October 19, 2014

Cease Fire in Gaza: Inhuman Blockade Continues

Yohannan Chemarapally

DESPITE the open ended truce that came into force in the last week of August, Gaza continues to lie in ruins. On October 12, the international community pledged more than $5 billion for the rebuilding of Gaza. It is estimated that $4 billion is needed just for reconstructing the devastated infrastructure of the enclave. Even before Israel launched its third and most prolonged military assault on Gaza, it had become unlivable. After the earlier Israeli “Operation Cast Lead” against Gaza in 2009, the international community had pledged over $4 billion. Much of the promised aid never materialised. The “calm for calm” agreement cannot continue indefinitely if Israel continues with its draconian policies towards the Palestinians in the occupied territories. There are no signs yet that Israel is serious about lifting the economic blockade on Gaza or removing travel restrictions that have turned Gaza into an open air prison since the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the territory in 2005. Hamas has demanded a functional airport and sea port for the enclave. Another key demand is the release of hundreds of Hamas prisoners languishing in Israeli prisons for long years. EXPANSIONIST POLICIES The Israeli political leadership is now a divided house with many senior ministers blaming Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu for the military, political and diplomatic setback that has befallen the Jewish state. The prime minister seems determined to continue with his expansionist policies. Soon after the cease fire agreement, the Israeli government announced the appropriation of another 500 hectares of Palestinian land on the West Bank. Israel already occupies 61 percent of the West Bank and controls most of its water resources. The Israeli leadership is doing all it can to stave off the inevitability of a two state solution. Netanyahu has repeatedly said that he would under no circumstances countenance a Palestinian State. He recently emphasised that there was no question of withdrawing the Israeli army from the West Bank. The Israeli Defense Minister, Moshe Ya’alon has threatened to unleash another war on the hapless population of Gaza. Speaking after the end of the latest round of hostilities, he said that Israel may once again return to the battlefield. “And if we do, we will pound Hamas the same way we did during this operation”. The latest Israeli military assault on the Gaza Strip lasted a full 50 days. The infrastructure of the impoverished strip has been completely devastated with 11,000 houses and residential apartments completely destroyed. More than 2000 Palestinians were killed and around 12,000 injured many of them seriously, in the all-out air, land and sea assault launched by the Israeli military. One-third of the 1.8 million population of Gaza have now become homeless. Electricity and potable water continue to be very scarce. The only power generating facility was among the first targets to be hit by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). The main sewage plant had also been disabled. 55,000 cubic meters of waste water is now being emptied into the blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea. Around 60,000 people have been forced to stay in schools. This has stopped children from returning to their classes as the new academic year begins. The scale of destruction is much more this time. Billions of dollars were needed to repair the damage inflicted on Gaza’s infrastructure after the 2009 and 2012 wars that Israel had forced on the people there. The Palestinian Authority has put the cost of Gaza reconstruction at $7.8 billion. It has been estimated that rebuilding the destroyed homes, schools and hospitals would cost around $2.5 billion. The Palestinians would have to depend on international aid as well as cooperation from Israel. The Israeli government continues to restrict the entry of building material and other essential goods into the Gaza Strip. WAR CRIMES Human Rights groups and international legal luminaries have been saying for many years that Israel should be held responsible for committing war crimes in Gaza. During “Operation Cast Lead” in 2009, despite documented evidence of war crimes, no Israeli leader or military officer was held responsible. This time, the international community seems to be more serious about bringing those responsible for the deaths of more than 500 children in Gaza to answer for their crimes. 3000 children were injured and more than 1400 orphaned during the course of the Israeli military assault. The perceptive Israeli writer, Gideon Levy in a recent column in the Haaretz newspaper, observed that most Israelis consider Palestinian children “as insects”. His observations came after Israel went into collective mourning after the death of one Jewish child killed in a Palestinian mortar attack. He was the only Israeli child killed in the fighting. Marjorie Cohn, a former president of America’s National Lawyers Guild and a Professor at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law, has said that the Obama administration too is culpable in the war crimes committed in Gaza during the 50 days of bloodletting by Israeli forces. She argues that by sending vast amounts of military aid to Israel, the US Congress and the Obama administration have aided and abetted the commission