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As day 14 draws to a close, world pressure to stop the violence in Gaza is mounting. What is occurring, on the ground, is a humanitarian crisis– one that journalists are unable to report. The information that leaks out comes from Palestinians in Gaza and from what Israeli officials report. The UN, nonetheless, fears an escalation of the crisis and is gravely concerned about the impact of the violence on civilians. Thus far over 770 Palestinians have been killed and over 3,100 have been wounded. Of those killed, 219 were children and 89 were women. Since the invasion, 14 Israelis have been killed.
Earlier tonight, the UN overwhelmingly approved of a Security Council resolution– only the U.S. abstained– which calls on both sides to agree to a truce brokered by Egypt, as well as allowing for the passage of much needed supplies into Gaza. The ultimate aim of the resolution is the removal of Israeli forces from Gaza.
The U.S. has continued to stand by Israel and its “right” to defend itself with an invasion of Gaza. In fact, the House of Representatives, according to Nancy Pelosi, is going to vote on a non-binding resolution which will support Israel’s invasion. Israeli officials, likewise, have continued to blame the invasion on the Palestinians and Hamas, who have been firing rockets into southern Israel. As the UN Resolution passed, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice still maintained that the best option was the cease-fire plan drawn-up by France and Israel. Despite the efforts of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Nicolas Sarkozy, neither Hamas nor Israel seem interested in accepting a truce. Hamas, strangely, feels that it has the upper-hand, though the people are suffering tremendously, while Israel (who does have the upper-hand) sees no point in backing down. In fact, Ehud Olmert has promised a “war to the bitter end”, and tomorrow the Israeli Cabinet will decide whether or not to accept the UN’s resolution, and whether or not they should move their war plans to “phase three”– sending more ground troops into densely populated areas. How much do you want to bet that they refuse to adhere to the UN Resolution?
Adding to fears that this war could escalate to include Lebanon, Israel launched five rockets into Lebanon, in supposed retaliation for an attack from Hezbollah. Four Katyusha rockets, to be sure, landed in the northern Israeli town of Nahariyah thursday morning, but the question of “who” has yet to be determined. Both Hezbollah and Hamas deny any involvement or prior knowledge of the attack, despite claims from Israeli officials. The Lebanese government, to the satisfaction of the Israelis, condemned the attacks, as well. Raafat Mora, a Hamas spokesman, denied the involvement of Hamas: “Hamas is pursuing its combat inside Palestine and our principle is not to use any other Arab soil to respond to the occupation. This is our firm policy.” The attack, I suspect, is probably a result of the call from Ayman al-Zawahiri, who called upon Muslims to fight Israel. At any rate, Israel’s retaliatory rockets were fired into an unoccupied valley, in order to prevent further retaliation from militants within Lebanon.
The UN has suffered greatly in Gaza, due to Israeli attacks. Today, Israeli forces attacked a UN convoy during a three-hour cease-fire, killing one person and injuring two others. The attack has prompted the UN’s Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) to temporarily halt its delivery of goods into Gaza, citing the failure of the Israeli military to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza. UN spokesman Adnan Abu Hasna said that the convoy was on its way to the Erez border to pick up supplies– a mission that had been coordinated with Israel. Chris Gunness of UNRWA added: “We’ve been coordinating with them (Israeli forces) and yet our staff continue to be hit and killed.” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has called for investigation into the attack on the convoy. Since the invasion, four UN staffers have been killed and two UN schools have been attacked, prompting UNRWA Director John Ging to state, “We are perfectly willing to take risks, but something has to change. If they give us the clearance to move, it is [unacceptable] that their soldiers are firing on us from the ground.”
