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The Path to Peace in Gaza?

Here are some excerpts of what I wrote during the last few days of the 13 day attack by Israel on Gaza. It’s a basic summary of news reports, official figures, analysis, and my own opinions. I support both the State of Israel and Palestinian Statehood, but this recent conflict shows up one side to have lost rather more humanity than the other.

Tue Dec 30, 2008 1:32 pm

The problems of today where some people refuse to live with others cannot be justified by looking backwards 4,000 years. If you do that the Celts would have every right to push the English into the sea – or back to Jutland, Norway, Saxony, where the Angles came from, and so on. The North American Indians could kick out the Americans. The Arabs could retake southern Spain. 

The central problem of today arises when one party believes that a truce means you only strangle innocent people with one hand instead of two. 

In Gaza, Hamas came to power through democratic elections. Immediately they were ostracised by the west, and the Israeli “withdrawal” still left them in control of the airspace, the ports, the maritime approaches, the road crossings and the borders. Effectively they took the guards out of the prison and sat them around the walls. The Israelis allow food in – but not enough. They allow fuel in – sometimes – but not enough. They have never allowed the Palestinians to truly show the world how peaceful they could be, because they have never actually “left them in peace” but continued a process of aggravation and irritation, with ex-judicial killings from the air. 

But it isn’t just Hamas they are attacking through these passive-aggressive methods; in the West Bank there are still road blocks that disrupt everyday life, and effectively keeps every Palestinian in the daily knowledge of their entrapment and imprisonment. For some people it can take ten hours to travel a distance between two Palestinian West Bank villages. 

Meanwhile the Israelis continue to steal the land by stealth and outright theft, creeping over a border here, building a wall through prime agricultural land so the water rights and orchards remain on their side and the stony ground on the Palestinian side, and they build settlements, hundreds of settlements, all over the West Bank despite many agreements and UN resolutions saying they should not. 

As for the BBC coverage, in the UK it is very light, and only reports the big flashy events. Since the Palestinians have no air force and their rocket attacks have little effect beyond the psychological, there is little to show, but they do show it. The problem is when you equate balanced reporting with equal amounts of coverage as if an attack by one squadron of F-16’s which flattens whole buildings is the same as one drainpipe rocket/mortar round landing in a field or garden in Israel. 

The bulldozing of the houses of the families of suicide bombers is also a less than intelligent response, but is full of revenge and hatred. 

It is easy to forget that the reason there are so many displaced Palestinians is because of the ethnic cleansing practised by the Israelis in the 1940s which moved large numbers of Arabs out of lands which could then be controlled by the now Jewish majority so that a Jewish state could be formed. 

These people are not part of some long ago historical record but are real breathing people that are still alive, and whose homes and farms and livelihoods have been taken from them by force. Of course they are angry – what they had has not been replaced, returned, or even acknowledged. They are simply treated as sub-human vermin with no rights whatsoever, and anyone with any sense can see that is bound to cause resentment. When you put a man in a position where he has nothing, you also make him very powerful because then he has nothing to lose. 

Tue Dec 30, 2008 5:20 pm

The US should stop sending $3 billion of weapons per year to Israel. They might then learn to live with their neighbour rather than attempt to “purify” the area. 

The thing that gets me is the hypocrisy which allows Westerners to get all cross about Iranians pushing Christians around, but doesn’t see the parallels where the Israelis push the muslims into ghettos and deny them humanity. 

Wed Dec 31, 2008 4:02 pm

All intelligence regarding the Middle East is brought to American attention through the channels of Israel’s intelligence services or their influences. They were the ones planting the stories of the WMD in order to create a war to disarm a country they considered to be a threat to their hegemony over the area. Now the country they see as posing a threat is Iran. 

However, the lack of any such weapons means anything they say about any country opposing them really can’t be trusted and has to be taken with a pinch of salt. The ironic thing is that weakening Iraq has strengthened Iraq’s enemy, Iran, and so it is easy to point the finger in that direction whenever convenient to distract from other realities. 

Wed Dec 31, 2008 7:01 pm

Gazan dead = three hundred and ninety one (391) 

Israeli dead = four (4) 

You want balance? Stop the bombing and allow humanitarian aid in! 

