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Sunday, 10 August 2014

War on Gaza: Debunking the myths

August 09, 2014

It is time to clarify the facts on the aggression the Israelis started on the Palestinians. Unfortunately, the Israeli narrative has dominated the global media. It’s very important to uncover the Israeli narrative and bring facts to the public’s attention. The world needs to differentiate between myths and truth.

The first and very important point is that it was Israel that initiated this war and not the Palestinians.

This is very different from what is presented in most of the media. Israelis claim that Israel was subject to rocket fire from Gaza to which Israel responded by airstrikes. This is not true. The reality is that Israel initiated airstrikes on Gaza, several times, and assassinated people in Gaza, trying to provoke a reaction until they got rockets being shot at Israel. It was then spun in the media as Israel defending itself.

The second point is that this war started not in Gaza but in the West Bank, when the Israeli army, without providing any proof that Palestinians were responsible for the disappearance and subsequent death of three settlers, started a collective punishment campaign all over the West Bank. One of the results of that campaign was the arrest of more than 1,000 Palestinians, including a number of Palestinian members of parliament, bringing the number of Palestinian parliamentarians in Israeli jails to 34.

During that campaign, moreover, Israel invaded more than 3,000 houses, destroyed many of them, stole money from people and destroyed furniture. Israeli forces initiated wide-ranging violence against Palestinians and started using high-velocity bullets and gunshot against peaceful demonstrators who were protesting against the kidnapping of Muhammad Abu Khdeir, who was tortured and burned alive by Israeli settlers. This led to a very serious escalation all over the West Bank.

The third point is that this war in not on Hamas only: it is a war on all Palestinians. It is a war on Palestinians in Gaza, it is a war on Palestinians in the West Bank, in East Jerusalem and on the Palestinian people in general. It is very important to mention that most of the people who suffer from the Israeli aggressions are civilians. At the time of writing this article, on 30 July, at least 1,370 Palestinians have been killed, 90 per cent of whom were civilians. Among them are more than 308 children. Over 7,700 people have been injured, 31 per cent of whom were children.

Whole families have been eliminated. Just this morning, 20 members from the same family, including 11 children, were killed in their sleep as the building they had found refuge in only the day before was levelled. We are talking about more than 30 families that have been scratched out of the civil record because the whole extended family was eliminated, the father, the mother, the grandparents, the grandchildren — everybody. This kind of extermination of people, this level of attack, is nothing less than a massacre, a genocide that is being conducted by Israel.

To add insult to injury, Israel has forced hundreds of thousands of people to evacuate their homes, forcing them to leave by bombarding them. No less than 13,000 homes were completely or partially destroyed, thousands of people have lost everything, their clothes, a lifetime of belongings and memories and now, hundreds of thousands of people are refugees once more, many living in schools, with nothing. If the war ends, when they come back they will come back to nothing, only rubble.

Entire neighbourhoods like Shujaeya were completely eliminated within 24 hours. Even hospitals were attacked. So far, the Israeli army has attacked seven hospitals, 13 ambulances and two medical relief centres, among other clinics. In several cases, they have injured and killed medical workers and/or patients. They also attacked a care facility for disabled people, killing two disabled women. In another shelling, a disabled young man, deaf and unable to speak, did not understand what was going on until he was directly hit and left paralysed from the waist down, adding yet another disability to his life. The most touching and heart-wrenching words I have heard were those of a man who was speaking to two of his children in the hospital, killed by an Israeli airstrike: “Forgive me my children, I could not protect you.”

This feeling of helplessness is overwhelming because thousands and thousands of people today in Gaza, thousands of mothers and fathers, are unable to protect their children. Many have seen their children killed; some have seen their children decapitated by Israeli shrapnel.

