February 2, 2009

Why the Gaza Conflict Continues

Israeli Aircraft Strike Gaza As Rockets Fall

Associated Press
March 8, 2009

Gaza Strip - Hamas security officials say Israeli aircraft targeted a Gaza City warehouse in a nighttime airstrike. The officials say the warehouse was empty and no one was injured.

The Israeli military confirms the strike, saying the target was used by militants as a weapons warehouse. The military says aircraft also struck two smuggling tunnels under the Egypt-Gaza border.

Palestinian militants launched a rocket and a mortar shell into Israel on Sunday, causing no injuries.

Rocket fire by Gaza militants and Israeli retaliatory airstrikes have become nearly daily occurrences. Israel halted a military offensive aimed at ending the rocket fire on Jan. 18, but sporadic violence persists as Egypt-mediated talks on a long-term truce have failed to yield results.

The Facts About Israel's War on Gaza

In order to be successful, any agreement must call for:
  1. Israel to drastically reduce its military blockade of Gaza.
  2. Israel to halt all military incursions into Gaza.
  3. Hamas to halt all rocket attacks into Israel.

A BBC survey gave respondents a list of 12 countries and asked whether they had a “mostly positive or mostly negative influence in the world.” The country with the highest number of mostly negative responses overall is Israel (56% negative, 17% positive), followed by Iran (54% negative 18% positive), the United States (51% negative, 30% positive), and North Korea (48% negative, 19% positive).

Turkish PM Admonishes Israel President Over Gaza

By Trudy Rubin, Opinion Columnist, The Philadelphia Inquirer
February 2, 2009

DAVOS, Switzerland - In the 12 years I've been attending Davos, I've never seen anything like it. An extraordinary, emotional debate over Gaza took place between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Israeli President Shimon Peres at the World Economic Forum on Thursday. It ended with Erdogan storming off stage and saying he would never return to Davos, after the moderator refused him more time to respond.

What made the exchange even more astounding was that Turkey has deep relations with Israel - it is her closest Muslim ally. Moreover, Peres is known for his efforts at peacemaking and Erdogan had been mediating talks between Israel and Syria.

The drama between these two peacemakers laid bare the white-hot tensions unleashed by Israel's invasion of Gaza. Their confrontation also showed how difficult it will be for the Obama administration to renew any peace process.

It was clear that the Turkish leader took the December 27 Gaza invasion very personally. On December 23, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had visited Ankara for the fifth round of indirect talks with Syria.

"The goal was to see if we could move to the next phase, direct talks," Erdogan told the audience. He said he had called Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during the Olmert visit. He had also suggested that Turkey try to mediate with Hamas for the release of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

"He [Olmert] said he would respond the next day, but we got no answer. Four days later, Israel was in Gaza," Erdogan said. The Turkish leader was humiliated. Members of his party accused him of collusion with Israel, assuming Olmert had warned him of the coming invasion.

Erdogan blames the continuing violence in Gaza on the fact that the strip is still effectively occupied by Israel, which controls airspace, sea space and territorial borders. And he was furious about Israel's "disproportionate response" to Hamas rocket attacks that left hundreds of innocent Palestinian women and children dead and Gaza's infrastructure shattered.

"Hamas are not the only people in Gaza," Erdogan shouted, his voice rising, as he decried the difficulty of getting humanitarian aid through Israeli checkpoints into Gaza. "We should not be judging anyone by race or religion if they are in distress."

But Peres was equally furious at Erdogan's inference that his, and Israel's, reputations were sullied by the Gaza carnage. He said Hamas had fired 5,500 rockets and 4,000 mortars toward Israel over the last five years. Peres feels the world fails to understand the psychological and economic trauma of Hamas rocket fire on cities, which kill only a few, but totally disrupt normal life. "One million people slept in shelters. What would you do?" he demanded, blaming Iran for supplying the rockets. "People who never demonstrated against thousands of missiles [fired against Israeli civilians] are demonstrating now."

