For several months, the Israeli army has carried out a siege on the Gaza Strip, spurred by the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier at the border on June 25, 2006. By June 28, Israel had penetrated the Gaza Strip and had begun its attacks, which continue today.
Israel initially claimed it had entered the Gaza Strip to free its kidnapped soldier. However, weeks after the start of this massive Israeli military campaign, the claim changed. Now Israel was “stopping rockets from going into Israel.” This implies that the Israeli rationalizations are simply false. It is also relevant that the period between the kidnapping and the Israeli attacks was just three days, suggesting that Israel had planned to attack even before the soldier was kidnapped. Even the most powerful army cannot possibly make such a decision in three days. Israel clearly entered Gaza for unrelated reasons, knowing that its actions would have huge repercussions on the humanitarian situation in Gaza.
But let us look beyond what the governments claim.
The truth on the ground is that this offensive has caused more than 300 deaths (according to Physicians for Human Rights), mostly civilians. Bridges and roads have been bombed, electricity has been cut, and the Gaza infrastructure has been severely damaged, if not completely destroyed. Scenes of crowds gathering around corpses surrounded by pools of blood after bombings by Israeli aircraft or tanks have become all-too-familiar images in the media over the past couple of months. The inhabitants of Gaza already suffered under an economic and humanitarian crisis, but the Israel attacks have worsened the situation.
In just the past month, more than 80 people died because of random Israeli attacks on towns in the Gaza Strip, and, according to the BBC, 50 of these casualties occurred during a period of just six days. Just a few days ago, a major bombing carried out in the dead of night on the town of Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza caused 18 deaths, mostly women and children.
Israel says it is “defending itself” against “terrorists” who fire rockets from the Gaza Strip into the Israeli towns of Sderot and Ashqelon. Even if this claim were true, it does not give Israel the right to end the lives of these “terrorists.” Why does Israel have the right to supersede the justice system by bombing these human beings (since we all agree that even terrorists are human beings)? What about courtrooms? Fair trials? Instead, Israel, claiming to be the only Middle Eastern democracy, sees fit to end people’s lives with bombs.
Now, the Gaza Strip is in a far worse situation: The Israeli army’s targets are mainly civilians, homes and infrastructure. Safety in the Gaza Strip no longer exists. Palestinian civilians have been targeted on streets, inside homes, in markets, and even while working in their orange and olive groves.
I remember Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s words at the beginning of this crisis: He asserted that the kidnapping would not “bring Israel to its knees.” I guess Olmert sees the death of more than 300 Palestinian civilians as a demonstration of Israeli pride. Since when does pride justify murder?
I am also concerned by the lack of international reaction to the siege on Gaza. The Israeli offensive on Gaza elicited no response from most countries until the bloody attack on Beit Hanoun last week. It is shocking that such a tragedy was necessary for the international community to acknowledge the alarming situation and condemn Israel. And despite the U.N. Security Council’s resolution denouncing the Beit Hanoun attack, the United States unilaterally vetoed the resolution, upholding its policy of support for Israel.
After the United States and Europe halted aid to the Palestinian territories following elections favoring the Hamas party, Gaza’s already fragile economy was completely devastated. According to the United Nations, Gazans suffer today a rate of unemployment as high as 80 percent. With the ongoing Israeli attacks, Gaza has become unlivable. What remains to be seen is how much worse the situation must become before the international community sees fit to take action, How much longer must the 1.4 million Gazans living in sub-human conditions wait for justice?
Mahdi Sabbagh is a freshman in Berkeley College. He is the president of the Arab Students Association.