The Red Cross is also growing increasingly agitated with Israel’s failure to respond to the humanitarian crisis. The International Red Cross released a statement accusing Israel of not allowing aid workers access to wounded people in certain areas. When they were finally allowed access to an area that they had been attempting to enter for several days, they found“four small children next to their dead mothers in one of the houses. They were too weak to stand up on their own. One man was also found alive, too weak to stand up… In all, there were at least 12 corpses lying on mattresses” in one of the houses. According the IRC’s statement, Israeli forces forced them to leave. Pierre Wettach, ICRC head for Israel and the Palestinian territories, said, “The Israeli military must have been aware of the situation but did not assist the wounded – neither did they make it possible for us or the Palestinian Red Crescent to assist the wounded.” The Red Cross has decided to restrict its movements within Gaza city after one of its convoys had been attacked by Israeli forces in Netzarim. Though nobody was killed, one driver was injured.
The BBC also reported an incident on January 5, 2009 in Zeitoun, which is being investigated by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), in which Israeli soldiers rounded up 110 Palestinians (half of whom were children), moved them into a single shelter, and then told them not to move. According to OCHA, within 24 hours Israeli forces shelled the building, killing approximately 30 people. An OCHA spokesperson called it the “gravest incident” since the beginning of the invasion. Those who survived then had to walk over two miles to receive medical attention.
In all, according to the World Health Organization, 21 Palestinian medical workers have been killed and 30 have been wounded.
I think the word proportionality comes to mind. Israel, like any other nation, has a right to defend itself. The issue is proportionality. While Hamas militants’ violence is horrible and cruel, and must stop, it in no way justifies the large scale invasion that Israel has undertaken. Civilians– particularly women and children– who have done nothing wrong at all are taking the brunt of the assault. No argument (even the irrational “human shield” argument) can account for the level of violence. Air strikes, home demolitions, destruction of infrastructure, tank firings, and ground troop movements, are not proportionate to the rocket fire from Hamas militants (which are limited in range and effectiveness). International Humanitarian law demands that armies must distinguish between civilian and military targets, but that is not happening in Gaza. Where the risk to civilian populations outweigh the military goal of destroying a military target, international humanitarian law dictates that the military operation cannot be carried out. Instead, they must find alternate means of taking out the military target. Israeli forces must also remember that, since Egypt has closed its border with Gaza and there is no escaping into Israel, the people in Gaza really have no place to flee. Their only option, really, is to remain in their homes, where they have no electricity, water, food, or other supplies, and they have little access to humanitarian or medical assistance. Hospitals are being flooded with victims, but doctors are overworked and are running low on supplies. Some doctors in Gaza are estimating that 20-30% of their patients are children.
While Israel is certainly to blame for much of the destruction in Gaza, Hamas also carried a lot of blame. Like many governments, they fail to heed the wishes of their people, opting to follow their own interests. Hamas is no different. The former Prime Minister of Gaza, Ismail Haniya, stated that, “The Israeli aggression will not achieve its goals even if it fully destroys Gaza strip and leaves no Palestinian alive. Hamas will not give in.” Essentially, he’s promising the self-immolation of a people who do not want to be wiped from the face of the earth. The leaders of Hamas are sacrificing all the people of Gaza for their own self-interests. What Hamas should do is halt the firing of rockets into Israel– not only because it is the right and moral thing to do, but also because it would then put the ball in Israel’s court. Israeli officials all along have maintained that this invasion is about Hamas militants firing rockets into Israel. So, if the rockets stop falling on Israel, wouldn’t Israel lose its ability to maintain the siege? Either they would leave Gaza, or they would continue the siege, suggesting other motives. Seems to be a no-brainer to me.
And, finally, the Pope, who has been planning a visit to the Holy Land, may be canceling the visit in light of the attacks. The Pope has been wanting to visit the Holy Land since he was elected, but the increasing violence has forced the Vatican to reconsider their plans. Just two nights ago, Pope Benedict called for peace in the Holy Land: “(M)ilitary options are no solution and that violence, wherever it comes from and whatever form it takes, must be firmly condemned.” The Pope is a strong advocate for a negotiated settlement. Another monkey-wrench in their plans was the statement from Cardinal Renato Martino, head of the Vatican’s Office for Justice and Peace, who compared the situation in Gaza to a “Nazi concentration camp,” which, needless to say, really offended the Israelis, who had this to say:
We are astounded to hear from a spiritual dignitary words that are so far removed from truth and dignity.” Though he does eventually intend to visit the Holy Land, his visit, previously a voyage of faith, may now become a voyage in search of peace.
