Perpetual conflict by Israeli design

By Graham Peebles

For a moment or two the slaughter of Palestinian civilians and the destruction in Gaza City has ceased. But the oppression, intimidation and terror throughout the occupied Palestinian territories continue unabated.

Israel’s operation “Pillar of Cloud” has done its destructive work and blown over, until the next time Israel feels the urge to wreak chaos, kill civilians and tear families apart. How many times must we watch this slaughter, how many more tears will be shed, lives ruined, futures denied? As the peace activist Izzeldin Abuelaish put it, “How many more massacres can Palestinians stand? How many can onlookers tolerate?”

During the week-long Israeli military storm, and amid the circular argument espoused by the Israeli military spokespeople and repeated ad infinitum by Israel’s spineless allies, that when Hamas stops firing rockets, Israel will cease its brutality, 162 Palestinians were killed and, according to Al-Mezan Centre for Human Rights, 1,039 injured – half of whom were women and children. Homes, schools, mosques, universities, places of work and infrastructure were reduced to rubble. So much for Israel’s “surgical strikes”!

On the other side, according to the United Nations six Israelis were killed and 219 were injured by the 1,456 rockets fired from Gaza into Israel. Despite the heavy civilian loss of life on the Palestinian side, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told the BBC that “Israel will do “everything in its power” to avoid civilian casualties in the conflict with Hamas”.

Israel boasts the fourth most powerful armed forces in the world, thanks largely to the US arms industry and taxpayer. Compared to its sophisticated arsenal, the Palestinians of Gaza’s rockets are mere firecrackers. But the bully always uses overwhelming force, first, because he usually has it and, secondly, because he is itching to use it.

Human Right Watch proclaims that “there is no justification for Palestinian armed groups unlawfully launching rockets at Israeli population centres”. Sitting comfortably on the moral high ground, it is easy to pronounce the platitude that violence is never justified. However, if, as the people of Gaza do, you live in an open air prison without hope or justice, where intimidation and abuse is a daily affair and manipulation and control the norm, where your dignity has been stolen and your liberty denied, then it is not surprising that provocations will bring an exasperated scream of frustration and hate.

Assassination and truce

Israel has been carrying out “targeted killings” for years. With America legitimizing extra-judicial assassinations, there is nothing to stop Israeli’s secret service Mossad or its air force from killing whoever they like and whenever they choose. Israel is, after all, the champion of democracy in an area besieged with unstable dictatorships.

Writing in Haaretz newspaper, Israeli peace activist Gershon Baskin said that Israel’s assassination of Ahmad Jabari, the commander of Hamas’s military wing, on 17 November “killed the possibility of achieving a truce and also the Egyptian mediators’ ability to function”. According to Human Rights Watch, the “targeted assault” also killed “at least five civilians… [and] wounded at least 115 people, including 26 children and 25 women”.

Israel’s action was guaranteed to provoke a response from Hamas, which promised that Israel would “pay a heavy price” and followed up its promise by firing 85 rockets immediately after Jabari’s assassination”. This in turn allowed Israel to unleash it’s baying military, who are forever waiting with violent anticipation for an excuse to respond with their customary excessive force.

Shooting civilians in a barrel

Palestinian children continue to be a favourite Israeli target. According to the website If Americans Knew, “1,477 children have been killed” since the new millennium was rung in. They make up 45 per cent of Gaza’s population, a demographic that terrifies an aging Israel. The frightened, entrapped civilians of Gaza make easy pickings for the Israeli forces that target them like fish in a barrel. In Israel’s previous blitzkrieg on the Gaza Strip, the 2008-09 Operation Cast Lead, 1,417 residents of the Strip were killed of which, according to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, 318 were minors.

As would be expected, many of the children that survive are traumatized. The Gaza Community Health Programme estimates that “half Gaza’s children – around 350,000 – will develop some form of post-traumatic stress disorder”. The latest attacks on innocent civilians will serve to intensify the children’s mental suffering and anguish.

One of the authors of the UN’s Goldstone report, Colonel Desmond Travers, cited a psychiatrist in Gaza as saying that children who are exposed to so much violence “have no option but to terminate their childhood and move into a different frame, [and] the likelihood is that they will never stabilize”. With their childhood lost, they become radicalized, hateful of those that have killed their parents, brothers, sisters and friends. Hatred and resentment that fulfills the intentions of the aggressor: an enemy is, after all, essential in the mind of the oppressor, allowing a perverted justification for continued violence and suffering.

Cause and destruction

The recent round of killing and mayhem is the latest in a long series of violent acts perpetrated by Israel. It is necessary to maintain perspective and apportion responsibility appropriately, and to view current events in a broad context – these are rational requirements of understanding that Israel and its supporters are always at pains to negate.

