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.