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Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Palestinian Question: Gaza Is The New Auschwitz


In my last post I mentioned that Hamas was trying to inflict a strategic defeat on Israel in the ongoing attrition warfare by depriving Israel from taking  moral high ground. The global public opinion has changed drastically after the massacre of more than 1800 Palestinians, many of them children and women. The attack on UN schools and vehicles reveals a reckless Israeli war-machine trying to avert a disaster but it could well be a result of insecurity of its political leadership. Over the last two decades, two simultaneous strategies have been playing out- increase in number of new Israeli settlements in occupied territories and Palestinian bid to statehood recognition by the UN and international community. Whether Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu genuinely believes Israel faces unprecedented threat or is worried about his political career remains to be seen. The ongoing Gaza war is certainly his decision since both the charges against Hamas - kidnapping and murdering three Israeli teenagers and starting fresh violence- have been proven wrong.



Contrary to popular perception, Hamas did not escalate this cycle of violence, in fact it hadn't fired a single rocket since November  2012 and had tried to stop smaller militant groups from firing rockets into Israel. Hamas leaders had not turned Gandhian peaceniks overnight, State of Palestine was finally coming close to reality and any disruption would have been counter-productive. Besides, Hamas has weakened considerably because of the unrest in the MENA region. As a Sunni group, it has fallen out with Iran its main weapon supplier and the Hezbollah (both Shia) because of their role in the ongoing sectarian schism. However, the biggest setback was ousting of Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt of which Hamas is an offshoot. Though the Gaza Strip had been under a blockade since 2007, it was able to procure some resources through the tunnels opening into Egypt. As part of the crackdown on the brotherhood the Al-Sissi government of Egypt closed all tunnels leading to Gaza which brought Hamas to its  knees. Joining force with Fatah was the most rational choice since international community was increasingly supportive of Palestinians' right to statehood.

 In November 2012 the United Nation General Assembly had upgraded Palestine to non-member-observer-state a de jure recognition of the Palestinian state represented by PLO. One of the major impediments to exercising its sovereign status in the future was the fact that Fatah (part of PLO,hence legitimate) did not have entire Palestine under its rule, Hamas (designated as a terrorist organization by US,UK,EU and some other countries)  had set up a parallel government in Gaza Strip . In 2014, Fatah and Hamas reached an agreement and a unity government was sworn in on June 2, 2014.  By joining PLO, Hamas had nearly diluted its original stand calling for destruction of Israel. As long as it remained part of PA, it was bound to respect the conditions accepted by PLO in the Oslo Accords. Yet Israel immediately condemned the agreement and launched an airstrike after the swearing in of unity government that the international community had already welcomed and its staunch ally, the US was willing to talk with. It was more than apparent that Israel wanted to keep the conflict alive.

In the last decade the right wing within Israel has grown colossal, helped partly by the governments' effort to keep Palestinians segregated from Israelis by constructing political as well as physical barriers and dehumanizing Palestinians to the point where kids write messages on missiles and Israeli youth celebrate Gaza massacre by singing "there is no school tomorrow, there are no children left in Gaza". Even German citizens during Hitler's reign remained apathetic as the holocaust took place, they didn't actively support it, leave alone celebrating it. If the heirs of the victims of holocaust have become so inhuman, it is because successive governments have been bending to the powerful right wing demands and in doing so have further empowered it, putting a vicious circle in motion. The fundamental issue that the right wing champions, is that of  right of settlers in areas occupied by Israel in the 1967 war which is considered illegal by the international community consensus. The UN and its agencies and various human rights groups consider these settlements as violation of Fourth Geneva Convention and hold these settlements illegal and in some cases,signs of racial discrimination.

