Comment | When the Sun Goes Out: Death in Gaza
New in Ceasefire, Politics - Posted on Wednesday, November 21, 2012 0:00 - 5 Comments
By Tom Walton
Over the past week, Israel unleashed one of the world’s most sophisticated military arsenals, involving jet planes and naval vessels, to deliver yet another brutal assault and rain devastation on a mostly defenceless population in refugee camps, mosques, and homes. This was not a “war” on Gaza; it was outright murder.
On Monday 19th, during the attacks, I spoke via Skype with a family of Gazans living in Beit Lahiya. The father, Arafat, said that ‘Israel makes no distinction between military and civilian targets’. Of course, it may be that Hamas is hiding weapons in civilian localities, but as Arafat remarked, ‘If they are, how are we to know?!’
The point is that even if Israel was attacking Hamas targets, they did not care whether civilians are affected. So children were maimed and killed, while others writhe in agony in hospitals without medical supplies because of an illegal blockade of the Gaza Strip where, according to Amnesty International, ‘every item necessary for normal, healthy life is absent…’
Arafat has two children, one four and the other two years old. Even the sunset brought sadness. He told me: ‘When the sun goes out in my house, it goes out in my heart, because I do not know whether I will see my children alive the next morning.’
Arafat’s wife spoke of her desperation at her inability to protect her children. ‘What can I do as a mother?’ she pleaded. Her children scream and yell, left traumatized by the deaths of relatives that they are forced to bear witness to. She described how her sister’s home was bombed the previous night. Her sister and her son are now homeless. ‘I want peace, for me, my children and everyone’, she said.
Israel claims it’s trying to root out terror. As Roberk Fisk remarked recently, this is something they have been claiming to be doing for the past 64 years. They were ‘rooting out terror’ in 1982 when they slaughtered almost 17,000 Lebanese civilians. They were ‘rooting out terror’ when the killed another 1,200 mostly civilians in Lebanon in 2006. And they were ‘rooting out terror’ when they massacred around 1,300 Palestinians in Gaza in 2008-9.
Of course, Israel could have accepted the ceasefire proposed by Hamas just hours before the assassination of Hamas leader Ahmad Jabari. As Gershon Baskin of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz wrote, there was a ‘draft of a permanent truce agreement with Israel, which included mechanisms for maintaining the ceasefire in the case of a flare-up between Israel and the factions in the Gaza Strip…his assassination also killed the possibility of achieving a truce and also the Egyptian mediators’ ability to function’.
A few days earlier, Hamas called for a ceasefire if Israel stopped the attacks. Reuters reported on 13th November that, ‘`Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh praised Gaza’s main militant groups in Gaza for agreeing to the [12th November] truce: “They showed a high sense of responsibility by saying they would respect calm should the Israeli occupation also abide by it,” he said.’
In the long term, Israel can defend itself by ending its criminal activities – end the siege of Gaza, terminate the illegal occupation and accept the international consensus on a two-state settlement. You’re not defending yourself when you’re occupying someone else’s land. Whatever you choose to call it, it’s not defence. It’s aggression.
I am opposed to Hamas’ policies in almost every respect but it is important to recognise that its policies towards Israel are more conducive to a peaceful settlement than those of Israel itself. Hamas supports the international consensus on a two-state settlement, based on the pre-1967 border, which has been supported by the entire world for thirty-six years, with the exception of Israel, Britain, the US and several islands in the Pacific.
The US opposes this unilaterally, because support for Israel is a ‘logical corollary’ of their policy to ‘maintain Persian gulf oil, by force if necessary’, as their NSC Planning Board explains.
Israel drove out the native population of a land 64 years ago, and then in 1967 militarily occupied the two zones where the native population remained. It is a basic tenet of international law that it is illegitimate to acquire territory by force. In short, the occupations were illegitimate.
The brutality and terror that has accompanied the occupation is far too extensive to document here. Suffice to say it has been horrific. If a major criminal of 45 years faces reprisals for his actions, do we ask whether the criminal’s response is proportionate? Do we say that the victim of 45 years is ‘principally to blame’? There’s one thing the criminal can do and that is to end their criminal acts.
So far as Israel is concerned, it will continue its crimes with impunity so long as Britain and the United States allow it to, and the cries of the Palestinians will ring on for a long time yet. Eventually, as was the case with South Africa, the world will come to see the disgrace and injustice of the situation in Palestine and those who supported that injustice will be treated, quite rightly, with shame.
The events of the last week must act as a wake-up call to us all. British support for Israel will one day be seen as a shame on our country unless our policy in that region takes a fundamental shift in the very near future.