Saturday, January 10, 2009

Five columns and articles about Gaza

Friends, here are a few selected items relevant to the Gaza situation. I don't want to send bulletin after bulletin, so I've assembled some articles here. Most are not presented in their entirety, so I urge you to go to the indicated links for the full article or column. Ann

1. Chris Hedges' Column - Party to Murder - http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/20081229_party_to_murder/
2. UN: Israel admits rocket fire was not from within school - http://www.earthtimes.org/articles/show/249400,extra-un-israel-admits-rocket-fire-was-not-from-within-school.html
3. Rashid Khalidi writes in the New York Times, "What You Don’t Know About Gaza" -
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/08/opinion/08khalidi.html?_r=2&emc=eta1
4. Eboo Patel in the "On Faith" section of Washingtonpost.com, "Status Quo vs. Solution for Middle East" - http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/eboo_patel/2009/01/status_quo_vs_solution_for_mid.html
5. Abed Z. Bhuyan writes "A Letter To My Students About Gaza" -
http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/faithbook/2009/01/gaza.html#more

1. Chris Hedges' Column - "Party to Murder" - published at Truthdig

Can anyone who is following the Israeli air attacks on Gaza—the buildings blown to rubble, the children killed on their way to school, the long rows of mutilated corpses, the wailing mothers and wives, the crowds of terrified Palestinians not knowing where to flee, the hospitals so overburdened and out of supplies they cannot treat the wounded, and our studied, callous indifference to this widespread human suffering—wonder why we are hated?

Our self-righteous celebration of ourselves and our supposed virtue is as false as that of Israel. We have become monsters, militarized bullies, heartless and savage. We are a party to human slaughter, a flagrant war crime, and do nothing. We forget that the innocents who suffer and die in Gaza are a reflection of ourselves, of how we might have been should fate and time and geography have made the circumstances of our birth different. We forget that we are all absurd and vulnerable creatures. We all have the capacity to fear and hate and love. “Expose thyself to what wretches feel,” King Lear said, entering the mud and straw hovel of Poor Tom, “and show the heavens more just.”

Privilege and power, especially military power, is a dangerous narcotic. Violence destroys those who bear the brunt of its force, but also those who try to use it to become gods. Over 350 Palestinians have been killed, many of them civilians, and over 1,000 have been wounded since the air attacks began on Saturday. Ehud Barak, Israel’s defense minister, said Israel is engaged in a “war to the bitter end” against Hamas in Gaza. A war? Israel uses sophisticated attack jets and naval vessels to bomb densely crowded refugee camps and slums, to attack a population that has no air force, no air defense, no navy, no heavy weapons, no artillery units, no mechanized armor, no command and control, no army, and calls it a war. It is not a war. It is murder.

The U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory, former Princeton University law professor Richard Falk, has labeled what Israel is doing to the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza “a crime against humanity.” Falk, who is Jewish, has condemned the collective punishment of the Palestinians in Gaza as “a flagrant and massive violation of international humanitarian law as laid down in Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.” He has asked for “the International Criminal Court to investigate the situation, and determine whether the Israeli civilian leaders and military commanders responsible for the Gaza siege should be indicted and prosecuted for violations of international criminal law.” [Hedges covered the Mideast for The New York Times for seven years. [The remainder of this article is at the website: http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/20081229_party_to_murder/]

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2. UN: Israel admits rocket fire was not from within school

Jerusalem - Israel told foreign diplomats Wednesday that Palestinian militants had not fired rockets from within a United Nations' school, a UN official said. Israeli military officials said on Tuesday that militants had fired rockets from within the school, and that attack provoked Israeli artillery fire which landed near the school and killed more than 40 Palestinians in the Jabalia refugee camp, many of whom were seeking refuge from fighting.

"The Israeli army is briefing diplomats privately that the militant fire from Jablia yesterday did not come from inside the UNRWA school compound, but from the outside," said Chris Gunness, a spokesman for the UN Relief Works Agency, which aids Palestinian refugees.

Gunness said the claim was a "major allegation against a neutral UN development agency" which "within a day turns out to be completely baseless."

UNRWA's Gaza director, John Ging, had said earlier that to the best of his knowledge no rockets were fired from within the school. An Israeli military spokesman declined comment. [http://www.earthtimes.org/articles/show/249400,extra-un-israel-admits-rocket-fire-was-not-from-within-school.html]

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3. Rashid Khalidi: "What You Don’t Know About Gaza." Khalidi is a professor of Arab studies at Columbia.

NEARLY everything you’ve been led to believe about Gaza is wrong. Below are a few essential points that seem to be missing from the conversation, much of which has taken place in the press, about Israel’s attack on the Gaza Strip.

THE GAZANS Most of the people living in Gaza are not there by choice. The majority of the 1.5 million people crammed into the roughly 140 square miles of the Gaza Strip belong to families that came from towns and villages outside Gaza like Ashkelon and Beersheba. They were driven to Gaza by the Israeli Army in 1948.

THE OCCUPATION The Gazans have lived under Israeli occupation since the Six-Day War in 1967. Israel is still widely considered to be an occupying power, even though it removed its troops and settlers from the strip in 2005. Israel still controls access to the area, imports and exports, and the movement of people in and out. Israel has control over Gaza’s air space and sea coast, and its forces enter the area at will. As the occupying power, Israel has the responsibility under the Fourth Geneva Convention to see to the welfare of the civilian population of the Gaza Strip.

