The Calamity in Gaza and West Bank
Few had not anticipated that the discovery that the kidnapped Israeli youth had been killed inside Palestinian territories would lead a terrible collective punishment of Palestinian civilians. The death of the two kidnapped young people is a sad and frightening reality of the injustice of a war forced upon the people of Israel and Palestine to serve but one objective; the continued illegal occupation of Palestinian land.
While we acknowledge that many Israeli families have lost lives, it has however become a pattern that the state of Israel reacts with all its crude force against 1.5 million Palestinians caged in ever shrinking territories to even the smallest incident. Since 2000, thousands of Palestinians have perished as a result and many more have been traumatised and displaced.
When the Israeli airforce bombarded the besieged Gaza Strip for the first time in the nights of 8-9 July 2014, 27 civilians including children, women and the elderly perished and over 200 were injured. When the UN Secretary General and the UN Security Council finally started issuing statements of concern about the atrocities being visited on Palestinians, the body count had increased fast to exceed 70. The question is what has led to this level of barbarism, what is being done and what should peace-loving peoples of the world do?
The bombing of the Gaza Strip and West Bank is not an isolated and inexplicable explosion of madness, but it is very much part of a culture of hate and paranoia that the occupation has engendered. The recent turn of events are shaped by Israeli interests threatened by the recent consolidation of Palestinian unity. What are Israel's interests? Besides the well-known interest in creating a Jewish state and annexing the Palestinian land for that, we have come to know now that the deadly Israeli ground incursion on Gaza in 2000 was actually a war of conquest driven by the intention on the party of the ruling elite in Israel to access and control Gaza's offshore gas fields.
Israel's own media uncovered in 2006-7 a plot to have Palestinian gas transmitted to Israel via undersea pipelines and thus transfer control over the sale of Palestinian gas to Israel. When this exposé happened elements in the Israeli political class justified this clandestine plan as a way to ensure that proceeds from gas did not land in the hands of "terrorists", meaning the Hamas organisation whose election into government Israel sought to rubbish.
While Israel says it fights Hamas because it is a terror organisation that does not recognise its existence as a Jewish state, it unleashes the same violence on virtually any Palestinian. It practices ruthless collective punishment. It opposes unity among Palestinians ostensibly because this includes Hamas, but it acts just as harshly against other political movements in the Palestinian territory. The latest escalation of violence against Palestinians comes just over a month since they established a unity government, which was then recognised by many world governments to the chagrin of the state of Israel. Hamas has become a convenient explanation for indiscriminate violence visited on Palestinians before unity efforts.
Israel responds either through violence or further annexation of territory in order to destroy the possibility of a contiguous Palestinian territory. Again, it responded to the unity government by approving the building of 1500 new Israeli settlements on Palestinian land. A more sinister aim was later revealed when members of the Israeli government vowed that they would do anything to break up this unity government. So, the current spate of violence is not just against Hamas, but a unified Palestinian state. A massive propaganda campaign branding the unity government as cohabitation with terror having failed as its own allies recognised the new government, Israel has resorted to violence to bring down a government. This is deeply anti-democratic and illegal, being a violation of international law
Israel refuses to recognise the barbarity of its violence against civilians because it does not see those it kills as humans worth of human dignity. But it sees them as Hamas' human shields and thus legitimate collateral damage. According to international statistics, over 1400 Palestinian children under the age of 10 have died due to Israeli military campaigns since 2000. The figures continue to grow. Israel blames these kids, women and the elderly for their own death. This is callous attitude to murder on a grand scale is shocking, to say the least. It is inhumane.
Some 80 rockets have been fired into southern Israel from Gaza as bombings grew and the world watched. But most of these were intercepted successfully by Israel's advanced missile defence systems. As a result, there has not been any recorded injury, loss of life or destruction of property on the Israeli side. Israel calls this a war, but only one side has casualties. Only one side has declared a military operation, showing through cameras mounted on its warplanes the impact of its huge bombing capacity.
Further, Israel uses the intercepted rockets to justify ruthless bombing of civilian areas including family homes in the evenings. It is also preparing to send ground troops to kill and maim before the world wakes up to the injustice taking place.
Why has the international community remained mute? As the situation worsened, the silent UN Secretary General issued soft statements calling for restraint from both sides, even though evidence clearly shows Israel's disproportionate use of crude force. Palestine has no serious army, no airforce, and no serious weapons of war. Rockets that land on the Israeli territory cannot be compared to heavy war technology that Israel deploys with impunity on residential areas that have become legitimate military targets in the eyes of the Israeli military authorities. The international community is shocked to inaction.
After persuasion by a group of Arab ambassadors shaken by TV pictures of bloodletting in Gaza, the Security Council agreed to hold an emergency meeting. We must hope that common sense will prevail. The UN Charter's injunction against violation of human and state rights, and its fundamentally anti-war spirit would be used to stop this reign of terror. We trust that strong measures will be taken to impose a ceasefire, create conducive climate for resumption of peace negotiations towards a peaceful settlement of the conflict in the frame of the two-state solution with a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders. The quartet has a moral and political duty to use its mandate to bring an end to this orgy of violence.
To this end, Israel must cease occupation of Palestinian territories and stop annexing further land through new settlements. We call upon the international community as whole to unite behind efforts to defuse the situation and restart peace negotiations. We call upon peace movements and people of conscience through out the world including within the state of Israel to support the right of Palestinians to self-determination and their struggle against ruthlessness that they live under on a daily basis. Progressive formations must work together for the realisation of a proper state of Palestine co-existing peacefully with the state of Israel.
>> Jessie Duarte is the Deputy Secretary General of the African National Congress.
This article first appeared in ANC Today, the online newsletter of the African National Congress.
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