By Mosheer Amer – Melbourne
Since Israel began its recent attacks on Gaza, the world has been watching the unfolding events with increasing concern over the alarming rise in Palestinian civilian deaths and the repercussions of the Israeli onslaught on the stability of the whole region.
Over 800 Palestinians have been killed; nearly half of them are civilians, including dozens of women and children, according to U.N. reports. Israeli forces have targeted homes, schools, universities, mosques, police stations, and other civilian infrastructure. Nowhere is safe in Gaza and a dark cloud of pain, grief and fear has engulfed the civilian population.
When Israel was created following the 1948 war, Israeli forces destroyed and depopulated about 457 Palestinian villages and towns resulting in the eviction and flight of about 750,000 Palestinians (three-quarters of the Palestinian people). Hundreds of thousands of those ethnically cleansed Palestinians fled to the Gaza Strip. For the past 60 years they have been living in slum-like refugee camps, where 80 % of Gazans are dependant on food aid.
Sixty years of ongoing dispossession and languishing in refugee camps and 41 years of Israeli occupation have pulverized the Palestinians, turned the occupied territories into fragmented cantons encircled by walls, fences and dominated by ever expanding colonial settlements.
Historically, Palestinian popular support to any political movement was contingent on how well it stood firm to Palestinian national rights and on its adoption of a resistance program against the occupation. Arafat’s PLO enjoyed wide support during the 70’s and 80’s when it adopted a platform of national liberation. Over the past two decades, Hamas has enjoyed a wide popularity among the Palestinians and in the wider Arab world. Hamas has been seen as defending Palestinian national rights and not capitulating to Israeli occupation and its humiliating conditions.
Hamas’ election victory in January 2006 was a clear expression of the Palestinians’ dismay with not only the PLO’s corruption but also with the failure of the international community to bring to an end Israel’s 41 years of occupation.
Since Hamas’s election victory, the 1.5 million Gazans have been caged in about 300 square kilometres of land, besieged and deprived of food and medicine, surrounded by Israeli walls, guns, watchtowers and tank barrels. While Israel withdrew its settlers and military from the Gaza Strip, it continued to control Gaza sea and air space and all border crossings linking the tiny strip to the outside world.
The Gazans look at their fellow Palestinians in the West Bank and see that the negotiations between the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority and Israel over the past two years produced no tangible results. That is despite the Authority’s close security collaboration and President Bush’s promises of a Palestinian state by the end of 2008.
Even though there are no Palestinian rockets fired into on Israeli areas from the West Bank and despite the presence of a Palestinian peace “partner”, this has not stopped Israel from continuing its colonial settlements, land confiscation, the daily humiliation of the Palestinians at hundreds of military checkpoints, and the building of a wall that knifes through their cities, villages and farmland.
The declared aim of the Israeli onslaught is “to change the reality on the ground”, stated Israel’s FM Tzipi Livni. The main justifications are not only to prevent Palestinian home-made rockets and mortars from being fired into Israel, but also to effect a regime change by toppling the elected government or pressuring Hamas into raising white flags and accepting Israeli occupation conditions.
Israel’s F16 war planes and Apache helicopters killed and terrorised innocent civilians, destroyed civilian infrastructure and violated international humanitarian law.
It is clear that Israeli leaders have not learned the lessons of history and have only mastered the language of war, bombardment and the crushing military boot. Following the eviction of the PLO from Lebanon in 1982, Israel thought its troubles had ended, but the Lebanese Hezbollah emerged as a more capable enemy. After 18 years of bitter fighting, Israel was eventually forced to put its tail between its legs and withdraw from south Lebanon.
The path of war and military arrogance has not bought Israel peace and security in the past and it never will. Israel may succeed in killing hundreds of Palestinians and displacing millions more, but the Palestinian spirit of fighting for what is rightfully theirs will always remain and shall grow stronger for as long as they are treated with disrespect and denied their dignity, humanity and freedom.
It is time for Israel to try the path of peace, equality and dignity for all. Perpetual war versus equality and human dignity, the people of Israel have a choice to make!
– Dr. Mosheer Amer is a Palestinian from Gaza living in Melbourne, Australia. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.