Friday, January 14, 2011

Gaza: Two years after the Israeli attack

 by: Yohannan Chemerapally

IT was two years ago that Israel launched its three week long brutal military attack “Operation Cast Lead” on the defenceless people of Gaza. Thousands of Gazans marched on the streets of the besieged enclave to mark the anniversary in the last week of December. Aid flotillas from various countries are trying to break the Israeli siege and get in much needed medical and food aid for the people of Gaza. This is the third New Year that the 1.5 million residents of Gazans will experience without basic necessities like electricity and running water. Barring a few Western countries like the US and Canada, the rest of the international community has condemned the Gaza massacre and the widespread destruction of the already impoverished enclave. Even before the 2008 Israeli invasion, Gaza was described as an open air prison blockaded from the land, the air and the sea. The UN commissioned Goldstone Report had documented in detail the havoc wrought by the Israeli war machine on the hapless population of Gaza.

The Goldstone Report had explicitly stated that the very purpose of the Israeli attack was to destroy the remnants of the civilian and government infrastructure that were still in place in Gaza. Schools, hospitals, places of worship, thousands of homes and government buildings, were among the targets chosen by Israeli government. 1417 Palestinians, many of them children, were killed during the three weeks of continuous Israeli attacks from the ground and the air. Very little of the destroyed infrastructure, including schools and hospitals could be repaired, due to the economic blockade imposed by Israel. Basic goods and medicines are not allowed into Gaza. Gazans have also been deprived of the right to cross the borders that have been arbitrarily imposed on them by the Zionist state.


John Ging, the head of the UN Relief and Works agency (UNRWA) in the occupied territories said recently that there has “been no materiel change” for the people of Gaza since the murderous Israeli assault two years ago. He said that there was “no reconstruction, no economy” in Gaza. He emphasised that the stranglehold on the economic livelihood of the people continues unabated. There has been no easing of the total blockade on Gaza as claimed by Israel, which has let in a few token aid convoys. The so called easing, he said has been in reality “nothing but a political easing of the pressure on Israel and Egypt”.  Egypt which shares a short border with Gaza has rigorously implemented the Israeli mandated sanctions, which run counter to international law. Ging reminded the international community that more than four years have elapsed since Israel imposed the stifling siege on Gaza. Israel has not even allowed the passage of construction materiel which is desperately needed for reconstructing homes, hospitals and school that were destroyed by Israel two years ago during Operation Cast Lead.

In the first week of December 22, international organisations like Oxfam and Save the Children produced a report---“Dashed Hopes, Continuation of the Gaza Blockade”. The report called for international action to force Israel to unconditionally lift the blockade saying that the Gazans continue to live under the “same devastating conditions”. The blockade of Gaza was ratcheted up by Israel in 2007 after the consolidation of power by the Hamas. 90 per cent of its functioning factories and enterprises were forced to close down by the end of 2007 due to lack of raw materials and spare parts. 70 per cent of the population have been living on less than $2 a day since then. 

Before the second anniversary of the Gaza invasion, representatives of civil society organisations in Gaza wrote an open letter which tried to remind the international community that Gazans like other people also have the right to lead normal lives including the right to “travel and move freely”. The open letter said that Gazans “want to live without fear of another bombing campaign that leaves hundreds of our children dead and many more injured with cancers from the contamination of Israel’s white phosphorous and chemical warfare”. The letter urged more support for the Palestinian led campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against the blatantly racist policies being followed by Israel. “Since the Gaza massacre of 2009, world citizens have undertaken the responsibility to pressure Israel to comply with international law, through a proven strategy of boycott, divestment and sanctions. As in the global BDS movement which was so effective in ending the apartheid South African regime, we urge the people of conscience to join the BDS call made by over 170 Palestinian organisations in 2005”, the letter said.