We are now at the end of day 12 of the Israeli invasion of Gaza. Remember that the June 1967 war lasted only six days. In that war, Israel was able to defeat Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and a few other Arab states that contributed some troops to the war against Israel. Israel’s quick victory demonstrated to the world, and to the United States in particular, that they were mightier than they were in 1948. The victory not only crushed Arab Nationalism and unity, smashed Nasser’s political relevance, and gained them huge territorial gains, but it also earned them the support of the U.S., who wished to use Israel as a bulwark against any possible Soviet Union incursion into the middle-east. Israel took the Sinai peninsula, the Golan Heights, and they also took control over the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem. This war and the ongoing occupation has continued to influence the conflict in the region.
In the last few days, the violence in Gaza has escalated. An Israeli attack on a school in Gaza where the UN was sheltering about 350 civilians has resulted in the deaths of 40 people, injuring dozens more. This has been the third attack on schools in Gaza in the last twelve days. Most of those killed were civilians, according to paramedics, though Israel maintains that Hamas militants were using the school to fire rockets into Israel. Israel Defense Forces spokesman Brig. General Avi Benayahu said, “We face a very delicate situation where the Hamas is using the citizens of Gaza as a protective vest.” The UN will begin investigations into the school bombing. John Ging, director of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), said that the UN schools were all “clearly marked” with UN flags and that Israel had been given the global positioning coordinates of all school locations. Ging went on to say that, “We’re demanding full accountability in accordance with international law and the duty of care that the parties to the conflict are obliged to adhere to.” He also denied Israeli assertions that Hamas militants were using the school, saying, “So far we’ve not had violations by militants of our facilities.” He insisted that the UN had vetted all civilians requesting shelter.
So far, nearly 600 civilians have been killed and roughly 2,750 have been wounded in this war. There are conflicting reports over whether or not this Israeli operation was given a green-light from the Bush Administration. Vice President Dick Cheney denied the assertion on CBS’s Face the Nation, saying, “They didn’t seek clearance or approval from us, certainly.” An Israeli website– Debkafile.org– however, reports that Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud received a green-light from Presidet Bush, who approved “Israeli air, sea and ground operations against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.” According to the site, Bush also promised Olmert that “the US would veto a resolution condemning Israel at the UN Security Council meeting next Monday.” Bush also reportedly assured Olmert that President-elect Barack Obama was being updated regularly on the ongoing conflict. Texas congressman and politcal rabble-rouser Ron Paul has also expressed his belief that the U.S. provided Israel with a green-light: “Israel depends on us; they depend on us economically, they depend on us for their military power and all their weapons and they really got a green light from our administration.” In another setting, he added, “No matter what they do, it is our money, it is our weapons, and they are not going to do it without us approving it.”
There have also been some reports that Israel has made some crossings into southern Lebanon, sparking fears that Israel might extend its war into Lebanon. There’s speculation that this might be a way of provoking Hezbollah, who has already promised retaliation for Israel’s assassination of a Hamas commander, Imad Mughniyeh. It is doubtful, however, that Israel would want to open a second front with Lebanon during the current conflict. Israel is still smarting from its failed attempt to crush Hezbollah, a radical/militant Shiite group in Lebanon with tremendous influence in the region (and backed by Iran), in July 2006. The incursions into southern Lebanon, more than likely, was Israel’s way of warning Hezbollah to stay out of the fray. Hezbollah, for the most part, has been staging protests against Israel’s invasion, Egypt, and the U.S. The July 2006 invasion of Lebanon was also Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s political Waterloo. He is now being forced out of office and elections are being held this February for a replacement.