassination of the Israeli ambassador Shlomo Argov in London was the excuse for launching a full scale invasion and occupation of Lebanon. Beirut was destroyed and southern Lebanon was occupied for 18 years. In 2006, the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers along the border with Lebanon triggered another attack on Lebanon. The three attacks on Gaza from 2008-09 followed the same pattern. Every time an Israeli soldier or civilian is killed, Israel has a tendency “to mow the lawns” along its borders. A few days after launching his latest assault on Gaza, Netanyahu was honest enough to state his real intentions for starting another massacre of Palestinians. “I think the Israeli people understand now what I always say: that there cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan”, Netanyahu said in an address to the nation in Hebrew. Dow Weissglass, the key adviser of Ariel Sharon, had admitted that Israel’s military disengagement from Gaza in 2005 was actually a maneuver to prevent a two state solution. “The significance of the disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process – and when you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion on refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively the whole package called the Palestinian State, with all that it entails, is removed from our agenda”, Weisglass told the newspaper Haaretz, in 2004. The flattening of Gaza in short had nothing to do with Hamas or terrorism. It is about never ending control over Palestinian land by the occupiers and denying the Palestinians the freedom they have been fighting for. The PA President, Mahmoud Abbas, speaking for all Palestinians issued a heartfelt appeal as Israel was trying to bomb the civilian population into abject submission. “The time has come for everyone to raise their voices and tell the truth clearly, and powerfully, in the face of the Israeli killing and destruction machine. The oppressing occupation forces have crossed every line and broken all the laws. They have deviated from all standards of human and international morality in their ferocity and barbarism…We will go anywhere in order to stop the aggression and the confiscation of our legitimate rights, and we will hunt down those who commit crimes against our people, no matter how long it takes. These crimes will not go unprosecuted or unpunished”, the Palestinian leader said.