Jan 8, 2010

Gaza's horror show

Tayyab Siddiqui

A human tragedy of enormous proportions has been continuing over the last year in Gaza, and yet it has not stirred the conscience of the international community and those responsible for global peace. The western media has also been a part of this conspiracy of silence. On Dec 27, some 1,200 international activists from 40 countries gathered in Cairo to enter Gaza to display solidarity with the suffering Palestinians. However, this show of sympathy and support by peace activists is significant only in symbolic terms. International NGOs and UN agencies occasionally raise this issue, but find no resonance because the victims are Palestinian and the oppressor is Israel.

Gaza is a tiny coastal strip of land between Egypt and Israel with 1.5 million inhabitants. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, but has retained complete control of the territory by sea, air and land.

On Dec 27, 2008, Israel, in supposed retaliation for rocket attacks from Gaza on Israeli territory, unleashed a savage attack that lasted 22 days. The world witnessed the horror show of death and devastation but remained a passive spectator. Nearly 1,400 Palestinians, mostly civilians including women and children and the elderly, died in the horrific Israeli assault and 5.300 were injured. The international media also reported that an estimated 20,000 houses were destroyed, which left some areas resembling an earthquake zone, and more than 50,000 people were forced to move to temporary shelters. In addition, 48 government offices, 20 mosques and 30 police stations were demolished. Two hundred and nineteen factories were damaged as a result of aerial bombardment, tanks' shelling and armoured bulldozers destroying Gaza's productive capacity and completely ruining the territory's economy. The attack inflicted losses to infrastructure totalling half-a-billion dollars.

The IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) used toxic ammunition and white phosphorus in violation of international laws on prohibited weapons. As a result, the Gaza Strip is now home to the highest number of disabled people in the world, in terms of population ratio. About four percent of the residents have some form of disability. According to reports, the use of chemical agents has resulted in a high levels of deformed births and miscarriages." The sufferings are compounded by Israel continuing the blockade and non-availability of medicines in the territory.

Richard Falk, UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Palestinian territory, released his report on the first anniversary of the Gaza carnage. He painted a gruesome picture of pain and suffering of civilians in Gaza and strongly urged the lifting of the blockade. There is a continuing breakdown in the electricity and sanitation systems due to absence of spare-parts. Falk asked for consideration of economic sanction against Israel, which continues to defy international will. In a report the UN Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA) has also given accounts of the suffering and miseries of the territory's residents, concluding that Gaza has been bombed "back to the Stone Age."

Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and other UN agencies have documented Israeli violation of the laws of war. The conduct of war and use of phosphorus bombs and 155mm shells against helpless civilians and indiscriminate carpet bombing provides enough evidence for the indictment of former prime minister Ehud Olmert and other perpetrators of the Gaza massacre for war crimes.

In an article in the Israeli daily Ha'aretz, Oren Yiftahel, a professor at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba, said of the Gaza operation that "it was expected Israel behaviour and an extension of Zionist policy that believes in the annihilation of the Palestinian people and erasing their history and existence." Israeli historian Ofer Shelah has said the assault on Gaza was the birth of "a new defensive doctrine for Israel, namely to act as a rogue nation to respond to a source of gunfire with savage and massive military operation, irrespective of the number of causalities."

Israel's acts of genocide and crimes against humanity are reprehensible. Equally unacceptable is the silence and apathy of Muslim governments and the self-styled champions of human rights. Most Muslim countries failed to speak out forcefully against the aggressor, notable exceptions being Turkey, even though it has diplomatic and security relations with Tel Aviv, and Iran. Denouncing the Israeli barbarities in Gaza, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan demanded that Israel be barred from the UN for showing its contempt for the organisation. Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad urged Islamic countries to "break your silence on the catastrophic events and the massacre taking place in Gaza."

Pakistan foreign policy of late seems to have relegated the questions of Palestine to low priority. The initiative taken by Musharraf in building contacts with Israel has sullied the image of Pakistan, once considered one of the staunchest ally of the Palestinians. This may explain why Pakistan was not invited to summits of the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Arab League last year, in which Turkey and Iran participated on special invitation.

The Organisation of the Islamic Conference must raise the issue of the Israeli genocide in Gaza in the International Criminal Court. If Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia can be tried on similar charges, why not Israel's leaders? By taking such a symbolic initiative, the OIC can have a semblance of relevance to the Muslim Ummah.

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