Peres also resents the fact that past Israeli peace efforts have been forgotten, including, in his view, the 2005 pullout from Gaza. His own prime ministership was destroyed in 1996 when Palestinian bus bombs murdered dozens of civilians and undercut Israeli faith in the peace process. As a consequence, the dovish Peres was defeated by the hawkish Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Israeli president insists the Gaza invasion was forced on Israel by Hamas. "For us, victory is peace, not war," he said. But Peres was not apologetic about striking back at those who rocket Israel. "Hezbollah has learned a lesson," he said, a reference to Israel's 2006 bombing of Lebanon; Hezbollah hasn't fired rockets at Israel since then. "We hope Hamas will learn a lesson."

So what exactly is the lesson of this Davos psychodrama for the future of peace talks?

Obama's new peace emissary, former Sen. George Mitchell, will find an Israeli public that believes that Hamas deserved to be punished, never mind the staggering cost to innocent Palestinians. Most Israelis are convinced that if they give back more land they will get more missiles on their heads, so they will probably return Netanyahu to power in this month's elections.

Mitchell will also find an Arab, and Turkish, world that shares Erdogan's anger and was horrified by TV scenes of dying Palestinian children, which decimated any remaining belief in the peace process.

The good news is that moderate Arab leaders want to give peace talks one last shot. And Erdogan told journalists that, although Turkish mediation is now "shelved," Turkey would be willing to resume it if it was requested by the parties. But Mitchell, who visits the Middle East this week, will have to overcome a boiling anger that runs deep in Israel, Turkey and Arab countries. That rage was in full view on stage in Davos last week.

Contact Trudy Rubin at trubin@phillynews.com. To read her blog from Davos, visit http://go.philly.com/trudyrubinblog.

Why the Massacre in Gaza Continues

By Patrick Seale, Agence Global
January 12, 2009

Neither Israel nor Hamas is ready to quit. Meanwhile, the Arab world, the United States, and the United Nations show no sign of taking the lead to obtain a truce. As Israel’s barbaric war in Gaza enters its third week, there are four main reasons why its wholesale slaughter of Palestinian civilians continues unchecked.

The first is the terrible weakness of the UN Security Council in carrying out its declared task of maintaining international peace and security. Its inability to halt Israel’s aggression is largely due to the overly-intimate (some would say unhealthy) U.S.-Israeli relationship.

The second reason is that Hamas, the only Palestinian movement putting up armed resistance to Israel, is the only remaining obstacle to Israel’s mastery of the whole of historic Palestine. Israel knows that if it fails to secure Hamas’ unconditional surrender, it will, in due course, have to enter into peace talks and cede territory to an eventual Palestinian state, which is something it has long sought to avoid. At this decisive moment in the 100-year old Israeli-Palestinian struggle, there is, therefore, much at stake for both sides.

The third reason is the debilitating divisions in the Arab and Muslim world, which have robbed it of any effective leverage on events. These divisions are myriad: between so-called ‘moderate’ Arab states and their ‘radical’ rivals; between those who have made peace with Israel and those who have not; between those who rely on American aid and protection and those who do not; between those who loathe and fear Iran and those who rely on it for support; between Sunni and Shi’a Muslims. This is by no means an exhaustive list. In the Palestinian camp, there is nothing more tragic than the vicious war between Fatah and Hamas, which makes them both an easy prey for Israel.

The fourth reason why the carnage in Gaza continues unchecked is that neither Israel nor Hamas is ready for a ceasefire because neither has yet achieved its war aims.

