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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 9, February 14, 2009

Gaza: Damages beyond Destruction

Thursday 19 February 2009, by Arshi Khan

Massive, brutal and deliberate attack on the Palestinian Gaza Strip by the occupying power —Israel—for complete 23 days (December 27, 2008-January 18, 2009) has caused large scale destruction of their life, dignity, liberty, property, security, health and prosperity. They have been suffering from perpetual holocaust for the main reason of being consistent in their legitimate demand for an end to their colonisation by Israel and to create a viable independent Palestinian state in 22.5 per cent of the total territory of pre-Israel Palestine agreed to by both the parties in 1991 and 1993 which has also been endorsed by the UN Security Council Resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973). Israel killed over 1300 people, more than 400 children, over 150 women, old-age persons, medics and journalists. There are over 5400 injured. What is more than painful is the use of the war weapons found at the upper shelf of Pentagon such as White Phosphorus, GBU 39, Apache helicopter, F-16s, cluster bombs, and depleted uranium.

Gaza Municipal officials told the Associated Press in the afternoon of January 19 that 22,000 residential and government buildings were severely damaged and another 4000 destroyed, putting the cost at over $ 1.2 billion. This is also confirmed by the Palestinian Authority’s Central Bureau of Statistics. Some 50 of the UN’s 220 schools, clinics and warehouses were bombed. Gaza’s gross domestic product was slashed by 85 per cent during the 22 days of war, and it could take a year for the economy to recover. This savage attack was widely condemned by many major public demonstrations all over the world besides the UN humanitarian and relief officials, Human Rights Watch, many other human rights organisations including the Haaretz Daily in Israel. Regrettably, the so-called champions of liberation, war on terror and democracy remained silent onlookers in the face of the Israeli terror. It is not only the loss of life and property but also the loss of dignity of the Palestinians who have been waiting for their own sovereign state since Israel occupied their land after April 14, 1948. Dignity constitutes the core of human rights. Even a realist, Machiavelli, advised the Prince not to play with the dignity of the subjects.

The Biting Intent

Despite declaring ceasefire on January 18, Israel bombed several civilian targets, including the UN campus sheltering refugees and killing at least two Palestinians. After some hours, Hamas also declared ceasefire with the demand for with-drawal of the illegal presence of the Israeli armed forces from Gaza within a week. Israel’s policy of keeping its troops on the ground is more than the smoking-guns vis-à-vis durable truce in Gaza. Even if Israel dramatically withdraws its forces after Obama replaces Bush in the US, Palestinians in Gaza would not have sovereignty on the ground, border-crossings, air-space and in sea waters. This has been the situation since Israel vacated the illegal Jewish settlements in 2005. Over 18 months Palestinians have been under severe economic blockade which caused the shortage of very basic commodities like medicines, electricity, water, food, freedom of movement, and trade. Hundreds of Palestinian patients have died due to the denial of their exit from Gaza for further treatment. As a result people below the poverty line have sharply increased.

Israel has the longest record of violating the largest number of over 150 UN resolutions besides the violation of human rights. American scholars, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, have already shown how the Zionists have been influencing the American foreign policy to the extent of securing Israeli interests and causing resentments against the national interests of America. After the ‘Gaza disengagement’, Israel planned to eliminate Hamas as the rival to the Israeli policy of occupation and suppression so that it could put the post-Arafat leaders under pressure to dictate its terms for creating a ‘conformist state’ without real autonomy. After the suspicious death of the veteran Palestinian leader (Yasser Arafat) in November 2004, Hamas proved to be the only voice of the majority of the Palestinians who adhered to their minimalist demands offered by UNSC Resolution 338 (land for peace) that was finally endorsed by Arafat after 1991. India is also officially supportive of it. This UN formula (creating the Palestinian state in 22.5 per cent of Palestine) with the Right to Return (UN Resolution 194) was the basis of Arafat’s recognition of Israel in the Madrid and Oslo accords.

After seeking recognition, Israel reverted back to its policy of colonisation by increasing its illegal settlements mainly in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and raising a 490-mile long Wall much higher than the Berlin Wall (1961) which is clearly intended to make Palestine a moth-eaten, truncated and sick state without sovereignty and safe and clear borders. In other words, Israel’s activities are well designed to create a Palestinian state divided into militarised ‘security zones’ of Israel due to the existence of settlements and the Wall. The UN has declared Jewish settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory fully illegal and the International Court of Justice has done so in the case of the Wall in 2004. The Wall would reduce the Palestinian state to 10 to 12 per cent of Palestine.

