Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Gaza Crisis - Talking Points

The Ground Reality

1. Gaza is one of the most densely populated areas on the face of the earth. It houses around 1.5 million people. According to some estimates, more than half of this population is under 15 years of age. 70% of the population of Gaza is extremely poor and depends on foreign aid. 50% of the population is malnourished.

2. 80% of people in Gaza are from families of those Palestinians who were expelled from their ancestral lands (now called Israel) in 1948.

3. Israel effectively controls the ground, sea, and air routes of Gaza, even after it removed its troops and settlers in 2005. Its forces enter the area at will. The Israeli siege has turned Gaza into a roughly 140 square miles prison, currently under bombardment from above and across. Due to the economic blockade for the last 18 months, food and medical supplies have run out. Until recently, before the current Israeli attacks started on December 27, the people in Gaza were forced to use underground tunnels to Egypt to get these basic supplies. Now even those passages have been blocked due to the bombardment.

4. Israel has been bombing Gaza non-stop for the last 12 days targeting schools, universities, hospitals, playgrounds, homes, markets, mosques, police stations and other civilian infrastructure. The intensity and scope of the Israeli aggression is worst in 40 years (Israel captured the city and the Gaza Strip during the 1967 Six Day War).

5. Israel has killed over 700 Palestinians in the last 12 days and injured close to 3100. That is more than the number of Israelis killed in the last 7 years. Many are missing and unaccounted for because of the collapsed buildings.

History Matters

1. The images in the news may give the impression that a bunch of bearded anti-Semitic Islamist lunatics suddenly popped up in the slums of Gaza and began firing missiles into peace-loving, democratic Israel. And what Israel is doing is merely retaliation, self-defense, and righteous vengeance. But history did not begin yesterday. What is often forgotten is that 80% of people in Gaza are from families of those Palestinians who were expelled from their ancestral lands (now called Israel) in 1948. The five sisters who were killed in the Jabalya camp had grandparents who came from the very land whose more recent owners have now bombed them to death. For the last forty years Israel has effectively kept Gaza (and the rest of the occupied Palestine) under siege.

2. History matters because it is alive in the collective memories and 60-year long experience of Palestinians under the Israeli occupation. It’s unrealistic and unfair to ask the Palestinians to forget about their land, their freedom, and their rights in return for peace from their occupier, Israel. This informed perspective shifts the dynamic of the peace process from concern for Israel’s security to commitment to redress for the Palestinians.

3. In this perspective the conflict would be framed not in terms of “security” for Israel where Israel is forced to retaliate against “terrorism”. Instead, it would be framed in terms of “occupation” where Israel is practicing colonial and apartheid policies and Palestinians are “resisting” that occupation, using both violent and non-violent means. In this view, the state of Israel is a belligerent and illegal military occupation, and the Palestinian people have the right to defend their land, their honor, and their identity. An appreciation of the history also provides a perspective from which to better understand how Israel’s current practices reflect a sixty-year history of colonial expansion.

4. To even frame the whole conflict in terms of “an endless cycle of violence” is to distort reality. Because often the underlying presumption is that both sides are equally responsible for the violence. But the two sides are not equal. One is an occupier, the other is occupied. One has far more superior war machine (fighter jets, helicopter gunships, nuclear weapons, precision missiles, tanks, you name it), the other has rocks and mostly homemade rockets. One continues to expand its colonial settlements, the other tries to resist that. One continues to ignore over 60 UN resolutions against its colonial policies, the other laments the ineffectiveness of the international community.

5. If terrorism is defined as unlawful violence intended to frighten or coerce a people or government in order to achieve a political or ideological agenda, Israel is operating as a terrorist state in the true sense of the word. Israel has especially used these tactics in both the July 2006 Lebanon War and the ongoing December 2008 Gaza War to scare and collectively punish whole populations to turn them against their resistance movements. The carnage and humanitarian crisis that Israel has created in Gaza isn’t really about “stopping rockets” or “restoring Israel’s deterrence”. Its real goal is to force the resistance to abandon its popular mandate of ending the occupation.

6. Consider also the more recent history. After the elections, Hamas made an intentional shift away from violence towards a mainstream political agenda. It stopped its attacks and began offering the Palestinian people an alternative to the corruption of Fatah. Hamas was democratically elected and immediately strangled by a US-led boycott, preventing the government from functioning. Hamas continued to hold to its one-sided ceasefire (totaling almost 2 years), meanwhile the US and Israel began to train and arm the opposition government, Fatah, which they preferred. In response to plans for a coup in Gaza (anti-democratic takeover by the US-supported opposition government), Hamas secured its control (again, democratically- elected whether or not we like them) over Gaza, and continues to offer Israel an indefinite ceasefire--no more violent attacks, period--if Israel lifts off the siege of Gaza and complies with international law. The Arab League (comprised of 22 Arab nation members) has offered the same. These offers are dismissed by Israel and silenced in the US media. Israel says it has tried everything else, but it has not tried the most obvious: complying with international law and accepting repeated offers for a peaceful resolution.

7. For the sake of argument, if we assume that Israel is acting in "self-defense”, the question is does Israeli actions of denying food, water, electricity and medicine to the resident of Gaza guarantee the security of Israel or does it create more reasons for violent reactions? The Palestinian people must be given some hope of freedom from the Israeli occupation and domination. Israel's immoral and illegal collective punishment of the Palestinian people living in Gaza must end immediately.

8. America must stop its over $3 billion annual aid (military and non-military) to Israel and another 2 to 3 billion in loan guarantees and special grants (amounting to a staggering $14 million per day, most of which come straight from our tax dollars). It should also stop vetoing dozens of resolutions in the UN against Israeli atrocities. America must support a just and comprehensive resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that takes into account the history, moral rights, and responsibilities of all parties. And, if needed, it should impose sanctions to ensure Israeli compliance.

For more information:

The above points have been gathered from various sources. Basic demographics and number of casualties could be found at IfAmericansKnew and B'Tselem.

On Hamas' election and the response of the Arab world and the US, see Robert Fisk in The Independent (June 16, 2007). On Israeli violation of the ceasefire, see Barak Ravid in Ha'aretz (Dec 31, 2008) and Rory McCarthy in The Guardian (Nov 5, 2008). Also see Rashid Khalidi’s op-ed in NY Times (Jan 7, 2009). On over 60 UN resolutions that Israel has ignored between 1955 and 1992, see here. Another very important resolution, the UN Resolution 194, passed in December 1948, recognizes the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their land and receive compensation for their damages.

The theoretical points have been informed by Jonathan Cook (Electronic Intifada, Jan 1, 2009), Joseph Levine (Boston Review, Sep/Oct 2008), and Neve Gordon (CounterPunch, Dec 29, 2008), among others.
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