More than 1.5 million Palestinian people living in the world’s largest concentration camp that is called Gaza these days commemorate the first anniversary of the Israeli horror that killed nearly 1,700 civilians. They visit the graveyard where half the graves bear the names of children killed by Israeli missiles, rockets and illegal white phosphorous bombs when Gaza came under three weeks of relentless Israeli attack from December 24, 2008 to January 18, 2009.
These children died in full view of international television cameras. The TV footage beamed by al-Jazeera, the BBC, CNN and other international media channels moved millions of people to tears, but not those who lived in the White House, at No. 10 Downing Street or in the colossal palaces of the custodians of the holy mosques. One can understand the Israeli citizens’ support for their government’s war efforts. But the fact that the then US President George W. Bush, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the so-called Arab leaders did little or nothing to stop the massacre is revolting. They are all partners in the crime. In fact, Israeli defence minister Tzipi Livni met Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak just days before the Gaza war and bought his silence.
Their silence or non-intervention was in fact intervention in favour of Israel. With Bush and his Arab acolytes colluding with Israel, the Ehud Olmert government began the war on Gaza on December 24, 2008 a week after a ceasefire with the Hamas administration expired. Israel’s justification to go to war against an enemy, which is no match for its massive fire power, was that it wanted to punish the Palestinians for the rocket attacks and to stop arms smuggling through underground tunnels.
The war saw about 1.700 Palestinians killed and about 4,000 houses destroyed. Also destroyed in this military operation, code-named Operation Cast Lead, were factories, wells, water service facilities, electricity installations, schools, hospitals, police stations and other public buildings. The number of Israelis killed in the Palestinian attacks during the war was 13 with only three of them being civilians.
One year on, the Gaza strip Palestinians are still under siege. People are still living amid the rubble of their former homes. They cannot rebuild their houses. They have little money and most of them have no jobs because of the Israeli blockade. The people are also suffering from mental and the physical wounds. Children are the worst affected. Reports say hundreds of babies born in Gaza are deformed because pregnant mothers had inhaled smoke from white phosphorous bombs which Israel dropped on civilian targets, including a UN compound where thousands of Palestinians had sought refuge.
A report by a UN fact-finding mission headed by Justice Richard Goldstone said that there was evidence to prove that Israel committed serious war crimes during the Gaza attack.
The report said Israel’s blockade of Gaza amounted to collective punishment and accused the Olmert regime of carrying out a systematic policy of progressive isolation and deprivation of the Gaza Strip.
The Gladstone report also said the population of Gaza had suffered significant trauma, both immediate and long-term. It said that its investigations had found signs of profound depression, insomnia and effects such as bed-wetting among children.
“The effects on children who witnessed killings and violence, who had thought they were facing death, and who lost family members would be long lasting,” the report said, adding that some 30 percent of the children screened at UN-run schools in Gaza suffered mental health problems.
Gaza is a sealed territory. The Israelis have surrounded the Gazans from the north, east and the West. In the south, Egypt has closed the borders apparently to be in the good books of the United States, which is hell bent on disrupting peace in West Asia to promote its own national interest.
Israel says it has withdrawn from Gaza and therefore it has no responsibility to look into the welfare of the people there. But at the same time, it is refusing to lift the siege saying it is a necessary security measure. It does not allow the movement of people or goods in or out of the Gaza Strip, a 360 sq km area where 1.5 million people live in squalid conditions. In other words, the whole of Gaza is quietly being starved to death.
Until recently, the Palestinian people received a limited quantity of essential supplies and medicine through lifeline tunnels they had dug across the Egyptian border. But now even this avenue has been shut with the Egyptians — with the help of US engineers — building a 14-km long steel wall that goes about 100 feet below ground to prevent what they call arms smuggling. Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal called this wall a wall of death while angry Arabs, Muslims and Palestinian sympathizers have branded it as Hosni Mubarak’s wall of shame.
As a result, the Palestinian people depend heavily on the United Nations to feed them. But Israel has made even the UN food supplies a weapon of war by blocking or delaying UN convoys carrying food to Gaza. There were reports that some Palestinians had begun to eat wild grass to survive with the hope that one day they, or at least their children, would live to breathe the air of freedom.
Recently, international social justice groups from 17 countries organized a 198-truck food convoy from Europe to Gaza. Last week, the Mubarak government in Egypt refused to open the border for the ‘Viva Palestina’ convoy to enter Gaza. Accompanying the convoy were some 550 peace activists. They protested for several days and about 55 of them were wounded in clashes with Egyptian security forces but to no avail. Finally, Turkey used its diplomacy to plead with Mubarak and got the border opened for the convoy to move in.
A tailpiece to this standoff was that soon after the peace activists returned, their leaders were rounded up and deported immediately. Among them was the firebrand British parliamentarian George Galloway. He was a critic of Mubarak. When the Palestinians were being massacred last year in Gaza, he accused Mubarak of complicity in the offensive and called him a criminal.
Last week, upon reaching Gaza with the food convoy, Galloway told the Palestinian legislative council that Egypt deserved a leader like Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Galloway was apparently referring to Erdogan’s Davos economic forum outburst after the Turkish leader was denied equal time to respond to charges made by Israeli president Shimon Peres during an open debate. Erdogan, though representing a pro-Western country and a NATO member, said Israel was a baby killer and had turned Gaza into an open-air prison. He accused the rest of the world of having stood by and watched while Israel unleashed its fire power on a defenceless population.
These remarks had made Erdogan a hero in the Arab and Muslim world and made many Arab leaders appear political eunuchs. The despots and dictators of the Arab world sing hosannas to the United States in the belief that Washington would be their protector in the event internal rebellions or external threats pose danger to their hold on power. For them the Palestinian cause is not a matter of urgency. They will not go to war with Israel even if all the Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip and the West bank are expelled or wiped out.
The Palestinians have also lost hope in US President Barack Obama, who in his Cairo speech last year promised to expedite efforts aimed at creating a Palestinian state. Sad to say, his efforts have not made much headway. His special envoy George Mitchell often travels between Tel Aviv and the Arab capitals but he has achieved little.
Even the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is a dejected man today. He was once regarded as the most optimistic of all the Palestinian leaders who had faith in US efforts. Disappointed with the Obama administration, Abbas said the US was caving in to pressure from the pro-Israel lobby.
“All hopes placed in the new U.S. administration and President Obama have evaporated,” he said in an internal memo.
The Palestinian people believe that relying on the US or the Arab leaders will not deliver them the mini state they are yearning for. But their predicament is that they have no alternative with both armed struggle and peaceful methods taking them no closer to their dream of a homeland.