What you might not be hearing about Gaza

Note: Anna Balzer has been to Kansas City several times to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which she has witnessed firsthand. She recently sent out this message about the fighting in Gaza.

By Anna Balzer

Several days ago, Israel invaded Gaza on the ground to compliment its aerial bombardment. The Palestinian death toll has reached 660. The official Israeli death toll is up to 5, of whom 4 were civilians. Attacks on civilians, no matter who they are, is criminal. Yet the US government, public relations officials, and mainstream media—unlike those of almost every other country in the world—continue to criminalize Palestinian violence while absolving Israel (the undisputed party in power) of almost any responsibility of its own. The official position seems clear: Israel can do as it likes until Hamas stops all violence.

The underlying assumption here is that Palestinians’ human rights depend on the actions of their leaders. This is false. Palestinians do not have to earn the human rights inalienable to every person on Earth. Human rights are non-negotiable. Likewise, Israelis do not have to earn their human rights. Israeli state terror notwithstanding, it would be criminal to bombard the entire population of Israel (in which, as in Gaza, fighters live alongside their families in civilian
areas) for the crimes of its government.

But this is exactly what Israel is doing in Gaza with US weapons before a seemingly impotent international community. Every day the carnage unfolds on CNN-International (different from CNN-US—the United States is the only country in the world with domestically customized
international news coverage): a mother and her 4 kids killed instantly; a 7-year-old shot twice in the chest (I’m not sure how that happens accidentally, but does that even matter?); more than 40
policemen in training obliterated (even Israel does not claim the Palestinian police orchestrates rocket attacks); TV stations and places of worship successfully destroyed; a mortuary out of room for bodies.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, “sewage water is pouring into the streets in Beit Hanoun, following damage to the main pipeline between Beit Hanoun and the Beit Lahiya wastewater treatment plant.” Save The Children reports that newborn baby Gazans are battling hypothermia due to power cuts and freezing winter winds.

Some of the worst news comes from the doctors. Can you imagine a hospital functioning without electricity? According to the mainstream British newspaper The Guardian, medics are working around the clock and running out of anesthesia. There is no more gauze so doctors are using cotton, which sticks to wounds. Nurses are forced to draw blood with the wrong sized syringes and without alcohol. The Guardian article was entitled, “The injured were lying there asking God to let them die.” Many have gotten their last wish, dying as they wait in the emergency rooms.

Medical workers themselves have also been under fire, with at least 4 killed as they tried to reach victims. Ambulances are not safe, nor are the schools:

When I woke up yesterday a UN school had just been bombed, killing 3 of the civilians who had come to the school seeking shelter. Watching the news later in the evening, I learned the same UN school had been bombed again (twice in one day), killing 40 more. The British director of the school, having lost his usual calm, was irate and imploring the world to understand that nowhere in Gaza is safe anymore—there is nowhere left to go.

Yet reading the Washington Post and watching the nightly news you might believe that Israel’s is in fact the most virtuous army in the world, going as far as sending text messages to and dropping leaflets in Palestinian areas explaining that unless civilians leave, they will
be attacked. Reported alone, this might sound reasonable, but quickly becomes absurd if you know that Gazans have no place to go to! Nowhere inside the strip of land is safe and there is no way to leave it, since the borders are sealed.

The bombing and invasion have clearly heightened the threat against Gazans’ lives, but they did not start it. For the 18 months preceding the invasion, the average Gazan could not reliably go to school, make a living, contact the outside world, divert their sewage, heat their homes, drink clean water, or eat. This was due to the enclosure summed up in the words of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights: “Gaza is a prison and Israel seems to have thrown away the key.” This was the reality of Israel’s “ceasefire.”

The closure pushed Gaza’s humanitarian crisis to a new low, with poverty reaching 80%. Any attempt to counter poverty was thwarted. Gaza students dependent on transportation could not reach their schools, and those accepted at foreign universities in America, Europe, and the West Bank were denied permits to leave. Without enough fuel, industrial businesses were either shut down or running below 20% capacity, resulting in the loss of tens of thousands of jobs. Contrary
to Israeli court order, the Israeli army allowed just 15% of fuel needed for generators, wells, and transportation, resulting in garbage piled high in the streets while up to 15,000,000 gallons of raw or partially-treated sewage flowed into the sea every day. This was the reality of Israel’s “ceasefire.”

