Apocalyptic. That is the word used by those who saw Tacloban in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Yolanda (international code name Haiyan) to describe the devastation wrought on the city and its inhabitants. That was the image captured in countless photographs and videos beamed to the world that stirred an outpouring of humanitarian aid from governments, nongovernment organizations and ordinary people.
Imagine such a scene in a place half a world away, in Gaza, a tiny strip of land only 350 square kilometers and home for more than six decades to two million Palestinians, 80% of whom are refugees from what is now modern-day Israel but what used to be a much bigger and united Palestine. (Today’s Palestine has been reduced to two separate enclaves: Gaza and the West Bank.)
The difference is that the cause of the latter’s apocalyptic situation is not a natural calamity but a man-made one. For the past four weeks, the people of Gaza have been subjected to the most horrific bombardment by air, sea and land by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) — the fourth most powerful army in the world — as a form of collective punishment.
The alleged cause of the latest Israeli military campaign, Operation Protective Edge, is the abduction and killing of three Israeli youths in a Jewish settlement built on land-grabbed Palestinian lands. It is purportedly directed against Hamas, the revolutionary movement that was democratically elected by the Palestinians in Gaza to govern them.
Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seized on the incident to blame Hamas and, without presenting any evidence as called upon by the United Nations, vowed to exact revenge for what could and should have been treated as a police matter and not as a reason to launch another blistering military assault on Gaza.
What has emboldened the Israeli government to once more embark on its genocidal war against the Palestinian people is the unshakeable backing for Israel by the Western powers led by the United States on the one hand and their largely successful campaign to demonize Hamas as a ‘terrorist” organization, on the other.
Hamas and other armed militia groups have also launched retaliatory rocket attacks from Gaza, but these cannot compare to the lethal power of the IDF’s artillery fire, attack planes, tanks and bombs, and other types of weapons including white phosphorous bombs that are outlawed by the Geneva Conventions when used against civilians.
This is amply proven by the hugely disproportionate number of fatalities and wounded and the extent of destroyed civilian infrastructure suffered by the people of Gaza: 2000 killed and close to 10,000 injured; houses, schools, hospitals, mosques, water facilities and electric grids leveled to the ground; and half a million displaced without food, water, shelter and medicines exposed to unrelenting bombardments by the IDF. The Israeli government reported 60 killed, but mostly soldiers.
Israel boasts of the efficiency of its Iron Dome anti-missile system to protect its citizens from the largely ineffectual, if symbolic, rocket fire from Gaza. It is no secret that Israel is the recipient of $3 billion in military aid annually from the US, comprising a third of the latter’s entire foreign aid budget. In fact, in the midst of Israel’s latest armed attack on Gaza, the US Congress passed an additional $351-million funding for the Iron Dome system.
According to eyewitness accounts, compared to the December 2008 to January 2009 conflict in Gaza, today’s is a much worse conflict because Israel had lined up tanks on the border with Gaza and had been indiscriminately shelling the entire Gaza strip, thus accounting for the high death toll.
Entire neighborhoods are being destroyed in a scheme to extend what had been a 300-meter buffer zone into a three-kilometer zone, effectively depriving the people 44% of their land area.
The entire population of Gaza is under siege. The Gaza Strip has been likened to the largest open-air prison in the world, and there is no escape with the closure of the Rafah Crossing to Egypt for the past several months.
Such a humanitarian crisis brought about by Israel’s clear act of aggression is generating stronger international reaction compared to the last Gaza War in 2008-2009.
More countries are suspending diplomatic ties, enacting arms embargoes, and openly criticizing Israel. Ecuador, Brazil, Chile, Peru and El Salvador have withdrawn their ambassadors from Tel Aviv while other countries have suspended free-trade talks. For its part, Spain has imposed an arms embargo.
More importantly, international public opinion is increasingly going against Israel. Several big protest actions have taken place in the European Union, many resuming calls for consumers to boycott companies identified with or supporting Israel such as McDonald’s, Starbucks and Hewlett-Packard.
The Christian Science Monitor cites a mid-July poll conducted in the US by the Pew Research Center that found younger Americans “blam(ing) Israel more than the Palestinian militant group Hamas for the violence.” Prominent public figures from among the film industry, doctors and peace and human rights advocates have also condemned the latest aggression.
The International League of People’s Struggle (ILPS), a global alliance of progressive people’s organizations that has a strong membership base in the Asia-Pacific region, has called for boycotts, divestment and sanctions as in the global campaign against the apartheid regime in South Africa.
Israel has been able to occupy Palestine, grab remaining Palestinian lands through the apartheid wall and expanding Jewish settlements, terrorize the people with harsh and unrelenting repressive measures, reduce Palestinians to penury by destroying their livelihoods, and at will attack Gaza and massacre the people with impunity because of the support of the Western powers, especially the US and the EU.
Only international public outrage, condemnation and the people’s version of economic sanctions will be decisive in isolating the fascist Israeli government, force it to back down, break the blockade and allow humanitarian aid to reach Gaza and, most importantly, uphold the right of the Palestinian people to their homeland.
Carol Pagaduan-Araullo is a medical doctor by training, social activist by choice, columnist by accident, happy partner to a liberated spouse and proud mother of two.
Published in Business World
August 10, 2014