TRUCE was announced by Israel and Hamas on November 13, bringing to an end two days of Israeli aerial attacks on Gaza, to which Hamas responded with rocket fire. In the worst violence that Gaza had witnessed in the last two years, at least 15 Palestinians and two Israelis were killed. Endorsing the ceasefire agreement, Hamas stated: “Egypt's efforts have succeeded in achieving a ceasefire between the resistance and the Zionist enemy. The resistance will respect this declaration as long as the Zionist enemy respects it”.
Gaza, home to more than two million people, has been under a crippling blockade imposed by Israel for the past 11 years. Though Israel withdrew its troops from Gaza in 2005, it has retained its control over Gaza's airspace, territorial waters and land borders. The blockade has devastated the local economy, severely restricting the entry of food and access to basic services. Even construction materials needed to rebuild much of the enclave's infrastructure damaged in the previous Israeli military campaigns were not allowed inside Gaza, thus making it one huge open-air prison of ‘free Palestinian citizens’.
For the last seven months (from March 2018), Palestinians have been protesting against the Israeli occupation of their land and demanding their right to return. Thousands of Palestinian citizens have encamped in open spaces near the Israeli border and are continuously demonstrating against Israeli aggression. At least 221 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces since the end of March.
The recent major attack on these protesting Palestinians started on November 9, when thousands of civilians, including women, children and entire families, started gathering at the five encampments established adjacent to the border fence with Israel in eastern Gaza Strip cities and ‘raised flags, chanted national songs in addition to organising sportive and folklore performances inside the encampments and its yards’. These demonstrators gathered in open places, exposing themselves to Israeli snipers. Despite the prevailing calmness, Israeli forces fired live and rubber bullets in addition to firing hundreds of teargas canisters. In this firing, at least 141 Palestinian civilians, including 19 children, sustained serious wounds. In addition, hundreds suffered seizures due to tear gas inhalation.
Targeting civilians who exercise their right to peaceful assembly or medical personnel while carrying out their humanitarian duty, is a serious violation of the rules of international humanitarian law, the ICC Rome Statute and Fourth Geneva Convention. The UN and the International Court of Justice should take cognisance of these attacks and initiate an investigation into these crimes and prosecute all those involved.
It is no doubt that all these violations of international treaties and conventions by Israel are done because of the explicit backing it receives from the US. The decision of US president Donald Trump to shift the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, in contravention of international treaties, has further emboldened Israel. The recent attacks carried out by the Israeli forces are a reflection of this growing aggressiveness. Another manner in which Israel is violating all the international conventions and treaties, is through expanding its settlements.
The latest count indicates that between 5, 00,000 and 6,00,000 Israelis live in Jewish-only settlements across occupied East Jerusalem and West Bank. The ‘settlement’ activity, which is in fact a theft of Palestinian land from Palestinian citizens, further gathered pace due to the unstinting support it receives from the US. Recently, Israel has passed a law guaranteeing economic safety nets for investments for Israelis in the occupied territories, in order to expand and promote settlement. Israeli ministry of construction and housing had approved a plan to build 20,000 settlement units and this includes the construction of an airport, in addition to hotels and public institutions and educational and sports halls, as part of the project ‘Jerusalem 2050’.
Israeli settlers often act as aggressors and commit violent acts on the Palestinians living in their neighbourhood. Through these acts, they intend to force the Palestinians to ‘voluntarily’ give away their lands and move to other regions, promoting ghettoisation. Moreover, these violent acts carried out by Israeli settlers often occur in the presence of Israeli military forces. In a recent act (on November 8), Israeli settlers dumped sewage from their houses in an adjacent school for Palestinian children, in order to force shut-down the school. And this is not a one-off act. Ironically, the Palestinian government has no jurisdiction over Israelis in West Bank and these settlers thus carry on their attacks with impunity.
Medical personnel, children, women, none is exempt from Israeli targets for attacks. And this includes journalists too. According to the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms ‘MADA’, since the beginning of this year, there were 474 documented attacks against media in Palestine. Out of these, a total of 372 attacks (or 78 per cent of the total) were committed by the Israeli Occupation Forces. This includes the killing of two Palestinian journalists during the coverage of the peaceful return march in Gaza, in two separate incidents (both journalists were clearly identifiable with the press vests and located hundreds of meters away from the border fence). A total of 43 Palestinian journalists have been killed by the Israeli Occupation Forces since the year 2000.
While Israeli citizens who attack and commit atrocities go unpunished, on the other hand, Palestinians are arrested for very silly reasons and are kept in prisons for years together. According to prisoners rights group Addameer, currently there are 5,640 Palestinian prisoners being held in Israeli prisons, of whom 465 are in administrative detention, 53 are female prisoners, 270 are child prisoners, and 50 are under the age of 16. Few day back, the Israeli government has passed a controversial law with a narrow majority (52 for and 49 against) that gives it a right to award death penalty to the arrested Palestinians, as most of them are branded as terrorists. The defence minister is on record stating that arrested Palestinians should not be allowed to ‘stay in the jails eating and enjoying comforts’, as they are waste of resources, hence they should be immediately put to death! This is the extent of discrimination Palestinians face in their own land, living under Israeli occupation.
All these attacks on them, have made the citizens of Palestine doubt the intentions of Israel, whenever it agrees to ‘ceasefire’. In the words of 16-year-old Reem Khalla, who was wary to attend her school a day after the ceasefire: “We were all frightened, and the teachers gave those who wanted to go home permission to do so. We didn't even study much….We were mostly debating if the ceasefire will hold and whether this is going to be a rerun of the 2014 war”. It needs to be remembered here that in the 2014 Israeli attack, more than 2,200 Palestinians were killed – majority of whom were civilians – and tens of thousands were left homeless.
On the other hand, the ceasefire agreement was also not to the liking of extreme right-wing forces in the Israeli government. After the conclusion of the agreement, Israeli defence minister Avigdor Lieberman, resigned from the government and also announced that his party is withdrawing support to the Netanyahu government. Lieberman said he was resigning in protest as he advocated a more ‘decisive blow’ against Hamas. This shows the extent of hatred of the Zionist forces.
Hamas has described the resignation of Israeli defence minister as a ‘political victory for Gaza’. Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri said that Lieberman's resignation signalled a “recognition of defeat and failure to confront the Palestinian resistance” and that “Gaza's steadfastness sent a political shockwave” to Israel.
In spite of the claims and counter-claims made by both the parties to the ceasefire agreement, the fact is, common people are skeptical and consider the ensuring calm as ‘fragile’. The aggressiveness with which the Israeli government is moving – the passing of the Jewish State Law, is an indication – and the support of the US administration, are sufficient reasons for them not to trust. In this background, they are apprehensively waiting for the US ‘peace proposals’, touted as to bring in ‘lasting peace to the region’. Already, an official of the White House stated that these proposals will not be ‘dear to any of the parties’. This is ample indication that moves are afoot to ‘sacrifice’ Palestine and Palestinian people once again.
India has a rich heritage of standing in solidarity with Palestine. With its close embrace of Israel, the BJP government has foregone all the goodwill earned by the consistent support that the Indian government had extended to the Palestinian cause. The ideological affinity between Zionism and Hindutva politics of the RSS/BJP is the main reason that drives these close ties with Israel. This November 29, observed as International Day of Solidarity with Palestine, should be used as an opportunity to expose this ideological affinity, denounce Israeli attacks and also express our solidarity with Palestine.