This post was edited by dostoevskydr at 2014-7-29 15:39|
By Dr Maleeha Lodhi
Jul 29, 2014
Israel’s brutal war on Gaza has left over 1,000 Palestinians dead and more than 6,000 wounded with the death toll still rising. Hospitals, schools, mosques, homes, apartment blocks and even temporary UN shelters have not been spared by Israel’s military assault. Its air, ground and naval attacks have involved the use of tanks, ship-based artillery, fighter aircraft and drone-fired missiles. This firepower has been unleashed on a narrow, densely populated strip of territory, barely 140 square miles, often described as an ‘open air prison’, since Israel’s seven-year blockade.
Ever since the war on Gaza began on July 6, horrific, heart-wrenching images of death and destruction have been seen on television. Entire Palestinian families have been massacred, children killed or maimed, buildings razed to the ground and tens of thousands of defenceless people left to scramble for shelter.
But this has not been enough to shake the international community into urgent action. No meeting of the UN Security Council was called until three weeks into the violence and then too it came up with an anodyne statement, rather than a tough resolution. Major powers with the capacity to stop the carnage have not intervened decisively to bring the violence to an end.
Shuttle diplomacy by US Secretary of State John Kerry for a ceasefire has yielded little. A 12-hour humanitarian pause in fighting on July 26 has been followed by the resumption of fierce bombardment by Israel. This means more bloodshed ahead.
The feeble response from Arab leaders has also served to encourage Israeli impunity and hindered efforts to halt the violence. Shifting regional politics have advantaged Israel not just because of turmoil in the wider Middle East and concerns about the rise of Isis, but also because countries like Egypt view Hamas through the prism of the Muslim Brotherhood. Moreover, Syria’s civil war has strained ties between Hamas and Iran.
Meanwhile the apparent wave of international concern over rising civilian casualties has yet to translate into efforts to restrain Israel. Instead, the West’s unqualified support for Israel’s ‘right to defend itself and for its offensive to neutralise Hamas’s military capabilities has emboldened Israel to step up its deadly attacks.
Western leaders have also been offering a disingenuous rationale for Palestinian casualties. As civilians are being used as “human shields”, they say, the onus is on Hamas rather than Israel to stop these casualties. This was typified by President Obama’s remarks at a recent iftar dinner for American Muslims where he reiterated US support for “Israel’s right to defend itself against…inexcusable attacks from Hamas.”
Many Western spokesmen also parroted Tel Aviv’s line that Israel had been urging residents of Gaza to evacuate before undertaking any bombardment. But where were they supposed to evacuate in a besieged coastal strip with all land crossings closed?
Graphic accounts of the July 24 Israeli strike on a UN school, crowded with hundreds of civilians, also belied the claims about advance warnings from the Israeli military. UN sources told journalists that calls made to Israel’s military asking for permission to evacuate were not returned. The attack led to multiple deaths.
The strongest indictment of the West’s position on Gaza came from Palestinian leader, Hanan Ashrawi, while responding to the EU Foreign Affairs Council ‘conclusion’ of July 22. “The EU”, she said, was portraying Israel as the victim reacting to “indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israel by Hamas and militant groups, directly harming civilians, when the latest Israeli assault was part of a recurring pattern of Israeli violence against a captive population”.
“The people being murdered by the hundreds and bombed out of their homes by the thousands are Palestinians, not Israelis.” She criticised the EU for using the dehumanising language of Israel by portraying Gaza’s civilian population as acting as “human shields”, thus blaming the victims for losing their own lives.
Much Western media coverage of Gaza echoed Israel’s false narrative, focusing on how Hamas’s rockets imperilled Israel’s security and therefore justifying its urban offensive. But when mounting Palestinian fatalities and destruction of entire neighbourhoods became increasingly hard to deny or conceal, some Western papers tried to confuse the debate about the civilian death toll.
A New York Times correspondent, for example, wrote that, “Nothing is ever so clear in the complex and often brutal calculus of urban warfare”. Not clear when the numbers speak for themselves? Over 1,000 mostly civilian Palestinians dead and on the Israeli side 3 civilians killed (and 33 Israeli soldiers). Doesn't this statistic provide clarity?
There have been notable exceptions to the biased Western media coverage but these are few and far between. Nowhere, for instance, has mention been made or questions asked about whether, in fact, the Israeli assault marks the execution of what is called the Dahiye doctrine.
Named after a suburb in Beirut, where it was first applied, this aims to deliberately target civilian infrastructure to create the kind of mayhem that induces the public to turn against Hamas or Hezbollah, as the case may be.
In October 2008, a senior Israeli general described the doctrine as follows: “What happened in the Dahiye quarter of Beirut in 2006 will happen in every village from where shots are fired on Israel. We will use disproportionate force against it and will cause immense death and destruction. From our point of view, these are not civilian villages but military bases” (cited in a July 20 article in Ceasefire magazine).
A 2009 UN fact finding mission in its report also referred to the doctrine. But this has received little attention in the ongoing international debate on Gaza’s crisis. It is not hard to fathom why. For Israel’s backers and much of the Western media, this is an inconvenient truth, best left alone.
This brings up another ‘inconvenient’ aspect of the present crisis faced by Western governments – the recent session of the UN Human Rights Council on Gaza. What happened there not just laid bare Western hypocrisy on principles of international law, which they lecture others on, but also exposed the extent to which America and European countries are prepared to go to prevent any discussion of violations of international law.
First, the US and its allies tried to block the convening of a special session of the 47-member Council in Geneva. Such sessions are convened when there is a human rights emergency and require a third of the membership to do this. As coordinator of the OIC group in Geneva, Pakistan helped to drum up support from Arab, African and Latin American countries for the move.
Confronted with this, the US-led Western group tried to pressure small African countries to switch their support. When efforts failed to prevent the council session, filibuster tactics were adopted through pro-Israel NGOs.
But when it became apparent that a resolution would be passed calling for a commission of inquiry into potential human rights violations by Israel, the Americans made a last ditch attempt to dilute the resolution. That too failed.
The vote took place and the resolution mandated the council’s inquiry to investigate all violations of international human rights and international humanitarian law. Avowedly the most vocal ‘promoter’ of human rights, the US, cast the lone vote against the resolution. All European countries abstained. China and Russia voted with the developing nations.
After the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, suggested that war crimes might have been committed in the Gaza strip, the reaction from the Israeli prime minister was predictable. He dismissed the UNHRC inquiry as a ‘travesty” and indicated his country would not cooperate.
Whatever the diplomatic significance of this development, it could of course, do nothing to stop the continuing bloodshed in occupied Gaza. This bloodshed is but the latest chapter in the tragedy of Palestine – a tragedy created by Israel’s longstanding refusal to accept an equitable settlement of the issue on the basis of the relevant UN resolutions envisaging a two-state solution that includes a viable, geographically contiguous Palestinian state.
Sadly, this context, and the Palestinian right of self-defence against occupation, has all but been obscured in the largely Western-driven international debate on the Gaza crisis.