19 January, 2009

Gaza: Returning to Devastation

Hamas has turned the tables on Israel by declaring its own cease-fire and reiterating its demands:
Hamas announced an immediate cease-fire by its militants and allied groups in Gaza on Sunday, giving Israel a week to pull out its troops from the coastal territory.

Israel, which mounted an offensive against Hamas three weeks ago to halt years of rocket attacks, agreed to silence its guns and ground its aircraft early Sunday.

"We the Palestinian resistance factions declare a cease-fire from our side in Gaza and we confirm our stance that the enemy's troops must withdraw from Gaza within a week," said Damascus-based Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouk.

Ayman Taha, a Hamas official in Cairo for talks with Egypt on a truce deal, demanded that Israel open all of Gaza'sw border crossings to allow in food and other goods to meet the "basic needs for our people."
This is a brilliant move on their part. It shows they're willing to play the diplomacy game, and takes back the initiative. Hamas is bruised, battered and bloody, but refuses to back down. I think this is a signal to the rest of the world that, despite attempts to declare them nothing more than a terrorist group, they're a duly-elected government that intends to govern. And they're going to have to be treated as such.

I'm not sure about the borders, but it looks like Israeli troops may soon be leaving Palestinian soil:
Olmert told European leaders visiting Jerusalem on Sunday evening that in the wake of the cease-fire, Israel planned to withdraw all of its troops as soon as possible. He said that such a move would come when the situation between Israel and Gaza was "stable."
That stability may be a wee bit hard to achieve:
Meanwhile, although Hamas's leadership said they'd stop firing missiles, the missiles have kept firing. Why? Well, at a guess "Hamas's leadership" is a lot less powerful than it used to be since the Israelis assassinated most of it. And the security forces who used to make sure that missiles didn't get fired if Hamas's Leadership didn't want them to be fired, well they were the first and main target of Israel's strikes. It's almost as if Israel wanted to make sure that Hamas's leadership couldn't control their military wing.
That's a recipe for catastrophe, and Israel won't have anyone to blame but themselves. Hamas showed itself capable of controlling other militant groups' activities during the six-month cease-fire. With their security forces destroyed, angry Palestinians with access to rockets won't have much standing in their way. Just the excuse Israel will need for yet another invasion.

Of course, invading under indictments may prove a little tricky:
Israel is preparing for a wave of lawsuits by pro-Palestinian organizations overseas against Israelis involved in the Gaza fighting, claiming they were responsible for war crimes due to the harsh results stemming from the IDF's actions against Palestinian civilians and their property.

Senior Israeli ministers have expressed serious fears during the past few days about the possibility that Israel will be pressed to agree to an international investigation of the losses among non-combatants during Operation Cast Lead; or alternately, that Israelis will be faced with personal suits, such as happened to Israeli officers who were accused of war crimes in Britain for their actions during the second intifada.
It wouldn't sadden me a bit to see Olmert and a few other of Israel's hawks stuffed in the Hague with our own war criminals. Should we all splurge to buy them a vacation in Amsterdam?

Israel's doing its best, now that the true extent of the destruction will be revealed, to craft its alibi:
With this in mind, Israel is reportedly “readying a new offensive — the battle for public opinion.” AFP reports Israel has begun compiling information to try to prove that many of the 4,000 residential buildings, 51 government buildings, and 20 mosques it hit during the offensive were legitimate targets used by Hamas militants. At least six Israeli ministers will be “fanning out to different countries to press home Israel’s view of the conduct of the war.” Welfare Minister Isaac Herzog said Israel is aiming to prevent an ‘over-dramatization‘ of the facts.”
I'm not quite sure how you can over-dramatize facts that are dramatic enough in and of themselves.

First, an illustration:

That was the death toll before the war even ended. That's a hell of a lot of dead women and children to have to explain.

Then there's the evidence of new weapons used:
Some Palestinian casualties in the Gaza Strip were wounded by a new type of weapon that even doctors with previous experience in war zones do not recognize, according to Dr. Erik Fosse, a Norwegian cardiologist who worked at Gaza's Shifa Hospital for 11 days, during Operation Cast Lead.

However, he added in a telephone conversation from Oslo, most casualties were people hit by shrapnel from conventional explosives.

Fosse, a department head at a university hospital in Oslo, worked in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation and several times in Lebanon, also in 2006. That was when he first heard about the new kind of weapon, but did not see any such wounds with his own eyes.

The unknown weapon appears to mainly affect the body's lower part, he said. It severs the legs, leaving burns around the stump, small punctures in the skin and internal bleeding.


Fosse and a Norwegian colleague, Mads Gilbert, arrived in Gaza on December 31 and remained until January 10. They were financed by the Norwegian government.

