The conflict in Gaza may have come to an inauspicious end last night following a ceasefire agreement, but there is little reason to rejoice for the Palestinian people. Although a ground assault of the Gaza Strip was narrowly avoided, still well over 1,500 air strikes by F-16 fighter jets, Apache helicopters and drones have further devastated the impoverished territory, leaving more than 140 Palestinians dead – mostly civilians, including at least 34 children – while five Israelis also died.
The diplomatic efforts that led to relief from eight days of bombing, death and suffering are, of course, to be welcomed, but a tentative truce is far from a guarantee that a new cycle of violence will not erupt again soon. Still the same questions remain over Israel’s war of dispossession against the Palestinian people, its illegal occupation and colonisation of Palestinian land, and the ever-distant prospects of Palestinian statehood.
There were many disturbing parallels between the current round of violence and the previous three-week invasion of Gaza during the winter of 2008-9. Although the death toll this time was significantly less than the reported 1,284 Gazans and 13 Israeli’s killed during the war against Hamas four years ago, other memories of that fateful conflict were quickly revived over the past week.
There were the same obfuscations and counter-claims over the causes of the renewed upsurge in violence, in which Israel again played the decisive role – not least in its extra-judicial assassination of a Hamas military leader. There was the same plea from the Israeli government that it is merely defending itself, despite its illegal occupation of the Gaza Strip that is still recognised as such by the United Nations, and despite the incredible imbalance in bloodshed and military response between both sides. And there was the same impunity given to Israel’s actions by the Western powers, the same weak response from the United Nations, and the same distortions of truth and reality from the corporate media.
The true reality in plain English was that the latest siege of Gaza – jeeringly dubbed ‘Operation Pillar of Defense’ – was a crime against the Palestinian people, a cruel attack on a defenceless civilian society, and another flagrant violation of international humanitarian law. The now infamous quote of Israel’s interior minister, who pushed to “send Gaza back to the middle ages” and destroy its infrastructure, openly reflected Israel’s master plan to subject the entire population to severe forms of collective punishment, whether or not it is prohibited by Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Professor Richard Falk, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories, states that Israel has “tried to fool the world” into believing that it enacted a good faith withdrawal from Gaza in 2005. Israel, in fact, still retains absolute control over what goes in and leaves Gaza’s border, and maintains “an open season of a license to kill at will, with no accountability and no adverse consequences, backed without question by the US government”.
Herculean efforts to survive
The 1.6 million people of Gaza, one of the most crowded and impoverished places on earth, have now endured a blockade for six years that is suffocating its stateless residents both socially and economically. This has included, at times, a strict rationing of food in which Israeli authorities calculate how many calories would be needed to avert a full-blown humanitarian catastrophe. According to a recent NGO report, 10 percent of children under five in Gaza have stunted growth due to prolonged exposure to malnutrition. The unemployment rate in the coastal enclave stands at 58 percent among young people aged between 20 and 24, while 39 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. In the conclusion of the most recent UN Country Team report on the future of Gaza, it stated that residents will be forced to strengthen their “on-going Herculean efforts” to maintain essential services and ensure that Gaza is even a “liveable place” by 2020.
There can be no talk of freedom or justice for Palestine so long as Israel is given political immunity, financial assistance and diplomatic support by other Western states for its military campaigns of destruction. Israel’s actions are dependent on the billions of dollars that pour into its army’s coffers from US ‘foreign aid’, which, in turn. is spent on buying up arms from the US defence industry. The UK government and other EU member states also supply millions of pounds worth of arms to Israel that are inevitably deployed in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, while they reward Israel’s acts of aggression with economic trade preferences.
As fully 75,000 troops remain massed on Israel’s border, it is high time that the international community assumed responsibility for securing justice for the Palestinian people. The Israeli government will never lift its blockade, dismantle its illegal settlements or withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza so long as it is given impunity and held unaccountable for its longstanding war crimes. But where is the international voice of the men and women of goodwill throughout the world? Only the relatively few campaign groups and engaged individuals raise their voice above the fray, or stand in solidarity with the oppressed Palestinian families who seek only an end to the penury and repression that dominates their lives.
The Palestinian struggle for statehood and independence is now inextricably linked with its struggle for sustainable economic development and the securing of basic human rights. So there can be no peace between Israel and Palestine – and no security for Israeli civilians – until the needless poverty, inhumanity and economic injustice is addressed in the torn region. Now more than ever, the burden of responsibility for opposing Israeli’s atrocities rests with emergency mobilisation, global public outrage and a huge groundswell of popular support for the people of Palestine.