12 July 2014 — Irish Independent
In Gaza, history repeats. Day and night Israeli air strikes target the Gaza Strip. As Israel calls up reinforcements and assembles its armed forces across the border we sit, waiting for the next phase of the offensive.
Five weeks ago, I was full of hope. A new national unity government had been formed and it seemed that, for the first time in seven years Palestine would be united. We thought that with reconciliation – with Hamas removed from absolute power in the Gaza Strip – the closure might be lifted. But it did not happen. The closure remained andIsrael prevented senior Palestinian Authority officials from entering Gaza.
It appears Israel has used the murder of three Israeli civilians as an excuse to destroy the new Palestinian unity government and to crack down on Hamas.
The events of the last few weeks have sparked a wave of collective punishment that risks sending Israel and Palestine into the abyss. These reprisals, which resulted in hundreds of arrests, 11 deaths in the West Bank (including four children), and a return to the illegal policy of punitive house demolitions, have sparked extensive street protests in Palestine and Israel.
For the last two weeks, Israeli air strikes have targeted Gaza, instilling terror and fear. The thunder of a one tonne bomb is hard to describe, it shakes you to your very core.
Over the weekend it seemed like there might be a resolution, as Hamas and the Egyptian government began to negotiate a ceasefire with Israel. That changed with the killing of seven Hamas fighters on Sunday. The tacitly accepted rules of the game were changed, and the result has been a dramatic escalation.
On Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu ordered the Israeli military to ‘take off the gloves’ in the fight against Hamas. In the Gaza Strip, we are all too aware of what that means. We have been before.
It is now five and a half years since Israel launched Operation Cast Lead, a 23-day offensive on the Gaza Strip that placed the population firmly in the eye of the storm. In that offensive, 82pc of the dead were civilians; 1,179 of international law’s so-called “protected persons” were killed as the world looked on.
As a result of Israel’s illegal closure of the Gaza Strip – now in place for an unimaginable seven years – 60pc of Gaza’s population are unpaid or unemployed; 85pc of the population depend on food aid distributed by international organisations. The destruction caused during Operation Cast Lead – and in subsequent operations, including the 2012 offensive Pillar of Defence – is still not fully repaired. As the bombs fall, they add rubble to rubble; another generation of destruction. An already weakened infrastructure, particularly hospitals, makes it a struggle for people to cope.
It is a constant cycle of illegality that has returned us to this point. Illegal attacks are used to justify illegal attacks, and on it goes. There are two constants: the continuous suffering of civilians, and total impunity for those suspected of committing war crimes.
For too long the international community has pursued a flawed policy of prioritising politics over justice. International law and individuals’ human rights have been sacrificed in the name of ‘the political process’.
What has been the result? The situation in occupied Palestine is worse than ever. In the West Bank, Israeli settlements continue to expand and the illegal annexation of East Jerusalem has become a reality. In the Gaza Strip we are suffocating under the closure, driven into de-development and dependence upon humanitarian aid.
Rockets now target Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, drawing more and more civilians into the eye of the storm. What is our demand? It is not extravagant, or unreasonable. We want to be treated as equals. We want our rights respected, and protected. We ask that international law be applied, equally, to Israel and Palestine, to Israelis and Palestinians. The rule of international law must be respected, and all those responsible for its violations must be held to account.
For too long we have been subject to the rule of the jungle. For too long the international community has turned its back on the equal application of the law, in favour of political compromise. This has to stop. We need justice because in the absence of justice there is no hope. This situation has gone on too long. The relentless grind of the occupation is driving the youth into despair. There is nowhere safe in Gaza. There is nowhere to flee to. Every day people’s grip on hope is fading, and this can only bring about evil.
Raji Sourani is a director of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights.