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Jan 16 2009

Gaza: Helpless as the Shells Fall

Gideon Levy describes a waking nightmare:

The streets of Gaza Thursday looked like killing fields in the midst of the “third stage” and worse. Israel is arrogantly ignoring the Security Council’s resolution calling for a cease-fire and is shelling the UN compound in Gaza, as if to show its real feeling toward that institution. Emergency supplies intended for Gaza residents are going up in flames in the burning warehouses. Thick black smoke is rising from the burning flour sacks and the fuel reserves near them, covering the streets.

In the streets, people are running back and forth in panic, holding children and suitcases in their hands, helpless as the shells fall around them. Nobody in the diplomatic corridors is in any hurry to help those unfortunates who have nowhere to run.

For a moment, it seemed a cease-fire could be close. As early as Saturday, the bombs might have stopped falling. But negotiations broke down:

Hamas will not accept Israeli conditions for a cease-fire in Gaza and would continue armed resistance until the offensive ends, Khaled Meshal, the leader of the Palestinian Islamist group, said on Friday.

Speaking at the opening of an emergency meeting on Gaza in Doha, Meshal called on the leaders present to cut all ties with Israel.

It might seem that Hamas is being unreasonable – until you read further. Until you realize what those Israeli conditions were:

However, the proposal does not require Israel to withdraw from Gaza during the initial truce, and Hamas has said it will not accept the proposal unless that omission is corrected.

Salah al-Bardawil, who was Hamas’ Gazan representative to the talks with Egypt, said his organization demands that Israel completely withdraw within five days of whenever the initial cease-fire takes effect.

Hamas also insists that the agreement include a deadline by which the border crossings must reopen.

With Israeli soldiers targeting UN buildings and homes where they’d previously herded civilians, it’s completely understandable that Hamas would find their continued presence unacceptable. But it’s the border crossings that are the most important. People are starving:

In a column entitled “An Unnecessary War,” [former President Jimmy] Carter describes the tragic misjudgments on both sides – as well as their reasonable grievances. “I know from personal involvement that the devastating invasion of Gaza by Israel could easily have been avoided,” Carter wrote.

“After visiting Sderot last April and seeing the serious psychological damage caused by the rockets that had fallen in that area, my wife, Rosalynn, and I declared their launching from Gaza to be inexcusable and an act of terrorism.

“Although casualties were rare (three deaths in seven years), the town was traumatized by the unpredictable explosions. About 3,000 residents had moved to other communities, and the streets, playgrounds and shopping centers were almost empty. …

“Knowing that we would soon be seeing Hamas leaders from Gaza and also in Damascus, we promised to assess prospects for a cease-fire.

“From Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, who was negotiating between the Israelis and Hamas, we learned that there was a fundamental difference between the two sides. Hamas wanted a comprehensive cease-fire in both the West Bank and Gaza, and the Israelis refused to discuss anything other than Gaza.

“We knew that the 1.5 million inhabitants of Gaza were being starved, as the U.N. special rapporteur-on-the-right-to-food had found that acute malnutrition in Gaza was on the same scale as in the poorest nations in the southern Sahara, with more than half of all Palestinian families eating only one meal a day.

Hamas negotiated a six-month ceasefire in large part so that people could be fed. Israel agreed to allow humanitarian shipments to resume – and then choked them off to a fraction of what they had been before, a fraction of what was needed. Now, what supplies get through frequently can’t be delivered, or burn after Israelis shell the buildings they’re stored in. There’s little enough of Israeli promises for Hamas to trust, few compromises they’re inclined to accept, and for good reason.

As for America’s credibility in the negotiations, it may be a little hard for us to persuade Hamas to accept peace when we’re the ones supplying the fuel Israel’s using to shatter Gaza:

It’s well known that the U.S. supplies the Israelis with much of their military hardware. Over the past few decades, the U.S. has provided about $53 billion in military aid to Israel. What’s not well known is that since 2004, U.S. taxpayers have paid to supply over 500 million gallons of refined oil products — worth about $1.1 billion –- to the Israeli military. While a handful of countries get motor fuel from the U.S., they receive only a fraction of the fuel that Israel does — fuel now being used by Israeli fighter jets, helicopters and tanks to battle Hamas.

[snip]

The U.S. fuel shipments are part of a sustained policy that has widened the energy gap between Israel and its neighbors. Over the past few years, the Israel Defense Force has cut off fuel supplies and destroyed electricity infrastructure in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon. Those embargoes and attacks on power plants have exacerbated a huge gap in per-capita energy consumption between Israelis and Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza. And that sharp disparity helps explain why the Palestinians have never been able to build a viable economy.