THE BLOCKADE Israel’s blockade of the strip, with the support of the United States and the European Union, has grown increasingly stringent since Hamas won the Palestinian Legislative Council elections in January 2006. Fuel, electricity, imports, exports and the movement of people in and out of the Strip have been slowly choked off, leading to life-threatening problems of sanitation, health, water supply and transportation.

The blockade has subjected many to unemployment, penury and malnutrition. This amounts to the collective punishment — with the tacit support of the United States — of a civilian population for exercising its democratic rights.

THE CEASE-FIRE Lifting the blockade, along with a cessation of rocket fire, was one of the key terms of the June cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. This accord led to a reduction in rockets fired from Gaza from hundreds in May and June to a total of less than 20 in the subsequent four months (according to Israeli government figures). The cease-fire broke down when Israeli forces launched major air and ground attacks in early November; six Hamas operatives were reported killed.

WAR CRIMES The targeting of civilians, whether by Hamas or by Israel, is potentially a war crime. Every human life is precious. But the numbers speak for themselves: Nearly 700 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed since the conflict broke out at the end of last year. In contrast, there have been around a dozen Israelis killed, many of them soldiers. Negotiation is a much more effective way to deal with rockets and other forms of violence. This might have been able to happen had Israel fulfilled the terms of the June cease-fire and lifted its blockade of the Gaza Strip.

This war on the people of Gaza isn’t really about rockets. Nor is it about “restoring Israel’s deterrence,” as the Israeli press might have you believe. Far more revealing are the words of Moshe Yaalon, then the Israeli Defense Forces chief of staff, in 2002: “The Palestinians must be made to understand in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a defeated people.”

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4. Eboo Patel: "Status Quo vs. Solution for Middle East." Patel is founder and executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core, a Chicago-based international nonprofit that promotes interfaith cooperation.

I spent much of the weekend communicating with Muslim and Jewish leaders on the recent crisis in Gaza. Here was my basic question: "Have you reached out to leaders in the other community to find a solution to the conflict?"

Here was the most common answer: "I'd love to talk to people in the other community. Can you give me the phone numbers of folks who agree with our position? If they'll appear with us at a media event, or put their name on our press release, that's even better."

That's a perfectly understandable instinct, but it doesn't lead to a solution. It's just a continuation of the logic that has led us here.

As I stated in my previous post, the rules of rhetorical engagement for Muslim and Jewish organizations regarding the Middle East were set long ago. I'm starting to think of these as the Status Quo Rules for Middle East Engagement. If you like the status quo, these rules are for you.

Rule No. 1 is use the current crisis to advance your narrative. If you're Jewish, that story involves words like "security", "terrorism", and "right to exist". If you're Muslim, it includes terms like, "humanitarian crisis", "occupation" and "disproportionate violence".

Rule No. 2 is talk about how bad it is where your people live. If you're Jewish, that means highlighting the number of Hamas rockets fired into Israel and the number of lives lost and disrupted in cities like Sderot. If you're Muslim, it involves talking about the prison that is Gaza and the disaster that is the West Bank.

Rule No. 3 is blame it on the other side. If you're Jewish, that means pointing at the violent and belligerent defiance of Hamas. If you're Muslim, it means talking about the suffocation of the blockade in Gaza and the occupation in the West Bank. [For the full column, go to the website:
http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/eboo_patel/2009/01/status_quo_vs_solution_for_mid.html]

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5. Abed Z. Bhuyan writes for "Faithbook - College students talk about religion" at the On Faith website. Here is an excerpt from "A Letter To My Students About Gaza." Abed Z. Bhuyan is a recent graduate of Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, where he studied International Politics and Muslim-Christian Understanding.

(...) When it comes to the current crisis in Gaza, you MUST above all understand that when Israel is killing innocent Palestinians it is not because their religion tells them to do this and when Hamas indiscriminately casts rockets into Israel it is not because their religion tells them to do that.

We must de-religionize this conflict because it isn't about religion (in fact, Muslims and Jews aren't the only ones often caught in the crossfire; Palestinian Christians are as well). Remember that phrase we talked about at the beginning of the year, this notion of a clash of civilizations? Well it isn't about that either.

Despite the differences among Muslims and Muslim nations, Muslims are dangerously cast as a monolith. You all know that I am Muslim. You also know that Osama bin Laden and Muhammad Ali are Muslim. Needless to say, the three of us are very different. Viewing Muslims as a monolith makes it easy to assume that we all lend our support to Hamas in the ongoing conflict because they are Muslim.

Understanding these types of conflicts is not easy. It is imperative to note that neither Israel nor Hamas is the good guy in this; both are guilty of stupid, senseless violence. But to blame the deaths of over 600 Palestinians on Hamas rockets into Israel that have caused so little relative damage is tragically unsound and serves as a distraction to the root of the problem, which is Israel's occupation of Palestine, an occupation that has generated a vicious cycle of violence affecting both sides. The media and our government are placing the responsibility for deaths squarely on Hamas and its rockets, despite the fact that Israel set up blockades to restrict the passage of essential goods like food and medicines into Gaza.

It is also important to recognize that not all members and supporters of Hamas fundamentally believe in the fight to end Israel. To cast Hamas and its members as a monolith is to misunderstand the organization and its supporters. Many members of Hamas support the organization because it actively maintains elements of civil society and provides basic necessities for the people, thereby serving an important functional and non-political role. Of course, now, given the overwhelming and disproportionate Israeli response, Hamas is likely to have more supporters than ever. [For the full column please go to the website:
http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/faithbook/2009/01/gaza.html#more]

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