Israel’s indiscriminate massacring of Palestinian men, women and children is an outrage, and they appear to have total impunity to carry on doing it. So how do we go about putting a stop to the slaughter?
You keep searching for signs of hope. They are hard to come by. From inside Gaza, Hamas fire their defiant but pathetically ineffective rockets across the border into Israel. If they worked, they would fulfill a murderous intent, killing ordinary Israeli citizens going about their business. But the Israeli Iron Dome security system plucks them from the sky.
It is an exercise in almost total futility on the part of the Al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, in Gaza. Worse, it gives the hard-liners in Israel – and they are many, including the Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu – the excuse they seem to crave to engage in further indiscriminate murder of Palestinian men, women and children. Which is what they have been doing, raining bombs down on built-up areas in Gaza as if it were a video game.
Everywhere there is destruction and death. At the time of writing, the body count among Palestinians has increased to over 500 – and rising. The Gazans say – and the UN agrees – that most of the dead are civilians. Many of them are women and children. It is a massacre by any other name. The Israelis insist that they are targeting Hamas militants – but they press on with the killing despite the clear evidence of the sickeningly high mortality inflicted by their bombardment. Meanwhile 60,000 Palestinian civilians have left their homes, seeking haven in UN compounds.
If the extreme callousness and brutality of Israel’s actions to date were not self-evident enough, it has been confirmed that they are using ‘flechette’ shells in their operations in Gaza. These shells spray out thousands of small metal darts, hugely increasing the likelihood of innocent bystanders being killed or injured. While the munitions are not specifically prohibited under international ‘humanitarian law’, the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem has denounced their use, stating that they are far too imprecise to be deployed in a built-up urban environment.
No-one in the Tel Aviv regime seems to care.
On Sunday last, hostilities escalated further with the Israeli army mounting a ground offensive, taking them into Gaza city. In the ensuing battles, 62 Palestinians were killed, including 17 children and 14 women. 13 invading Israeli soldiers were bombed or shot dead. And Hamas is claiming that it has captured one Israeli soldier, releasing a name and an identity number for the fighter in question – though this has been denied by the Israeli Army.
We are told in the media that diplomatic pressure has been mounting to bring about a ceasefire. But Hamas insist that they will not agree a cessation of violence unless there is an end to the blockade of Gaza, which is enforced by both Israel and Egypt. The 1.5 million Palestinian citizens of the area are effectively imprisoned in what is a tiny strip of coastal land and denied access to essential goods, food and medical supplies. Defined as a collective punishment of an entire population, it is just one of a litany of abuses of human rights, with which Palestinians have to live on a daily basis. But Israel seems utterly oblivious to Palestinian human rights, or even to the notion of Palestinians as human.
Hamas also wants prisoners currently held by Israel to be released. If they have captured an Israeli soldier, it may give them some leverage here. That is the desperately sordid arithmetic of war.
While there is some opposition both within Israel, and among Jewish people internationally to Israel’s policies, right now the weight of Jewish opinion seems to be heavily in favour of the government’s indiscriminate, murderous actions. At street demonstrations in Israel, naked sectarianism is given free reign in the chants of “Death to all Arabs.” The longer the occupation of Palestinian lands and the isolation of Gaza go on, the greater the extent to which that feeling will be reciprocated among Palestinians. Hard lines are becoming harder.
So is there anything that might bring this bloody, one-sided war to an end?
In the short term, it seems that only a significant international initiative which forces Israel to soften its position has any real chance of working. In particular, there is an onus on the United States to convince their Israeli allies that they must end the blockade of Gaza. But so far Barack Obama has conspicuously lacked the courage to take any kind of decisive action.
For the longer term, we must begin to look to radical new voices on all sides.
There is a horribly compelling short documentary available on YouTube of the arrest of a young American jew, Lucas Koerner, who travelled to Israel to protest against the violation of Palestinian human rights. For exercising his right to freedom of speech, and speaking out on streets of East Jerusalem, near Damascus Gate, he is arrested, badly beaten and subsequently interrogated by Israeli police. But his courage and sense of decency shine through, as he describes his shocking experience to camera, offering a fragile hope that an awareness exists among young American Jews, on which the foundation of a peace movement might yet be built.
In Gaza, there is a need for new voices too. Three years ago, an anonymous group calling themselves Gaza Youth issued a passionate and inspiring Manifesto for Change. It began:
“Fuck Hamas. Fuck Israel. Fuck Fatah. Fuck UN. Fuck UNWRA. Fuck USA! We, the youth in Gaza, are so fed up with Israel, Hamas, the occupation, the violations of human rights and the indifference of the international community!
“We want to scream and break this wall of silence, injustice and indifference like the Israeli F16s breaking the wall of sound; scream with all the power in our souls in order to release this immense frustration that consumes us because of this fucking situation we live in...
“We are sick of being caught in this political struggle; sick of coal-dark nights with airplanes circling above our homes; sick of innocent farmers getting shot in the buffer zone because they are taking care of their lands; sick of bearded guys walking around with their guns abusing their power, beating up or incarcerating young people demonstrating for what they believe in; sick of the wall of shame that separates us from the rest of our country and keeps us imprisoned in a stamp-sized piece of land; sick of being portrayed as terrorists, home-made fanatics with explosives in our pockets and evil in our eyes; sick of the indifference we meet from the international community, the so-called experts in expressing concerns and drafting resolutions but cowards in enforcing anything they agree on; we are sick and tired of living a shitty life, being kept in jail by Israel, beaten up by Hamas and completely ignored by the rest of the world...”
How sick must the writers be feeling today? There were more challenging and inspiring words, before the Manifesto concluded:
“ENOUGH! Enough pain, enough tears, enough suffering, enough control, limitations, unjust justifications, terror, torture, excuses, bombings, sleepless nights, dead civilians, black memories, bleak future, heart-aching present, disturbed politics, fanatic politicians, religious bullshit, enough incarceration! WE SAY STOP! This is not the future we want! We want to be free. We want to be able to live a normal life. We want peace. Is that too much to ask?”
Are there youths in Israel – or among American Jews – capable of matching the genuine righteousness of those words? I’m sure there are. I think there must be.
If there is to be genuine hope for the future, it is that a new generation might come through, which is capable of leaving the hatred, sectarianism and religious bigotry on both sides behind forever. It is a slim hope for sure. But it is all we have – and so we must encourage it in every way we can, starting today...