The Cruel Onslaught On Gaza

Sunday, the 27th of December, marked one year since Israel’s military launched Operation Cast Lead that robbed the lives of more than 1,400 Palestinians, including 318 children, leaving 5,300 wounded. The cruel onslaught on Gaza that relentlessly continued until Jan. 18, 2009, destroyed United Nations facilities, hospitals, schools, ministerial buildings and 3,500 houses, leaving 20,000 homeless.

By contrast, Israel lost three civilians as well as nine soldiers; three of whom succumbed to “friendly fire.” The disparity in casualties aside, the fact that the region’s most powerful military unleashed sophisticated weapons on a captive population is nothing short of a massacre.

Yet, once again, the cowardly international community has chosen to avert its gaze. The 550-page UN Human Rights Council’s report on the Gaza conflict, which found that Israel is potentially guilty of war crimes and should be referred to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, has virtually been filed away.

Israel characterized the report’s leading author Judge Goldstone as “a self-hating Jew” while the US slammed its contents as biased. In September, the US House of Representative passed a resolution condemning it.

The Goldstone’s report also recommended that Israeli officials be tried by those countries adhering to the concept of Universal Jurisdiction. Britain is one of them. But when, earlier this month, a British court issued an arrest warrant for Israel’s former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, the British Foreign Office issued an apology while Downing Street is making efforts to have the relevant law changed.

Britain’s reaction was predictable. After all, it wouldn’t do to embarrass the Israelis and, thus, risk harming the trans-Atlantic relationship that must be preserved even if that means the UK’s military engagement in illegal wars of choice.

Today, the situation in Gaza is dire. There, more than 1.5 million men, women and children are literally caged. Israel has a stranglehold over Gaza’s land borders, airspace and coastline, which gives it control over imports, exports and who comes in or out. The Jewish state opens and closes crossing points at whim, leaving the people of Gaza without sufficient food, medical supplies and fuel needed to pump clean water and sewage. Anyone who has ever experienced a power outage, however brief, will surely sympathize with people whose evenings are mostly spent in darkness.

A report issued in June by the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) says thousands are without shelter while the construction industry has ground to a halt due to Israel’s refusal to allow the import of building materials.

Further, some 3,500 businesses have been forced to close down and over 75,000 workers who support half-a-million dependents have lost their jobs. The report also states that 80 percent of households now subsist below the poverty line. The truly shameful thing is that no matter how loud this victimized population calls out for help — never mind justice — the world remains deaf to their cries. Even their few friends in high places have either deserted them or have been unable to garner enough support to offer concrete assistance. The American president, who brokered Camp David and authored “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,” Jimmy Carter has offered Israel a prayer signifying a plea for forgiveness and has apologized for any of his words or deeds that may have stigmatized the Jewish state. For a man who has spent the best part of his latter years criticizing Israel for its treatment of the Palestinians, which he has likened to the way black South Africans were treated under apartheid, this represents a disappointing U-turn.

Moreover, two US lawmakers, Reps Brian Baird, D-Washington and Keith Ellison, D- Minnesota, who visited Gaza in February to see the devastation for first hand said at the time that they would do everything in their power to ensure the US worked toward ending the siege and assisted with the cost of reparations. But, 10 months on, they both admit failure, primarily because the subject of Gaza is a hot potato in Congress. In short, their fellow lawmakers don’t want to know; firstly, because they are wary of upsetting the pro-Israel lobby and, secondly, they associate Gaza with Hamas.

A proposed 14-kilometer steel wall separating Egyptian territory from the Gaza Strip, designed to protect Egypt “against threats to its national security,” will add to Gazans’ woes as they will be deprived of food and other essentials presently being smuggled across the border via underground tunnels. In January 2008, Hamas used a bulldozer to flatten sections of fencing between the Egyptian town of Rafah and Gaza allowing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to flood into Egypt and Egypt does not want a repeat performance.

Governments everywhere have let the people of Gaza down, but they do enjoy huge grassroots support internationally. There is a Viva Palestina convoy of 220 trucks packed with humanitarian aid heading their way after the organizers agreed to take the proscribed route across the Suez Canal. Unfortunately, this is a mere drop in the ocean. There must be a coordinated global effort to end the imprisonment of these men, women and children who have done nothing to deserve such humiliation and depravation.

The international community must remove its collective blinkers and grow a heart. It is beyond disgusting that in the 21st century there is a virtual concentration camp packed with ordinary folk who just want to live . . . and nobody with the power to make a difference is doing anything about it.

Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at [email protected].

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