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Myriam Francois-Cerrah

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Gaza's Citizens: A Human Sacrifice in a Political 'Blame Game'

Posted: 18/11/2012 16:32

Writing on the latest conflict in Gaza, I'm reminded of the extent to which media coverage of a ‎given issue can significantly shape its perception, even when that coverage runs counter to facts.

‎Hamas' status as an international pariah, means that the lack of sympathy reserved for an ‎organisation listed as 'terrorist' by most countries in the West, now sadly extends to all Palestinians ‎living in Hamas' ruled Gaza. Over half of Palestinians didn't actually vote for Hamas and many of ‎those who did were voting against the corruption and the successive failures of Fatah, rather than ‎for rocket attacks directed at Israel. Just as the ongoing blockade of Gaza is a form of ‎collective punishment, the current international unwillingness to protect Palestinian civilians on the ‎grounds that Israel has a right to respond to rocket attacks, also represents a form of collective ‎punishment. The message is clear: Vote for Hamas and live with the consequences. In this ‎asymmetric 'war' in which militants are said to be Israel's target, why should civilians be ‎caught in the middle. ‎

Since Wednesday Israel has launched about 1,000 air strikes on the Strip with devastating human ‎consequences. In just the past few days, 57 Palestinians have been killed, including several ‎children, and more than 450 people have been wounded. Rather than targeting alleged militants, ‎Israel is now bombing government buildings, police compounds and buildings housing Palestinian ‎and international media, including Reuters, Sky news and Al Arabiya, whose correspondent ‎clarified "there were no gunmen or militants at the site." In what way can Israel's attacks on Gaza ‎be defined as self-defence? A rocket shield is a defence strategy. Brokering a truce is a defence ‎strategy. Bombing one of the most densely populated strips on earth, when consistent historical ‎evidence suggests this merely escalates, not reduces violence, is not a defence strategy. It may be ‎an electoral one though. ‎

The timing of this assault coincides, as did the previous one (Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09), with ‎an impending election. Israeli Journalist, Aluf Benn suggests a familiar pattern in Israeli politics, ‎whereby "whenever the ruling party feels threatened at the ballot box, it puts its finger on the ‎trigger".

With Israel's decision to mobilise 75,000 army ‎reservists - almost eight times as many as in Operation Cast Lead in which 1400 Palestinians, ‎including 320 minors, were killed and 5,000 Palestinians were injured ( nine Israelis were killed) - it ‎seems the Likud's victory will be written in blood. ‎

Sunday, the aerial assault on Gaza intensified, as Netanyahu announced Israel is "prepared to ‎widen its Gaza offensive significantly". Tanks and troops have amassed at the border and the IDF is ‎warning Gazans of an impending 'second phase'. It now seems likely a ground operation will ensue ‎despite suggestions by the Egyptian and Turkish PMs that a truce 'might' be on the cards. ‎

According to Al-Youm news, Hamas has agreed to stop firing rockets on Israel if it lifts the blockade ‎and stops assassinations - but this is unlikely to halt the aggression. Politically, Netanyahu has far ‎too much to gain from it, as a poll by Channel 10 showed that 91% of Israelis support Operation ‎Pillar of Defence. What's more, Israel's current prime minister is an unlikely ally for peace negotiations. He never ‎endorsed a US backed plan for a two state solution, has refused to halt settlements and in 2009 ‎resigned from the cabinet over the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.‎

All evidence suggests that Hamas was in the process of trying to broker an extended ceasefire when ‎tensions flared. Despite all the talk of Hamas wanting to 'wipe Israel off the map', something it ‎does state in its charter, the posturing has not been reflected in reality. The fact Hamas negotiates ‎with Israel suggests it de-facto recognises its existence. Several reports indicate that at the time ‎the hostilities began, negotiations in view of renewing a truce were underway between Israel and ‎Ahmed Jabari, Israel's "subcontractor in Gaza", mediated by Egyptian intelligence officials and ‎accepted according to them, by Israel. ‎

Jabari, the man murdered in an extra-judicial assassination on Wednesday, was in fact seeking to ‎enforce the peace on other militant groups. According to Hareetz "for the past five and a half ‎years, Israel demanded of Hamas that it observe the truce in the south and enforce it on the ‎multiplicity of armed organizations in the Gaza Strip. The man responsible for carrying out this ‎policy was Ahmed Jabari." The killing of Jabari has been described by Israeli Gershon Baskin, who was brokering the long term ceasefire arrangement, as "a pre-emptive strike against the ‎possibility of a long term ceasefire." ‎

Hamas' truce offering is hardly a novelty. It has previously offered Israel truces lasting up to 20 ‎years and has every reason to want to observe them. In conflict with Israel, Hamas knows ‎Palestinians have everything to lose - more civilian casualties, more loss of infrastructure and ‎increasingly, more popular desperation. Since 2009, 16 times as many Palestinians have been killed ‎by Israelis as the other way around. ‎

Israel's far-right minister for foreign affairs, Avigdor Liberman has stated that toppling Hamas is ‎not on the agenda. Of course not, Hamas is much too convenient a bogeyman, which offers ‎significant cover for Israel's disregard for Human Rights, alongside guaranteed sympathy from ‎western governments which accept the narrative that Israel is merely engaged in its own version ‎of the 'war on terror'. Given our own government's track record - extra-judicial killings, torture, ‎drone attacks, illegal invasion - we hardly seem well equipped to criticise.‎

‎What we do know is that, according to Israel's interior minister, "the goal of the operation is to ‎send Gaza back to the Middle Ages". Currently, four in five Gazans are dependent on ‎humanitarian aid due to the blockade, which Amnesty international describes as 'targeting the ‎most vulnerable'. Unemployment levels are among the highest in the world and according to MSF, 70% of families live on less than $1/day, while 75% of the Gaza population relies ‎on food aid.‎
It wouldn't take much to plunge Gaza back into a deep humanitarian crisis, the apparent aim of this ‎latest operation. Some might argue they are there already. Without international pressure on ‎Israel to desist and agree to a truce, innocent Palestinians will continue to pay the price for ‎electoral pandering.

In his 2009 Cairo speech, Obama had promised the Middle East its own version ‎of 'change', a vision for peace which included a two state solution, in sympathy with ‎the "intolerable" plight of the Palestinians. The US president's reference to "the legitimate ‎Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity and a state of their own" have not disappeared, even ‎if US political will to endorse them have. With current US support for Israel unyielding, Palestinian ‎lives remain sacrificed to political exigencies once more. ‎

This piece was first published as an Op-Ed on Your Middle East, here

 

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