As of January 10, 2009, the death toll from 15 days of fighting in Gaza is just shy of hitting a thousand, most of which are innocent civilians. Calls for an immediate ceasefire have fallen on deaf ears, with each side laying the onus on the other to make the first move. How did it get so bloody? Faizal Dahlawia reports.
In the middle of 2008, Israel and Hamas agreed to a ceasefire; Israel needed a way to avoid being involved in a heavy a military operation, while Hamas severely needed to relieve its massive economic strain due to the fighting. Indirectly- through an Egyptian mediator- both sides came to an agreement. But the mutual understanding did not last for very long.
Just barely over six months after the truce, the fighting began again as Hamas refused to extend the agreement, saying Israel had violated its terms. Hamas, which controls Gaza, reportedly fired mortars and rockets deep into Israeli territory and in retaliation; Israel unleashed the deadliest battery of bombings against the Palestinians in decades.
However, other reports stated that Israel re-ignited the conflict when it blew up a tunnel from which an attack on Israel could be launched. Three Palestinian fighters were killed, and that effectively sealed the fate of the ceasefire. With no clear indication of the firestarter, the world has taken sides; political powers like the US have unsurprisingly defended the Israeli action, saying that it understands Israel’s need to defend itself, while many in the Arab world expressed their deep disappointment at Israel’s use of disproportionate force against an attack.
The head of the Arab League, General Amr Mussa, urged the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to take immediate action to stop Israeli raids on the Gaza Strip.
“We urge the Security Council not to fall under any pressure, and take an immediate decision to stop the Israeli attacks on Gaza. Which ‘magic number’ (of deaths) is the Security Council waiting for before it will act to put an end to these attacks?” he asked.
But unlike cer tain political organisations, which fully blamed Hamas for the present situation, Mussa acknowledged the role that each side played, accusing the Israeli government of beginning the offensive to improve its chances ahead of elections, and indirectly criticising Hamas, saying that there had to be ‘responsible’ resistance.
Genocide of the innocent The Gaza Strip is crammed with 1.5 million people who can never leave, and when bombs begin to drop, there is nowhere to hide. Television footage from Gaza showed bodies scattered on the roads, and the dead and wounded being carried away, civilians rushing to the targeted areas, trying to move the wounded in their cars to the hospital.
Israel military said it attacked ‘terrorist infrastructure’, and accused Hamas fighters of sheltering among ordinary Palestinians, including inside hospitals and UN compounds, and of trying to draw attacks on to civilians. Uzi Eilam, a security expert, said,
“They recognise the superiority of Israeli forces and want them to target the civilian population.” The Israel military, with their modern weaponry, try to pinpoint targets, but predictably, there are plenty of ‘misses’ and inevitably, innocent casualties.
“Which ‘magic number’ (of deaths) is the Security Council waiting for before it will act to put an end to these attacks?”
Hamas said it would seek revenge to what they called ‘the Israeli slaughter’, which could include launching new rocket attacks on Israel and sending suicide bombers to the country.
“Hamas will continue the resistance until the last drop of blood,” said a Hamas spokesman, Fawzi Barhoum, speaking on a Gaza radio station. They have also warned that it would mount an unprecedented retaliation if any of its leaders were assassinated. Crimes of war
“A war launched with such tools (modern weapons) at such targets (refugee camps) cannot be anything other than a war crime,” said Qatar’s ruler Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani in comments aired on Al Jazeera channel.
Israel has accused Hamas of using civilians in the Gaza Strip as ‘human shields’, saying the Islamist group has fired rockets at Israeli towns from densely populated areas. That may or may not be true, but what is clear is that the Israeli attacks in Gaza indicates the need for independent investigations to determine whether Israel has taken all feasible precautions to avoid harming civilians, as required by the laws of war.
Christopher Gunness, a UN spokesman in Jerusalem, said, “We’re demanding an explanation from the Israelis. Whenever there are civilian fatalities of this nature, we call for an investigation, and any violations of international humanitarian law will be dealt with.”
