The Truth about Gaza

By Samah Sabawi

The media coverage of Israel’s ongoing bombardment of Gaza that left many dead and many more injured echoes Israel’s claim that it was part of an escalation that began on Thursday when Hamas militants fired an anti-tank missile at an Israeli school bus, critically wounding a teenager and lightly injuring the driver. Such claims ignore the reality that systematic violence against the Palestinians has never stopped.

In fact, in the weeks before the school bus incident between 16-29 March, according to the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Israel has killed a total of 14 Palestinians, including six civilians, and injured 52 Palestinians, including at least 40 civilians (19 children). In that same period, three Israeli civilians were injured. OCHA’s report makes it clear that all the civilian fatalities and 19 of the Palestinian injuries occurred as a result of Israeli tank shelling and mortar fire. So while both Hamas and Israel have targeted civilians, Israel has used force far more lethally against the civilian population. And as tragic as the wounding of an Israeli boy on a bus is, his injury was not a trigger to Israel’s bombardment of Palestinians in Gaza which has continued on and off for the better part of this last decade and certainly was not what started this current escalation.

Unfortunately, Palestinian deaths and injuries and Israeli incursions don’t make the daily news in Australia. But the death of every child, man and woman is indeed felt deeply in the close-knit community of Gaza and the rest of Palestine. Failing to understand this is failing to understand the impact of the human tragedy on this conflict. On the political level, this failure to comprehend the human tragedy and how it inflames Arab and Muslim public opinion has (and continues to have) disastrous consequence for world peace and security. Western audiences are spared the images of grieving Palestinian mothers and fathers, but in the Arab and Muslim world, such images are a constant reminder of the brutality of the Israeli occupation and of the hypocrisy of the world powers supporting it.

This gap in reporting leaves many with the false impression that since Israel’s Operation Cast Lead, there has been “calm” between Israel and the Palestinians. But reality tells a different story. In fact, since Cast Lead and up to February this year, Israeli Human Rights organization B’Tselem reported a total of 151 Palestinians killed in the OT, 19 of them were minors. During that same period 9 Israeli civilians were also killed by Palestinians including 1 minor. These statistics as horrid as they are don’t even begin to describe the daily violence of occupation including the travel restrictions, the lack of access to medical care, clean water and electricity.

Indeed, the violence of Israel’s occupation comes in many forms. Perhaps the most poignant of which is Israel’s collective punishment of Palestinians in Gaza. Keeping the economy “on the brink of collapse”, confirmed as an Israeli policy by diplomatic US cables revealed by Wikileaks, is the goal of the inhumane siege that has made 55 percent of the population in Gaza food-insecure and 10 percent of Gaza’s children a victim to stunting and malnutrition. Israel’s periodic attacks, incursions and invasions that involve the killing of large numbers of civilians and the systemic destruction of agricultural lands, demolition of homes and destruction of civilian infrastructure have not stopped for one day since the siege intensified in 2007.  Restricting the movement of people, prohibiting patients and students from leaving Gaza, prohibiting loved ones and relatives visitation rights to the world’s largest open air prison is a form of violent and extreme collective punishment that targets the entire population.

Let us not forget that 75 percent of Gaza’s population is made up of refugees denied for 63 years the right to return to their homes inside what is now Israel.  Israel’s denial of the rights of refugees and its 43 year old occupation and colonization of Gaza and the West Bank is at the root of all the violence. Those who point at the latest set of incidents as the cause for the violence are simply missing the big picture.

– Samah Sabawi is a Palestinian writer and is Public Advocate for Australians for Palestine. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

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