[snip]

In late June 2006, Israeli aircraft fired nine missiles at the transformers at the Gaza City Power Plant, the only electric power plant in the Occupied Territories. (One of the original partners in the project was Enron, but that’s another story.) The missiles caused damage estimated at $15 million to $20 million and, for a time, made Gaza wholly reliant on electricity flows from Israel. The 140-megawatt power plant, owned by the Palestine Electric Co., was insured by the Overseas Private Investment Corp., an arm of the U.S. government. Thus the
U.S. was providing fuel and materiel to the Israeli military, which destroyed the plant, but it was also paying to fix the damage. Call it cradle-to-grave service.

You begin to notice a pattern. Israel uses our military aide to destroy its neighbors’ infrastructure with impunity, and we blindly cheer them on. Israel can do no wrong. Palestinian suffering is meaningless. Too many officials and opinion-makers in America will read reports such as this and decide, solely on the basis that the victim is a Palestinian, that this destruction is just:

In one of the most moving accounts of the war in Gaza, Ibrahim Barzak, the Associated Press’s chief correspondent there for 17 years — called “the best reporter in Gaza” by a Jewish colleague — today wrote of watching his own home destroyed on YouTube. But who is Ibrahim Barzak?

First, his account. Here is full link, but an excerpt now:

I live alone in my office. My wife and two young children moved in with her father after our apartment was shattered. The neighborhood mosque, where I have prayed since I was a child, had its roof blown off. All the government buildings on my beat have been obliterated. After days of Israeli shelling, the city and life I have known no longer exist.

And:

Three days after Israel began its airstrikes against Hamas militants on Dec. 27, my apartment building was shaken by bombs aimed at a nearby Hamas-run government compound. My brother took a picture of the room where my boys, 2-year-old Hikmet and 6-month-old Ahmed, once slept. Their toys were broken, shrapnel had punched through the closet and the bedroom wall had collapsed. I don’t know if we will ever go back.

There are other pictures that haunt me. The Israeli army issued a video of the bombing of the Hamas-run government compound, which it posted on YouTube. In it, I also can see my home being destroyed, and I watch it obsessively.

His suffering doesn’t matter to America’s hawks. He’s Palestinian. For them, that is the end of his credibility – no matter what a Palestinian loses, no matter what he or she endures, it’s deserved. And have you noticed how so many right-wing apologists wave away anything a Palestinian reporter says by claiming it’s just “bias”? It’s been that way as long as I can remember. If the source is a Palestinian, he’s immediately dismissed as spreading terrorist propaganda.

Those neocon hawks will probably never read far enough down that article to see what a Jewish colleague has to say about Barzak:

He is an assiduous, just the facts reporter. He never raises his voice and always asks the tough questions. He has risked his life more than once for his job, and more than once for pissing off the Palestinian powers that be.

So I bristle — I bristle hard — when some moron who thinks he is making some kind of case for Israel writes about how Palestinian reporters are implacably biased (and I wonder whether these fools realize how hard those accusations make it for Israelis and Jews who are reporting in the region).”

They don’t. All they can see is the glory of their war. Their tunnel vision won’t allow them to see the innocent lives they’re destroying. They refuse to understand that what they are doing will only lead to ever-spiraling, vicious cycles of violence:

An Israel Air Force strike in Gaza on Thursday killed Hamas’ Interior Minister Said Sayyam, one of the Islamist militant group’s three most senior leaders in the coastal strip.

A Hamas official vowed vengeance for Siam’s death. “The blood of Said Sayyam will be a curse on the Zionist entity,” Mohammed Nazzal told Al-Jazeera television.

Sayyam, 50, was killed in an air strike that targeted the home of his brother Iyad. Also killed in the attack were his son, his brother, as well as Salah Abu Shreich, head of internal security in the organization and the person responsible for the liaison between the political and military wings of Hamas.

[snip]

The air strike on Sayyam was apparently an attempt by Israel to deliver an image of victory in its offensive against Hamas. The Israel Defense Forces understands that Hamas’ agreement in principle to the Egyptian proposal for a cease-fire in Gaza signals that the campaign is nearing its end.

They have a point to prove. Never mind that in so doing, they’re destroying the fragile gains made in negotiations. But do they really want peace? I wonder. It seems they’re determined to drive Hamas over the edge, raining down enough death and humiliation to force them into retaliation so that they can then proclaim, self-righteously, that Hamas can’t be negotiated with.

The man they killed as a gesture of power and domination understood that all too clearly:

In an interview with Haaretz in November 1995, Sayyam said, “I do not hate [Israelis] for being Jewish or Israeli but because of what they have done to us. Because of the acts of occupation.”

In response to a question about whether he saw a chance for change in relations between Palestinians and Israelis, he said, “It is difficult to forget what was done to us. If the reason for the hate will not exist, everything is possible.

“But if the reason remains, it is impossible to love. First we must convince in general and in principle that we have been wronged, then we can talk about ’67 or ’48. You still do not recognize that we have rights. The first condition for change is recognition of the injustice we suffered.”

Over thirteen years later, Palestinians are still awaiting that recognition.