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, along with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, has again put forward a cease-fire plan, which both men hope Hamas and Israel will take. Though many in the UN applaud this plan, Condoleeza Rice, on behalf of the U.S., has not supported the plan: “We need urgently to conclude a cease-fire that can endure and that can bring real security. This would begin a period of true calm that includes an end to rocket, mortar and other attacks on Israelis and allows for the cessation of Israel’s military offensive,” she said. The current plan, she fears, would lead only to a return to the status-quo. However, after a meeting with Sarkozy, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad has announced that Hamas is willing to accept the terms of the truce, saying, “They are ready [to make a deal]. They were ready, they are ready.” The Russian Foreign Ministry has also confirmed that Hamas is willing to agree to a cease-fire, after having met with Hamas’ political leader Khaled Mashaal. According to Mashaal, they would stop the rocket firings if Israel would lift the 18-month blockade that has crippled Gaza’s access to basic neccessities, like food, water, and medical supplies.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak meets with Israeli Foreign Minister and PM hopeful Tzipi Livni
However, Egypt, particularly Mubarak, has earned the scorn of Arabs across the region. They view him as someone who has colluded with the enemy at the expense of the Palestinian people. This attitude towards Egypt goes as far back as the U.S. brokered Camp David Accords of 1978, when Egypt and Israel signed a peace agreement. They also are angered by his refusal to open the Egyptian border with Gaza to let refugees out and supplies in. Though he has “slammed” Israel’s invasion of Gaza, he blames the invasion of Israel on the failure of the Hamas government to renew the truce, which expired December 19, 2008. He also criticized groups such as Hezbollah, who, he argues, the “plight of the Palestinian people” for “political capital.” Because Egypt is the only “Arab” (though technically Egypt is in Africa) country to border Gaza, many Arabs feel Egypt has an obligation to protect and support the people of Gaza in this desperate time. They feel that Egypt has failed in that regard.
To complicate matters, the spokesman and deputy chief of Al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, released a ten minute taped message blasting Egypt, the U.S., and President-elect Barack Obama. He attacked Mubarak as a “traitor” and a “partner” in the “siege and killing.” “At the time when Israeli planes drop their bombs from the air, he closes the borders with his forces so that the plan of the killing of believers in Gaza is fulfilled,” al-Zawahiri said of Mubarak. Al-Zawahirir also blamed Barack Obama for the conflict in Gaza, adding that the conflict was a “gift.” He labeled the attacks a “crusade against Islam and Muslims” and blasted Obama for his silence and his inaction. Al-Zawahiri also encouraged Muslims everywhere to strike back at the aggressors “everywhere.” The recording was posted on several militant Islamic websites, along with a picture of him holding a gun. Osama bin Laden, the 9/11 mastermind, has not been heard from in quite some time, prompting some in the intelligence community to wonder about his health, or whether or not he is even alive.
Barack Obama, who is adverse to drama, has had to deal with the Blagojevich scandal and the subsequent attempt to appoint Roland Burris to Obama’s vacant senate seat, the stepping down of Bill Richardson as Obama’s Commerce Secretary nominee, Diane Feinstein’s public criticism of Obama’s selection of Leon Panetta to head the CIA, coming up with a stimulus package, determine his policy on cap-and-trade, plan for tax cuts, and now he has to brace himself for the conflict in Gaza. In the taped recording, al-Zawahiri criticized Obama for his efforts to portray himself as “the savior who will come and change American policy” during the U.S. election but is now “killing your brothers and sisters in Gaza without mercy or even pity.” Obama issued a statement in response to al-Zawahiri: “Starting at the beginning of our administration, we are going to engage effectively and consistently to try to resolve the conflicts that exist in the Middle East.” He also added that he was “deeply concerned” about the loss of life in Gaza. Al-Zawahiri is prematurely blaming Obama for the violence in Gaza, a sign that they did expect Obama to be more proactive when it came to the middle-east. It might seem a bit counter-intuitive, but it could be a sign that the war on terror is going to change as Bush leaves office.
On Monday, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told a delegation of European foreign ministers that “Before the military operation, the equation was that Hamas targets Israelis whenever it likes, and Israel shows restraint… This is not going to be [any] longer the equation in this region. When Israel is targeted, Israel is going to retaliate.” This would come as a surprise to many in experts in the region who have criticized Israel’s long military occupation of the Palestinian territories.
