The protests have been peaceful but the demands are made vociferously and with much anguish. The gathering on Sunday made its way down the Market Street and ended at the Civic Center, one of the seats of power in San Francisco, which adjoins the United Nations Plaza. On the steps of the Civic Center, young Palestinian women recited poetry in which they talked about trauma, hurt and anxiety.
By The Editorial Board
On July 8, Israel initiated Operation Protective Edge under the pretext of responding to the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers and proceeded to launch a ground offensive nine days later. Nearly three weeks of clashes have claimed over 800 Palestinian lives and left thousands wounded. According to the U.N., the civilian casualty rate remains at about 70 percent.
Meanwhile, over 30 members of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have died during the offensive and at least one Israeli soldier has been taken prisoner. Although speculation focused on the future course of the campaign, one thing is certain: Operation Protective Edge has made Israel more vulnerable and less popular than ever before. Never had there been a time when the world paid so much attention to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has been ongoing for decades with no end in sight.
Over the past few weeks, millions of people have taken to the streets in major cities around the world to speak up against Israel’s indiscriminate, fatal and illegitimate attacks against the people of Gaza. The reaction has been so strong that French authorities were compelled to impose a controversial ban on pro-Palestine demonstrations in Paris. The wave of protests, however, received little attention from mainstream media outlets, which largely refrained from covering the events and instead embarked on a masterfully calculated campaign to justify Israeli atrocities under the pretext of journalistic objectivity. Deprived of the limelight, activists turned to Twitter and other social media platforms to share information and raise awareness about the human tragedy in Gaza, and to organize gatherings and public events.
The Western media unmistakably echoed the sentiments of their governments, who were quick to endorse Operation Protective Edge and invoked the age-old argument about Israel’s right to defend itself while turning a blind eye to mounting criticism. International organizations, the U.N. in particular, have also failed this historic test as Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon offered his condolences to Israel, not Palestine, just hours before, ironically enough, an Israeli strike against a UNRWA school killed 15 people and injured 200 civilians.
The tragic shortsightedness of the international leadership with regard to ongoing atrocities added to increasingly more popular questions about the legitimacy of the existing global order. At the end of the day, however, the situation in Gaza suggests that the world’s most powerful governments, including the U.S., Germany and France, have given Israeli authorities carte blanche to violate international law and jeopardize the prospect of peace. In this sense, various governments that sought to justify the collective punishment of Palestinians by referencing to Israel’s right to defend itself have been notably unwilling to address the disproportionate use of force, a crucial aspect of Israel’s military operations.
In the wake of the Palestinian people’s pain and suffering, Arab governments largely stuck to a painful and absolute silence about Operation Protective Edge. The military junta in Egypt, whose first order of business was to reverse President Mohamed Morsi’s policies and close the Rafah border crossing into the Gaza Strip, went so far as to offer the re-opening of Rafah in return for the Hamas leadership’s commitment to a truce with Israel. Meanwhile, we condone the efforts of Turkey and Qatar, in particular, to broker a ceasefire without losing sight of the interests of the civilian population in Gaza.
The ultimate result of Operation Protective Edge, however, relates to Israel itself, as the country faces greater physical and diplomatic isolation. The ongoing wave of attacks, which immediately followed the formation of a unity government by Hamas and Fatah, raises questions about Israel’s commitment to the peace process. Operation Protective Edge has already had adverse effects on the country’s relations with the broader Middle East and various parts of the world, as a number of governments including Venezuela, Bolivia, Brazil and Chile followed Turkey’s example and cut their diplomatic ties with Tel Aviv.
The ground offensive has also alienated a generation of young people in the Middle East who led the charge against authoritarian regimes during the Arab Spring. Protests in Western capitals indicate that the situation is hardly different there. As Daily Sabah, we call upon all concerned governments to boycott the upcoming general debate at the U.N. General Assembly to protest the international community’s stance on Israel’s aggression and pay their respects to the victims of Israeli attacks, both dead and alive. Israeli authorities and their supporters must understand that the Palestinian cause, like the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, has reached a critical mass. Things will never be the same again.
This editorial was first published in Daily Sabah, a leading Turkish newspaper. Click here to go to the original.
In pre- and post-protest discussions with some demonstrators, the sense of trauma was palpable. These are young people who have moved to different countries to escape the conflict. They have forged new lives and careers as students, caregivers, motel operators and technology professionals. The last two weeks have witnessed some of the biggest worldwide mobilisation for Gaza. The Palestinian diaspora in Europe and the United States, supported by people of various countries, have all rallied in favor of Gaza and asked for an end to the current assault on the Strip. The only protest that has turned violent so far occurred in Paris.
