Monday 29 December 2014

The world cannot stand idly by as this slow, terrible death in Gaza continues

Trevor Hogan

Published 22/07/2014 | 02:30

The father (C) of Palestinian man Zakareya al-Ashqar, who medics said was killed during heavy Israeli shelling, reacts outside a hospital morgue in Gaza City July 21, 2014. Israeli forces killed at least 10 Palestinian militants on Monday after they crossed the border from Gaza through two tunnels, the military said, as the death toll from the two-week conflict passed 500. The overnight raids lifted the Palestinian death toll to 484, mostly civilians, since fighting started on July 8. Israel says 18 of its soldiers have also died along with two civilians. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem (GAZA - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST CONFLICT)
The father (C) of Palestinian man Zakareya al-Ashqar, who medics said was killed during heavy Israeli shelling, reacts outside a hospital morgue in Gaza City

The nightmare for the people of Gaza continues. But it didn't start just two weeks ago, it's been happening for the past six months, the past eight years, the past six decades.

The time for moderate language is over. The time for empty words, blaming 'both sides equally' is over. As Ali Abunimah, the Palestinian journalist, pointed out, those who recently argued for Israel's right to act in 'self-defence' now have blood on their hands. We are living through one of the greatest injustices of the past two generations. History will record it as such. Since 1947, when the forced expulsions of Palestinians from their homes began, the horror has not stopped. Over 60 years later, after several wars, repeated massacres and displacement, 1.8 million people lie trapped inside a 40 kilometre long, 10 kilometre wide stretch of land called Gaza, with nowhere to hide.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu said: "If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor." There are not two 'equal' sides to report on in this horror. No two sides to take, when four children are blown up as they play football and hide-and-seek on a beach. No two 'equal' sides when disabled women are killed in their hospital beds. Nor when nine people's lives are taken as they watch a football match, or when a five-month-old baby dies in his mother's arms, after being hit by Israeli artillery. Is there a need for 'balance' when a rehabilitation hospital for spinal injuries is completely levelled or when a massacre of over 80 people takes place in Gaza's Shuja'iya district?

This injustice is worsened by the tendency of world powers to exonerate Israel from its crimes. Some commentators operate from the assumption that "if only the rockets would stop, everything would be okay". Well the rockets did stop. After the deal that ended Israel's last attack on Gaza in 2012, the firing of rockets from Gaza fell to their lowest level in 12 years. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, by his own admission, acknowledged in a recent speech that Hamas had not fired any rockets in the 18 months since Operation 'Pillar of Defence' ended in a ceasefire. Yet this 'ceasefire' applied to the Palestinian side only. During this time Israel continued killing in Gaza, maintaining the illegal siege, repeatedly shooting farmers and harassing fishermen.

Within 24 hours of the 2012 ceasefire, Israel shot and killed a farmer as he tried to access his farmland in the Gaza district of Khan Younis. Israel continued killing since then, nine citizens in Gaza alone in 2013 and, according to human-rights organisations, a further six children and 26 adults in the first six months of 2014 in both the West Bank and Gaza.

To emphasise the use of Hamas rockets in this context is the equivalent of blaming a small child for getting brutally bullied because he threw a flailing, aimless punch in response.

It is no coincidence that Israel's latest attacks come immediately in the wake of the formation of a 'national reconciliation' government between Hamas and the West Bank-based Fatah. For the first time it appeared that a unified Palestinian political voice could be realised. The move was supported across the world, by the EU, Russia and even the United States. But it prompted a furious reaction from Israel. Netanyahu walked out of fragile peace talks, threatening to impose sanctions against the Palestinian Authority. The country's housing minister announced the new construction of settlements in response to what he called "a Palestinian terror government".

The violent repression of Palestinians intensified. On May 15 two teens were shot dead by the Israeli soldiers in Beitunia in the West Bank. The incident was caught on camera, but there was no international outrage. Gaza was targeted with repeated airstrikes. On June 11 an airstrike killed an alleged militant, and a 10-year-old boy.

These are the events that have preceded the worst massacre visited on Gaza in recent years.

Last year, I was fortunate to visit Gaza. The people there are the most kind-hearted, warm and friendly people I have ever met. Not everyone supports Hamas, or their policies in government. The people of Gaza are intelligent, passionate, full of desire and hunger for life.

Yet Israel asserts that Hamas are using people as human shields in Gaza. Despite these repeated claims, the 2009 Goldstone UN report found there was no evidence of Palestinian armed groups placing civilians in areas where attacks were being launched; nor of Palestinians engaging in combat in civilian dress; or of using mosques for military purposes. The discovery of rockets in a disused UNWRA school this week is the first instance of its kind. Yet the 'human shield' lie is repeatedly used and accepted. In Sunday's horrifying massacre of over 80 people in Gaza's eastern Shuja'iya district, again Israel was quick to employ the 'human shield' argument, without any evidence, in an effort to deflect from its horrendous crimes.

The ground invasion into Gaza is unquestionably accepted and framed as being about 'terror tunnels'. If this is the case, why then were 12 children killed in the first day of the ground invasion alone?

The Israeli narrative is loudly echoed by the most powerful people in the world. US President Barack Obama stated in the first week of the slaughter: "No country on Earth would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders." But could Obama and the EU leaders, and our own Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan just for a moment extract themselves from the Israeli perspective and the narrative of the 'two sides'?

They might then ask themselves, what country would tolerate 400 kilogramme missiles, the use of 'flechette' shells that spray out thousands of lethal darts, or chemical weapons like white phosphorous? Who would allow the relentless killing of children, the massacre of entire families, the bombing of ambulances and hospitals, or the continued illegal siege that has crushed an economy and society?

The real question is not what country would tolerate this, but how does humanity tolerate it? Those already suffering are now dying a slow, terrible death in front of our eyes. We can no longer turn the other way.

Trevor Hogan is a former Irish rugby international and member of Gaza Action Ireland

Irish Independent

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