By Richard Lightbown
One could be forgiven for forgetting that 2014 had been voted International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People by the UN General Assembly. With typical contempt for everything connected with the UN, the state of Israel and the vast majority of its people have endeavoured to see that 2014 was probably the worst year for Palestinians since 1967 when their remaining lands were occupied by the Zionist state. Far from showing solidarity with the Palestinian people, most western leaders took every opportunity to repeat ad nauseum their fawning support for ‘Israel’s right to defend itself’ even while that same country was indulging in yet another savage assault on the Gazan population during Operation Protective Edge.
Against the odds, like the mongoose in a YouTube video seeing off a pride of young lions or the baby chick repelling a giant lizard, Gazan militants were able to claim a painful moral victory against the Tsahal at the end of the fighting. The Israeli military machine was not able to prevent Gazan rocket attacks into Israel. It admits to losing 66 soldiers killed, including eight officers, while the bodies of two of the dead have not yet been recovered. (In the three weeks of conflict during Operation Cast Lead in 2008/9 the Tsahal lost ten soldiers, of whom four were shot by their own side.) The casualties are also believed to include more than 400 wounded, many of whom are likely to be permanently disabled. Israel’s military has admitted that these casualties were more than it had anticipated.
It was also a political disaster for Israel since Hamas’s popularity received a substantial boost (while Benjamin Netanyahu’s has plummeted and his government is in disarray). A poll at the end of August by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research suggested that in the event of an immediate election 46% would vote for Hamas against 31% for Fatah, while Ismail Haniyeh also topped the presidential polls. Furthermore 94% expressed satisfaction with Hamas’s military performance, 78% were satisfied with its defence of civilians in Gaza, 89% were satisfied with its media and communication performance, while 72% of those interviewed in Gaza agreed that security and police should remain under the control of Hamas until the forthcoming elections.
John Pilger said that Vietnam won the war against the United States but lost the peace, after Richard Nixon reneged on the agreement to pay reparations to rebuild the shattered country. Now after the euphoria of forcing the most powerful and ruthless army in the region to withdraw without completing any of its self-imposed objectives, the people of Gaza face the interminable, unforgiving peace of Israel and its western allies.
As part of the ceasefire agreement Israel was reported by Reuters to have agreed to open more of its border crossings to allow an easier flow of humanitarian aid and reconstruction supplies. Portentously, the same Israeli promise had also been part of the ceasefire agreement to end the conflict on November 2012: a deal that Israel had promptly reneged on. It was no great surprise then when IRIN reported on 2 September, nearly a week after the ceasefire agreement, that no restrictions had been eased from Gaza’s blockade. (An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman suggested that the expectation of easing of the crossings had been based on conjecture.)
Rafah crossing into Egypt is also still effectively closed, and it had taken the World Food Programme five weeks of negotiations to get 18 trucks of food into Gaza on 28 August. Food security in the whole of the Gaza Strip will be seriously affected by acute shortages of locally-produced crops which were targeted during the conflict. The Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture has estimated that producers in Gaza suffered $350 million of direct losses and $200 million in indirect losses.
Population needs in Gaza are dire. Approximately 17,000 housing units have been destroyed or severely damaged. A further 37,650 housing units had suffered damage. On 27 August UNRWA reported that 108,000 people were still living in its schools, although 380,000 had returned to what remained of their homes following the ceasefire of the previous day. These makeshift shelters provided at the schools are a grim ordeal. One refugee told Joe Catron ‘It’s an awful experience. Living here is not a life.’
According to OCHA 220 schools were damaged by the Israeli attacks. As a result of the damage and the need for temporary shelters 500,000 children were unable to start the new school year. This latter fact was ignored by international media sources who have been busy reporting the relief felt by Israeli children on returning to the routine of going to school.
Most areas of the Gaza Strip currently receive only six hours of electricity per day, and ninety per cent of the population receive water less than once a day. The World Health Organization reported four days before the ceasefire that 16 out of 32 hospitals were damaged (of which six were closed) as were 45 out of 97 clinics (with 17 closed). WHO has also expressed concerns about the occurrence of water borne diseases resulting from the reduced functioning of water and sanitation systems, and a risk of decline in the physical and mental health of the population. Some idea of the mental anguish Gazans are suffering can be imagined from this testimony given to Ross Kemp by a girl of about eight years old at a psychiatric clinic in Gaza:
“We don’t want to make peace with the Jews because they killed my mum and dad. It broke my heart when I saw mum and dad die in front of me. My mum lost half of her head. My dad’s brain came out of his head, and he was injured everywhere. After that, my brother said: ‘everyone out, let’s leave’. I feel like I’m in a cage now that my mum and dad aren’t with me.”
The Ministry of Health in Gaza reports that in addition to the 2143 martyrs, (of whom 581 were children) 11,232 were injured. In this context we should forget about John Wayne, who in the film El Dorado got back on his horse and rode off after being shot in the back by a rifle. ‘Injured’ in real life Gaza can mean someone with two legs blown off at the knee by a DIME bomb; or much worse. It is estimated that more than half of those injured in Gaza will be permanently handicapped. Regrettably for many Israelis and their supporters these facts are of no consequence, as one can deduce from the callous filth expressed in the comment sections of newspaper articles reporting and commenting on these war crimes.
Solidarity for the Palestinian people is a myth in western government circles, but amongst common people it is becoming an increasing phenomenon. These is even happening in the United States where a Zim Line freighter was denied access to Oakland port after stevedores refused to cross an activist picket line. It is also increasingly drawing reaction from the Jewish diaspora, such as the public condemnation by 327 Jewish Holocaust survivors of a distasteful advert in the New York Times in which Elie Wiesel compared Hamas to the Nazis. On 5 September Arutz Sheva reported that SodaStream intends to close its factory in the West bank settlements following targeting by the BDS movement. As the people of Gaza face the realities of a brutal, relentless peace with Israel and an impending winter in a war ravaged environment, solidarity with their heroic struggle should be a priority for all who believe in universal human rights.
- Richard Lightbown contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.