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Monday, January 5,2009

The War Against Gaza

by Rosina Hassoun
VIEWPOINT
(The writer is the daughter of a Palestinian Christian Arab and a Iowa Quaker mother. Her grandfather was the mayor of Acre prior to the creation of Israel and her grandmother was the special organist at the Churches of Nativity and the Holy Sepulcher. She grew up in the United States and holds a Ph.D. from the University of Florida and master’s and bachelor degrees from Texas A&M. She teaches as an adjunct at the Center for Integrative Studies in Arts & Humanities at MSU and in the Social Sciences Department at LCC.)

This is a war by the world’s fourth largest military power on a detention camp — and make no mistake that is exactly how this war is viewed in the Arab and Muslim world and increasingly by people across the world. Gaza is surrounded by electrified fences on three sides and the Israeli navy on the fourth side. Despite the doublespeak, whether Israelis forces are on the inside or the outside of the barbed wire, they are the occupying power in Gaza. They are bombing people that are fenced in. Whether we agree with this perspective or not, we ignore how this war is being viewed in the Arab and Muslim world at great peril for future violence.

Never, not even during the height of European colonial occupation, has the world viewed such an event. The asymmetry of this event is staggering. The violations of common sense, as well as the Fourth Geneva Convention, with the use of mass punishment, make this a war crime and a crime against humanity. Even the most ardent opponents to Hamas among the Palestinians do not see massive armed force as a legitimate way to solve the problem of Hamas rule in Gaza.

Images of wounded civilians in Gaza are starting to reach the outside world, but the idea that these images are all faked has already been suggested by pro-Israeli' pundits, in spite of the admittance of Israel that it has already dropped more than 100 tons of bombs on Gaza.' The concept of “precision bombing” in the most densely populated area of the world somehow comes off as an asinine argument. Of course, large numbers of civilian casualties are happening and the world knows it.

Certainly there can be no doubt about the Israeli argument that its Jewish population is endangered by the Hamas homemade rockets — four Israelis have been killed by them recently. Thousands of Israelis are now rushing to bomb shelters. But this is where the asymmetry of the situation highlights this theater of the absurd. At least the Israelis have bomb shelters and their ambulances are equipped with modern medicine and they are taken to safe, clean, well-staffed hospitals. If, God forbid, any of their population is injured, they can get modern medical help.

The Palestinians in Gaza do not have real or adequate bomb shelters and there is no place to hide. Israel is now warning all the Palestinians to flee the northern part of Gaza (reminiscent of their historical warnings to Palestinians to flee their homeland) — but where does Israel expect them to go? In the sea? There is no more room in the inn. Where do they go to be safe and for medical treatment? Palestinian hospitals have run out of even some of the most basic supplies.' The mortality ratio is four Israelis to over 400 Palestinians dead with a ration of wounded of 1,000 Palestinians for every one Israeli — and that was before the ground assault had begun. The loss of life is already staggering. It is the war of a gnat against a giant. The only ones that seem to be paying the real price are the civilians on both sides.

After Israel broke the agreements of the truce with numerous incursions and blockade and denial of food, fuel, and electricity in an effort to starve the people of Gaza into submission, they are still blaming Hamas.' I should add that in the first round of bombing some Palestinians in Gaza and some Arabs in the region also blamed Hamas, but the loss of life has already turned the tide on that argument.' Because of this, Israel has already lost the war of heart and minds. The bombs dropping on their heads in Gaza are Israeli (and much of the munitions are US made and certainly US paid for) and they know it.

Most Palestinians are not pleased about the role of Hamas in Gaza to say the least, (and I am included as a Palestinian American, but I do not side with any faction).' But to suggest that this war is somehow a remedy for that situation is incredulous.' We have already seen what a similar war of excessive use of Israeli power in Lebanon did to empower Hezbollah in Lebanon. The lesson that should have been learned from Lebanon is that violence is not the solution to growing radicalism in the Muslim world. This is the radical's dream recruiting scenario-the sight of Arab/Muslim civilians being killed.

