War on Gaza, war on reality

January 17, 2009

"We want to believe we are safe here … but the bottom line is that I've lost confidence in the Israeli side and that needs to be restored urgently, and it is their duty to restore this confidence", United National Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) head John Ging told AP on January 13.

It was a message that further exposed the distance between reality and the hypocritical Israeli public relations campaign that has continued to justify its war on Gaza, within Israel and around the world.

By the time Israel announced a unilateral ceasefire on January 18, the death toll exceeded 1200, although with thousands missing the exact number is unknown. The toll of children killed was more than 400, while around 5000 people have been injured.

The Al-Mezan Centre for Human Rights stated on January 14 that, according to its findings, 86.1% of all those killed have been civilians. Only 137 men have been Palestinian fighters. The Al-Mezan Centre released a statement on January 15 reporting that Israeli snipers were firing on fleeing refugees.

Israel's announcement of a cease-fire involves keeping its military in Gaza — prepared to resume the killing in the case of any continued resistance. Not surprisingly, Hamas have refused to accept a "truce" based on military occupation and continuing the siege — and have pledge to continue resisting.

The excuse of homemade rockets as the reason for this war falls apart in light of the facts that Israel never abided by the cease-fire's terms by easing the siege on Gaza as it had promised, and that the return to firing rockets by Hamas was preceded by an Israeli military assault on Gaza that killed six people.

Israel's actions bare little resemblance to its official messages — exposing the criminal nature of Israel's apartheid state.

Media control

Israel's 2006 war on Lebanon was widely recognised as a public relations disaster by Israeli authorities. Since then, attempts to silence opposing voices and amplify Israel's own propaganda have become a vital component of Israel's ongoing oppression of Palestine.

Since the beginning of the war, foreign journalists have been banned from entering Gaza. This happened despite an Israeli Supreme Court ruling ordering small numbers of foreign media workers be allowed in. The only other option for reporters is to embed themselves with the Israeli Defence Forces.

Other journalists, preferring to stay in Israel or further away, are able to receive regular text messages from the Israel Defense Forces offering to help them cover the Israeli side of the war, in the language of their choice.

This coverage has helped Israel maintain strong support for its action within its own country. But increasingly the protest movements and television networks like Al Jazeera are exposing the hypocrisy of Israel's war.

As Yoni Ben-Menachem, director-general of the Israel Broadcasting Authority told the January 13 Toronto Star in a frank discussion of the coverage being projected inside Israel and around the globe, "The pictures coming out of Gaza are pictures of dead children and dead women".

"This is creating a big protest in the Arab world and in Europe. I think the political echelon is very worried."

Parties banned

Israel's claim to being the only democracy in the Middle East havs been further eroded by the banning of two opposition Palestinian ("Israeli Arab") parties from upcoming February 10 Israeli elections.

The Central Elections Committee (CEC) has claimed that it has the right to ban parties they claim do not recognise Israel's "right to exist" (which means the "right" to exist as a "Jewish state", which by necessity relegates non-Jews within its borders to second-class citizens).

A request to the CEC to ban the parties had been made by the ultra-right Yisrael Beiteinu and National Union-National Religious Party.

The parties banned are the National Democratic Assembly (also known as Balad) and Ra'am-Ta'al.

After the decision, Arab party leaders shouted, "This is a fascist, racist state" and a minor scuffle ensued between Arab Knesset (parliament) delegates and the CEC deputy chairperson David Tal before a security guard intervened, according to a January 13 Ha'aretz article.

The Ha'aretz article explained that members of the
CEC conceded the Supreme Court was unlikely to uphold the ban on both parties.

The ban is even more significant in the wake of the growing, although still limited resistance within Israel. Israeli Arab parties, as well as left-wing mixed Jewish and Arab party Hadash, have been central to the campaign for justice from within Israel.

Azmi Bishara, a former Arab Knesset member, told Al Jazeera in a message not widely reported in the Israeli or Western media: "Israel would say, 'what would any normal country do if they were threatened by rocket fire? They would act'.

"But Israel is not a normal country, it is an occupying country, a colonial country and the people of Gaza are under siege."

