War in Gaza, a Perennial Tragedy
Gaza, which is one of the hottest flash points in the world, is teetering on the precipice of disaster, both in terms of human lives and infrastructure. There seems to be no end to the agony that its inhabitants have been going through. Nor is the beginning of a meaningful political dialogue for the resolution of the issues involved in sight.
Children in War Ravaged Gaza
Death Toll of Civilians
On the one hand, you have Hamas who are bent upon destroying Israel and don't want to let the international community forget them by remaining non-aggressive. On the other, is a very determined Israel which gives no quarter to attacks by Hamas into its territory and resorts to counter-attacks, backed by its full military might, which may not necessarily be proportionate to the attacks it suffered in the first instance; its attacks are meant not only to punish Hamas but also to deter them from resorting to further attacks in the future. In between are caught real people, including children, women and the infirm, who are killed, maimed, grievously hurt, rendered homeless and orphans or destitute by brutal military action.
Focusing momentarily on the dead, what is their number like? Estimates vary, depending upon the source. According to a New York Times report of August 5,
● the Palestinian Ministry of Health has claimed that 1,865 "martyrs" have been killed in the "Israeli aggression" since July 6. The said Ministry does not categorize the death toll into combatants and civilians.
● United Nations - 1814 (at least 72% civilians)
● Israeli Military - 900 "terrorists"
You may believe any or none of the above estimates and, maybe have your own random assessment. In any case, the dead can't stand up and be counted. They could, after all, not do it even when they were alive! They could not choose between Hamas and their enemies. Nor between life and death.The people of Gaza live in the shadow of death. When civilians die in Gaza, Israel is accused of playing the toll down and Hamas call them "martyrs" regardless of their age or physical state while alive. After they die, they are reduced to mere numbers, like prisoners in a Nazi concentration camp.
Israeli War Machine
The ratio of the civilians to combatants killed is generally reckoned to measure if the military action taken by Israeli commanders in the field was in proportion to the threat posed by the militants or "war crimes" were committed, as claimed by Israel's critics. With both sides having vested interest, death figures are likely spiked. An escalation or deceleration of the number of dead should therefore be no big deal, when expendable human lives have been conveniently got out of the way in the process of establishing or negating perpetration of wanton killings or war crimes!
Prime Minister Netanyahu
As regards the vast numbers of the civilian death toll, a dubious pattern seems to have emerged. Israel accuses Hamas of positioning it's combatants in thickly civilian-populated areas, and using the civilians as human shields. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said in a press conference that his country deeply regretted every civilian casualty and also pointed out that the Hamas should be held accountable for embedding their combatants in densely civilian-populated areas. There has, however, been no evidence to suggest that the Hamas field civilians in the line of fire. They are, however, believed to be extremely cavalier about the death toll of civilians and, therefore, unmindful of using the civilians as a human shield albeit indirectly by having their rocket facilities amidst them. Here is a classic case of vulnerable people becoming involuntary soft targets at the hands of their own "protectors". When the Israeli forces hit back at the rocket facilities, it willy nilly entails civilian deaths.
It all started with the abduction and killing of three Israeli students from a Jewish seminary. In the retaliatory attacks by Israel mounted from air as well as ground assaults, in addition to over 1,800 lives lost, an estimated 30,000 homes have been destroyed or damaged. Besides, according to local business leaders, 175 of Gaza's most successful industrial plants, including food, clothing, cardboard, and plastic sheets manufacturing, had also taken devastating hits. Stocks of sugar, flour and margarine perished. Factories were razed. All this have plunged an already despairing economy into a deeper abyss. Simply put, Gaza's infrastructure is in a shambles and needs to be rebuilt all over again. Palestinian authorities plan to ask for $6 billion from international donors for the reconstruction of Gaza's economy. Generous pledges of aid are sure to come by readily. The pledges are, however, seldom redeemed, owing to sheer hopelessness of the situation that keeps sliding from bad to worse and, what is more, indifference to the plight of the people of Gaza who are sadly identified with Hamas by the international community. People have become sceptical about aid and say that the $4.7 billion aid promised following Israeli attacks in 2008-09 was never received. In short, the current tragedy would likely become a case of tears drying up before they are shed.
Exacerbating their current woes, are the already existing Israeli restrictions on imports, exports, farming and fishing. There are hundreds of tunnels to Egypt, used to smuggle goods. Egypt has closed most of these tunnels since last summer. Government payrolls are bloated. There is a thriving black market. Internationally-funded projects are idling. People have lost their jobs and income. Hundreds of truckers have no cargo to transport. Prices of cars, petrol and diesel have shot up.
Red Crescent to Rescue
On their part, Israeli military spokesmen stoutly deny that they target factories. They insist that they only target facilities involved in manufacturing of rockets or locations from where rockets are launched. In short, Israeli sources maintain that they are left with no options in the face of the rising spectre of the Hamas' rocket attacks on their cities and people. They claim that they have lost 64 soldiers and 3 civilians in the month-long military operations. They have successfully warded off the rocket attacks to a great extent with the addition of the iron dome technology to their arsenal. Nevertheless, the intermittent attacks from Gaza is a perpetual red rag for Israel which insists on demilitarization of Gaza for a permanent cease-fire. Secretary of State John Kerry has endorsed the Israeli position and has called for decommissioning of its rocket arsenal by Hamas.
Do you think enough is being done to bring about peace between Israel and Gaza?
Israel has withdrawn it's troops from Gaza and announced a three-day ceasefire on August 5 which it is willing to extend pending conclusion of the peace talks being brokered by Egypt with the two parties to the conflict (they would not agree to a face-to-face round of talks). The Palestinian side to the talks is led by representatives of PM Mahoud Abbas' Al Fatah party, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad group.
At the peace talks, Hamas, are demanding that
● an unconditional cease-fire be accepted by Israel,
● blockade on the impoverished Gaza by Egypt and Israel be lifted; and
● all prisoners be released by Israel including those held for the kidnapping and killing of the three Jewish seminary students in June.
The Israelis have so far not accepted the Palestinian demands. Egypt is, however, optimistic about the outcome of the talks.
The fragile peace currently prevailing in Gaza serves, in the meanwhile, the purpose of enabling the survivors of Gaza to pick up their dead and prepare for their own uncertain future. Life in southern Israel which had been enduring daily shelling by Hamas has returned to normal.
Shake Hands, Not Conscience
Peace, Not War
On its part, the international community is fretting and fuming and waxing eloquent over the loss of life, property, jobs, and income in Gaza and, above all, hope for a lasting peace in the region. Practically, nothing more is being done. This is, in a sense, a good sign. The warring parties have to learn to live as good neighbours in peace and harmony which cannot be imported, blockade or no blockade. After all, peace and harmony are home-grown. Just as Hamas cannot succeed in their mission of destroying Israel, the latter cannot live for ever with a bitter enemy across the border. Peace and friendship are, any day, a more sensible and pragmatic alternative to war and fear. The earlier this lesson is learnt by the warring parties, the better it would be for not only Israel and Gaza but the whole world.
© 2014 Kalyanaraman Raman