The most recent round of violence between Israel and Palestine has been precipitated by a number of factors. The immediate cause was the alleged kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers in mid-June. Following the multiple abductions, the Israeli Defence Forces launched Operation Brother’s Keeper, under which over 300 Palestinians were rounded up and questioned. From the beginning, it was unclear who was behind the kidnappings. While Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, accused Hamas, the Palestinian Authority said there was no evidence of Hamas involvement. Hamas also denied that it had kidnapped the youths. The three youths were later found dead in a field near Hebron with conflicting reports suggesting that they had been killed soon after abduction or had been killed recently.
Operation Brother’s Keeper resulted in a massive manhunt for possible suspects with little evidence. Further, revenge attacks on Palestinian youths began to occur with botched kidnapping attempts and the burning of a Palestinian boy by Jewish extremists. Three weeks after the Israeli youth disappeared, Hamas fired 100 rockets into the Israeli territory. On July 8, Israel began responding by firing back in what is now called Operation Protective Edge.
Interestingly, Israel has somewhat agreed that the killings might have been perpetrated not by Hamas but by a Hamas splinter group called the Qawasameh clan that has often gone against the edicts of Hamas leaders. This begs the question: what is this current war really about?
The recent hostilities are not rooted in only the immediate tensions between Israel and Palestine; they are a product of recent changes that have taken place in the region. In June 2014, Hamas and Fatah, two groups politically at odds in Palestine, buried their long-standing differences, sending tremors through Israel which thinks that with the reuniting of these groups, terrorism will get a boost, i.e., Hamas will drag the more moderate Fatah towards extremism. The manner in which Operation Brother’s Keeper was initiated suggests that the main endeavour was not just to find the missing youths but to use the incident as a pretext to take out Hamas targets and their supporters. This would make the Palestinian Unity government seem weak and ineffective in combating Israeli aggression and controlling its own territory.
In Israel, both the Knesset and the government agree that resuming hostilities against the Palestinian territories best safeguards the interests of the Israeli state and people. The Knesset, with a strong presence of the Zionist right, has members who have made strong anti-Palestine pronouncements. Ayelet Shaked, a member of the Knesset representing the Jewish Home Party, stated that the conflict could not end until all Palestinians, including women and children, were “wiped out.” More recently, the Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, Moshe Feiglin, wrote strongly about a ground invasion with the entire capacity of the Israeli Defence Forces and bombing of Gaza with little warning as a ‘solution’ to the Gaza issue. Similarly, Gilad Sharon, son of Ariel Sharon, has suggested that Israel flatten Gaza like Hiroshima.
The Palestinian Unity government has a component of the right, but the presence of Fatah helps temper Hamas. However, peace deals and ceasefires have been a lot harder to negotiate. As it is, Hamas has repeatedly accused Israel of sanctioning settlements even though ceasefire norms were in place. Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority and a Fatah member, is also caught between a rock and a hard place, as he has been asked by Mr. Netanyahu to choose between a deal with Hamas or Israel.
Last July, former U.S. presidential hopeful John Kerry, along with Martin Indyk from the Brookings Institution, tried to restart peace talks between Israel and Palestine. The talks were supposed to take place over 10 months and reach a settlement on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The talks broke down several times. Mr. Netanyahu rejected the Palestinians’ right of return, while Mr. Abbas said they didn’t want a single Israeli settlement on Palestinian land. In January 2014, Israel approved 1,400 settlement homes in a move that sent a negative signal to the Palestinian Authority. This, combined with repeated failures to release Palestinian prisoners in Israel, led to a lack of confidence on the side of the Palestinian Authority.
The United States has taken a measured stance on the issue by blaming both sides for the breakdown of the 2013-2014 talks. Mr. Kerry went on record that a third Intifada was in the offing if the current talks didn’t succeed. The recent round of hostilities suggests that talks are no longer working because both sides display a basic trust deficit.
For Israel, Hamas is more of a threat than the Palestinian Unity government and Israel is uncertain if the Palestinian government can strong-arm Hamas. It is, then, not surprising that personal protection of Israeli territory and Israelis in the settlements has taken priority over trying to build confidence and trust between the two states.
What is new about the Israel-Gaza conflict is that Israel seems to be losing much popular support internationally, as studies and reports establish that the Israel-Palestine conflict has been a lopsided one for many decades, that the Israeli state has practiced segregation and influx control, not unlike the apartheid regime in South Africa, and that its means of fighting and adherence to a real lasting peace with Palestine are part of carefully-crafted doublespeak.
There is no longer any doubt that the Palestinian question needs more international attention and global deliberation. This is a slow genocide of a people who have struggled against occupation since 1948 or 1967, depending on the viewpoint people adhere to. Google images have accurately shown how the Palestinian territory has reduced over the decades. The paradox is stark and unavoidable — for every operation that Israel launches on Gaza and the Palestinian people, the Palestinian resistance becomes stronger and more determined.
Vasundhara Sirnate is the Chief Coordinator of Research at The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy.
This article first appeared in The Hindu, a leading Indian daily. Click here to go to the original.