Eleven-month old Omar al-Masharawi (pictured above) was the son of BBC Arabic photo editor Jihad al-Masharawi. Now, he has been reduced to a statistic, yet another victim of unavoidable “collateral damage” in Israel’s defensive “war on terror”. Jihad’s six-month pregnant sister in law, aged just 19, has followed the same tragic fate. This is just a glimpse of the inexorable horrors undergone by the already vastly suffering Gazan population in the relentless five-day Israeli siege on the strip; all in the midst of what appears to be a political blackout, a silence that resonates interminably among the international community, and a failure – yet again – to take action.
In a single air strike on the house of policeman Mohamed Dalou, 9 members of the family were killed – 4 of them children. The official statement behind this self-evidently immoral (not to mention illegal) act was that the IDF thought that a Yehiya Rabiah – head of Hamas’ rocket launching unit – might have been hiding in the house, but that officials did not know whether or not he actually was. For a state that claims to take maximum restraint in avoiding civilian casualties – despite numerous allegations by international human rights organisations suggesting otherwise – this indiscriminate bombing on the basis of what was quite literally a hunch should provoke international outrage at its blatant disregard for international law and fundamental respect for humanity. Naturally however, Israel continues to act with impunity, and indeed the support of the world’s only superpower and its allies, in its attempts to “defend itself” against Hamas’ use of terrorism. Of course, they would have us believe that negotiating with such an organisation as Hamas as an alternative to warfare is hardly realistic, hoping in the meantime that we forget Israel’s open collaboration with them in the 1980s in attempts to undermine Yasser Arafat’s government and slow the vigorous momentum that he and his party were gaining on the international stage as a legitimate representative for the national rights and identity of a people.
With 94 Palestinian and 3 Israeli deaths being the result of the recently unprovoked – indeed, provoked by the Israeli betrayal of a fragile ceasefire if anything – siege on the small strip of land that has already been facing one of the largest humanitarian crises of the 21st century, we can see that the exchange rate for each Palestinian to each Israeli is at an astonishing 31:1. While the loss of any life, Israeli just as much as Palestinian, is a drawback to humanity as a whole, this contemptibly disproportionate retaliation by overwhelming Israeli force slaughtering what is largely innocent and fundamentally powerless Palestinians – including almost 30 children so far – follows the familiar pattern that has accompanied a 45 year occupation of Palestinian territories.
The rise of Hamas and extremism, which would have never been possible without Israeli support, has to be taken under the context of such an occupation. With actions deemed illegal under international law by no less than 90 UN Security Council Resolutions, as well as seemingly infinite reports by human rights organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, that Israel has continued to violate the Geneva conventions on a daily basis. Forms of collective punishment, the use of administrative detention, extensive Palestinian land expropriation and the expansion of illegal settlements in blatant attempts to reduce the viability of any Palestinian state, have become commonplace in such an occupation. The Gaza Strip has seen the worst of these measures, and has been under a severe blockade since Hamas’ democratic (much to the dismay of the United States and Israel) rise to power in 2006. Following a policy that has been identified as inhumane by B’tselem, Israel has taken upon itself to systematically destroy the Gazan economy to an assortment of rubble, drastically starve the population, and cut its population off from its Arab neighbours in the West Bank – ultimately leaving them as prisoners in their own country. The UN has stated that as a direct result of the Israeli blockade, the population of Gaza is facing a severe water crisis that will render the strip – home to over a million Palestinians, largely refugees from Israeli aggression in the 1948 war – unliveable by 2020. It is this brutal occupation that has so mercilessly and cataclysmically destroyed the livelihood of millions of Palestinians that has driven many to turn towards radical means to achieve their own liberty, and eventually culminated in the deaths of Israeli citizens as a result.
The Israeli government, and its Western allies, would have us think that the Palestinians know nothing but terror. It is on this point, that operation “Pillar of Defence” becomes a Pillar of Hypocrisy. Israel is a state that was quite literally built on terrorism. Nationalist organisations such as the Irgun – to which multiple Israeli prime ministers belonged – openly instigated terror campaigns against the British to achieve their independence; they were in fact the first groups in the middle east to use terror tactics as a means of reaching political goals. As well as this, the Zionist campaigns used the British mandate’s inhumane “Emergency Regulations” as a justification for these actions. Unsurprisingly, the very same Emergency Regulations, unchanged, became the primary method of the Israelis in subordinating the Arab population and subjugating them to an array of illegal actions that were directly in contrast to any perception of human rights and had a distinct resemblance to Apartheid. They will have us believe that the Israelis have been seeking peace for decades, only to be given violent responses by the Palestinians. Yasser Arafat in 1974 was in fact the first among the parties to propose non-violent solutions to the conflict, and to suggest a two-state solution in which Palestinians could live in a peaceful coexistence with the Israelis based upon UNSC resolutions 242 and 338: terms that to this day have not been accepted by the Israelis because they conflict with their territorial ambitions, which ultimately are not worth giving up for a lasting peace. After all, why should they seek peace? They are the 4th largest military in the world with the support of the world’s only superpower, and possess a distinct talent for the use of overwhelming force to suppress dissent; facing the conclusively impotent population of a poorer, weaker and overwhelmingly civilian population.
Benjamin Netanyahu said earlier this week that there was no moral equivalency between Hamas and the IDF. He was correct. There can be no equivalency between a fundamentally immoral, illegal, abhorrent occupation of a people and the systematic denial of their basic human rights when compared to the asinine and gruesomely misguided (as they truly are gruesome) reactions of an organisation that, while primitive and barbaric, is comparatively powerless. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that there is a time when silence becomes betrayal. The International community’s silence to Israeli aggression has now become a vehement betrayal of Palestinian national aspirations, but more crucially has become a betrayal of fundamental human rights and liberties. Escalations in violence such as these only make aspirations for a lasting peace seem perpetually more distant than before. These instigations provide the ideal breeding ground for religious and ideological extremism, and leave the moderates on both sides grasping at straws that grow further away with each casualty. The ideal of peaceful coexistence seems more abstract now than ever.
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