On Saturday, January 3, 2009, Israel launched its ground offensive into Gaza. There had been talks of establishing a truce: Hamas wants the 18-month blockade lifted; Israel wants the rocket firings to stop.The failure of Hamas militants and Israeli leaders to halt the violence has precluded any such progress in that direction. In the meantime, tanks and ground forces entered Gaza, quickly taking Gaza City. Suspected militant sites have been shelled and most of Gaza’s infrastructure is in shambles. Israeli military officials have also claimed to be striking tunnels (used by Hamas for smuggling weapons), and weapon caches. Hamas has fought back by launching rockets into southern Israel. Three Israeli civilians have been killed, and many buildings, including schools, have been destroyed by Hamas rockets. Since the Israeli ground invasion, two Israeli soldiers have been killed.
Despite Israel’s claim that they are not targeting civilians, the Palestinians in Gaza have suffered tremendously. Since the begining of the Israeli onslaught in Gaza, over 530 Palestinians have been killed– 82 since Saturday. Of that, over 100 deaths have been women and children. In addition to the deaths, over 2,600 people have been injured, and thousands more have fled their homes in order to escape the violence. Humanitarian agencies, such as the UNRWA and UN’s World Food Program, have had difficulty trying to bring food and water to civilians caught up in the violence. Many civilians are stuck in their homes without running water, without electricity, and a dwindling food supply, which they are unable to replenish. In all of the Gaza Strip, there are only two bakeries still open, and there are long lines of people trying to get what little food they can for their families. Hospitals are being overwhelmed and the few medical supplies that they have are being diminished. Some doctors on the ground insist that the body count is much higher, but they cannot get an accurate count because the conflict presents grave danger to ambulances and rescue crews. One ambulance, reportedly, was shelled by an Israeli tank as it was evacuating victims. One paramedic was killed while the other lost his foot.
So, what’s their aim? Well, according to Israeli officials, they want all rocket firings into Israel to stop. But Israel also wants to topple the Hamas regime, which does not recognize Israel’s right to exist. They are attempting to dismantle their weapons supplies, while at the same time castrate their political power. Also, remember that Israel has elections in February. They certainly aren’t forgetting. This is not the whole story, however: right-wing extremists, who have been in control of Israel’s government since its inception, belive that Gaza (and the West Bank) is rightfully theirs, according to God’s promise. Little by little, there is the hope that they will leave the region altogether, assimilate into neighboring Arab countries, and leave all of Palestine to Israel. Settlers continue to build on Palestinian land, homes are demolished, and Palestinian land continues to be taken. What Israel needs to remember is that the more violence it spreads, the more deaths that are caused, the longer the suffering occurs, the more they are pushing the population of Gaza into the Hamas corner.
The violence of the last ten days, or so, stems from the failure of both sides to adhere to the terms of the Egyptian brokered truce, which expired December 19, 2008. However, one must recall that Hamas abided by the terms of the cease-fire until Israel’s November 4, 2008 air strike into Gaza that killed five people and wounded many more. As always happens in this region, tensions and violence escalated through a series of retaliatory strikes.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has been pressuring both sides to accept a truce, is now in the middle-east. He made stops in Egypt, the West Bank, and Israel today. He met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, where he gave a press conference condemning both Hamas and Israel. Meanwhile, U.S. UN Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad has been instructed by State Department Officials (probably including Condoleeza Rice) to torpedo any efforts by the Arabs to request assistance from the UN Security Council. While French President Sarkozy has been even-handed in his criticism, President George W. Bush has continued his unflinching support for Israel: “I understand Israel’s desire to protect itself. The situation now taking place in Gaza was caused by Hamas.” President-elect Obama has been silent on the issue of Gaza. He has continued his mantra: “There is one President at a time.” True, but, like Representative Barney Frank, I think he “seriously overestimates the number of Presidents we have.” I think that since he is going to be President in… 15 days, it matters what he thinks. Since the Bush camp has decided to sit on their hands, he should at least voice an opinion. Perhaps he does not want to express an opinion that is at odds with the current President, thus undermining anything Bush says, but I think that the violence is such that it requires a response.