2001 onwards Israel has been eliminating potential Palestinian leaders under the policy of extra-judicial killings. The Bush Roadmap or the Quatret Peace Plan also failed to improve the situation. The second Intifada (mass uprising) since September 2000 killed over 5000 Palestinians with over 30,000 injured. All such criminal acts legitimise the argument and demand of Hamas simply to end the occupation. After failing to get the occupation accepted by the Fatah and realised through the ‘internal containment policy’, Israel made two strategic moves. First came the doctrine of disabling Palestinians by economic sanctions, border closures and other restrictive measures to weaken their resistance capacity. After achieving this target, it finally took military actions to destroy their remaining capacity.

Whose Achievement?

The Israeli military operation, known as ‘Operation Cast Lead’, caused massive damages to most of the civilian and government infrastructures with a high level of human suffering. While announcing the unilateral ceasefire on January 17, Israeli Premier Ehud Olmert said Israel had ‘achieved its goals and more’. Similarly Defence Minister Ehud Barak was jubilant over the success of the gain of the third phase of the operation and indicated that the objectives had been ‘obtained in full’. On January 18, Hamas publicly announced its victory over Israel. But the physical losses suffered by the Palestinians are a stark reality. What they seem to have retained is the psychological power and resilience vis-à-vis the Israeli occupation. Many Muslims and others also say that Israel was defeated by the Hezbollah in July 2006 in Lebanon. However, in reality the Israeli attack caused massive destruction in southern Lebanon where Israel used many high-tech weapons, mainly cluster bombs, piercing 20 cm thick concrete. As many as 134,000 explosive devices have been removed and Lebanon will never be a bomb-free area in future.

The principal purpose of this 23-day bombing was to physically disable all the civilians and revage the government infrastructures in Gaza where Hamas was voted to power in June 2007. Israel treats Hamas as a terrorist group which compels the latter not to consider Israel as a legitimate state. Hamas has a wide public network which was created in 1987 (first Intifada/uprising). Its popularity has rapidly increased after the untimely death of the most popular leader, Yasser Arafat, in November 2004 and the failure of the peace process which was supposed to give Palestinians their sovereign state by 1999. This was broadly underlined in the Madrid and Oslo agreements. The worsening situation of the Palestinians due to the Israeli old-game of ‘talking peace and at the same time usurping Palestinian lands’ is bound to increase the popularity of Hamas for being straightforward in its demand for an end to the Israeli occupation. So by these bombings, Israel unlawfully punished and damaged the Palestinians in general and promoted the puppets and rivals of Hamas in particular. This would have a highly negative impact on their bargaining capacity vis-à-vis Israel over the final status of the independent Palestinian state.

The other significant achievement of Israel is enveloping Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and the Fatah under its strong influence to accuse Hamas of violence and to identify the latter as the enemy of peace. The post-invasion strategy of Israel is to continue to further marginalise Hamas both militarily and diplomatically as it did against the PLO in the 1970s and 1980s. In his election campaign, Obama has already promised to maintain proximity with Israel. Now the destruction of Gaza would further strengthen his hands to corner the Palestinians on the pretext of Israel’s security. As earlier there were some attempts to force the late Arafat to accept the Israeli plan, similar developments may resurface with more damaging US proposals whose script-writers would perhaps be the Zionists. But what seems to be a silver-lining is that the Israel-friendly Gulf monarchies, the Republic of Turkey and the Western public have squarely rejected the war-game of Israel which has unmasked it as the enemy of peace, humanity and democracy.

Israel like the US is getting exposed before the whole world community and its real, ugly face coming out in all nekedness. The worldwide public condemnation of the attack is basically an indictment of Israel for having perpetrated war crimes. Iran, which does not recognise Israel, has openly shouted at Israel. Not only this, American journalists posed some unfriendly questions to Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on January 16 while she was addressing a press conference at Washington D.C. When a journalist was asked to finish his question, he yelled out that Livni had been speaking for an hour and that the journalists were not being allowed to ask questions. He then asked: since when has the US been hosting ‘terrorists’? Livni managed to keep her cool. Outside the press briefing building, the anti-war group—Code Pink—repeatedly chanted the ‘There is a war criminal in this building’.

Who Started First?

