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All in self-defence?

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Background

As Gazans struggle to make ends meet in what is essentially the world’s largest concentration camp, the Israeli government, in its battle to shore up diminishing support for the upcoming election, launched the deadliest attack on Gaza in recent memory: over 400 dead and 2,100 wounded on the fifth day of the onslaught. The grotesque irony is that if this election stunt works and the ruling coalition wins, it would represent a victory for Palestinians, otherwise left at the mercy of the highly bellicose Likud party whose charter calls for the annexation and settlement of the entire “Land of Israel.” In Israel, a shift to the right is complete: diplomacy has been crossed off the agenda, and Israeli politicians remain locked in a contest of exercising belligerency.

The latest blitz follows Israel’s year-and-a-half-long Gaza blockade, described by Richard Falk, the U.N. Human Rights Council special rapporteur for the Palestinian territories, as constituting a “flagrant and massive violation of international humanitarian law as laid down in Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.” In response to his statement, Israel expelled Falk from the occupied territories and barred his re-entry. So much for the only democracy in the Middle East.

Sadly, this wouldn’t be the first time Israel showed contempt for human life by collective punishment. The nation has choked Gaza for decades; the latest assault is the final nail in the coffin. After suffering months of medicine shortage because of the blockade, underfinanced and understaffed Gazan hospitals are ill-equipped to treat an overwhelming number of injuries, leaving victims to die in their hallways. Gaza’s sewage system is in crisis. Blackouts and water shortages are a daily occurrence, and human rights groups are warning of an impending humanitarian catastrophe.

Security Considerations

Israeli officials have justified the assault by declaring it an overdue exercise in self-defence. They have placed blame on Hamas for its “brazen violation” of the “lull”—a ceasefire brokered by Egypt back in June—by firing rockets at Sderot, a town that has taken the brunt of Hamas attacks.

While the former claim does merit some empathy, the allegation that Hamas broke the ceasefire is a complete fabrication. The BBC, along with Zvi Barel, a journalist for Haaretz, reported that in November—conveniently close to Election Day in the U.S.—Israel “unilaterally violated” the ceasefire when it blew up a tunnel in Gaza, killing six in the process while having the audacity to “[ask] Egypt to get [Hamas] to hold its fire.”

Geopolitics

Israel apologists have taken a different approach to granting the nation impunity for the attack. In a pitiful attempt to downplay international outrage at the sheer disproportion of the onslaught, Alan Dershowtiz, a leading pro-Israel activist and civil rights lawyer who approves the use of torture and collective punishment, concocted a tale of pure fantasy. He proclaimed that the Israeli Air Force held human life in such high regard that it dare not attack a civilian establishment, even if it was housing the dreaded Qassam rockets. But if so, why does Israel blackmail ailing Gazans to spy for them in return for medicine? Why did it demolish homes in order to make way for its infamous barrier wall, ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice? And more importantly, why does it consistently ban international media from Gaza? To argue that these are legitimate actions for the sake of national security ignores the basic tenets of international law.

Consider that Hamas’ rockets have killed 20 Israelis in the past seven years, while 5,000 Gazans were killed by Israeli jets, tanks, and helicopters during the same time frame. The issue is not the vast disparity in power, but that one side is the occupier and the other is the occupied. If you were dispossessed of your land and had to live under a foreign occupation for four decades, any action you took could be justified as retaliation to the occupation of your land.

What does 2009 hold for the Middle East conflict?

The use of force to deter any resistance is a brutal exercise in futility that will only coarsen the people at the receiving end. A case in point would be Hezbollah, which is stronger now than it was before the Second Lebanese War.

However you look at it, the prognosis is grim. Already Israel has turned down a truce proposal, its forces are amassing at the border with Gaza while Arab countries, ever divided and fearful of offending the U.S. by getting involved, have resorted to media mudslinging, each condemning the other of inaction. Egypt’s credibility as a mediator has been severely undermined as its relations with Hamas take a turn for the worst, and Gaza teeters on the brink of humanitarian catastrophe. Now we are left with the same question posed by the last Gaza debacle: how can Israel expect peace if it continues to illegally occupy Gaza (in violation of Resolution 242); build illegal settlements (a transgression of the Fourth Geneva Convention); and defy the international community by showing no respect for the most basic principals of human decency?