The next point I want to make is related to the claim that Israel has the right to defend itself. The most insulting thing here is that many of the world’s leaders, like Angela Merkel of Germany and Barack Obama of the United States, are speaking of Israel’s right to defend itself while not a single word is said of the Palestinians’ right to defend themselves, although the Palestinians are the oppressed ones, the underdogs in this struggle. The Palestinians are the ones whose land has been occupied for 47 years, who have been forced into displacement and refugee status since 1948, who are suffering from a system of apartheid, discrimination and segregation created by the Israeli occupation. Yet not a single word has been uttered about our right to defend ourselves.

In reality, what we see from the Israeli narrative is nothing but a consistent effort to dehumanise Palestinians, as if Palestinians are not equal human beings, as if Palestinian life is not important, as if Palestinian life is worth nothing, as if it is okay that over 1,370 Palestinians are killed and 7,700 are injured. Meanwhile, all anybody is talking about is the psychological impact on the Israeli population, although so far projectiles fired out of Gaza have killed just two civilians. Up until now, 58 Israelis have been killed, all but two of them soldiers. These are soldiers who were killed inside Gaza while they were invading Gaza and attacking people in an act of aggression. We don’t want anybody to die, whether Israeli or Palestinian. But to say that Palestinians are the aggressors in this situation is very wrong and totally unacceptable.

The asymmetry in the current situation is also a very important point to clarify. We are talking here about the Israeli army, which is probably the fourth most powerful army in the world, attacking civilians in one of the most crowded areas of the world, with 1.8 million people living in less than 140 square miles, about 12,000 people per square mile on “normal” days, but nearly double that number these days, as Israel has declared 44 percent of Gaza unsafe and hammered in the message by bombing homes. These 1.8 million people have been attacked by a powerful air force, very powerful ships, and artillery. Those on the ground have only very primitive means to defend themselves.

Even the rockets that are launched at Israel — and we don’t want these rockets to be launched — are almost invariably nothing but a psychological instrument. This has been frightening for Israelis, it is true, but these projectiles rarely cause any harm. The harm is happening almost entirely on one side, the Palestinian side. There is no way anyone can compare the two, this sophisticated Israeli army and the Palestinian people. While the asymmetry is clear, Israeli forces continue to use indiscriminate and disproportional force against the Palestinian population.

One element that is almost always ignored is the issue of the siege of Gaza. The siege on Gaza has been ongoing for eight years. It has caused the most dramatic humanitarian crisis, not only in this region but also probably worldwide. We are talking about 1.8 million people besieged by sea, by air and by land. Israel is controlling all passages, it is controlling the sky and it is controlling the sea. Fishermen are not allowed to fish further than three miles out to the sea; they haven’t been allowed to sail at all for the past three weeks.

Almost nobody can get in or out, even to go to the hospital or receive medical treatment. The one entrance to Egypt is also closed from the Egyptian side. This siege has caused very serious problems. Gaza lacks construction materials. Gaza does not have access to clean water; 90 per cent of the water in Gaza is not fit for drinking because it is either saline or polluted. More than 300,000 people have lost access to water because the water pipes were destroyed by Israeli shelling. When workers tried to repair them they were shot at by the Israeli military.

Electricity is an enormous problem in Gaza too. Most of the time, most people do not have electricity for more than six to eight hours a day. Today, more than one third of the population does not have any electricity at all because Israel bombarded the only electricity plant in Gaza. Because of the siege, 90 per cent of educated young people are unemployed. Because of the siege, the level of poverty is very high in Gaza, a fact compounded by the high prices of basic products that have to come from Israel. This is an unacceptable situation. A siege like this is considered an act of aggression.

It is very important to remind world politicians of the fact that Israel declared in 1967 that it had the right to attack Egypt, Syria, Jordan and the Palestinian people and occupy all of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights and the whole of Sinai just because the Egyptian army closed the passage to Eilat, a small port in the southern part of Israel. Israel still had full access to the Mediterranean Sea, yet they considered this an act of aggression that gave them the right to conduct one of the worst wars in the Middle East. That is why we say that a ceasefire is not enough; it is very important to also lift the siege on Gaza, because the siege itself is an act of aggression.