On his return, Fosse submitted a report to his government in which he accused the IDF of deliberately targeting civilians. Fosse said he believes Israel deliberately chose to attack while Westerners working for international organizations were back home for the Christmas vacation.

"The Palestinian witnesses, as medical workers, are very accurate in their reports, but if we hadn't been there to confirm their testimony, it would all have been presented as Hamas propaganda," he said.
Remember that, when Israel starts presenting its case and dismisses horror after horror as "Hamas propaganda."

Palestinians are left to assess the rubble and try to put their shattered lives back together. This is what they're coming back to:

All day, thousands of Gazans have been rushing back to their neighbourhoods to see what is left after Israel's campaign of bombing and shelling.

Gaping holes and fire-blackened cars litter the streets in the areas hit hardest by the fighting.

I have spoken to some people who say they have not even been able to find their way round their bomb-damaged neighbourhoods, never mind find the remains of their homes.

Many simply turned round and returned to the UN-run schools they fled to amid the fighting.

But for some Gazans even attempting to return home is virtually unimaginable.

Amira al-Girim, 15, lies in a hospital bed with her leg in traction.

She was found alone, bleeding in a house, about four days after she saw her father killed by an Israeli tank shell in front of her.

Her brother and sister died - she thinks in an air strike - as they ran to get help.

Her remaining family thought she too had died, and had already buried the scraps of flesh they thought were her remains in a box.

Let those images sear themselves into your mind. Don't forget. This is what happens when a country responds with disproportionate force to a threat. America did it on a far greater scale than Israel, and for less reason. The war in Iraq and the war in Gaza are inextricably entwined.

We must not forget:
As we wait to see what happens next, it’s important to remember what we’ve just seen. So often we are encouraged to sink into a comfortable amnesia designed to wipe away the news of civilian deaths and the war crimes - whether our own in Iraq and Afghanistan – or now those of our allies and best arms customers in Israel. So let’s recap and remember – and insist on international action.

Last March, Israeli officials met with Condi Rice and then approved a plan for a war on Gaza. By their own admission, Israel signed onto the June 19 cease-fire in order to buy time for preparing for that war – and while Hamas honored the cease-fire, Israel used the world’s focus on the Obama election on November 4 to launch an incursion into Gaza, killing 6 Palestinians – knowing this would provoke a Hamas reaction since it was an act of war. That reaction was then used as an excuse for further Israeli incursions and as the justification of a siege of Gaza, blocking all shipments of food, medicine and fuel to the residents who live in a virtual prison, unable to leave, unable to live with no electricity, starvation level food supplies and a compromised water supply since the fuel needed for the water sanitation plants was not let in. The people of Gaza were reduced to eating bread made from animal feed – and when that ran out, grass. Even with this continuous collective punishment of the people of Gaza, their elected government announced – multiple times – that they would agree to a new cease-fire on the condition that the blockade of supplies be lifted.

Instead, Israel – with its massive PR campaign – claimed that Hamas refused a new cease-fire – and then launched a vicious attack on Gaza.

Over 1300 Gazans have been killed, over 5,000 wounded – one third of those children - and the casualties included medics trying to rescue wounded families, journalists, and more than 50 Gazans who had fled to UN schools for refuge from the fighting. The UN warehouse and all the humanitarian aid in it were destroyed when Israel bombed it– apparently using white phosphorus, setting the building on fire.

There can be no real peace for the people of Gaza until they are allowed self-determination – in the meantime, at least we can insist that Israel open the borders and allow in the humanitarian aid they so desperately need. Let’s not forget them while the world shifts its attention t the celebrations in Washington this week.

We have this chance to take a new direction. With Obama in office, we'll be leaving Iraq to determine its own way forward. We've failed to learn a harsh lesson from the wars of the past several years: we cannot solve terrorism with bombs. We cannot bring peace by raining down destruction. America tried and failed. Israel tried, and I guarantee you that they will also fail.

Peace, if it comes, will be brought about by tough compromises. We cannot call every government we do not like a "terrorist organization." We cannot continue starving populations in order to bend them to our will. We have to start building up rather than tearing down. And we have to grant these people the same rights we hold precious: the right to self-determination, to live without threat of annihilation, to be able to work hard and raise families, to eat and drink and live another day.

We need a Marshall Plan for the Middle East. More will be accomplished by helping them build strong economies and functioning societies than would ever be accomplished at the point of a gun. We need to give aid, help them find a path to peace, but not impose our will on them. We need to give them the tools and the room to discover their own solutions to their internal problems. We need to find ways to work together, and we need to be patient, because the wounds we've inflicting will be a long time healing. Our whole attitude to the region will have to change, or the bombs will fall again.

It's time to give Palestinians and Iraqis the most precious gift of all: a future.

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