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Wednesday, January 7,2009

The war against Gaza

by Rosina Hassoun
The war against Gaza

(Rosina Hassoun is the daughter of a Palestinian Arab Christian and an Iowa Quaker Christian. She is an adjunct faculty member at MSU and 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 fences on three sides and the Israeli navy on the fourth. Despite the doublespeak, whether Israelis forces are on the inside or 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 and disproportion 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. The concept of “precision bombing” in the most densely populated area of the world comes off as an asinine argument.

Israeli citizens are endangered by Hamas’ homemade rockets. Thousands of Israelis are 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 Israel’s 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 has warned 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 or food? Palestinian hospitals have run out of even some of the most basic supplies.

During 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. Israel has already lost the war of heart and minds.

The bombs dropping on their heads are Israeli and much of the munitions are U.S.-made and certainly U.S. paid for, and they know it. The children in Gaza are enduring starvation (one in five children before this latest blockade were suffering from some form of malnutrition according to research teams at Harvard and elsewhere), are living through the lack of electricity and fuel and heat in the winter, and are experiencing the terror of bombing. The idea that they will grow up loving the Jewish Israelis and be more willing to compromise and develop a lasting peace is also another absurdity.

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. 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 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. Patience is running out in the region. 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 toward 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 — a new “winwin” philosophy, rather than a “we win, you lose” philosophy that was previously attempted by military force by the United States. I hope the people of Gaza will not be forgotten after the inauguration.


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