On November 4th and 5th, Israel broke the “ceasefire” by killing at least 6 Palestinians in Gaza, reported on CNN-International but unlikely by CNN-US. Of course, there was no ceasefire to begin with, since the main requirement on Israel was to sufficiently unseal Gaza’s borders, a requirement that was consistently ignored. By the end of the “ceasefire,” 262 had Gazans died due to lack of access to proper medical care during the blockade.

Hamas should be condemned for its attacks on civilians, but it is naïve to expect that they would renew a truce that Israel had never adhered to. Whether or not it would cease cross-border attacks in exchange for Israeli reciprocity—as Hamas continues to offer—is something we cannot know, since Israel has never given the offer a chance.

—————————————-

10 IDEAS for TAKING ACTION:

Analysis and sympathy have no value if they do not result in any action. There are enough action ideas below that every single person on this list has the power to do at least one, ideally many more.

1. Monitor and contact local media to inform others and counter misinformation. Write letters to the editor (usually 100-150 words) or op-eds (usually 600-800 words) for local newspapers. Also contact radio talk shows and television news departments, especially in response to biased coverage. You can find all local media at: http://www.congress.org/congressorg/dbq/media/
The US Campaign to End the Occupation compiled a fact sheet about US direct contributions to the war on Gaza, which you can use for facts: http://www.endtheoccupation.org/downloads/gaza_us_weapons.pdf

2. Organize and join demonstrations in front of Israeli embassies or (if that’s not doable) in front of the offices of elected officials or other visible place. Inform the media beforehand. Here is a list of the many demonstrations happening around the country (For example, St Louis, where I live, usually has one a month, but this month there are demonstrations every day):
http://www.endtheoccupation.org/article.php?id=1773

3. Join local activist groups organizing local actions. If there aren’t any, start your own. Now is an excellent time to rally support.

4. Initiate boycotts, divestments and sanctions to nonviolently pressure Israeli compliance with international law, as was effective in the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa. Now is an excellent time to rally support and begin a campaign. More info and resources at
http://www.bdsmovement.net/

5. Send direct aid to Gaza through one of the following organizations:
– United Nations Relief and Works Agency: http://www.un.org/unrwa/
– United Palestinian Appeal: http://www.helpupa.com
– Islamic Relief: http://www.irw.org
– Canadian Red Cross: http://www.redcross.ca
– American Near East Refugee Aid: http://www.anera.org
– Physicians for Human Rights: http://www.phr.org.il/phr
– Other groups: http://gazasiege.org/support_gaza.html
You can also support solidarity activists on the ground at
http://www.palsolidarity.org/main/

6. Contact elected and other political leaders in your country to urge them to apply pressure to end the attacks. Find your representatives and their contact info at
http://www.congress.org/congressorg/officials/congress

Call the Obama/Biden Transition Office at 202-540-3000, press 2 to speak to staff member. Tell them the U.S. needs a new Middle East policy, which holds Israel accountable to international law and UN resolutions and human rights. Tell them the U.S. should not support Israel with billions of dollars every year and should not be arming Israel with U.S. made weapons. Add your own suggestions. The time is right for President-elect Obama to hear from the peace community.

7. Sign petitions for Gaza, for example:
http://www.avaaz.org/en/gaza_time_for_peace/98.php?cl_tf_sign=1
http://capwiz.com/arab/utr/2/?a=12364076&i=90758629&c
https://secure2.convio.net/pep/site/Advocacy?s_oo=d13BldH27ypl2jxg-1cOFA..&id=233

8. Put a Palestinian flag at your window. Wear a Palestinian head scarf (keffiya). Wear black arm bands (this helps start conversations with people).

9. Do a group fast for peace one day and hold it in a public place.

10. Inform others in your community with flyers, vigils, and conversations. At the very least, forward this on.

This list was based on a call from the Palestinian Center for Rapprochement Between People and Friends of Sabeel.

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1 Comment »

  1. Mary Patterson said

    We are watching the stratification of human beings and as Palestinians are placed at lower and lower levels of the hierarchy more violence is tolerated. Numbers mean nothing. Innocence means nothing. The Palestinians have always been regarded simply as objects standing in the way of Israeli rule.

    Excellent article and thank you for giving us action points. Israel says it is exercising it’s “right to defend itself.” When did an offensive invasion become defense?

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