Thu Jan 01, 2009 12:43 am

I am not saying Hamas aren’t defending themselves through the only way open to them by sending homemade drainpipe rockets across the border. I do wonder what means of protest the world would allow them though against the Israeli noose. 

Let’s face it, the world said “Have democratic elections!” So they did. But when Hamas was elected in free and fair elections the world said “We won’t talk to you, we won’t pay you, we won’t help you.” 

With Israel controlling airspace, seaspace, and borders, Gaza isn’t free, it’s a prison ghetto. Now, if it were free, and they were still lobbing missiles over to Israel then naturally the right would not be on the side of Hamas as it is now. 

Israel have succeeded in turning the opinion of reasonable people towards support for Hamas. I mean, that’s one better than George Bush turning the world against America! 

I am afraid the Israelis don’t want justice for all, they want possession. There will be no peace in the Middle East until they change this greedy point of view. 

After treating Gaza as free, lifting the roadblocks on the West Bank, closing the settlements, moving back to the 1967 borders and giving the right of return to the Palestinian diaspora, problems will continue for Israel, and Al Qaeda will continue to be able to recruit supporters to blow the rest of us up. 

Sun Jan 04, 2009 4:20 am

Sadly the death rate amongst Palestinians is now 470. 

Amazingly the US are blocking any call at the UN for all parties to cease and desist their violent activities, and Alejandro Wolff, John Bolton’s successor as the US Representative at the UN furiously refused to equate the lost lives of Palestinians with lost lives of Israelis. 

The only US voice currently speaking sense is Dr James Zogby of the US Arab-American Institute, he says nothing will change in the region until the US tells Israel to act less belligerently. He correctly says that the Europeans have no sway in the area, and that the Israelis are the wrong people to police Gaza. 

Sun Jan 04, 2009 2:01 pm

The Israel-Palestine issue is the foundation for the Al Qaeda attacks on the US Trade Centre, the Tube Bombings, the reason we invaded Afghanistan, the hostility towards the West shown by muslims wordwide, the ease by which reasonable young modern muslims become recruited through brainwashing into Al Qaeda, and more. 

I used to be sympathetic to the Israeli cause, but they have overplayed the sympathy card so much, claiming to be the victim when they are the aggressors. They seem to believe the world will have more sympathy for them when they say “we have 150,000 innocent inhabitants suffering terrible terror” from the odd drainpipe rocket when there are 1,500,000 Gazan Palestinians suffering the greater terror of daily air attacks, artillery attacks, tank invasions, missile strikes, satellite guided missiles, house demolitions and more. 

As for acting tough and refusing to talk until the fighting stops, that’s just an excuse used by those who actually don’t want peace to keep on fighting. The UK government only made peace in N Ireland because they talked to the enemy before the fighting stopped. 

As Ghandi said “There is no path to Peace, Peace is the path.” 

Sun Jan 04, 2009 2:34 pm

I don’t think some people quite realise the degree of hostility felt worldwide against American foreign policy based on their unwavering support for Israel, no matter what Israel does or how it behaves. 

We also shouldn’t forget there are Israeli elections in February, and we are in a lame duck period for the US Presidency at the moment. The world is leaderless and as they have always done at such times, the Israelis take advantage. 

Sun Jan 04, 2009 6:00 pm

Just heard Alejandro Wolff again.  He was justifying Israel’s current bellicosity by blaming Hamas for ‘breaking agreements made in the past’ so was asked ‘What about the failures to observe the agreements by the Israelis, specifically with regard to the opening of the borders’ to which the US UN spokesman replied “We do not equate the actions of a sovereign member of the UN with those of a terrorist organisation’. 

Which effectively means that while the US claims to be an ‘honest broker’ in negotiations, and says both the Palestinians and the Israelis should make agreements, the US only complains if one side breaks the agreement, not the other. In other words, they give Israel carte blanche to do as they like, to renege on promises, to break agreements, but as soon as the Palestinians do anything to bring attention to the issue they are immediately cast as the bad guys. 

And Americans wonder why the world dislikes them.