Nobel Peace Prize 1994, was awarded to Yitzhak Rabin,Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat after signing Oslo Accords

Regardless of global public opinion, the Israeli right wing is so opposed to two states solution that some far right groups have been consistently calling for complete annihilation of Palestinians to fulfill Zionist dream. In fact, after the Oslo Accords were signed and PLO recognized, the President Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a ultra right wing Zionist Yigal Amir. Such is the support for settlers in the Israeli Knesset that when Ariel Sharon decided to go ahead with the disengagement plan, in 2006,  to withdraw troops and dismantle settlements in Gaza, the opposition he faced from his own party forced him to quit and launch a new centrist party, Kadima. The withdrawal was met with huge opposition despite the fact that while withdrawing from the Gaza Strip, he was also creating settlements in West-Bank. Since then Israel seems to have adopted an aggressive policy to demoralize Palestinians. Israel continues to control Palestine airspace, revenue, supply of food,medicine, electricity, fuel and everything else, the Gaza blockade has turned the region into world's largest open air prison except facilities prisoners are entitled to.   Wikileak cables reveal that Israel intentionally kept the Gazan economy at the lowest level possible. The picture emerging is eerily similar to that of Nazi Germany's concentration camps in Auschwitz.  Further, despite blockade Israel  has launched two major offensives in 2008 and 2012 claiming lives of more than 3000 Palestinians.

The similarity between Palestinian children behind the fences in Gaza and Jewish children in a concentration camp in Auschwitz is scary. 
Israeli tactics have been multi-pronged, from lobbying in US Senate, Israeli Knesset, squeezing the economy  and allowing settlers to carry on violence. Israeli settlers in the occupied areas, have been using violence against Palestinians since decades. The Hebron massacre, stands out for the terrorism factor but hundreds of violent incidents by settler against the Palestinians continue to take place every day. Hebron, which has population of 500-600 settlers witnesses physical assault on Palestinians whose population is more than 150000, which of course couldn't happen without the IDF's collusion. Other methods settlers employ range from shooting at Palestinian civilians, burning down crops and plantation, poisoning the wells and tanks supplying water, vandalizing homes and mosques, which US terms as terrorism but  the right wing continues to support them. The objective of such attacks are explicitly stated as tactics to drive out the local Palestinian people. While these incidents are seldom reported in mainstream media, any retaliation by Palestinians are promptly termed acts of terrorism. And despite wars, ceasefires and negotiations, new Israeli settlements have continued to spring up with a clear objective of altering demography of the region.

Settlers harass a Palestinian woman, assault a youth in presence of security personnel. Hamas may or may not use children as human shields but settlers do teach children how to use automatic weapons and whom to fire at.
Palestine's admission to UN as non-member-observer-state has opened the door for PLO to approach other international agencies such International Criminal Court  and attempt to file charges against Israel for war crimes. Further in January 2013, UNHRC said if Palestine ratified Rome Accord, Israel could be tried for gross violation Human Rights Law and serious violation international humanitarian law. Netanyahu is quite aware that Obama administration has been the least helpful American administration yet, true, it has blocked Palestine from applying for full membership of UN, it is the only member to vote against UNHRC resolution condemning Gaza massacre and of course continues sending billions of dollars as defence aid but even these are far less than American support it is used to. Further, EU has stopped grants and funding of entities located in the occupied territories and is  all boycotting products manufactured in these settlements.  This mindless violence seems to be Netanyahu's attempts to prevent Palestine from approaching any international forum for further recognition. and/or redressal. The fact that IDF spokesperson pass the buck to the political establishment and there are discordant tones as far as  IDF sources are concerned, hint at the military not being eager to go ahead with the operation.

Most likely Binyamin Netanyahu is so eager to satisfy the right wing that he is unable to see the changing reality, such as Iran's rapprochement with the USA, UN's recognition of Palestine and the fact that that entire world is looking at this campaign as a crime against humanity. Or, perhaps he is simply buying time so his name doesn't go down as the leader under whose watch the State of Palestine was formally established. However, his name would go down in history as the leader who presided over a genocide as the world watched in horror. Unlike other despots of the past, Netanyahu decision would hurt Israel more in the long term than it can help in the shorter term. Since a decade and half, Israel is trying to commit a genocide by attrition using punitive attacks, military and economic and increasing settlements to alter demography. Palestinians have responded with unique resilience,since armed resistance has been far inferior.They have been pushed into such a tight spot that they have nothing left to lose except lives and that has become their strength. Reconciliation now under moderate Fatah leadership would be far more profitable for Israel than risking it to an uncertain future.

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