• Monday, October 20, 2014

PRAFUL BIDWAI COLUMN

Winning the battle, losing the war?

Israel's barbarism against Gaza's civilians

Praful Bidwai

DESPITE sputtering ceasefires, Israel's month-long murderous onslaught on Gaza shows no signs of ending. Israel has killed over 1,900 civilians, destroyed 10,000 homes, and turned a quarter of Gaza's population into refugees.

The crisis was triggered by the mid-June kidnapping and murder of three Israeli West Bank-settler students. When their bodies were found, a group of Israelis abducted a 16-year-old Palestinian and burned him alive. Israel blamed Hamas for the murders without a shred of evidence, and launched its biggest post-2000 anti-Hamas campaign.

The kidnapping happened 10 days after a new government was formed in Gaza following “reconciliation” between Hamas, which had won the 2006 election in Gaza, and the heavily compromised Fatah. Although the agreement overwhelmingly favoured Fatah, Israel rejected it because it united the Palestinians and detracted from its goal of disarming Hamas.

Fatah shamefully collaborated with Israel's anti-Hamas crackdown. Anti-Fatah protests erupted throughout the West Bank. In solidarity, non-Hamas militants in Gaza attacked Israel with primitive rockets. Hamas too resumed firing rockets -- for the first time after the 2012 ceasefire.

Then came the third onslaught in five years by the world's fourth largest military power against one of its most impoverished territories. Israel targeted Al-Raffah hospital, Gaza's only rehabilitation clinic, with 17 paralysed patients.

Israel shelled a school designated by the UN as a civilian shelter, killing 16, and wounding hundreds -- despite having been given its coordinates 17 times. The UN official-in-charge said: “Children killed in their sleep … a source of universal shame. Today, the world stands disgraced.”      

Israel is guilty of war crimes on three counts. It inflicted collective punishment on Gaza. Its response was grossly disproportionate. And it targeted non-combatant civilians, itself impermissible, even in self-defence.

Legal experts have debunked Israel's “self-defence” claim, including John Dugard, former UN special rapporteur on human rights in Palestine: “Israel's present assault is simply a way of enforcing the continuation of the occupation [of Gaza]… the response of the Palestinian militants [is] the response of an occupied people that wishes to resist the occupation,” which is legally permissible.

But amidst a vitiated opinion climate, over 85 percent Israelis oppose a ceasefire. Calls to genocide now come from the highest levels. Thus Ayelet Shaked, MP of a Far-Right party that's part of Prime Minister Netanyahu's coalition, posted a Facebook entry: “The entire Palestinian people is the enemy… including its elderly and its women, its cities and its villages, its property and its infrastructure”.  

Similarly, former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's son, Gilad, wrote in 2012: “The desire to prevent harm to innocent civilians in Gaza will ultimately lead to harming the truly innocent: the residents of southern Israel. The residents of Gaza … elected Hamas… they… must live with the consequences…” Worse: “We need to flatten… all of Gaza. The Americans didn't stop with Hiroshima… they hit Nagasaki, too.” This perversely sanctifies nuclear mass-destruction, but represents an important current of Israeli sentiment.

Israel violated the 2012 ceasefire, which required it to end the blockade of Gaza, which has turned into “the world's largest open-air prison”. After al-Sisi's July 2013 coup in Egypt, matters worsened. Hamas was banned. Almost all the tunnels that had brought goods from Egypt were closed. “Those in need of treatment in Egyptian hospitals paid bribes as high as $3,000 to cross the border …”

Gaza suffered severe food shortages, daily power-cuts for up to 18 hours, “… sanitation plants shut down and sewage flowed through the streets… more than 90 percent of Gaza's aquifer was now contaminated.”  

Isolated, Hamas reached “reconciliation” with Fatah. Hamas too has violated international law, but its violations cannot be equated with those by Israel, an occupying power responsible for protecting civilians. Palestine's real problem has always been the occupation -- history's longest -- and the root of all regional crises.  

US-protected Israel shows no intention of ending the occupation. By torpedoing a two-state solution, Israel risks perpetuating the cycle of violence, aggravating its own citizens' insecurity. It may win the battle, but lose the larger war.

Unless there's an international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, similar to the Anti-Apartheid Movement of the 1970s, which raises the occupation's political-economic costs, it won't end.

India can play a vital role in a BDS campaign, and through creative diplomacy as regards Israel and the US. But it has failed to do this. Successive Indian governments have made their policy a hostage to arms deals with Israel, now India's second-biggest weapons-supplier.

India is now about to finalise the purchase of anti-ship missiles from an Israeli company blacklisted in 2006 for bribery. Nothing could be more myopic.

This policy won't change unless public opinion does. This means combating middle class apathy towards the Palestinian cause, and re-founding Indian thinking on a solid base of morality, compassion, legality and justice.

Going by the Modi government's conduct on the Gaza issue-- on which it equated Israel's aggression with “violence by non-state actors” before voting for a wishy-washy UN Human Rights Council resolution -- this will be an uphill task. But that's no reason to give up!

The writer is an eminent Indian columnist.
E-mail: bidwai@bol.net.in

Published: 12:00 am Wednesday, August 20, 2014

TAGS: Israel Palestine Gaza crisis

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