Questions about Israel’s attack on Gaza
Why do these terrible outbreaks of violence keep happening?
Expulsion of Palestinians The roots of the violence can be traced back to 1948, when the Jewish minority in Palestine set up the state of Israel and expelled around one million Palestinians from their ancestral homes. Hundreds of villages were destroyed and their inhabitants driven from their homes at gunpoint. In the south-central region of what is now Israel, the Palestinian inhabitants were expelled and forced to flee to overcrowded refugee camps in the Gaza Strip. Gaza has been under Israeli military control since 1967. No one is allowed to leave or enter unless Israel decides to allow them to do so. Many international commentators have referred to Gaza as a giant prison controlled by Israel.
Siege After the Hamas movement won the parliamentary elections in 2006, Israel refused to deal with the new administration, and imposed a state of siege. Israel has cut off, or placed severe restrictions on, fuel, medicine, food, building materials and other essential supplies. Even before the current Israeli bombing and invasion, water pumping plants and sewage treatment plants had stopped working, because of a lack of fuel and Israel’s refusal to allow spare parts and construction materials to enter Gaza. The health care system was in deep crisis even before Israel bombed three hospitals in the last two weeks. These acts of collective punishment are all illegal under international law.
Israeli military violence In the past ten years, Israel has launched military incursions and attacks on Gaza on an almost daily basis. Military jets fly overhead constantly, and rockets are often used to kill suspected militants. Israel’s siege has naturally led to desperation and anger among the Palestinians imprisoned in Gaza. A few have turned to tactics of desperation, such as building home-made rockets and firing them towards Israel. Israel has responded with extreme violence. In its December 2008 attack on Gaza, it killed an estimated 1,400 people, the vast majority of them civilians, including hundreds of children. Each of these massacres increases the desperation and anger in Gaza.
Didn’t this all start because Hamas kidnapped and killed 3 Israeli teenagers? No evidence has been presented that Hamas was responsible. It is more likely that a few individuals acting on their own were responsible. The three young settlers were seized in the West Bank, not Gaza, so killing hundreds of people in Gaza in revenge is a grotesque response. These were not the first deaths of teenagers in the West Bank. At least five unarmed youths were killed by Israeli occupation forces or armed settlers in separate incidents earlier this year. In addition, Israel uses ‘targeted’ killings to assassinate Palestinian militants. These supposedly ‘targeted’ killings frequently kill family members and bystanders. These murders receive little or no attention in the Western media.
Isn’t it a war crime to shoot rockets into civilian areas in Israel? Deliberately targeting civilians is a crime under international law. Hamas – and Israel – should be condemned for doing so. By the same token, Israel is clearly committing war crimes on a immensely greater scale with its massive attacks on civilians in Gaza. As of July 22, Israel has killed more than 600 Palestinians in Gaza, while rockets fired from Gaza have killed two Israelis.
But Israel says that homes and hospitals are legitimate military targets if it believes that Hamas leaders and fighters are sheltering in them Under international law, targeting homes and civilian infrastructure is a war crime, regardless of who lives in or shelters in them. If Israel’s claims were accepted, then virtually every home in Israel would also be a legitimate military target, since under Israel’s system of military conscription, soldiers, reservists, and former and future soldiers comprise a large percentage of the population. The Israeli journalist Amira Hass has pointed to the hypocrisy of accusing Hamas of situating its command posts in civilian areas. Israel’s Ministry of Defence is situated in the middle of downtown Tel Aviv, and Mossad's HQ is right beside a residential district. Israel’s (illegal) nuclear weapons plant is next to the city of Dimona, while its (illegal) chemical weapons plant is located in another city populated by civilians.
Why hasn’t Hamas agreed to the ceasefire proposed by Egypt? Egypt’s proposal was crafted in consultation with Israel, without consulting Hamas and without considering the needs and rights of the people of Gaza. Hamas is not willing to accept a ceasefire which leaves the Israeli blockade in place, and which offers no guarantees that Israel will actually abide by the terms of the ceasefire. There have been several previous ceasefires over the past several years, each of which was broken by Israel even though Hamas abided by them. For Hamas, the root cause is the siege of Gaza, and it insists that a lifting of the siege has to be part of any agreement. It also wants the release of dozens of Palestinian political prisoners whom Israel freed in a 2011 swap for a captured Israeli soldier, and then re-imprisoned in violation of its promise not to do so. Hamas also wants Israeli to undertake to stop trying to destroy the Palestinian unity government formed earlier this year. There had been a virtual media blackout of the fact that Hamas has proposed a 10-year truce based on 10 quite reasonable conditions.
How can the bloodshed be ended? Israel has to stop bombing Gaza, withdraw its forces, and abide by the terms of previous ceasefires and undertakings it agreed to, including ending the illegal siege of Gaza.
What can we do?
* We can contact the media to urge them to do a better job of reporting what the root causes of the conflict are. We can challenge them to stop placing the resistance of an occupied people against their oppressor on the same level as the violence of the occupying power.
* We can contact our politicians and ask them to take a stand based on human rights and international law instead of giving automatic support to everything Israel does.
* We can participate in the international campaign of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions which seeks to pressure Israel to: * End its illegal occupation of Palestinian lands; * End its system of apartheid which denies Palestinians many of the rights held by Jewish citizens of Israel; * Allow the Palestinians refugees who were expelled from Israel in 1948 to return.
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