Sun Jan 04, 2009 6:09 pm

If Israel are acting properly, why are they – despite a High Court Order telling them they must – why are the Israelis preventing International Journalists from entering Gaza? They are swamping the TV agency channels with loads of images from unending angles of the same incident with damage to a building or two in Israel, while blocking everything they can from Gaza. 

See how they fight the propaganda war? Because you only see the damage on their side, they hope to persuade those who look only glancingly at the problem that they are the innocents, as they tighten the noose so they can hang, draw and quarter out of sight. 

Edit: 

Even peace loving Israelis are getting angry. Fred Abrahams of Human Rights Watch who is both Jewish and based in Jerusalem was seething about the situation, saying that an ICRC surgical emergency response unit with specially trained trauma surgeons has been prevented from entering Gaza since Friday, and that Israel has blocked all NGO staff from entering Gaza for over two months, and that the “400 trucks” of humanitarian aid the Israelis claim to be providing to Gaza have not been sent since the land battle opened up. 

Wed Jan 07, 2009 7:21 pm:

BBC World, the satellite TV 24 hour World News channel has some very good coverage, but its reporters are prevented from going into Gaza by the Israelis. BBC World is still very good, they do have a BBC Producer with camera there on the spot, but I want more news from the ground. This has meant I have had to look further for info as well, and I came across Al Jazeera English news channel which has a lot more coverage of the situation. 

They are staffed with mostly ex-BBC, ex-ITN and ex-CNN reporters and the coverage is very professional. Having said that, there does appear to be a sensationalisation of some of the issues, but if you read between the lines you can still fill out the picture a little more. 

Yes, they did show a picture of a young man on a stretcher with no visible blood anywhere with his arms and legs shaking in the air, but that could have been acting. However, unlike the BBC they do show real wounds, with real blood, and real tragedy. 

Then you have voice overs of people like the Israeli Foreign Minister saying how “the Humanitarian situation is as it should be” because of the surgical targeting of only Hamas members and fighters but Al Jazeera overlays this on images taken from the fighting with bombs going off in densely populated areas, ambulances carrying children and women to hospitals, schools and UN buildings being attacked, and I have to say it is very effective. 

Some of the things the reporters say seem designed to arouse public opinion in the Arab world very much (I am watching the presumably milder English language version so heaven knows what the Arab version says) but in the absence of the presence of any International Reporters courtesy of Israeli censorship what else is there to watch? Normally I would watch the BBC and the very pro-Israeli CNN, but now Al Jazeera is providing me with a pro-Arab version to see just how unbiased the BBC really is. 

Israel is making so many blunders in this campaign at the moment. They have gotten so used to always having full American support, and so used to considering Palestinians to be “sub-human” they seem to have forgotten the rest of the world in this. 

Certainly blocking the moderate press from covering the story is pushing viewers towards the extremist TV channels, and this is empowering Hamas. 

Their strategic goals and their PR have been uniformly rubbish since the beginning of this crisis. Their idea seems to have been to weaken Hamas sufficiently to allow Fatah to take over, but instead they are weakening the moderates everywhere and strengthening the hard liners – in and outside of Palestine and Gaza. 

Hamas are not just like the IRA, they provide education, social welfare, as well as an antidote to the corruption ridden Fatah. Yes, they have a military wing, but this is supported by a huge support net encompassing most of the population. When Fatah was in charge in Gaza, the wealth was squandered on personal riches for Fatah people in charge, hence the voting in of Hamas. 

So, Israel’s attempts to follow the idea that force will enable them to achieve any objective, and to certainly avoid having to give back land or act fairly towards the Palestinians – or negotiate fairly, or not indulge in extra-judicial F-16 executions, this carelessness with the lives of innocent civilians, all of this is undermining their cause. 

Many Israeli politicians say all they are trying to achieve is to allow their citizens to walk down the road and do normal things in safety. But that is all Hamas wants for their citizens too! An end to air strikes on cars travelling through city streets; an opening of the borders for trade; and end to living in refugee camps, camps which were set up 60 years ago and still have people living in them from the ethnic cleansing that created Israel. 