Aid agencies targeted

Aid organisations have increasingly found themselves in the firing line of Israeli forces.

A UN aid truck was targeted during the final minutes of a three-hour cease-fire to let 80 aid trucks enter Gaza on January 7.

Ging explained to Al Jazeera, "They were coordinating their movements with the Israelis, as they always do, only to find themselves being fired at from the ground troops".

"We've lost confidence. We have been reassured continuously over the last number of days that these incidents will not reoccur, and I have taken that in good faith because of the humanitarian imperative."

In response to this and another attack on one of its ambulances, the International Committee of the Red Cross was forced to restrict its Gaza operations to the territory's main city, an ICRC spokeswoman told Al Jazeera.

UNRWA, the main UN agency in Gaza that provides food aid to half the territory's 1.5 million people, said it had suspended its operations after tank shells hit an UN-flagged humanitarian convoy on January 8, killing at least one person.

Ging said the casualties in the convoy attack were Palestinian civilian contractors hired to bring supplies from the crossing points.

"They were coordinating their movements with the Israelis, as they always do, only to find themselves being fired at from the ground troops", he told Al Jazeera.

Israel's claim to self-defence has been steadily exposed by Israel's deliberate targeting of civilians.

This was shown when a civilian "safe-house" was hit by Israeli fire. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported on January 4 that Israeli soldiers evacuated approximately 110 Palestinians into a single-residence house in Zeitun (half of whom were children) warning them to stay indoors.

Twenty-four hours later, Israeli forces shelled the home repeatedly, killing approximately 30 people.

This action was repeated on January 5 when 43 people were killed in an Israeli attack on a UNRWA school in the northern town of Jabaliya, set aside as a civilian "emergency shelter". Doctors on the scene told Al Jazeera that 350 people were in the "safe-house", and all the dead were either people using it as an emergency shelter or residents of Jabaliya refugee camp.

Ging told Al Jazeera that attacks happened despite them regularly providing the Israeli army with geographical co-ordinates of the school, which is located in a built-up area.

Israel has also been found to be using white phosphorous shells in its attacks on Gaza, according to the ICRC and Human Rights Watch.

While the ICRC told AP that it has no evidence to suggest it is being used improperly or illegally, it is suspected in the cases of 10 burn victims.

Phosphorous causes fires that are extremely difficult to extinguish and causes severe burning when it comes into contact with skin.

No legitimacy

International protests, on all continents, have been growing.

On January 10, massive protests occurred across Europe, often significantly larger than the massive protests one week earlier. Some 150,000 marched in London, according to the British Socialist Worker — but marches more than double the size of January 3 demonstrations in the same cities. More than 100,000 marched in Barcelona.

According to a post on BDSmovement.net, Norwegian trains and trams stood still for two minutes in a political strike organised by the Norwegian Locomotive Union and the Oslo Tram Workers Union in protest at Israel's war. It also stated that, "A large selection of Norwegian trade unions and organizations has endorsed a new campaign for the withdrawal of all State investments in Israel".

Inside Israel, thousands have taken to the streets to demand not just an end to the war, but that Israeli leaders face trial for war crimes.

This widespread demand has been taken up by the Bolivian government of President Evo Morales, which has not just broken diplomatic ties with Israel but announced plans to seek charges of "genocide" against top Israeli officials at the International Criminal Court, according to a January 14 Al Jazeera report.

It is widely accepted that Israel has "lost" the PR war. A January 17 Sydney Morning Herald article quoted "often hawkish" Israeli newspaper columnist Ari Shavit commenting that, "Israel's international legitimacy is being ground to dust".

Israel stands increasingly exposed before the world's population, which is placing greater pressure on governments that support it, especially in the Arab world. As a result, the media constantly talks of an imminent cease-fire even as Israel escalates its onslaught.

On January 17, the SMH ran a headline on its home page entitled "Gaza prepares for peace", even though the article reported that the Israeli military "was staging a fresh wave of deadly air strikes on the beleaguered territory"!

Israel has announced it will halt the carnage under its own unilateral terms of indefinite military occupation and siege — which is not peace and can never lead to peace.

This means that the international protests for Gaza that have exploded globally must continue.

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