By Joharah Baker – The West Bank
It is highly unlikely that anyone could watch the scenes coming out of Gaza and not shudder at the sheer horror. At the human level, perhaps even those who so ruthlessly ordered the strikes must surely look away when they see the devastation they have created, not wanting to have the deaths of babies sit too heavily on their conscience. It is not, however, a lack of solidarity from which we Palestinians are suffering. The throngs of people who have taken to the streets in Arab countries, in Europe and the US have proven that the spirit of nations is alive and well. It is heart-warming in these desperate times to see thousands of ordinary citizens of all nationalities and religions demand an end to Israel’s attacks on the Gaza Strip, holding up gleaming Palestinian flags and calling for justice to prevail for the Palestinian people.
No, we can rest assured. People everywhere still question, still protest and still stand strongly against the Israeli military machine that has taken nearly 400 Palestinian lives in a mere five days in one extremely small, extremely crowded corner of this place called Palestine.
The problem remains with the powers that be, those who pull the strings in this morbid game and those who turn a blind eye in the name of Israel’s security. Israel, the United States and Europe continue to demand a halt to the violence, first calling for a halt to the rockets. But even to refer to the bloodbath that is taking place in Gaza as "fighting" is absurd. Fighting between whom? Hamas and Israel? It is hardly a fight when one side has Apache helicopters, F-16 and F-18 fighter plans, Merkava tanks and heavy artillery, while the other has crudely made homemade rockets that rarely hit their targets, more often falling on empty lots or open fields. It is not a fight; it is aggression, not exclusively against Hamas but against the Palestinian people and their cause, and there is much to prove it.
For one, a major point that is often overlooked or swept aside is the fact that Israel remains an occupying power in the Gaza Strip, even though it "withdrew" from the coastal area in 2004. There are no more Jewish settlements there, granted. However, Israel is still the boss, wielding complete control over the borders, the airspace and the entry and exit of goods into the Strip. For the past year and a half, it has imposed a crippling blockade on Gaza’s 1.5 million inhabitants, which has pushed the already impoverished Strip to the brink of a massive humanitarian disaster. The only border crossing for Gazans to the outside world is the Rafah Crossing into Egypt, which is closed more often than not, while the Erez Crossing into Israel has been largely closed to Palestinians since the outbreak of the Aqsa Intifada in 2000.
In this capacity, Gazans, including Hamas, are an occupied people and are by no means on equal ground with the mighty Israeli occupier. It can be argued, and with good reason, that Hamas has mismanaged its rule over Gaza and whether it has done more harm than good for the Gazans. However, what cannot be disputed is the fact that an entire people are not in control of their own destiny and that Israel, as an occupying power, has an obligation to ensure their well being as the people under its rule.
Most importantly, one thing must be made clear. Israel’s brutal handling of the situation has resulted in devastating results. Pounding a largely unarmed population still under its military rule with bombs, wreaking destruction and death in its malevolent path, are, in the words of UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory Richard Falk, "severe and massive violations of international humanitarian law as defined in the Geneva Conventions, both in regard to the obligations of an Occupying Power and in the requirements of the laws of war.”
Contrary to Israel’s justifications for its strike – the rockets fired into Israeli territory by Hamas and other Palestinian military groups – the real purpose of the assault is much more insidious and, surprisingly, has very little to do with Hamas. Rather, it has everything to do with the Palestinians’ national cause. Some may say that Israel has every right to defend its citizens from the rockets that continue to fall on its territory, which would be a completely valid point if the rockets were being fired from another independent and free entity. Rather, they are fired from illegally occupied territory that is besieged, isolated, economically starved and politically shunned, largely due to Israel’s propaganda war against the Islamic movement.
More importantly, Israel, as always, is thinking more in the long term than anything as short term as bringing Hamas to its knees. It has already isolated the Gaza Strip from the West Bank by blockading it economically and physically through the closing of its borders. It has fanned the flames of internal dissent amongst the Palestinians, reveling in the split, and now it is literally killing Gaza’s people, young and old, in a bid to: one, annihilate Hamas as much as possible; and two, ensure that any influence left will be shunned by an exhausted, war torn and devastated people not willing to continue in a struggle that will leave them homeless and hungry. It is much easier to pass over Israeli-tailored solutions to a people too tired and too stricken to protest.
Needless to say, it is the cause more than the movement that is being targeted today by Israel. Hundreds of bombs have been dropped on Gaza, not only on Hamas installations as Israel claims, but on houses, universities and mosques. Five sisters sleeping on their mattresses died together when a bomb struck the building next to them. Children, women and men have been pulled from huge heaps of ashy rubble, young men in police uniforms strewn across a bloody street. What is worse, Gazans have nowhere to run, trapped like lab rats in a huge cage. Finding shelter is not option.
Israel may be many things to its own people, but to the Palestinians, it is an occupation, one that targets an entire people and one that does not worry about international condemnation of its slaughtering of innocents. It is certainly not a balanced battle or a situation that needs a "halt of fire" from both sides. Israel’s onslaught is murderous madness aimed at the annihilation of any Palestinian national aspirations of statehood by fragmenting Palestine physically and psychologically.
The one glimmer of hope in this sea of darkness is the outpouring of support shown by people around the world. They understand that Israel is acting in its capacity as a merciless occupying power. Those who are willing to brave the bitter cold of winter or the nightsticks of their own police for Palestine understand that Israel’s bombs must be silenced, its criminal leaders brought to justice, and the Palestinians left to live in dignity before any peace can prevail. And finally, for the people of Gaza living an unimaginable horror, we say a prayer.
-Joharah Baker is a writer for the Media and Information Program at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. (Originally published in Miftah – www.miftah.org)