Some say Hamas wants to eradicate the state of Israel, but then say that that means they want to kill all Jews which is not the same thing at all. My understanding is that many years ago Hamas put in their documents that they goal was resistance to the formation of Israel as a state without them in it, that they should be allowed to return to their farms and homes that armed conflict forced them to leave. I have seen interviews with Hamas leaders where they say that although the statement is in their charter, lots of things are in charters that are never carried out and that Charters can be changed. 

Now you can believe that or not, but the fact remains that Israel currently occupies more land than its UN mandate allows. When it was set up as a Nation, the borders were pretty much those of 1967. Now they have extended beyond them, the “Security Fence/Wall” being one glaring example where for their security they built a wall 100 yards beyond their boundaries, not within them as all other countries are required to do by International Law. 

It is a sad state when a country that claims to be “just a normal, free, democracy” disrespects both International Law and basic humanity so badly as does Israel now. 

I can understand the desire by Jews for a land where they will not be persecuted as happened in the past. Let’s face it, they have, as a people, become extremely unpopular in many countries over the centuries, being expelled from England in the 12th Century, and from Eastern European countries at various times, and then in Germany 60 years ago. But what I cannot understand is the arrogant way in which they behave now. 

If they began obeying International Law instead of relying always on the US veto at the UN, and if they withdrew to the 1967 borders, and allowed others to see what they are doing eg let their own Jewish political prisoners and people of restricted travel rights leave, and reporters to go to Gaza, then the moderates in the world would begin moving away from this dislike of Israeli Apartheid, which is effectively what their behaviour now is. I am really unhappy about being forced by the unreasonable actions of Israel to find I am seeing the actions of Hamas to be more reasonable than those of Israel. 

Yes, Israel did withdraw from the land of Gaza, but only to run the prison camp that land is from outside of the barbed wire fence not within it. They kept the border controls, the Southern security zone, the maritime approaches and blockade, the air space, as well as control over the fuel, food and water treatment and all that life requires other than air itself. They even closed some years ago the road that was built from Gaza to the West Bank. To say that Gaza was left in freedom is one of the biggest lies in modern times. 

Of course, we are used to hearing that overused phrase many Israelis – and hence many Americans who just copy that line mindlessly – use “We don’t have a partner for peace”. Well, neither do the Arabs. Israel never fully implements any agreement, drags its feet over every requirement they have to meet, restricts every freedom in any way they can, and generally stir up trouble in order to avoid having to fulfill earlier promises. 

The number of times they have initiated airborne rocket attacks in Gaza just before they were to meet some Western politician, or were due to meet a deadline for compliance with something they didn’t really want to do are many. 

Clare Short recently went on a boat to Gaza and met their Prime Minister who said they were willing to make peace. She also confirmed that the ceasefire as broken not by Hamas, but by Israel as I remember too. She also said that in the time the rockets have been sent over, 17 Israelis have died, but 5,000 Palestinians have died. 

Al Jazeera just showed a clip of a man holding a dead baby with a hole in its head, a 3 year old boy with a bullet in the chest and another with two. All of them dead, and taken from a pile of other dead bodies on a barrow. He asked simply, “What have these children thrown at Israel?” 

The Israelis then say that it isn’t fair “the Hamas are sheltering behind human shields!” But under the Geneva convention it is the responsibility of the occupying force to protect civilians, not shoot into areas where they are. Just because Hamas allegedly doesn’t act responsibly doesn’t mean that Israel can do what it likes. Israel likes to be thought of as a civilised democracy, but does not want to be held to account with the same set of rules that other democracies must follow. 

Of course, with Guantanamo Bay perhaps the US has a similar point of view. I am looking forward to seeing what Barack Obama has to say and do from the 20th Jan onwards… 

I fear though that no peace will come until the Israelis really do want to make a lasting peace because only then will they give the Arabs something worth making peace over. And while the US veto persists, that is unlikely to happen. 

Thu Jan 08, 2009 1:28 am

Part of the Israeli strategy seems to focus on, not surprisingly perhaps for a Jewish administration, money. Repeatedly they talk about showing Hamas “there is a price to pay” for resistance. The behaviour of the world’s governments on the Hamas issue has been disgusting IMO. They were democratically elected, that gives them legitimacy no matter how much we may dislike how they sometimes act. The invasion of Iraq was supposed to be about “bringing democracy to the Middle East” according to Pres Bush, but here where democracy has resulted in a regime they didn’t like all funding was immediately cut. 

