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Connections with Gaza Hang by a Thread

January 2009

Yesterday, I was on the phone with a friend in Gaza when we were cut off by a loud noise.  When I reached her a few minutes later, she politely apologized for the interruption, explaining that a missile had just hit a target next to her apartment building for the sixth time that day.  “It’s already totally flattened,” she said, “I don’t know what more they want.”

At that point, Israeli tanks had not reached her crowded neighborhood in Gaza City.  She could see them from the roof but held high hopes that they wouldn’t get any closer. She told me that some people were out on the street looking for food after having spent many days huddled indoors.  Only a few hours later, deep into the night, the tanks rolled into Gaza City and opened fire in its densely populated neighborhoods.

As this morning’s sun exposed last night’s devastation, the punishing attacks on Gaza by sea, land, and air continued.  Israeli military forces also hit a United Nations school today, killing 40 more Palestinians – all civilians – and injuring many more. A Norwegian doctor described what international journalists cannot, as they have been continually denied access to the Strip by Israeli authorities.

Sorting through the information coming out of Gaza can be a daunting task, particularly given that updates occur only intermittently. Here are some suggestions to help frame the situation in Gaza and the actions needed to move toward a peaceful and just resolution.

Firstly, we must call for an immediate ceasefire.  For the ceasefire to work, it has to include unimpeded access to humanitarian goods for Gaza’s hungry and injured civilian population.  According to the UN and other sources, before the military action began, more than 80% of the population of Gaza depended on about 100 truckloads of food aid per day for basic survival. Presently, next to nothing is allowed passage, and many Palestinians are nearing starvation. Meanwhile Israeli government officials, including President Shimon Peres and foreign minister Tzipi Livni, deny the humanitarian crisis all together.  Although both Hamas and the Israeli military have violated the past ceasefire through direct violence, the Israeli government has also broken the truce by blocking food and medicine deliveries.

Secondly, the Israeli government is violating international law, most visibly through its use of collective punishment.  According to article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, no protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committedHamas’ rocket attacks are immoral and to be condemned roundly, but so are the actions of the Israeli military.  Coverage of the events in Gaza is laced with claims that only Hamas military targets are under attack by Israel.  Yet over the past 11 days, the bombs from Israeli Defense Forces have hit several mosques with people inside worshipping; a university; and most recently a United Nations school in which refugees where taking shelter.  Under international law, Israel as an occupying power is responsible for those living within occupation in the same way that it is responsible for its own citizens.

Finally, there is the question of proportionality. The bombings and attacks done by both Hamas and Israel are condemnable. Yet the scope and impact of the two bombing campaigns are vastly different. As of today, more than 650 Palestinians and five Israelis have been killed.  Palestinians have virtually no military capabilities while they are faced with one of the world’s most powerful militaries unequivocally backed by the world’s only superpower.  The United States has promised to increase military aid to 30 billion dollars within the next 10 years with virtually no conditions.  While Israel is protected by the United State’s veto power in the United Nations, Palestinians have only been granted observer status. This adds a layer of political disproportionality that further complicates any concrete paths to peace.

With all these things in mind I tried to call Gaza repeatedly today, but without success.  I am left to hope for the best and work on behalf of a ceasefire for friends, partners and all the others in Gaza.

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