Thursday, January 29, 2009
Up until the second week of the war more than 750 Palestinians were killed and thousands injured. This is the highest Palestinian toll in four decades of occupation, and the figure is expected to be much bigger when a ceasefire is finally called. The few hospitals in Gaza, already under strain on account of the blockade, have not been able to cope with the tragedy. Israeli helicopter gunships have gone to the extent of targeting ambulances carrying the injured. Ehab Mahbub, a Palestinian doctor, was killed when his ambulance was hit by an Israeli missile. The appeals for blood are getting more and more desperate.
Karen Abu Zayed, the Commissioner for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), said the need for aid “has never been so acute”. The media, both Israeli and international, have been kept out of Gaza despite an Israeli Supreme Court directive to the government to allow the media to cover the unfolding human catastrophe. The United States and other Western countries, which otherwise are great votaries of free media, have not been complaining too much about this.
Before the invasion, a spokesman for the UNRWA described the humanitarian situation in Gaza as “disastrous” and said the agency was unable to get medical supplies into Gaza for more than a year because of Israel’s blockade of the border crossings.
In 2008, the Israeli Supreme Court, behaving as an appendage of the state, ruled that the government was authorised to limit the supply of electricity, petrol and diesel to Gaza since these “diminished quantities sufficiently meet humanitarian needs”. The Supreme Court also sanctioned collective punishment for the hapless people almost a year ago. Collective punishment is prohibited under international law. “If the residents of the Gaza Strip deserve to be punished because of the Qassam rockets, then maybe all Israelis need to be punished because of the occupation,” prominent Israeli commentator Gideon Levy wrote in a recent article. The Jewish state, with the tacit support of sections of the Palestinian Authority and neighbouring Arab states, tried first to starve Gazans into submission. They had hoped that the population would rise in revolt and throw out the Hamas-led government. When that blueprint did not materialise, Israel prepared for a military assault to get rid of Hamas and other militant groups in Gaza. These are the only groups that are keeping the flag of resistance still flying in the occupied territories. A senior Israeli army officer told The New York Times that the purpose of the invasion was to “make Hamas either lose their will or lose their weapons”.
The U.N. has also not covered itself in glory as Israel keeps on violating all established international norms with impunity. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has not explicitly condemned the targeting of civilian neighbourhoods. The Security Council has failed even to come out with a statement mildly censoring Israel. Instead, the U.N. has played into Israel’s hands by calling for “restraint” on both sides. In doing so, it has put Israel, which has the most powerful army in the region, and the Hamas militia, which operates under the jackboot of the occupation, on the same footing.
As Hannan Ashrawi, Palestinian political activist and member of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, (PLO) said, the international community should have realised a long time ago that it is the Israeli occupation and the continuous brutalisation of Palestinians that is the root cause of the conflict. In the past seven years, more than 5,000 Palestinians have been killed by the Israeli army. The Israeli toll during the same period was 14 civilians, killed mainly by rocket fire. On the first day of the Israeli “death from above” campaign, more than 300 Palestinian civilians were killed. The Israeli army announced that it had dropped 100 tonnes of bombs in the first nine hours of the operation.
Professor Richard Falk, the U.N. rapporteur to the occupied territories, said in the first week of January that the Israeli attack on Gaza represented a severe and massive violation of international humanitarian law as defined by the Geneva Conventions regarding the obligations of an occupying power and the requirements of the laws of war.
The eminent American expert on international law also noted that Israel had ignored recent Hamas initiatives to re-establish the military truce after it expired on December 26. According to Falk, the Israeli military invasion and the catastrophic human toll it has caused “challenge those countries that have been and remain complicit, either directly or indirectly, in Israel’s violation of international law”.
This complicity, said Falk, extended to those countries knowingly providing military equipment for these illegal attacks. The U.S. is no doubt the main provider of arms for the Zionist state, but some other countries, such as India, are also filling its coffers, helping it to spread terror in the region. Israel is all set to supplant Russia as the biggest supplier of arms to India. In November, just as Israel was getting ready to invade Gaza, a high-level Indian delegation was in Tel Aviv to firm up multi-billion-dollar defence contracts. It is well known that Mossad and the Israeli state-controlled armaments industry have a big stake in all these defence deals.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) and other Left parties have appealed to the Indian government to at least snap defence links with Israel in the wake of the Gaza invasion. President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela has shown the way to world leaders by expelling Israel’s Ambassador to his country. In a televised address, he compared Israel’s invasion of Gaza to the “holocaust” against Jews during the Second World War. He said the President of Israel and the President of the U.S. should be taken together to the International Criminal Court. “How sad that Israel continues to act as the assassin’s arm of the Yankee Empire,” Chavez said.
After flattening Gaza with bombs and missiles fired from their planes and helicopter gunships, Israel sent its elite troops, backed by heavy armour, into the territory. It dropped 1,000-kg bombs to flatten entire neighbourhoods and to prepare the ground for the advance of its troops.
After the attack on the U.N. school building, the efforts to bring about a ceasefire have intensified. A joint French-Egyptian initiative, which calls on Israel to withdraw and Hamas to stop firing rockets, has been supported by the U.S. in the U.N. Security Council. United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has, however, not called for a halt to the Israeli military operations even after the wilful targeting of the U.N. school. Both Israeli and Hamas leaderships have said they are studying the French-Egyptian proposals seriously.
The Israeli government announced on January 7 that the military would stop shooting for three hours every day to allow essential humanitarian supplies into Gaza. But the Israeli army also stated that it would respond immediately to any provocations. As of the second week of January, the Israeli establishment has indicated that it wants to continue the military offensive despite demands from the international community for an immediate ceasefire. Meanwhile, the defiant Hamas rocket-fire continues, underlining the fact that the Israeli war machine has not been able to achieve its stated goal of disarming Hamas fighters so far.