FAQs in response to Israel’s massacre in Gaza, July-August 2014.
Written by Gill Swain, PSC’s Publications Officer
Q. Why have hostilities escalated in Palestine-Israel?
A. The background to the tragic events unfolding in Gaza is Israel’s military occupation of the Palestinian territories which has been going on for 47 years.
Israel regularly commits dreadful crimes against Palestinian civilians which go largely unreported. An Australian documentary about the torture of Palestinian children in the Israeli military justice system can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iqL048x4msM
Before June this year Israeli soldiers had shot dead three unarmed Palestinian teenagers in cold blood. Yousef al-Shawamrah,14, was shot in the back when he had crawled through a gap in the security fence to reach his own family’s land to pick thistles on March 19. And Nadim Nuwara, 17, and Muhammad Abu Thahr, 16, were murdered in Beitunya on May 15, see http://youtu.be/CaibEqx2m_k
In June three Israeli settler teenagers were abducted while hitchhiking from their school in Hebron to their homes in a settler colony and were later found dead. Israel immediately blamed Hamas for this horrible crime, without ever producing any evidence that it was a Hamas-ordered operation as opposed to an opportunistic crime and the Hamas leadership always denied involvement. Suspects were identified who were affiliated to Hamas but on 25 July Israeli police spokesman, Mickey Rosenfeld, told the BBC’s Jon Donnison what the Israelis had probably known all along, i.e. that the abductors were “definitely a lone cell, Hamas affiliated but not operating under the leadership.”
This incident should have been treated as a crime, just as the abduction and burning to death of a Palestinian teenager in East Jerusalem by fanatical Israeli terrorists in an apparent revenge attack is being treated a crime.
But Israel exploited this crime to launch an operation of collective punishment – illegal under international law – consisting of a series of brutal military raids, arrests and house demolitions across the West Bank. In the course of these raids Israeli soldiers killed at least six Palestinian civilians, including a child, arrested around 350 Hamas supporters and officials and re-arrested most of the prisoners released under the exchange for Gilad Shalit, thus breaking the only agreement reached during the Kerry peace talks.
Upon the discovery of the abducted settlers’ bodies, on 30 June Israel’s security cabinet met and vowed revenge against Hamas. On the morning of 1 July, Israel launched at least 34 air strikes on locations across Gaza. Militant groups in Gaza fired at least 18 rockets into southern Israel.
Q. Israel always says it bombs Gaza to defend itself. Is this justified?
A. Every state has the right under international law to defend its citizens within internationally recognised borders. Since its foundation as a state in 1948 in what was previously known as Palestine, Israel has never defined its borders. Israel has excellent defences, such as its ‘iron dome’ system which shoots down rockets, plus air raid sirens and shelters, none of which the citizens of Gaza enjoy.
But no state has the right to carry out collective punishment on an entire population or deliberately to target civilians. And defensive actions should be proportionate. Virtually the entire international community is united in its view that Israel’s actions are totally disproportionate to the level of threat it faces.
Approaching 2000 Palestinians have been killed, the vast majority civilians, and many thousands injured. For up to date figures see www.ochaopt.org. Some 20 to 30 per cent of the dead are children while hundreds more are injured, many of them maimed for life.
Tens of thousands of homes have been damaged or totally destroyed as well as 1204 schools and at least six hospitals.
At least 225,000 people are sheltering in UNWRA schools and over 1,200,000 people have been affected by the destruction of electricity, water and sewage facilities.
Up to July 29 the Israeli death toll was 47 – 44 soldiers, two Israeli civilians and one foreign national.
The PSC does not support the firing of rockets on civilian Israeli targets. However people living under military occupation are allowed under international law to resist that occupation, using violence under certain circumstances.
Israel claims it does its best to limit civilian casualties, yet it killed boys playing football on the beach, men watching the World Cup in a cafe. Its attacks on UN schools where people have fled to seek shelter have caused outrage worldwide -even causing the US government to condemn them. It has targeted a home for the disabled, an old people’s home, water treatment plants, a market during a humanitarian ceasefire, and so on. Two film makers captured the moment an Israeli sniper shot a young man who was searching for missing relatives. Then, as he lay helpless on the ground, calling for rescue, the sniper murdered him with two more shots and the film makers could do nothing but watch him die.
Palestinians generally believe that this latest onslaught is an attack on their people as a whole, not just on Hamas. They believe it is primarily a response to the recent unity agreement between Fatah and Hamas and the formation of Government of National Agreement. It suits Israel to have the factions divided and for Gaza to be separate from the West Bank.
The UN’s top human rights official, Navi Pillay, has said that Israel may have committed war crimes. She has also condemned the rocket attacks on Israel by military groups in Gaza.
Q. Why won’t the sides agree to a ceasefire?
A. Both sides have rejected proposed ceasefire agreements while international leaders continue to urge them to stop fighting.
For some years Hamas has proposed a permanent ceasefire if the main issues of the conflict are addressed. They will accept a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital and an end to the blockade of Gaza. This is the policy supported by the international community, including the UK government.
In the short term Hamas has said they will agree to a ceasefire so long as it leads to a lifting of the siege of Gaza. Hamas leader, Khaled Meshaal, gave an interview to the BBC’s Hard Talk programme on 25 July in which he said that the people of Gaza need a “genuine guarantee” that they would be freed, otherwise they faced a “slow death in the biggest prison in history.” See www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p023kld8
The majority of Gaza’s 1.8 million people are refugees, descendants of those who were driven from or fled their homes in what is now Israel during the founding of the state in 1948. Israel and Egypt keep the borders closed so no-one can travel anywhere or trade with the outside world. 85 per cent of the population is dependent on food aid and many are malnourished, lack of fuel means the electricity is cut off for most of the day and the water treatment plants can’t work properly so that 95 per cent of the water is contaminated.
It is becoming increasingly clear that Israel is not interested in peace. After the collapse of the Kerry talks, the US leader of those talks, Martin Indyk, said Israel had refused to agree to fix its borders and had deliberately sabotaged the talks by announcing the building of more settlements.
What is happening in Gaza is cruel and heartbreaking and does nothing to secure the long term security of Israel. A ceasefire must have the possibility of bringing the situation to a permanent end.