An Israeli soldier interviewed on BBC World gave credibility to this belief being current throughout much of Israeli society when he said that he wasn’t happy that Palestinians were going without, but they elected Hamas and so this is what they should expect. Why? 

Contrast that with images from the West Bank which is much calmer, with trade going on based on considerably more aid having been sent to bolster the Palestinian Authority which is considered more compliant by the US-Israeli axis. 

This peace in the West Bank could have been in Gaza too if the West had done with Hamas what it has done with Fatah and the PA. 

Israeli spokespeople are saying they want the disarming of Hamas and the prevention of the rearming of that government in Gaza. But isn’t that a little one sided – they want to be able to negotiate with all the aces, while their opponents are only allowed cards that have been seen to be poor and without threat by the Israeli-US axis. And that is of course if Israel even feels they need to negotiate or even listen to the grievances of the Arabs. After all, they have nuclear bombs, tanks, F-16s, a navy and full access to US satellite technology. 

Benjamin Netanyahu was on camera earlier in the day too. He was complaining that two rockets were fired from Gaza just after the Israelis stopped firing, as if to prove that is a sign of a lack of faith on the Hamas side. But the first thing the Israeli air raids tried to destroy was the Gaza Police, the Parliament, all the centres of power and official offices, basically all of the places and people which can be used to exert power, pass on messages and enforce a cease fire on the Hamas side too. 

When you create chaos you cannot then claim it is not fair it is not predictable or ordered. 

Thu Jan 08, 2009 3:25 pm

Ceasefire Thursday 

Israel asked UNRWA to organise a convoy of relief trucks to bring in food through the Israeli inspired “Humanitarian Corridor”. The UN used some trucks from an Israeli authorised truck company. Then 2 Israeli tanks fired on the convoy, killing one of the drivers.The Israelis had been given the coordinates and timings of the convoy. UNRWA has now suspended aid in Gaza “due to the actions of the Israeli Army”. 

Elsewhere, even during the 3 hour ceasefire, Israeli bulldozers moved in to destroy homes and houses near to the border. 

Some ceasefire. It may be enough time to rearm and refuel the tanks and let the Israeli soldiers sleep, but it isn’t enough time to organise food and relief trucks and distribute food. 

In other conflicts we see streams of refugees pouring away in streams from the fighting, but in Gaza that just isn’t possible. Gaza is fenced in. There is no escape possible. Civilians are held forcibly and against their will in a war zone, in harms way, and that is a war crime.

Fri Jan 09, 2009 12:54 am

Diplomatic efforts continue at the UN, with the Arabs claiming the necessary 9 out of 15 security Council votes needed to force a vote on a resolution. This has pressured the Permanent members (ie those who hold the power of veto over anything the UN can do) to do something more quickly. 

Sadly nobody has learned since the 2006 attack on Lebanon. Back then US and British diplomats shuffled their feet and rather than taking action, spent energy trying to prevent any resolutions from being passed, just so as to give Israel more time to achieve what it said it could do “in just a little more time”. Over 1,000 people, mostly civilians, had to die before the diplomats realised that the Israelis were not going to win: the best that could be attained was a stalemate, which is where we are today as well – but again, the people in power seem blind to this. 

So, the WP3 (Western Permanent members of the UN Security Council) have a meeting out of which Condoleeza Rice – Ms “Status quo ante” herself – emerged tight lipped. Presumably public opinion is beginning to weaken the resolve of the British and French, and the Bush Administration cannot afford to be seen to be isolated when presumably President Elect Obama is telling them what he wants behind the scenes. 

So, how can they divert public attention away from the problem, and thereby gain more time for the Israelis? Manage the media. 

In the US, they announced Obama’s plans for the future of the US economy – nothing that needed to be dealt with today specifically, whereas the Gaza crisis certainly does need some attention. In the UK, the Bank of England reduced Interest rates to the lowest level for 315 years. Both “Big Things” guaranteed to take space and distract the public. On top of that, the Press may also have been “leaned on” to give slightly less emphasis to this humanitarian crisis. 

