Middle East war: The debateComment on this story
Hamas rejects existence of Israel, wants to destroy it, says Benjamin Pogrund.
Driving home to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv on Thursday evening, listening to music on the radio, I heard the quiet voice break in: Azaka, Beersheva; Azaka, Rosh Ha'ayin; Azaka, Yad Mordecai; Azaka, Kfar Sava… The voice was saying “Alert”, in Hebrew, and naming the towns under attack by Hamas and Islamic Jihad missiles fired from Gaza.
In the south, with air raid sirens screaming, people had 15 seconds to get into a shelter; further north and east, perhaps a minute. The alerts are broadcast all the time, day and night.
At the international Ben-Gurion Airport, which I passed, large signs in Hebrew and English give directions to “shielded areas”.
The people of Gaza have it worse: artillery shells and missiles fired by Israeli warplanes and drones instantly reduce buildings to rubble. Israel says the buildings house missiles or explosives or are the command headquarters or homes of Hamas leaders. Israel tries to give advance notice, phoning residents to warn of a coming attack followed by a “knock on the roof” – firing a shell without explosives at the roof of a building.
Despite this unusual action in the midst of a war, ordinary people suffer: even though they might have no connection with Hamas or other militants they do not always get out to safety or they are caught by the effects of explosions in streets or by shells that go wrong; or mistakes are made about the target.
The Gaza death toll is more than 200, many of them children, and rising by the day. That’s remarkably low, given that Israel has mounted about 1 800 attacks in 10 days but it is terrible and tragic.
Since the current outbreak of violence Hamas is reported to have fired about 2 000 missiles at Israel, indiscriminately, to kill or damage wherever they might land.
Some people dismiss the missiles as “primitive” and incapable of inflicting much harm. They are wrong: Iran has supplied many thousands of missiles, and until a while ago, Syria too: the M-302 with a 144kg warhead able to fly 160km and more; the M-75, with 60kg of explosives, flying 75km.
That is, able to reach wide areas of Israel, including its major cities and its international airport. Only one Israeli has been killed so far.
That is through no fault of Hamas but because of Israel’s massive self-protection: the highly successful Iron Dome anti-missile system, created by Israeli scientists with the help of many millions of US dollars; each battery costs $50 million (R534m); each anti-missile projectile costs $50 000. In addition, untold millions are spent on building secure rooms in houses and apartments – reinforced concrete and a steel shutter to protect against bombs, shrapnel and gas.
And air raid sirens. If you are driving and hear the siren, you get out quickly and crouch at the side of the car, following instructions to cover your head.
Why are Palestinians and Israelis suffering?
The immediate answer lies in a sequence of recent events which began on June 14 with the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers, with the killers still being sought; in blaming Hamas, Israel used the opportunity to smash the new Fatah-Hamas unity government and to detain hundreds of Hamas leaders and members on the West Bank; then followed the kidnapping and murder of a Palestinian teenager by Jews – three of them have since been indicted; Hamas demanded the release of its members and began firing missiles at Israel.
Israel retaliated. Escalation on both sides. On Thursday night, Israel took the next step, sending in ground forces to find and destroy tunnels built by Hamas to infiltrate Israel to kill or kidnap civilians or soldiers.
The ground attack could be increased to target missile launchers still active despite attacks from the air. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was clearly reluctant to order the ground offensive.
He and his inner security cabinet kept delaying the decision. He fears the effects of casualties, on both sides, on his domestic front and world opinion. He does not want to disrupt the talks between the US and Iran on the issue so crucial to him, the end of Iran as a nuclear threat.
Netanyahu has indeed shown great restraint and has stood up to colossal pressures first from the extreme rightwingers in his own cabinet and party who have been demanding unrestricted attack on Hamas and the physical re-occupation of the territory; and second, the pressure from the public, frightened and enraged by the incessant fall of missiles – more than 8 000 over the years – and demanding that the government protect them.
When, on Tuesday, Egypt brokered a ceasefire, with the promise of follow-up talks in Cairo, Israel seized it.
But Hamas rejected the proposal out of hand and went on shooting; Israel held back and resumed attacks only hours later. What is needed is an overall long-term peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians.
Otherwise, whenever the current violence ends will be but a pause until the next outbreak. US Secretary of State John Kerry put his heart into working for peace but his April 30 deadline passed without success. Both the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships can be blamed: they all talk peace but each lays down conditions which the other side rejects.
No one, thus far, has had the courage or vision to agree to compromises which they will set out to persuade their people to accept. Hamas is a problem in itself, the ultimate obstacle.
It rejects the existence of Israel, wants to destroy it and wants to kill Jews.
It does not want to talk peace, whatever the suffering of Gazans. Check the Hamas “Charter 88” on Google. It seized power in Gaza and disposed of fellow Palestinians in the rival Fatah by pushing them off high buildings.
It is homophobic, anti-feminist and driven by religious extremism.
It is labelled a terrorist organisation by the EU, the US, Japan and Canada, and of course Israel.
