October 19, 2009
While the December-January assault on Gaza is widely judged to have been a criminal enterprise, Israelís cruel siege of Gaza is an equal scandal, notes Patrick Seale.
Israel suffered a propaganda defeat last week when the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva passed a resolution endorsing the Goldstone Report, which accused Israel of committing war crimes, and possible crimes against humanity, during its 3-week assault on Gaza last December-January.
The Report also accused Hamas of war crimes for firing rockets at Israeli towns and villages, but it identified Israel as the main culprit, accusing it of "a disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population."
Israelís war on Gaza was a vain attempt to destroy Hamas. It killed over 1,400 Palestinians, including many women and children, and caused tremendous damage done to homes, schools, hospitals, farms, factories and public buildings. During the war, 13 Israelis lost their lives, some by friendly fire.
Does this mean that Israeli leaders, both political and military, will have to answer for their crimes before the International Criminal Court? Nothing is less likely. The United States voted against the resolution, and there are strong indications that it will use its veto to protect Israel in the Security Council if the Goldstone Report is ever debated there.
Several conclusions can be drawn from the affair. The United States is evidently still not ready to put significant pressure on Israel. This is not good news for the faltering peace process. It will add to the disillusion already felt by many Arabs -- and Palestinians in particular -- who note with great bitterness that President Barack Obamaís fine words in favour of a two-state solution have not been followed by deeds.
More generally, Obamaís effort to protect America from the hostility of the Arab and Muslim world has suffered a serious blow. He had hoped to persuade Arabs and Muslims that the United States was not their enemy. But the vast majority of them will find Americaís vote against the resolution at Geneva immensely disappointing.
Nevertheless, the vote -- 26 in favour, 6 against, 11 abstentions, and 5 (including Britain and France) which cast no vote at all -- did serve to demonstrate that Israel continues to lose ground in international opinion. Major countries such as China, Russia, India, Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia and the Philippines all voted for the resolution, as well, of course, as Arab countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Those who voted against were the United States, Italy, Holland, Hungary, Slovakia and Ukraine.
Israelís war in Gaza bears certain similarities to its 2006 war in Lebanon. Just as it sought to destroy Hamas in Gaza, so in Lebanon Israel tried to destroy Hizbullah. Another 1,400 people, most of them Lebanese civilians, were killed on that occasion.
These mainly innocent people -- some 3,000 in all in both Gaza and Lebanon -- are victims of Israelís security doctrine, which denies the right of any Arab party, movement, community or even country to defend itself. Israel wants the freedom to hit but never to be hit back. It wants deterrence for itself, but not for others. It is this one-sided doctrine which Israel is seeking to defend -- with less and less credibility or international support -- by its assaults on Lebanon and Gaza, and by its frenetic attempts to rouse the world against Iran.
The assault on Gaza is widely judged to have been a criminal enterprise. But Israelís cruel siege of Gaza is an equal scandal. This past week, Karen Koning Abuzayd, commissioner-general of UNRWA (the UN Relief and Works for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) was in Paris trying to raise funds for her hard-pressed organisation.
To provide health, education and other humanitarian services to some 4.6 million Palestinians refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, UNWRA has a staff of some 27,000 employees, mainly locally recruited teachers and health workers, and a budget of $545 million (in 2008). But, as she explained, UNRWA this year had a $7 million gap in its budget -- one weekís salary for its employees -- which she was striving to fill.
The picture she painted of conditions in Gaza was dismal in the extreme. The situation had not changed since the end of the war. The Israeli-imposed closure was strict. No one could go in or out. The sense of being trapped was overwhelming. No materials for reconstruction could be brought in, except for what could be smuggled in through the tunnels. The Palestinians were courageously doing their best to survive.
The only bit of good news she could provide was that the children of Gaza had won a place in the Guinness Book of Records. Last summer they had managed to put an amazing 3,167 home-made kites in the air at the same time -- a world record.
Someone asked her whether the children of Gaza were being taught about the Holocaust. Not yet, she said. But they were being taught about tolerance, conflict resolution and human rights -- including the right to play. :All their rights were violated, without exception, in the recent horrible war," she declared.
There is as yet no sign that the world will act to lift the scandalous siege of Gaza.
Patrick Seale is a leading British writer on the Middle East, and the author of The Struggle for Syria; also, Asad of Syria: The Struggle for the Middle East; and Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire.
Copyright © 2009 Patrick Seale
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