By Philip Rizk – Cairo
At 11:30am on December 27th the Israeli air force bombed Palestinian government headquarters and civilian buildings all across the Gaza Strip. Six consecutive days of attacks resulted in over 400 dead and thousands injured. In the densely populated Gaza Strip the attacks caused the death of scores of civilians. The UN reported seven school children attending UN schools dead when Israeli rockets hit a school, over a dozen traffic police officers in training were killed while Israel’s onslaught hit a prison burying inmates beneath the rubble. The hospitals are overcrowded with the dead and injured. Behind the images filling media outlets is a deeper story that needs to be realized.
Since early November Israel has made it increasingly difficult for journalists, NGO workers, a UN rapporteur, and diplomats to enter the Gaza Strip. On November 18th the New York Times reported that Foreign Ministry spokesman Schlomo Dror justified Israel’s closure by considering "much of their [journalists in sum] previous coverage from Gaza unfair," and therefore would not be "shedding tears" about preventing their access. Since that time the Erez crossing- the only entry and exit for foreigners to Gaza- has opened only for very brief periods and has continued to be extremely restrictive as to who gets in and out. This has severely decreased travel to the Gaza Strip where even journalists who do make it in are not guaranteed exit- at times for weeks. As much of the world relies on English coverage of the news in places like Gaza the images and stories have severely declined due to Israeli limitations of access to journalists. This has resulted in a veiling of the day-to-day catastrophe taking place in Gaza for so many months.
In Gaza the recent deaths and injuries are an added tragedy to an ongoing hardship. The Gaza Strip has not been under siege since June 2007, when Hamas took control of the small strip of land… it has been under siege for years. 18 months ago that siege was increased to unprecedented levels. Subsequent to Hamas’ election victory former Israeli Prime Minister’s aide Dov Weisglass claimed Palestinians would not be starved but put "on a diet." Israel determined to only permit items into Gaza that they deemed "essential," hundreds have since died due to a shortage of medical supplies, and not being provided with permits to reach other destinations with better medical provision.
Israel’s aerial bombardment has brought to a head the urgent humanitarian needs in Gaza. As has been the case for months Gazans are short on blankets, cooking gas and candles, among other essential items. For the past months food is increasingly being cooked over open fires- when wood can be found- because cooking gas is now a commodity of the rich who can afford exorbitant black market prices. Many areas experience consistent electricity outages most of the day. Gaza has also run out of glass so that windows blown out by the ongoing air strikes cannot be replaced. While babies are going without diapers and children are going to sleep cold without blankets, bakeries are running out of flour to provide bread to the queuing masses. Gaza has long since run out of concrete and graves remain unmarked because wood, a viable alternative is also scarce. The reality of the so-called truce between Hamas and Israel that ran out weeks ago is that it never really existed: Israel has been increasingly turning Gaza into a concentration camp- not for Hamas- but for all Palestinians residing there, Muslims and Christians, Fatah, Hamas and politically nonaligned citizens alike. In the midst of all the political jargon many forget that Palestinians too are people, not just a collective entity called "Hamas." When Israel began bombing tunnels along the strip’s Southern border Sunday, it closed a dire alternative channel- due to sealed borders during the siege- for food, clothing and petrol.
The complicity of select neighboring Arab governments in the latest US-applauded Israeli attacks is a further factor that merits reflection. In the week preceding the Israeli onslaught Israel’s Foreign Minister traveled the region to garner support for the planned attack on Gaza. On December 26th, the day before the Israeli offensive, Egyptian newspapers carried front page images of Foreign.
Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit clasping the hand of his Israeli counterpart, as if in agreement of what was to come. The complicity of neighboring Arab governments- and Fatah- has never been so obvious. London-based daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi reported Tuesday that Livni had shared plans regarding the Israeli offensive with Egypt’s security chief Omar Soleiman prior to the attacks. For the past few days Egyptian state security has listened to the chants of protesters yelling, "all of us are Hamas" – given the Palestinian Islamic movement’s roots within Egypt’s own Muslim Brotherhood which opposes the Egyptian regime in power- tacit Egyptian support for a deadly blow in Gaza comes as no surprise.
On a legal dimension there are some considerations to keep in mind. On Monday Israel declared it was carrying out an "all-out war" on Hamas. In a state of war between two states retaliation is a justified act. Yet, in this "war" Hamas is endlessly labeled a "terrorist" organization and therefore considered without any justification for its use of violence; Israel’s military onslaught meanwhile is deemed legitimate. Israel’s logic only mirrors that of the USA’s stated "war on terror," which is a war on a supra-national, unidentifiable enemy. Rules of international law regarding war have historically applied to nation-states at war with each other. The USA has utilized the ambiguity in the law to legitimize its unlimited use of force, detention and torture against stateless "enemies" in their campaign on the "war on terror."
The complication in Israel’s case is the fact that Hamas very legitimately won Palestinian parliamentary elections in January 2006- with Jimmy Carter’s monitors’ seal of approval- and by Palestinian and international law is a legitimate and representative governing body for Palestinians. Yet two conditions follow: first, Palestinians have not been granted statehood and thus Israel can continue to treat the Palestinian pseudo-government as a "non-state" actor while claiming to be in line with international law. This means any act of violence by Israel- an internationally recognized state- on "Hamas" is legitimized in the eyes of the West’s public as Hamas is continually confirmed as a non-state, "terrorist" entity. The second matter at stake is that Hamas’ election victory was not recognized by Israel, the so-called international community, or by the losing party in the elections, Fatah, who have in turn been pampered by Hamas’ opponents as a legitimate representative of Palestinians despite their defeat. Following Hamas’ election win Fatah neglected to hand over control of all security apparatus while preparing for a US-sponsored coup against Hamas. After Hamas took its legitimately gained power by force the Fatah president- illegally according to Palestinian law- deposed the Hamas government and set up an emergency cabinet, bringing about an unprecedented state of division within Palestinian society.
Internal division is the ultimate aim of Israel and its international supporters; the weakening of Islamist factions the aim of complicit Arab governments. All this has left Israel with legitimacy in the eyes of the so-called "international community" to carry out not an attack on Hamas but a full-fledged aggression on the population of the Gaza Strip, with the aim of deepening the divide among Palestinians. This illegal act is another successful step towards destroying the Palestinian cause and entrenching Israel’s aspirations of expanding their control over Palestinian land and deepening their legitimacy in doing so in the eyes of a global community drunk on an Israeli-concocted legal ploy, backed by a tremendous media machine.
-Philip Rizk is an Egyptian-German who lived in Gaza from August 2005 till August 2007. Philip is pursuing graduate studies in Cairo and runs a blog: tabulagaza.com. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com; contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.