Israel's Control of Palestinian Lives Must Be Exposed in Current Grossly Unequal Conflict
As Israeli air force bombs fell over Gaza City one recent evening, Snowy, the white cat that has charmed me into hosting him in my garden, ducked down in shock, as I did. Snowy is one of a growing population of cats in the Gaza Strip that help deter rodents in residential areas. Israel's grip on what is allowed in or out of Gaza includes restrictions on equipment and supplies essential for municipal hygiene services. Gaza has become a heaven for rats.
If Snowy understood human speech, I would have responded to his angry yowls of shock at the bombing by reminding him of the silver lining for him in Gaza. For years now, he has been unwittingly upgraded compared to the subhuman treatment of the people. Snowy may have to scavenge for food, but Israel has been rationing Gaza's supplies – and its aspirations for a dignified future – for years. As the cat freely roams around the neighbourhood, my movement in and out of Gaza is heavily restricted, when it exists at all.
The simmering cauldron that is Gaza has now boiled over, with horrifying consequences. But this is not a war of equals, as some suggest. Israel remains an occupying force that controls Palestinian lives against their will. Palestinians who do not enjoy the same opportunities, dignity and conveniences of civilian life as people in Israel cannot suddenly be considered as equals in a disproportionate conflict.
This is the third war on Gaza, and arguably the most vicious, in less than six years. When friends and family call from all over the world, including Israelis and Jewish friends of other nationalities, I am embarrassed to utter a single word of distress next to the tragedies that are unfolding all around us. I cannot forget footage of a young boy who whispered for water as he was perhaps dying on a stretcher with his abdomen torn open. Significant parts of the Gaza Strip have been for days out of water and electricity.
The proportion of children among civilian deaths remains at around 20% since the beginning of this war. This is surely an indicator of the lack of Israeli remorse or reconsideration of its military tactics for the past three weeks.
For years, Israel has not only shunned Gaza politically but has painted its people as aliens with whom no one outside could relate to any more. Israel's governments have unfairly indoctrinated their public that Gaza is a hostile place full of hostile people. It became permissible to level any degree of punishment on Gaza. While no unanimity prevails in Gaza on the firing of rockets towards Israel, a great deal of consensus exists that Gaza has been pushed too far, to a point where such actions are seen by more and more as a measure of last resort. Gaza got tired of being suffocated and pushed around without any hope for a better future.
Now, Israel is crushing Gaza in what it calls self-defence, but which feels to people here like an Israeli attempt to discipline us never to make the mistake that we are worthy of a decent and peaceful life. The mostly timid international community has been blinded to the cumulative effects of Israel's policy and has inadequately challenged its alienation and incarceration of Gaza. This failure to appreciate how explosive the underlying causes are sows the seeds for another round of violence.
The international community should be commended for either supporting recent Palestinian reconciliation or, at least, not standing in its way. However, it can no longer view itself as a spectator as the new Palestinian government of national consensus struggles to fend off Israeli threats and actions. Europe and the US are urged to be active participants in helping Palestinians succeed in advancing a government that aims, at least in part, to devise a political programme that builds bridges with the world.
In preparing for presidential and parliamentary elections, the Palestinian Authority is urged to add a prominent item to its ballot sheet. It is whether voters in Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, support peaceful resolution with Israel. The results will only reiterate the obvious: Palestinians are not seekers of violence, but are aggressively and methodically pushed and cornered into it.