Gaza Ceasefire – Do Peace and Human Rights Stand a Chance?

As we stand on the brink of hope in the U.S., according to both the New York Times and the Guardian, both Israel and Hamas have declared a cease-fire, at least for the moment, in the Gaza.

Is there a way for peace to take hold?  Will there be investigations and accountability for the war crimes of both sides as Amnesty International has repeatedly asked for?

While I have been increasingly alarmed by the targeting of Palestinian civilians (which doesn’t seem at all accidental) by Israel, I’m only less disturbed by the smaller degree of death by Hamas’ firing of rockets into Israel.  I agree with the need for Amnesty International to call for the end of human rights violations on all sides (as well as an embargo of arms sales to all sides and accountability by all sides). 

That being said, Israel has bombed schools, hospitals and the U.N. headquarters in Gaza, destroying the U.N.’s food warehouse (which Amnesty has specifically called for an investigation of). According to Amnesty International “Over 1000 Palestinians have been killed (almost half women and children)”, while 13 Israelis have died (10 soldiers and 3 civilians).  I don’t want to minimize those 13 lives, but the disproportionality is overwhelming.

As noted in a January 15 article in the Washington Post:

Martha Myers, CARE’s country director for the Palestinian territories, said Israel knows that deaths are inevitable when it unleashes massive amounts of firepower in a place as packed as Gaza, where about half the population is 16 or younger. “Gaza is a room crowded with children,” she said.

Among the children killed, three daughters and a niece of Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, according to the New York Times, “a doctor who has devoted his life to medicine and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians.”

Dr. Abuelaish said he wanted the Israeli Army to tell him why his home, which he said harbored no militants, had been fired upon. He said if a mistake had been made and an errant tank shell had hit his home, he expected an apology, not excuses.

Sad to say, excused, not an apology, were what Israeli authorities offered:

“The Israeli Defense Forces does not target innocents or civilians, and during the operation the army has been fighting an enemy that does not hesitate to fire from within civilian targets,” said the spokesman, speaking anonymously on behalf of the army.

Ironically, it was Dr. Abuelaish’s oldest daughter, Bisan, one of those killed, who “urged him to continue his work in Israel, saying she would look after the younger children.” 

As Al Jazeera reports, the news of this tragedy broke live on Israeli tv, and it did touch ordinary Israel viewers as well as Dr Abulaish’s Israeli friends.

As noted, these were not the only children killed, though, most of them faceless to the average Israeli (and maybe many Americans, who only get mainstream reporting).

White phosphorus was used, not only in the bombing of the U.N. headquarters mentioned above, and at least one hospital, but also directly against civilians.  In a Jan. 17 Guardian article, Palestinian doctors “also speak of the extensive burns of white phosphorus. These injuries are, as they put it, ‘incompatible with life’. They are also receiving large numbers of amputees. This is because the damage done to the bone by explosive bullets is so extensive that the only way the doctors in Gaza can save lives is by amputating.”

According to the Guardian reporter:

In the silence that followed someone put a mobile in my hand.

“Look!” On a rubble-strewn street lay the body of a roasted and charred child. Two bones were sticking out where her thighs had been. “The dogs ate her legs,” he explains. For a moment I put a hand over my eyes. The phone goes round the table, each man gravely contemplating the burned child on the screen. Then someone asks: “What will it take to make the Israelis stop?”

The trouble with peace in the Middle East is the violence hardens positions on both sides. 

The Guardian reports the Israeli debate “should we have pressed on?”:

Overwhelmingly, the Israeli Jewish public supports the country’s assault on Gaza. But while the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, described the three-week war as a “brilliant” achievement of Israel’s objectives, the public does not seem as certain. “I hope we will succeed in halting the rockets, but I think the ceasefire was a little premature,” said Avot Yitzhak, 48, from Tel Aviv. “They should have continued, to show [Hamas] that they really have lost.”

Meanwhile, in The Nation, Fawaz A. Gerges reports in Gaza Notebook on opinions in the Arab world:

Many professionals, both Christian and Muslim Arabs, previously critical of Hamas, are bitter about what they call Israel’s “barbaric conduct” against Palestinian noncombatants, particularly women and children. No one I have encountered believes Israel’s narrative that this is a war against Hamas, not the Palestinian people. A near consensus exists among Arabs and Muslims that Israel is battering the Palestinian population in an effort to force it to revolt against Hamas, just as it tried to force the Lebanese people to revolt against Hezbollah in the summer of 2006. But Hezbollah weathered that Israeli storm, acquired a sturdier immune system and became the most powerful institution in Lebanon. In so doing it shattered Israeli deterrence, delivered a blow to US Mideast policy and expanded the influence of Iran, Hezbollah’s main supporter in the region.

In my recent travels I was struck by the widespread popular support for Hamas–from college students and street vendors to workers and intellectuals. Very few ventured criticism of Hamas, and many said they felt awed by the fierce resistance put forward by its fighters. Israel’s onslaught on Gaza has effectively silenced critics of Hamas and politically legitimized the militant resistance movement in the eyes of many previously skeptical Palestinians and Muslims. Regardless of how this war ends, Hamas will likely emerge as a more powerful political force than before and will likely top Fatah, the ruling apparatus of President Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority.

The trouble with violence, is that it only inspires violence, which inspires violence. . .

I don’t think Dr. Abuelaish was wrong to believe in peace,  but how do they get there?  Meanwhile, civilians on both sides are paying too high a price, especially in the Gaza, where they didn’t even have the option of fleeing from the bombs.