Certainly the BBC coverage has reduced substantially. But the killing goes on, with perhaps the heaviest bombing and bombardment of the campaign so far happening around 4am local time in Gaza last night. 

Four chidren were found today near their dead mothers in a house which had collapsed after being shelled by the Israelis. The ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross/Red Crescent) said their medical rescue teams had been trying to get to this property for four days, but had been prevented from doing so by the Israelis who had soldiers just 80 m away from the house. 

The young children were very young, and were unable to stand from hunger. Some were wounded. Maybe some of their mothers died slowly during the four days, maybe some of the living wounded will lose limbs from gangrene that could have been prevented if help had come in time, and if the surgical teams that have been waiting to enter Gaza for two months had been able to operate and if the shortage of medical supplies had not been so great. 

I can hardly imagine the thoughts of those poor young kids, toddlers and under 10s, the psychological damage they must be suffering. Apparently not giving aid or preventing aid to be given to non-combatants is a war crime.

Meanwhile, the UN has suspended aid because of repeated attacks on their staff by the Israelis, Barack Obama says nothing and George Bush plans roomsets for his retirement home. 

It’s nice to know humanity is so alive and well. 

Fri Jan 09, 2009 1:50 am

Dead so far counted: 

Gazans: 763 (including 257 children and 56 women) 

Israelis: 14 (including 4 civilians) 

Wounded: 3,100+ (including 1,080 children and 452 women) 

In Thursday’s three hour ceasefire the ICRC brought back 50 bodies. More have yet to be recovered. 

Fri Jan 09, 2009 4:16 am

The UN Security Council has just passed a British Chapter 7 Resolution calling for an Immediate Ceasefire “in and from Gaza” 14-0 with only the US out of step with the rest of the Council with an Abstention! 

[Personally I would have added “in, from and to Gaza” as it does seem possible for Israel to send rockets and missiles into Gaza from Israel without breaking the Resolution… but I’m a cynic.] 

Apparently the US wanted to delay the resolution for another 24 hours, but a US analyst (described as being a “military” analyst) said it looked like the British contingent said “No – we have to have an immediate ceasefire.” 

Further elements in the resolution require the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, the setting up of humanitarian “corridors” (so we don’t know if Gazans will be able to go where they wish), an increase in aid, allow for the opening of the crossing points as agreed in the 2005 agreement, plus some unannounced “new means” to try to end the smuggling of arms into Gaza. 

I am not sure if Hamas have been consulted about the terms of the ceasefire, and there is no timescale for the withdrawal of Israeli forces which theoretically could stay indefinitely. 

And then of course there is also the “fog of war” of getting the message across. The Israelis have shown themselves to be less than reliable in many regards when it comes to cooperation with NGOs, journalists, and of course the elected representatives of the Gazans, 45 of whom are in Israeli gaols. 

What does Chapter 7 mean? Basically it is a “Get out of Gaol Free” card, meaning there is no mechanism available for any enforcement of the ceasefire. It was said to be the most possible resolution available today. 

Let us hope that the poor innocent civilians in Gaza soon get some relief. As I write this, half an hour after the UN vote, Al Jazeera’s live(?) feed from the area was punctuated by the sounds of some very loud explosions… 

So, did anyone win? Nobody wins in war. As Simon Scharma said, “the first thing to go is profit”. The Israelis will claim some gains, Hamas will claim they were not beaten – and the crossings are to be opened with more aid to come which is what they were after. In the PR war, Israel clearly lost this one, whereas Hamas will have gained in strength – before the crisis they were less popular among Gazans than when they won the elections, but when attacked by outside forces all Nations come together. Hamas won’t be blamed for the deaths and bombs – they were delivered by Israel and built or paid for in the US and it is they who will be blamed. 

Extremists around the world will have gained over moderates. The US reputation will have been tarnished even more, but at least it is a nail in the coffin of the George W Bush Administration. 

Please, please, please will the US bring some pressure onto Israel to adopt peaceful and honest negotiation as a means to obtaining a secure future, rather than these aggressive acts of warfare?

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