But Hamas, also with blood on their hands, have a responsibility to do likewise, and stop targeting civilians. The use of rockets that cannot discriminate between civilians and military targets, such as the locally made rockets fired by Hamas, violate the laws of war when fired toward populated areas. Joe Stork, director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division, once said,
“Combatants must take all feasible precautions to avoid harming civilians, regardless of actions taken by the other side. Deliberate or indiscriminate attacks against civilians are always prohibited; who did what first is irrelevant.”
Mussa accused the UNSC of ‘ignoring’ Israel’s onslaught on Gaza, saying the delay in agreeing to a resolution is proof of failure to handle the conflict. He said while Arab regimes cannot put pressure on Israel, the Security Council could pressure the Jewish state into ending its bombardment.
“The continuation of the international community and the Security Council ignoring this situation is a very dangerous thing. We see that it’s not convening is a clear proof of failure in dealing with this huge crisis, and allowing Israel an opportunity,” he said.
The US, a staunch ally of Israel and one of five countries with veto power in the Security Council, blocked a draft resolution that called on both sides to abide by a ceasefire because it did not explicitly mention Hamas rocket attacks.
But the UNSC is not the only one to feel the heat. Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi derided proposals by Arab leaders on holding emergency summits. “How many times have you held emergency summits? Is this the first time you are proposing an emergency summit? How many summits have you held on the Palestinian issue? What have you achieved?” he asked. Instead, he called on the Arab League to revoke the Arab peace initiative with Israel.
“You should withdraw your initiative, which you have called an Arab initiative. It is an Arab conspiracy that has caused these massacres,” he said.
Need of the hour
The US has said that they are working for a ceasefire now where Hamas must stop its rocket attacks on Israel. All sides then need to respect the ceasefire. Tony Blair, the international envoy to the Middle East, declared the outlines of a ceasefire agreement were emerging, and said they rested on Hamas stopping rocket attacks.
“The only way to stop it, and stop it definitively, is to have a situation where the rockets stop coming out of Gaza. For anyone living in Gaza, it is hell,” he stated.
However, perhaps the fundamental issue here is that the political bigwigs have refused to acknowledge Hamas as a legitimate government, even though they won the elections fair and square. Perhaps if they try to accept the fact, and hold talks instead of carrying out sanctions, it could turn out better for everyone involved. US President Barack Obama has reiterated time and again that he is all for diplomatic talks, but his strong support for Israel, regardless of situation, can hamper his good intentions.
The Israeli government wants peace, but only if imposed on its own terms, based on the acceptance of defeat by the Palestinians. A senior exiled Hamas official, Moussa Abu Marzouk, told The Associated Press that Hamas is rejecting any talk of a new truce with Israel unless all attacks on Gaza cease, and the border crossings are reopened. He also added that Palestinian militants have a right to strike everywhere in Israel in response to its deadly assault on Gaza.
But despite what is regularly reported about Hamas’s defiance, Khalid Mish’al, head of the Hamas political bureau, was once reported as saying this in an article in the Guardian:
“Our message to the Israelis is this: we do not fight you because you belong to a cer tain faith or culture. Jews have lived in the Muslim world for 13 centuries in peace and harmony; they are in our religion ‘the people of the book’, who have a covenant from God and His Messenger Muhammad (PBUH) to be respected and protected.
Our conflict with you is not religious, but political. We have no problem with Jews who have not attacked us- our problem is with those who came to our land, imposed themselves on us by force, destroyed our society and banished our people. We shall never recognise the right of any power to rob us of our land and deny us our national rights. We shall never recognise the legitimacy of a Zionist state created on our soil in order to atone for somebody else’s sins or solve somebody else’s problem. But if you are willing to accept the principle of a longterm truce, we are prepared to negotiate the terms. Hamas is extending a hand of peace to those who are truly interested in a peace based on justice.”
It may be just a flicker, but hope is hope.
Article by: Arabian Man