of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity by Israeli officials and commanders in Gaza. The Obama administration had rushed in additional arms to Israel when the civilian toll in Gaza due to indiscriminate Israeli air and sea attacks had already crossed the 500 mark. Every year, the US provides around $3.1 billion in military aid to Israel. The US, has for all practical purposes been aiding Israel’s expansionist and apartheid polices. The Israeli forces had again resorted to the same tactics they had used in 2009. The UN Human Rights (the Goldstone) Report had concluded that there was “application of disproportionate force and causing of great damage and destruction to civilian property and infrastructure, and suffering to civilian population”. Organisations representing the international legal fraternity like the international Association of Democratic Lawyers, the Arab Lawyers Union and the American Association of Jurists have written a letter to the president of the International Criminal Court (ICC) demanding an investigation into the crimes committed by the Israeli forces during the 50 day long onslaught on the Gaza Strip. The letter stated that Israel had clearly used “disproportionate force” against the residents of Gaza. The Israeli actions, the letter said, had little to do “with any claim of security, but seems to be calculated to exact revenge against Palestinian civilians”. The Palestinian Authority (PA) has put in an application to join the ICC. Hamas has supported the PA’s move. The resistance groups in Gaza, led by Hamas, also showed to the world that they could fight valiantly. Israel, which boasts of the one of the most powerful armies in the world, was fought to a standstill and could not achieve the major goals it had announced while launching its third war on Gaza. The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, while launching the new war had promised to militarily defeat the armed resistance groups and convert Gaza into a pacified and demilitarised zone. The Israeli army even failed to decommission all the tunnels the resistance had built to militarily combat the occupiers. 71 Israelis were killed, the overwhelming majority of them soldiers. Not even Israelis believe their prime minister’s claim that the IDF delivered a “crushing blow” to Hamas. An opinion poll conducted by the Israeli daily Haaretz in the last week of August revealed that more than half of Israelis believed that there were no winners in the war on Gaza. Another recent opinion poll showed that Netanyahu’s approval ratings had plummeted from 82 percent in late July to 38 percent after the cease fire agreement in late August. SOARING POPULARITY OF HAMAS Hamas remains firmly in control of the Gaza Strip. A recent opinion poll taken among Palestinians in the occupied territories has revealed that the popularity of Hamas among ordinary people has soared. The poll predicted that if elections are held in the occupied territories, Hamas would emerge as the winner once again. Before the last Israeli onslaught started, Hamas had become politically isolated. Hamas’s political fortunes were on a downslide after the removal of its parent organisation, the Muslim Brotherhood from power by the Egyptian military last year. Since then the blockade on Gaza has been further intensified by the Egyptian authorities. It was obvious that the new Egyptian government also wanted the de-militarisation of Gaza and the political sidelining of Hamas from the Gaza Strip. But the latest Israeli misadventure has bolstered the standing of Hamas, not only among Palestinians and the Arab street but also internationally. An Israeli analyst, Ariel Ilan Roth recently wrote that Hamas has “shattered the necessary illusion for Israelis that a political stalemate with the Palestinians is cost free for Israel”. The military wing of the organisation is now trying to rebuild ties with Hezbollah and Iran. The leader of the Party, Khaled Meshal lives in exile in Qatar. The Gulf Emirate along with Turkey continues to be the major backer of Hamas in particular and the Muslim Brotherhood factions in the Arab world. The former American President, Jimmy Carter along with Mary Robinson, a former president of Ireland recently issued a joint statement calling on the international community to recognise “the legitimacy of Hamas” as a “political actor representing a substantial portion of the Palestinian people”. Normal life in many parts of Israel was disrupted during the course of the 50 day war. The tourism industry in Israel has been adversely impacted. For the first time, rockets launched from Gaza landed very close to Israel international airport in the capital Tel Aviv. International flights to Israel had to be cancelled for days. Many leading airlines had refused to fly to Tel Aviv during the period the fighting in Gaza was raging on. The wanton use of force against the entire civilian population of Gaza justifiably earned Israel the wrath of international public opinion. The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon echoing international opinion had told the UN General Assembly that the “massive deaths and destruction in Gaza have shamed and shocked the world”. Gideon Levy has described the latest Israeli military assault on Gaza as “the most brutal war Israel has ever waged”. He went on to add that the war had inflicted countless wounds. “Those of the Palestinians bleed more, but those of the Israelis are deeper”.