Yet again Israel’s military terrorises Gaza. The inevitable toll of death and destruction tarnishes an already impoverished strip of land. Why does political progress remain so far out of reach in this pivotal part of the Middle East?
The present tragedy in Gaza recalls Lebanon in September 1982. The Palestinian refugee camps at Sabra and Shatila were sealed off by Israeli soldiers who allowed Maronite Phalangist militias to rampage through them.
Thousands of men, women and children were killed, beaten, tortured and raped. The stories that emerged were as chilling as those from any war or atrocity in history. The United Nations General Assembly condemned the massacre as an act of genocide in resolution 37/123. Britain, along with USA and 20 other countries, abstained.
The current events, on the face of it, amount to genocide. In particular the pre-dawn shelling on 31 July of the Abu Hussein School at Jabaliya killed 16 women and children and displaced 3,000 refugees. The UN had notified the precise location of this school to the Israeli Defence Force on 17 separate occasions.
This massacre and the deliberate targeting of civilians fleeing previously agreed ceasefires merits reference to the International Court so that an independent inquiry can determine whether war crimes have been committed. The Palestinians cannot do this as their previous application to join the court was denied.
The scale of destruction and suffering in Gaza is unprecedented, but the current crisis has deep roots. It results from decades of political failure and continuous Palestinian displacement at the hands of the Israeli military. Since 2007, more than 1.6 million Gazans have been living under a suffocating, deadly siege imposed by Israel and accommodated by Egypt: all movement of people and products are strictly curtailed. This is a defenceless civilian population, densely packed into a besieged enclave with no place to take refuge from the military onslaught.
Is the only future for Palestine and Israel going to be a fatalistic one of periodic, ferocious outbursts between two unequal adversaries, each side seemingly locked into knee-jerk retribution against the other, merely re-stoking the enmities and ensuring the continuance of an awful, unjust status quo?
Israel’s military incursions rely on the tacit support of the American government, whatever its public pronouncements say. Israel possesses massive military hardware, which would not be possible without the direct assistance of the USA. Since the founding of the state of Israel in 1948, the United States government has provided Israel with an estimated $121 billion.
America occasionally tut-tuts about Israel’s military adventures, but is happy to prop up its fifth column in the Middle East. If it were to cut off its financial pipeline, there would be a marked change of attitude in Israel. If it wanted to stop settlement construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, it could bring immediate pressure to bear; it doesn’t.
There is still much to re-learn from the political direction of Yasser Arafat in his later years. By 1988 he had convinced Fatah and the Palestine Liberation Organisation to accept the existence of Israel inside changed borders alongside a Palestinian state. This development spurred the peace movement inside Israel to greater heights. But with the rise of Hamas particularly in Gaza, the movement has largely collapsed and Israeli citizens are supporting their government’s draconian aggression in the hope of securing temporary security from threats of rockets.
If things stay as they are, nothing will improve. The blockade of the Gaza Strip, occupations of the West Bank and invasions of Gaza will endure. The rigid positions of both sides will harden. A ceasefire will be merely the precursor of the next war. ■