The Israeli publication, Haaretz, has recently published a report on how Ehud Barak started planning the current attack on Gaza with his Chief of Staff eight months ago, when Israel was negotiating ceasefire with Hamas. During the ceasefire, Israel took the map of all Hamas security infrastructures. Before attacking Gaza, Israel spread the one-sided news all over the world that Palestinians had launched rockets against Israel. It is just the reverse in reality. Eight months ago, both Hamas and Israel agreed on the ceasefire becoming effective on June 19, 2008 which ended on December 17, 2008. During this period, it is an open fact that Israel continued to violate the ceasefire agreement by extra-judicial killings, bombings, closing down all border crossings of Gaza and imposing very harsh economic sanctions depriving the people of their basic needs and bringing many of them below the poverty line. This converted Gaza into a large open prison where journalists and foreigners were not allowed to enter.

Steve Niva wrote in Foreign Policy in Focus (FPIF) on January 7, 2009 that the Israeli military and political leadership took many aggressive steps during the ceasefire provoking Hamas to resort to retaliation and thereby legitimise the invasion of Gaza. Israeli military historian has called it the policy of ‘strategic escalation’. On December 23, 2008, Israel killed three Palestinians and in retaliation rockets were fired by Hamas with no death on the Israeli side. Another important point exposing Israeli deception is the question over the legitimacy of 23 days of bombing. Palestinian rockets were not the main reason but used as a pretext in the beginning of the attack. Later they used the pretext of war against the Hamas’ war machine and finally that of seeking security for Israel. Before the ceasefire which came into effect verbally at 2.00 am on January 18, Israel signed an agreement with the US to combat arms smuggling to Gaza.

Tragic Response

With the exception of very few countries, major powers remained onlookers to the killing of the Palestinians. The United States maintained its traditional stand of accusing the Palestinians of violence and simply urging Israel to show restraint. Similarly the EU, NATO and the liberal democratic caucus showed their inability to intervene in this matter. The governments of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan weighed the American-Israeli interests more than the Palestinian interests. Their backbiting culture also frustrated Qatar’s attempt to hold an emergency meeting of the Arab League at the required strength. On the other hand, Turkey, which has been engaged in peace-diplomacy between Israel and Syria, has called the Israeli offensive an act of “savagery”. Turkish President Abdullah Gul urged the international community on January 18 to make a “strong and determined” long-term effort to establish an independent Palestinian state after the current crisis was settled. On January 6, Venezuela asked the Israeli ambassador leave Caracas. Qatar and Mauritania have severed economic ties with Israel.

About 12 to 13 Arab leaders initiated an emergency summit in the afternoon of January 16, as scheduled, in Doha but they did not reach the quorum of 15. A joint communiqué issued at the end of the summit meeting called on all Arab countries to stop all peace negotiations and cut off ties with Israel in response to the latter’s ongoing offensive on the Gaza Strip. ”Israel must cease its assault on Gaza and leave unconditionally,” it said, emphasising that all the border crossings in Gaza should be opened to facilitate the flow of food, medical and humanitarian aids. Another Arab summit was held on January 20 in Kuwait, with the attendance of only 17 heads of states; Saudi Arabian, Jordanian and Egyptian leaders became the principal factor for divisions in the League by failing to respond to Israel with a united stance. This despite what President Assad of Syria said:

We should show our clear support for the Palestinian resistance. I suggest this summit officially call the Zionist entity a terrorist entity.

During the attack, the US made at least four interventions in the UN to support Israel. On January 8, the UNSC passed a resolution (1860) to halt violence and bombings; but this Israel found ‘unworkable’. Later on January 16, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution in support of Resolution 1860 but that remained ineffective. Lastly the UN chief Ban Ki-moon had to travel to the region to urge Israel to halt the offensive. It is here India could have played a historic role because Mahatma Gandhi had rejected the UN partition plan of November 1947 as it turned the native Arab majority population into a political minority. India’s relations with Israel are not based on scriptures. India must strongly warn Israel if it emerges as the murderer and butcher of the Palestinians. In 1991, India opened the Israeli embassy with the Israeli promise of doing justice to the Palestinians. Our silence would make us party against the Palestinians. Our protest against such a crime would preserve our democratic heritage as conscience-keepers. Any delay in our right response to Israel would transform this country into the land of Narendra Modi. Without humanism any policy, whether domestic or foreign, is bound to turn India into a selfish bowl of vulgar politicians.

Dr Arshi Khan, who did his M. Phil and Ph.D at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, is currently a Reader, Department of Political Science, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh.

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