Today, the Palestinians have been demanding to have a ceasefire. But Israel is refusing. Three or four efforts were made to have at least a humanitarian ceasefire, so that the Palestinians could take out all the bodies of those who were killed and who are buried under the rubble in Shujaeya and other places like Khuzaa. It is heartbreaking to know that there are probably many injured people who have no access to medical care and who will die, slowly bleeding to death, or from their wounds, because no full ceasefire has been allowed and no medical teams were allowed to reach them. Israel has attacked not only hospitals, schools, mosques and houses, but also first aid teams and ambulances. They burned two ambulances trying to reach injured people in Shujaeya. They destroyed many clinics and many first aid providers were shot and injured, and some killed. This is an act of ethnic cleansing, an act of genocide and a massive act of terror against the Palestinian population.

Dehumanising Palestinians will never negate the facts. And it is important to clarify all of them. This war was started by Israel. It is even debatable whether it can be called a war, as a war suggests a fight between two equal sides. In reality it is not a war, it is an act of aggression from an occupying power that is trying to solve the problem of occupation by increasing the occupation. In this attack, Israel was the initiator and the victims are mainly the Palestinians.

Now the killing has spread again to the West Bank, where Israel has resumed shooting peaceful demonstrators with high-velocity bullets. For years the world has been urging us to organise big peaceful marches with thousands of people. This is exactly what we did in Ramallah on 24 July, when more than 25,000 marched peacefully to Jerusalem protesting the massacre in Gaza, demanding the end of aggression and demanding access to Jerusalem to pray in Al-Aqsa on the holiest of all nights for Muslim Palestinians.

Before we reached the checkpoint, which was heavily manned, the Israeli army started to shoot people. Snipers shot demonstrators with high-velocity bullets in a scene reminiscent of what South Africa’s apartheid police did to the peaceful protestors in Soweto in the 1970s. During the night, 211 Palestinians were shot with high-velocity bullets. Over the course of four hours, six people lost an eye, six others were injured critically and one lost his life. The very next day the Israeli army, using live fire, killed nine Palestinians who were peacefully demonstrating in Hebron, Nablus, Bethlehem and Jenin. As many as 60 people were injured. The list goes on.

The people who are being killed in the West Bank are not Hamas and are not in Gaza. They are not shooting rockets at Israel; they do not have any weapons to defend themselves. Yet they are being killed by an Israeli army that considers itself above international law thanks to the silence and complicity of many western leaders. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon does not have the courage to hold Israel accountable, even when the UN school serving as a shelter in Beit Hanoun was attacked by the Israeli army, killing 16 women and children and injuring 200 others.

Finally, one has to remember that this kind of terrible violence has happened many times over the last 66 years. The root of the problem is Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land, settlement building and the forcing of hundreds of thousands of people out of their homes. This has been the case for 47 years, the longest occupation in modern history. This is an occupation that has transformed into a system of apartheid and discrimination. Without solving this, without ending the occupation and the apartheid system, there will be no peace, let alone stability or normal life.

When we struggle as Palestinians for our freedom, it is not only about our future, but also about the future of Israelis. Israelis will never be free as long as we are not free. It is time to see that extremists in Israel, who have benefited from all these wars, are using Palestinian lives and neighbourhoods as a testing area for their weapons, so that Israel can still continue selling weapons worldwide, becoming the third largest military exporter in the world. This has to stop.

Occupation must stop and this asymmetry must be addressed; impunity and reality must be exposed. It is time to tell Israel “Enough is enough”; it is time to say to the world “Please see the reality, look at the facts.” Citizens from all the countries in the world, be it the United States, Germany, or France, are entitled to know the truth and your media are not telling you the truth. Your media, for the most part, have been overwhelmed by the Israeli narrative. This has to be corrected.
River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian   
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