by Waseem Shehzad (Occupied Arab World, Crescent International Vol. 35, No. 6, Rajab, 1427)
Israel's assaults on Ghazzah (starting on June 28) and on Lebanon (since July 12) have nothing to do with the capture of three Israeli soldiers, one by the Palestinians and two by Hizbullah. The demand for their release was merely a pretext to launch a war that had been planned in conjunction with the US several months ago. In Ghazzah the plan was to destroy the Hamas-led government; in Lebanon it was to destroy Hizbullah as part of a larger strategy to eliminate potential supporters of Iran before the US or Israel (or both) decide to attackTehran. For years there have been dark hints emanating from Washington about ‘neutralizing' Iran's nuclear facilities, alleging that Iran is planning to make nuclear weapons.
Israel has perpetrated war crimes in both areas by deliberately blowing up power stations, bridges and other civilian infrastructures in order to cripple the new Hamas-led government inPalestine and to turn the Lebanese people against Hizbullah in Lebanon. Israel also kidnapped 64 senior Hamas officials from Ghazzah and the West Bank on June 29, among them members of the Palestinian cabinet and Parliament, yet it has the gall to demand the release of its prisoners without even a hint that it is prepared to stop its violence against defenceless civilians.
The statistics speak for themselves: in Ghazzah more than 120 civilians have been murdered in their homes or on the streets since Israel reinvaded on June 28; 700,000 Palestinians in Ghazzah are now without electricity because Israel blew up the main power-station. This has not only disrupted electricity supply to homes but has also made the preservation of food and medicines impossible. In almost every hospital in Ghazzah, medicines and blood supplies have perished because of lack of refrigeration and people are unable to get dialysis treatment, again because of lack of electricity. Ghazzah has been under siege since Hamas's electoral victory on January 25. Even Western governments have joined the campaign of collective punishments by cutting off funds to the Palestinians because they dared to elect, in "free and fair" elections, people that the West does not approve of.
Western governments, led by the US, have given Israel a carte blanche to perpetrate war crimes. US President George Bush has said that Israel has the "right to defend" itself; UN secretary general Kofi Annan demanded that both the Palestinians and Hizbullah must release Israeli soldiers, without calling for Israel to do likewise or stop its aggression against the Palestinians and Lebanese peoples. Other Western governments have made equally ridiculous assertions. Some, like the Canadian prime minister, Stephen Harper, described Israel's response as "measured" even after eight Canadian citizens of Lebanese origin had been blown to pieces by Israeli planes on July 16. They were killed while cowering in the basement of their home in Southern Lebanon, where they had been visiting relatives; among the dead were four children. When asked whether he still considered Israel's response "measured" after the murder of Canadian citizens, Harper refused to criticise Israel, saying that there are bound to be civilian casualties amid escalating violence. He was more eager to protect Israel from criticism than to protect Canadian citizens whom he is supposed to represent.
Israel's excuse for launching wars in Ghazzah and Lebanon needs to be analyzed carefully. In Ghazzah, it claimed to be responding to the "kidnapping" of an Israeli soldier on June 25. The soldier, one Gilad Shalit, was a recent immigrant from France and was part of a tank crew that had been shelling Palestinian homes and camps for months, killing scores of civilians. More significantly, a day earlier Israeli troops had raided a home in Ghazzah and kidnapped Dr Mustafa and his younger brother Ali, whom they accuse of being Hamas sympathisers. This had merited only a few lines in a British Sunday paper, the Observer, on June 25, without naming the individuals kidnapped. Yet media coverage of the capture of an Israeli soldier was intense, the BBC even claiming that the Palestinians had indulged in gross provocation and that Israel would be left with no choice but to retaliate.
While the Western media are quick to provide justifications for Israel's "right to retaliate", they do not have the moral courage to tell readers and viewers the whole truth. From the beginning of this year to June 20, according to UN figures, there were a total of 142 Israeli missile-strikes on Ghazzah, a narrow strip of densely populated Palestinian land. In fact, Israeldramatically escalated its shelling of Ghazzah after the formation of the Hamas-led government at the end of March. According to a report on April 21, by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Israel fired 781 artillery shells into Ghazzah in the first three months of 2006. During the same period, 417 Qassam rockets were fired into Israel, causing little damage. From April 1 to June 20, however, Israeli shelling intensified dramatically; a total of 7,599 Israeli artillery shells were fired into Ghazzah, compared to 479 Qassams going the other way. Between June 9 and June 20, 31 Palestinians were killed in Ghazzah, including ten children, six of them five years old or younger. These figures include seven members of the Ghalia family, who were killed while picnicking on a beach in northern Ghazzah on June 9. The heartwrenching images of 10-year-old Huda Ghalia, the sole surviving daughter, crying over her father's body caused outrage among Palestinians.
The Israelis, pathological liars, denied that their artillery fire had killed the Ghalia family, a claim disputed by a subsequent investigation conducted by Human Rights Watch. A day after the killings, Hamas's armed wing, the ‘Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, announced the end of the ceasefire it had upheld since March 2005. The Brigades, along with the Popular Resistance Committees and Jaish al-Islam, were involved in a daring operation in which men tunnelled 300 metres to reach the Israeli tank-position that had been firing at Palestinian civilians. In the operation on June 25 two Israeli soldiers were killed and Shalit was captured.
It would be simplistic to say that the operation was merely a response to the kidnapping of two Palestinian civilians a day earlier, or even to the murder of the Ghalia family. Palestinians have suffered from Israeli brutalities for decades; the occupation itself is a war crime: the Palestinians have been terrorised, victimised and brutalised by Israeli soldiers whose behaviour is atrocious and demeaning. Palestinians have suffered collective punishments for decades at the hands of the zionists; the recent escalations are but some more in a long list of atrocities to which they have been subjected.
The issue of Palestinian prisoners also needs to be highlighted. There is not a single family in Palestine that has not had someone jailed or killed by the Israelis. Currently, Israel holds more than 9,800 Palestinian prisoners; among them are 450 children and 126 women. Some of them have been held for two decades or more. There are more than 1,000 sick prisoners with permanent injuries that need urgent medical attention and surgery. Contrary to the Geneva Conventions, these things have been denied to them. There are some 45 prisoners who have spent more than 20 years, and another 45 who have spent 10 years or more, in jail. There were 370 prisoners in Israeli jails before the Oslo Accords were signed in September 1993; another 555 prisoners were added to this before the al-Aqsa Intifada started in September 2000 after Ariel Sharon's provocative intrusion into the Haram al-Sharif in al-Quds.
Even as the world's attention is focused on Lebanon, where Israeli crimes are far more gruesome, the Palestinians are suffering no less. They have endured these atrocities for nearly 60 years and, because they are completely cut off from the rest of the world, they have no means of support. Palestinian workers and civil servants have not been paid since February, and the Israelis continue to attack and destroy what little the Palestinians manage to grow in their gardens. Palestinian food intake has declined by 66 percent since 2000; the number of undernourished children has escalated alarmingly, with UN and aid agencies warning of catastrophic consequences. Although the West claims that it does not wish to punish the Palestinian people, Bush has threatened to take action against banks transferring moneys to the Palestinians. Even Arab banks are refusing to transfer funds for humanitarian purposes from outsidePalestine.
Collective punishment has been given a new meaning by the West's policy of blind support for Israel and for its crimes against civilians in Palestine and Lebanon.