Palestinian organisations in their joint letter had also called on the international community “to take up the responsibility of protecting the Palestinian people” and act against Israel “for its intentional policies of savagery, including the severing of access to drinking water and electricity supply to 1.5 million people”. The momentum the BDS is gaining worldwide has alarmed the Israeli establishment. Israeli leaders have sought to characterise the movement as an “anti-Semitic” exercise intended to de-legitimise the Jewish state. This argument however has few takers, even in countries like the US where there is a sizeable and influential Jewish population. Today the most fervent supporters of Israel are xenophobic right wing parties in Europe espousing neo-Nazi ideology. As the Israeli historian Ilan Pappe noted recently, the BDS will be effective because it shows clearly “the link between racist character of the state and the criminal nature of its polices towards the Palestinians”.  

No action against Israel has been taken by the UN on the findings of the Goldstone Commission. The US, the EU do not want Israel to be taken to task for the “war crimes” it has committed and have sought to bury the report.  An US Congressional resolution passed this year in fact condemned the findings of the Goldstone Report commissioned by the UNHCR documenting the infringement of human rights and civil liberties by Israel in Gaza. As the recently released Wikileaks documents suggest that there was some degree of tacit “security cooperation” between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) before Operation Cast Lead started. It is no secret that there is still no love lost between Hamas which controls Gaza and the Fatah dominated PA in the West Bank.

Instead, senior government officials and politicians in Israel are again talking of launching yet another attack on Gaza in a bid to topple the lawfully elected government led by Hamas and weaken the resistance. Wikileaks cables have revealed that the Israeli Army Chief, Gabi Ashkenazi informed a US Congressional delegation in 2009  after the war on Gaza that he was “preparing for a large scale war”. The Israeli army chief is quoted as saying that in the next war, he wouldn’t allow “any restrictions” on attacks on civilian areas. “In the next war Israel cannot accept any restrictions on warfare in urban areas”, the Israeli General told the visiting US Congressional delegation. Ashkenazi also revealed that he was getting inputs from US intelligence agencies in identifying targets.

It is the spirited resistance of the people of Gaza despite the overwhelming odds that have confounded the Israeli occupation forces and kept the flag of resistance flying. Since Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli army has continued targeting civilians in Gaza, despite the Hamas and other resistance groups observing a truce. In the third week of December, a 20 year old shepherd grazing his flock of sheep was killed by Israeli soldiers. There are signs that the Israeli army is preparing for a military escalation against Gaza once again. Every other day in the past couple of months, there are either reports of Gazans being killed or increased Israeli military activity, including the use of F-16 fighter planes for targeted killings.

Israel’s refusal to lift the blockade on Gaza coupled with its continued intransigence on the issue of statehood for Palestine has alienated it even further from the international community. The brutal attack on the Turkish aid ship the “Mari Marmara” last year has further galvanised international opinion against Israel’s racist policies. One illustration of this is the spate of recognition for Palestine statehood that has come from major Latin American countries in the month of December. Brazil and Argentina were among the first group of countries from the region to recognise Palestinian statehood. Bolivia and Ecuador have followed suit. Other key Latin American countries like Mexico, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay and Nicaragua are reportedly all set to formally recognise Palestinian statehood. Venezuela was the only Latin American country that had recognised Palestine earlier. The Brazilian president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a week before he demitted office, demanded the end of US “guardianship” over West Asia. “There will be no peace in the middle east as long as the United States is the guardian of peace. It is necessary to involve other countries in negotiations between Israel and Palestine”, he said.

These developments will help the Palestinians when they present their case for international recognition to the UN General Assembly this year. Already more than 106 UN member states, including India, have extended recognition to Palestinian statehood within the pre-1967 borders. Palestine declared independence on November 15, 1988 in Algiers. Among the leading countries in the world that have still not recognised the State of Palestine are the US, Japan and Germany. Many more states recognise Palestine than the Republic of Kosovo. Only 72 UN members have recognised Kosovo which became independent in 2008. Washington and its NATO allies were among the strongest supporters of Kosovo’s statehood. Two million Kosovars were fast tracked into independence while a million and a half Palestinians have been suffering in the world’s biggest open air prison---Gaza. In the West Bank, the Israeli’s are gobbling up Palestinian land at a feverish pace in an effort to make statehood for Palestinians unviable. A recent voice vote in the US Congress unanimously approved a resolution by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) which called on the US president not to recognise the State of Palestine and to veto any effort by Palestine to get full UN membership. AIPAC is Israel’s main lobbying arm in the US.

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