Israel’s deadly ceasefire

Eric Ruder reports that the number of Palestinian dead in Gaza will continue to rise despite Israel’s “ceasefire.”

The aftermath of Israel's assault on Gaza (Sameh A. Habeeb)

The aftermath of Israel’s assault on Gaza (Sameh A. Habeeb)

ISRAEL DECLARED a unilateral ceasefire Sunday after a 23-day onslaught on Gaza that left more than 1,250 Palestinians dead and more than 4,000 wounded. Among the dead are at least 280 children and 95 women, according to estimates by the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, and there are 860 children and 488 women among the wounded.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert claimed that the Israel Defense Force (IDF) had waged an effective and successful campaign in Gaza.

“The conditions have been brought about that enable us to say that the aims of the operations have been reached,” said Olmert. He said Israel “will consider withdrawing completely from Gaza at a date that suits us,” on the condition that rockets are no longer fired from Gaza at southern Israel.

Olmert said the Hamas, the Islamist party that controls what exists of a government in Gaza, “has been dealt a very serious blow, both in terms of its military infrastructure and the infrastructure of its government. Many of its people have been killed. Its leaders are in hiding. The tunnels that armed them have been destroyed.

Twelve hours later, Hamas leaders declared their own ceasefire, but made full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and the opening of Gaza’s border crossings a condition of a full end of hostilities.

“We stress our demand that Israel withdraw its forces within a week and then open the crossings to humanitarian aid and various types of merchandise,” read the statement from Hamas. Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum added, “A unilateral ceasefire does not mean ending the aggression and ending the siege…These constitute acts of war, so this won’t mean an end to resistance.”

As news of the ceasefire spread, Gazans who had fled the fighting returned to shocking scenes of destruction–overturned cars, torn-up streets, sewage running in the streets, leveled homes and still smoldering mosques and government buildings. Many bodies remain buried in homes flattened by Israeli tanks or strafed by air strikes.

In fact, the menacing sound of Israeli drones circling overhead, the churn of tank treads and the occasional crackle of gunfire were steady reminders that Israel’s “ceasefire” hadn’t ended the killing, and reports of Israeli attacks on civilians continued to pile up.

According to the BBC, “At least 1,600 people, displaced from their homes, were sheltering in a UN school in Gaza [Sunday] morning when it took a direct hit from an Israel shell. Two young brothers, aged five and seven, were killed.”

A press release issued by the Al Mezan Center confirmed similar acts of aggression throughout Gaza. “Shooting and shelling from artillery batteries, tanks and naval vessels have occurred in various areas throughout the day,” according to the release. “Israeli aircraft also launched raids on open areas. At 10:30 a.m. [Sunday], Israeli troops opened fire at civilians who were trying to reach their homes in Khuzaa village, east of Khan Younis. A man, 22-year-old Mahir Abu Irjila, was killed as a result. The victim and his family had evacuated their house and stayed in a UN shelter.”

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ISRAEL ANNOUNCED that it would continue to occupy positions in Gaza until it could be certain that no more rockets would be launched at towns in southern Israel, and warned that any such fire would be met with “a massive, disproportionate assault,” according to Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper.

But the announcement of the “ceasefire” was enough to draw praise from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who was meeting with European leaders at the Egyptian resort of Sharm al-Sheikh. “This should be the first step leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza,” said the secretary general.

But the terms of what was agreed to at Sharm al-Sheikh betray the complicity of the international community in the barbarism inflicted on the residents of Gaza during the last three weeks.

Six European countries–Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the Czech Republic–agreed to supply soldiers and technological assistance as part of efforts, in alliance with Egypt and the U.S., to stop Hamas from transporting weapons into Gaza. No officials from these countries uttered a word of criticism of Israel’s blatant disregard for civilian life and infrastructure.

Thus, there was no rebuttal to Olmert, who was also present, when he stated, “We did not want to hurt them or their children…They are the victims of Hamas.”

Olmert and other Israeli leaders have regularly returned to this justification–that Hamas had it within its power to stop Israel’s attack, but failed to do so–for unleashing the world’s fourth most powerful military against the residents of Gaza, who lack even basic necessities, such as adequate food, medical supplies and electricity.

Three years ago, Israel unilaterally withdrew its military forces and settlers from Gaza, but remained in control of all traffic into and out of Gaza via land, sea and air–which is why many observers describe Gaza as the world’s largest prison colony, with 1.5 million residents eking out an appalling existence in squalid refugee camps.

If Israeli officials really believed that the civilian casualties were “victims of Hamas,” they wouldn’t have been so concerned with barring reporters and photographers to suppress reports of the carnage in Gaza from the military’s punishing assault.

Nevertheless, enough reports did leak out to spark massive protests–across the Middle East, and throughout Europe and the U.S. These protests were not only larger than previous demonstrations in support of the Palestinian struggle for self-determination, but they were also accompanied, especially in the U.S., by a significant increase in polls showing opposition to Israel’s attack.

It will be up to activists in the U.S. and elsewhere around the world to seize on the enormous outpouring of sympathy for Israel’s victims in Gaza to build a sustained movement against the apartheid conditions facing Palestinians.

In the words of Haidar Eid, a Gaza resident who helped to spearhead a call for an international movement to sanction, boycott and divest from Israel, Israel’s attack on Gaza could be “the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960, when 69 Blacks were killed by the white racist regime of apartheid South Africa.” As he said in an interview with last week:

This massacre gave rise to the [divestment] campaign against apartheid South Africa, which ultimately led to the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990 and his election as the first Black president of multicultural, multiracial, secular, democratic South Africa as we know it now.

Gaza could be the spark that could initiate a different ‘new Middle East’ than what Condoleezza Rice talked about in 2006. She meant a ‘new Middle East’ characterized by American and Israeli hegemony. What I’m saying now is that I can see the birth pangs of a new Middle East characterized by the end of despotic, dictatorial pro-American regimes.

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