Israel’s carefully planned and interconnected policies, according to Human Rights Watch, “have no conceivable security justifications”. They deliberately perpetuate suffering and generate conflict, and include the illegal occupation of the West bank, the siege of the Gaza Strip, extended settlement building, the false imprisonment of Palestinians – men, women and children – the illegal use of the draconian “administrative detention” orders, the demolition of Palestinian homes, the torture of Palestinians held in Israeli custody, including children, the withholding of business permits, the blocking of humanitarian aid to Gaza and on and on.

The list is long and is burgeoning with actions that violate all manner of international laws and countless United Nations resolutions – violations that individually and collectively add up to little more than state criminality. Or, to give it it’s technical term, conforming to the authoritative US military definition – terrorism. And, let us never forget, all this happens with the tacit support of the USA, which bankrolls the whole illegal business. According to If America Knew during fiscal year 2011 the US provided Israel with at least 8.2 million dollars per day.

Ideologically-driven political positions and cowardly media coverage, which promote the nonsensical argument that the peace loving Israeli warplanes are simply reacting, reluctantly, to Palestinian terror, support and justify continued Israeli violence, hinder peace and serve neither the Israeli population or the Palestinian people. Israel is painted as the victim that is being persecuted simply for wanting a homeland for its long-suffering people. Such perverse propaganda omits a mountain of facts. As the website If America Knew states, “in every cycle of violence Palestinians are killed first and in far greater numbers”.

Gaza gasping for air

Israel’s highly restrictive border closures, which were imposed after Hamas was democratically elected in 2006, have according to the CIA caused “the near collapse of the private sector that had relied on export markets”. Consequently, the population has become reliant on large-scale humanitarian assistance led by UN agencies.”

Livelihoods have been destroyed and unemployment has rocketed to over 40 per cent, with a similar number living below the official poverty line. The 1.65 million residents of Gaza, living on this tiny 320 square kilometer slither of land, are, according to the United Nations Development Programme, “denied the exercise of basic human rights related to access to safe and potable water, sanitation, housing, health [and] education”. The people are completely isolated and trapped. Israel denies Gaza an operational port, control of its airspace and freedom of movement, either abroad, into the West Bank or across the border into Israel. B’Tselem reports that “entry of residents of the Gaza Strip to Israel for family visits or to enable spouses to live together is forbidden”. The West Bank and Gaza are recognized as one territory under the 1995 Oslo Accords. As such, movement to and from one area to another should be unrestricted, and all resources, in particular water, should be shared. However, as B’Tselem states, the Interim Agreement stipulates that “residents of the Gaza Strip … are not allowed to obtain water from the West Bank”.

Israel is suffocating Gaza and destroying its economy, infrastructure and society. As B’Tselem puts it, “import and export of goods is limited, and frequently stopped completely. In addition, only a small number of Gazans have been allowed to work in Israel, and tens of thousands of Gazans have lost their source of income.”

It’s worth noting that in 2011 the GDP per capita of the West Bank and Gaza Strip was 2,900, US dollars, compared with their Israeli neighbours’ 31,500 dollars. The seas around Gaza are also controlled by Israel, with the exception of a three-mile radius, reduced from the 20 miles stated in the Oslo Accords, thereby prohibiting fishing and the docking of international shipping. Injustice and intimidation is the shadow under which the people of the Gaza Strip live. It is time long overdue that their human rights were observed and international law honoured, allowing the men, women and children presently persecuted to live decent and dignified lives.

Crying out for justice, desperate for peace

Peace is a universal goal seemingly not shared by Israel’s leaders, certainly not in relation to the Palestinian people. The word has been perverted to justify positions of hostility by an Israel that seeks not the implementation of peace and works not for its realization. The word has no meaning when actions that work against peace continue as they do.

The people of Palestine are desperate for peace and no doubt most decent Israelis share this desire. Is there the will among the politicians whom the innocent rely on? Have Israel’s allies the courage to do what is right for the people, observe and implement international law, remove the diplomatic support and stop funding the occupation? Is there the will to go beyond platitudes and act, for as a wise man has explained, “nothing happens by itself, man must act and implement his will”.

Let the will be the will of the people for peace, for the ending of death and suffering, for the chance to live together, free from fear. It is to this end that all parties must now work. Let an atmosphere of hope be created, for enough pain and suffering have been wrought on the Palestinian people. Enough death and heartache! Enough anger and insecurity!

Let this “Pillar of Cloud” be the storm that reveals a new day of peace and harmony, based on sharing and justice. The choice in the region and more broadly for humanity is stark and clear: share and save the world or continue in the ways of separation, division and violence. Sharing offers the possibility of justice settling upon what was once truly a Holy Land, allowing for trust to be slowly built and peace to gently germinate and flower.

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