By Ramzy Baroud
Death hovered over Gaza long before locally-made Palestinian rockets struck near the Israeli southern town of Sderot on February 27, killing Roni Yechiah and sparking an Israeli ‘retaliation’ that has already claimed over 120 Palestinian lives.
Yechiah’s death was actually the first of its kind in nine months, and understandably so. The crude Palestinian rockets were often criticised even by Palestinians as useless in the tit-for-tat style of war underway, while easily used by Israeli officials as a cacus belli, or at least as an excuse for keeping Gaza ‘contained’, besieged and on the brink of starvation.
For Israel the rockets are important as a pretext to maintain a state of siege against Hamas, and a low-intensity warfare that creates permanent distraction from the confiscation of Palestinian land and the expansion of illegal settlements – and also as justification for the slow moving ‘peace process’.
However, while pro-Israeli pundits in the US and elsewhere are prepared to defend Israel’s actions, many Israelis are no longer buying into their government’s pretexts.
According to a recent Tel Aviv University Poll, cited by the Israeli daily Haaretz on February 27, “sixty-four per cent of Israelis say the government must hold direct talks with the Hamas government in Gaza towards a cease-fire and the release of captive soldier Gilad Shalit."
The mayor of the Israeli town of Sderot – which borders Gaza and is the main target of rockets – had also told the British Guardian on February 23, "I would say to Hamas, let’s have a ceasefire. Let’s stop the rockets for the next 10 years and we will see what happens."
Hamas was actually first to issue calls of ceasefire. In fact, for years it has held true to a self-declared abstention from carrying out any suicide bombings inside Israel.
Meanwhile, the uneven numbers of casualties speak volumes.
While Yechiah’s death is tragic, he was the “first person killed by rocket attacks from Gaza since May 2007, and the fourteenth overall since the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian armed clashes in September 2000,” according to a Human Rights Watch Press release on February 29, citing Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem.
B’Tselem reported that “1,259 of the 2,679 Palestinians killed by Israeli security forces in the Gaza Strip (since September 2000) were not participating in hostilities when they were killed, and 567 were minors.”
According to news agencies’ report published in Al-Arabiya website, as of February 22, 190 Palestinians were killed since the resumption of the peace process in Annapolis last November. That number received a major boost when the Israeli army escalated its attacks against the Gaza Strip, killing 34 Palestinians in 48 hours between February 27 and 28, and over 60 on March 1 alone, not counting several other Palestinians killed in the West Bank during the same period.
Despite the facts, Israel’s actions are repeatedly accepted by most media as a legitimate ‘response’ to Palestinian violence.
In an article published days before Yechiva’s death, the Sydney Morning Herald reported on the death of three Palestinians who were killed by Israeli tank missile. The men were picnicking at the time, according to eyewitness accounts. However, the article seemed to report an entirely different story, featuring a photo of a Palestinian rocket that hit an empty field. “Deadly rain,” read the caption, conveniently forgetting that the rockets had not caused any deaths. The article also undermined the fact that the killed Palestinians had been picnicking, citing this as yet another Palestinian ‘claim’.
Donald Macintyre of the British Independent, who is usually much more objective than his counterparts elsewhere, reported on the killing of four Palestinian children: “Four boys playing football have been killed in Gaza by Israeli air strikes…as Israel responded to the death of a man from a barrage of rocket attacks with a bloody escalation of violence.”
The perpetuation of the idea of Israel always ‘responding’ to events and never initiating them is indeed unfair.
When the utter desperation of Gazans forced them to storm massive walls separating them from Egypt in search of food and medicines, their cry fell largely on deaf ears. Palestinians were herded back into Gaza, and the border was sealed once more, followed by an escalation of troop levels alongside it (reportedly beyond those set in a 30-year-old peace accord).
Besieged, browbeaten and starved — in a way that all major human rights groups have decried as illegal and inhumane — Palestinians are told to expect more of the same. Only this time the terminology used is much more frightening. Israel’s Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai threatened Palestinians in the Gaza strip with a ‘holocaust’, stating that, “the more Qassam [rocket] fire intensifies and the rockets reach a longer range, they (the Palestinians) will bring upon themselves a bigger shoah (Hebrew term of Holocaust) because we will use all our might to defend ourselves."
Since the Nazi Holocaust, the Hebrew term has been used almost exclusively to describe the tragic event. While many media commentators jumped to limit the damage caused by Vilnai’s revelation, the acknowledgment of the Israel-imposed crisis on Palestinian – and the term ‘bigger’ in particular – is but another fleeting reminder of the horrors under which Gaza lives, and Gaza alone is blamed for.
As Palestinians hurriedly buried their dead, US and Israeli celebrities — including Sylvester Stallone, John Voight and Paula Abdul — rallied at an LA benefit concert for Sderot.
Speaking via Satellite, Clinton, McCain and Obama also expressed their unquestionable allegiance to Israel, as if only Israel’s dead counted, only Israel’s security mattered. Clinton – as the other presidential contenders — received another golden opportunity to express her ‘unwavering commitment’ to Israel.
When will US officials begin to acknowledge that both Palestinians and Israelis have equal rights and equal responsibilities?
When will the media begin to provide the needed context and stop manipulating terms and numbers in such a way that the Palestinians are always at fault? When will we all accept that military occupation and state-sponsored terror beget violence and breed more terror, and how this will always be the case in Palestine – as anywhere else — as long as the circumstances remain unchanged?
-Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an author and editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His work has been published in many newspapers and journals worldwide. His latest book is The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle (Pluto Press, London).