Wednesday, May 15FROM THE RIVER TO THE SEA, PALESTINE WILL BE FREE

Gaza, a Ravaged Land, and People

BY CESAR CHELAL

Image by Mohammed Ibrahim.

The images of Gaza resulting from a blindly destructive military operation that kills thousands of innocent women and children haunts any peace-loving person of the world. The level of destruction waged by the Israeli military is greater than in any recent conflict, and has resulted in over 20,000 deaths and incalculable physical destruction. Will there be an end to this madness?

One could assume that there could be a pause in fighting for reflection, after such enormous losses. But this is not to be. On December 24 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared, “We are paying a heavy price for the war, but we have no choice but to continue fighting.” And he added, “We are facing monsters,” in his Christmas message, addressed to Christians around the world.

We live in strange times, where words have lost their original meaning, or their meaning has been perverted. What Hamas did was indeed monstrous. But why is the Israeli military offensive in Gaza less monstrous? More than 53, 320 people have been wounded, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. More than 7,700 children have been killed, more than 8,000 children have been injured, thousands have been left orphaned; those are children whom “geography condemns to war,” as poet James Fenton wrote in another equally terrifying context.

According to the UN, the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip remains dire, with most hospitals destroyed, while almost two million people risk experiencing a high level of food insecurity and even famine. “The decimation of Gaza’s health system is a tragedy,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO).

“There is no safe space. Period,” said Mirjana Spoljaric Egger, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, during a visit to Gaza on December 4. “I haven’t passed one street where I didn’t see the destruction of the civilian infrastructure, including hospitals.” As a result of Israeli bombardment, two thirds of the hospitals in northern Gaza have closed. According to the WHO, there have been 239 attacks on health care workers, vehicles and facilities in Gaza that have killed 570 people since the start of the war.

Not only people’s lives have been lost during the Israeli military attacks on Gaza. An environmental disaster is also quickly unfolding in Gaza. Air pollution is widespread, water-borne diseases are on the rise and wildlife is seriously affected. Current attacks have compounded the effects of previous attacks that have razed hundreds of greenhouses and acres of cropland. Gaza’s over-exploited groundwater is now 97 percent undrinkable.

In October, Human Rights Watch affirmed that the Israeli military had dropped white phosphorus on Gaza and Lebanon. This is a highly toxic substance for humans and the environment. It burns human flesh, contaminates water sources and poisons aquatic ecosystems. Perennial trees and vegetables have been destroyed, depriving people of food. This is happening as the Israeli military dropped 25,000 tons of bombs in Gaza, the equivalent to two nuclear bombs, according to the Geneva-based Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor.

Have we lost our sense of basic decency and humanity? In the meantime, the world watches with disbelief the ineffectual appeals from the US government for a pause in the hostilities and protecting civilian lives. Instead, it continues providing the Israeli military with deadly weapons, making a mockery of its own demands for minimizing civilian deaths.

So far, there is no indication that there is an agreement between Israel and the US on how to proceed once the war ends. Ehud Olmert, the former Israeli Prime Minister (2006-2009) who perhaps came closer than any other Israeli leader to achieve peace with the Palestinians, has proposed the creation of an international interposition force to Gaza while, in the meantime, establishing a new civilian administration in the Strip. He remarked in an interview with the L’Osservatore Romano, “…the problem of Israel today is to define a strategy, a horizon. One does not wage a war without having strategic objectives. We have a duty to think not about the small-scale maneuvers of tomorrow, but about the future of our children, our grandchildren. We have to prepare for them a future of peace.”

Dr. Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of the 1979 Overseas Press Club of America award for the article “Missing or Disappeared in Argentina: The Desperate Search for Thousands of Abducted Victims.”

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