The suggestion that the children in Gaza, having endured starvation (where 1 in 5 children before this latest blockade were suffering from some form of malnutrition according to Harvard and other research teams), having lived through the lack of electricity and fuel and therefore without heat in the winter, as well as experiencing the terror of bombing will grow up loving the Jewish Israelis and be more willing to compromise and develop a lasting peace is also another absurdity.

Those of us who live in relative luxury cannot understand the long-term suffering of the people in Gaza. They do not even have adequate clean water.' To really understand the conditions in Gaza, I highly recommend the book by Amira Hass entitled, “Drinking the Sea at Gaza: Days and Nights in a Land Under Siege.” Amira Hass is a left-leaning Jewish journalist for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. She lived for a year in Gaza and focused on water and living conditions there. It is an eye-opening read. Through her eyes we begin to experience the everyday suffering of the Gazans.

In the 1930s a British White Paper warned against any more development in the coastal areas because of the potential damage to the Coastal Aquifer. After that, the city of Tel Aviv was built over the aquifer and the Palestinian refugees from the 1948 and 1967 wars resulted in the 27 square kilometers of the Gaza strip becoming the mostly densely populated place on earth with 1.5 million Palestinians trapped there. Subsequently, in addition to other suffering in Gaza, the Coastal Aquifer has been collapsing with heavy salt water intrusion. The area is karst and the Palestinians have had little or no sewage treatment for almost 63 years now, which means the pollution all ends up in the aquifer.' They have been actually drinking salty sewage water for decades.
It is not just the Israelis and Palestinians that are to blame. We, the people of the world,'' left the Palestinian people in Gaza to literally drink contaminated salt water for over 41 years and to live under near concentration camp conditions without hope for jobs, and the freedom of movement, and a modicum of normal life. The world did not care.'' Doctors have been reporting the health impacts that prematurely take the lives of the people in Gaza, but the world is not listening.' Why would we expect anything other than radicalism to grow there?

This war is not going to solve a single problem. Hamas was losing popularity in Gaza recently and the war has actually increased support for them across the region. This is the definition of insanity — repeating what they did in Lebanon for Hezbollah's status in Gaza with Hamas. Hamas is not going to go away and neither will Israel.' Whatever else they are, Hamas and Hezbollah are indigenous political parties now and we must now ask whether it was a deadly mistake not to try to use more diplomacy with them.

One thing is sure: Radicalism is not going to be thwarted by violence. Bringing clean water and quality of life to Gaza and a dignified life for all the Palestinians would do more to disenfranchise radicals than any other possible action. We need a sophisticated knowledge of the Middle East and the Arab world and we need to stop ignoring how Arabs and Muslims view U.S. and Israeli policies — all the sensibilities have to be considered in combating radicalism.' U.S. policy must work, not just in the interest of solving the U.S. “War on Terrorism,” but in helping to maintain and create institutions in the Arab world that actually work in the interest of the Arab masses, rather than solely for the' elites or for U.S. and Israeli interests. If you do not want a radical Islamic world to have to contend with, then this is probably the last chance to construct and re-construct viable cultural and religiously sensitive secular and moderate institutions. But these institutions cannot be co-opted places of empty rhetoric. The Arab masses are also more educated and more demanding and they are not likely to be duped into compliance forever.' Patience across the region is running out.' As I write Arab leaders are being pressed by the masses on one side and the delegations of Islamic clerics on the other to be accountable for their silence and inactivity towards Israel and the suffering in Gaza.

My great hope for the coming year is that there will be a dramatic change in foreign policy towards the Middle East to bring a truly equitable and lasting peace to the region — one that understands more and listens more to all sides and uses a new “win-win” philosophy, rather than a “we win you lose” philosophy that was previously attempted by military force by the U.S.' I hope the people of Gaza will not be forgotten once again after the inauguration.

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