Report confirms Israeli war crimes in Gaza

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The latest brutal attacks on Gaza have had a perverse effect on Israeli politics. Extreme right wing political parties have gained greater support in the recent Israeli elections.

Long-time Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery pointed out that the vote took place in the context of "nationalist intoxication, hatred of the enemy, fear of the other, a longing for unity, and revenge", in a February 18 ZNet article.

These sentiments are not exactly new for the apartheid state of Israel. Israel is a racist colonial-settler state founded on the ethnic cleansing and oppression of the indigenous Palestinian population.

To justify its dispossession of the Palestinians, Israel's ruling elites need to promote ideas like nationalism, racism, fear and hatred among ordinary Israelis.

Zionism

The state ideology of Israel is Zionism — the false notion that Israel, Palestine before 1948, is the "homeland" for Jewish people internationally.

All the major parties in Israel base themselves on Zionist ideas. In practice this means denial of Palestine's right to national self-determination.

Palestinians living in the occupied territories had no right to vote in the Israeli elections, but everyday they feel the wrath of a "big brother" oppressor nation that controls every working of their society.

Israel's denial of Palestine's right to exist has seen them continue to attack Gaza, despite media reports of a unilateral Israeli "ceasefire" on January 17.

On February 18, Reuters reported that Israeli warplanes yet again bombed tunnels on the border between Egypt and southern Gaza, in an attempt to cut access to basic goods for Palestinians.

The wounds of Gaza

In an attempt to minimise worldwide condemnation, the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) has released a report claiming that no more than a third of the Palestinians killed were civilians. The IDF report has been challenged by the United Nations as inaccurate. The UN is planning to release its own report into the conflict's casualties.

A February 2 study released by the Lancet Global Health Network highlights the terrible human cost of Israel's war on Gaza.

The authors of the report — British surgeons Dr Ghassan Abu Sittah and Dr Swee Ang — were present in Gaza during the height of Israel's war.

One-and-a-half million tons of explosives were dropped on Gaza, they pointed out.

The attacks were made even worse by the siege conditions imposed on the Palestinian people. "Gaza is 25 miles by 5 miles and home to 1.5 million people. This makes it the most crowded area in the whole world. Prior to this, Gaza has been completely blockaded and starved for 50 days.

"In fact, since the Palestinian election Gaza has been under total or partial blockade for several years", Abu Sittah and Ang wrote.

The report found that, as of January 25, at least 1350 Palestinians were killed, with 60% of victims being children. "Through our conversations with doctors and nurses the word[s] holocaust and catastrophe were repeatedly used."

The devastation wreaked by Israel's bombing was immense: "Many schools were reduced to rubble, including the American School of Gaza, 40 mosques, hospitals, UN buildings, and of course 21,000 homes, 4,000 of which were demolished completely."

The report estimates that 100,000 people in Gaza are now homeless.

War crimes

Abu Sittah and Ang also reported on the IDF's chilling execution of Palestinian civilians during the invasion. "Survivors describe Israeli tanks arriving in front of homes asking residents to come out. Children, old people and women would come forward and as they were lined up they were just fired on and killed. Families have lost tens of their members through such executions."

The IDF is guilty of "the deliberate targeting of unarmed children and women", according to the report.

Gazan emergency services vehicles were also attacked. "Thirteen ambulances had been fired upon killing drivers and first aid personnel in the process of rescue and evacuation of the wounded."

The fallout from white phosphorous used by Israeli forces has also been devastating. The report demands an urgent response "in collecting and disposing of the phosphorus residues littering the entire Gaza Strip.

"The residues give off toxic fumes when coming into contact with water, once the rain falls the whole area would be polluted with acid phosphorus fumes."

Now, a month after its self-imposed "ceasefire", Israel claims that no progress can be made on any front until Israeli sergeant Gilad Shalit is released by Palestinian forces. Shalit was captured by Palestinian fighters during a cross-border raid into Gaza in June 2006.

Hypocrisy

This new demand is hypocritical given the long history of Palestinians being incarcerated for resisting oppression.

Hamas has already called for the release of 1400 Palestinian political prisoners residing in Israeli jails. This amounts to a small part of the estimated 11,000 Palestinian political prisoners currently residing in Israeli jails, according to Amnesty International.

Palestinians were also arrested and kidnapped in night raids throughout the recent attacks. The kidnappings continue today.

According to an International Middle East Media Centre report, the Israeli military kidnapped 26 Palestinian civilians during pre-dawn and morning invasions targeting several West Bank cities and towns on February 17.

These events come in the context of new land confiscations by Israel. The theft of Palestinian land is a barrier to peace.

Al Jazeera reported on February 16 that Israel has confiscated more land within the West Bank, on which they hope to build 2500 settlement homes to further expand the settlement of Efrat, south of Jerusalem.

This latest Israeli land grab reinforces the impossibility of a two state solution. Oded Revivi, the mayor of Efrat, told Al Jazeera he hopes to expand the settlement, which currently is home to 1600 families, to accommodate 30,000 people.

Today, about half a million Israelis live in West Bank settlements, dividing the geographic continuity of any independent Palestinian state.

As further details of Israel's brutality towards the Palestinians become known, a solidarity movement is growing around the world willing to expose Israel's crimes.

The legitimacy of the Israeli apartheid state is being questioned like never before.