* Benjamin Pogrund is a Jerusalem-based commentator. His new book, “Drawing Fire: Investigating the accusations of apartheid in Israel”, will be launched in Cape Town on August 6.
End the seven year-old siege and occupation of Gaza, says Tamer Almassri.
On Tuesday, July 8, Israel began its aggression of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. So far, more than 260 Palestinians, including at least 47 children and dozens of women and elderly people, have been killed and more than 2 000 injured in Israeli air and sea strikes.
More than 1 000 Palestinian homes have also been demolished or severely damaged. This is in addition to the many schools, hospitals and health centres, ministries and religious sites, which were neutral to the conflict and thus had no reason to be directly targeted.
Moreover, more than 22 600 people have been displaced and 900 000 have been affected by the Israeli destruction of electricity, water and waste water infrastructure.
Israel is committing genocide of a large civilian population, claiming to be limiting civilian casualties, but is in fact often clearly targeting them, such as the four Palestinian boys under the age of 12 who witnesses say were deliberately killed by an Israeli strike while they were playing ball on the beach.
Israel has also murdered many other young children, such as 5-month-old Lama Al Satari, 17-month-old Mohammed Malakeh, and 4-year-old Yasmin Al-Astal and her 6-year-old brother. These are just some of the names of the many young children massacred.
The number of deaths is expected to rise significantly after Israel started its ground invasion on Thursday night. Israel has also called up a further 18 000 army reservists in addition to the 40 000 reservists it called up in the early days of the operation, which it has dubbed “protective edge”. This operation has supposedly been started to stop the rockets the Palestinian wing, Hamas, fires into Israel.
However, as with any problem, one needs to ask the crucial question of why these rockets are being fired in the first place.
This renewed violence against the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip came following Israel’s murder of nine Palestinians in more than 60 air strikes on the Gaza Strip on Monday, July 7. This is in addition to the violence inflicted on the Palestinians in the West Bank, with mass arrests of about 1 070 Palestinians, the killing and injuring of dozens of Palestinians and giving protection to the extremist illegal Israeli settlers to commit crimes against Palestinians, such as the murder of young Mohammed Abu Khdier, who was kidnapped in Jerusalem, tortured and burnt alive. Israel has claimed that these aggressions were the result of the kidnapping of the three Israeli settlers who were “later” found dead. Israel accuses Hamas of the kidnapping and death of these settlers; however, Israel has provided no proof for its allegations.
Moreover, the killing of these settlers is actually uncharacteristic of a Palestinian authority order. It alleges that two Palestinians, whose identities are known, were responsible for this kidnapping, yet Israel still holds hundreds of Palestinians who are clearly innocent in jail.
Nevertheless, the problem does not start there. To stop the recurring violence, the real problem has to be addressed: namely, the siege and occupation. Israel has enforced an oppressive siege in the Gaza Strip for the past seven years. It restricts the inflow of many essential goods to the residents of Gaza, thus severely impoverishing the lives of 1.8 million Palestinians and entraps them in the largest open-air prison.
Furthermore, Israel has been harshly occupying Palestinian lands for decades and has continually been building and expanding illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land in the West Bank, thus stealing more and more Palestinian land as well as forcefully displacing Palestinians and diminishing any hope of creating a viable Palestinian state.
Israel also holds thousands of Palestinian political prisoners – men, women and even children in Israeli jails (sometimes detaining children as young as 6 years old, such as Muhammad Dirbas).
These prisoners are often detained without trial and physically or sexually abused by Israeli prison guards. Thousands of these prisoners have subsequently gone on hunger strikes in protest of their unfair arrests and the abuse they experience in these jails.
Hence, Israel’s aggression against the Palestinians goes deeper than the massacres it imposes on the people in Gaza. Israel has been endlessly oppressing and abusing the Palestinian population for decades.
Israel’s historical aggression against the Palestinian population and its current aggression against the large civilian population in Gaza is a war crime that should not be ignored by the international community. Israel brushes off its crimes, giving the impression that Palestinian lives are insignificant compared to the lives of Israelis.
This arrogant, carefree attitude is the norm with Israel, which is accustomed to constantly committing war crimes against the Palestinians with little condemnation and no consequences internationally. The Palestinian people urge that this should stop and that the extremist Israeli leaders be put on trial in the international court of justice as war criminals.
Israeli spokesmen also address people worldwide on whether they would accept rockets constantly being fired at them. However, they fail to ask whether anyone would accept constant oppression, a cruel occupation which includes the restriction of their movements through hundreds of humiliating checkpoints, apartheid-like laws discriminating against them, constant attacks on their people, theft of their land and a siege which affects their daily lives.
I thus address every human-loving person to put pressure on the Israeli state by boycotting, divesting and sanctioning Israel and Israeli products that aid in the development of the illegal Israeli settlements. This is a peaceful form of condemnation of Israeli crimes. In the case of former apartheid South Africa, boycotts coerced the apartheid government to finally end the regime. Similarly, Israel will only stop its aggressions and genuinely participate in negotiations if its current status quo is threatened.
* Tamer Almassri is media and culture officer at the Embassy of the State of Palestine to South Africa.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.