Israel’s aims can be listed as follows, in reverse order of importance:
  • Stopping the rockets Hamas has been firing at the Negev;
  • Destroying the tunnels into Gaza from Egypt in order to prevent Hamas from rearming;
  • Restoring Israel’s ‘deterrence’ by means of an overwhelming display of force - with the ‘lesson’ directed as much at Hizbullah, Syria and Iran, as at Hamas itself;
  • Crushing the Palestinians’ aspirations for independent statehood by inflicting a decisive defeat on them; and,
  • Pre-empting, by a hoped-for sweeping victory, any attempt by the incoming Obama administration to re-launch Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
As might be expected, Hamas’s war aims are the exact opposite of Israel’s. They are to:
  • Survive the current battering and continue to govern Gaza;
  • Continue armed resistance until Israel lifts its crippling siege of Gaza, reopens the crossing points, and withdraws its troops;
  • Overshadow and eventually displace Fatah and the ineffective Palestinian Authority as the main representative of the Palestinian people;
  • Win recognition of its own legitimacy from the international community; and,
  • Force the European Union, and eventually the United States and Israel, to end their boycott and to engage in dialogue with it.
Hamas rejected, last Thursday, a UN Security Council Resolution which appealed for a ceasefire because, although it is a party to the conflict, it was not consulted on the Resolution’s terms. In addition, the Resolution made no provision for the immediate lifting of Israel’s siege of Gaza and the withdrawal of its forces.

Hamas has, nevertheless, been making good headway in international public opinion, with demonstrations in its support in many parts of the globe. Israel’s image, on the contrary, has taken a hammering because of the terrible suffering it has inflicted on a defenseless population.

In Europe, there is much anger and shame that, under American and Israeli pressure, the EU demonized Hamas as a ‘terrorist organisation,’ refused to recognize its victory in the 2006 democratic elections, and has been unable to protect the civilians of Gaza from an unimaginable fate. Across France alone, there were on 10 January no fewer than 80 demonstrations to protest Israel’s carnage.

Only the United States can restore some semblance of sanity to the troubled Middle East. Urgently required is a vigorous and sustained effort aimed at bringing about a comprehensive peace. Can President-elect Barack Obama deliver? Some of his recent appointments, and those of Hilary Clinton at the State Department, do not signal a radical change of policy.

Nevertheless, Obama knows that George W. Bush’s illegal war in Iraq was profoundly misconceived, as was his ‘Global War on Terror’. Unduly influenced by pro-Israeli neo-conservatives, they were the wrong American response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks and have done America an enormous amount of harm. The time has surely come to resolve the major conflicts of the Middle East, not to exacerbate them.

Once Barack Obama takes office on 20 January, the question the world will be asking is this: weighed down as he will be by a thousand problems, and held in check by strong pro-Israeli forces both inside and outside his administration, will he be ready to use up some of his precious political capital to put things right? No one should expect miracles from him.

In the meantime, Gaza continues to bleed.

Patrick Seale is a leading British writer on the Middle East, and the author of The Struggle for Syria; also, Asad of Syria: The Struggle for the Middle East; and Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire.

Why We Should Be Concerned About Christian Zionism

Living Conditions in the Gaza Strip

January 14, 2009

Life was harsh in the Gaza Strip even before Israel's assault on its Hamas Islamist rulers, in which at least 984 Palestinians have been killed and 4,300 wounded.

Here are some facts about living conditions for Gazans, who face an uncertain future when the offensive, which Israel says aims to stop Hamas rocket attacks, is over.
  • 1.5 million Palestinians live in the 360 square km (139 square mile) Gaza Strip. More than three-quarters of them are refugees whose families fled or were driven from their land in what is now Israel in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.
  • Egypt captured the strip during that conflict, but lost it to Israel in the 1967 war. Israel withdrew unilaterally in 2005, but kept control of access to and from the coastal enclave.
  • Gaza has one of the world's youngest and fastest-growing populations. About 45 percent are children aged below 15. The median age is 17.2 years. At the present growth rate of 3.42 percent, the population would double in 20 years.
  • An Israeli blockade and international sanctions since Hamas won a Palestinian election in 2006 have crippled Gaza's economy, especially after Hamas seized control of the territory from President Mahmoud Abbas's Palestinian Authority in 2007.
  • Most Gazans live on less than $2 a day and up to 80 percent are dependent on food aid, according to aid groups.
  • Israel's ban on exports and on all but humanitarian imports has forced 98 percent of Gaza's industry to close. The World Bank estimates unemployment at 35 percent.
  • The war has put more pressure on already stressed services. Casualties have overwhelmed hospitals and rescue teams. Food, cooking gas, fuel, electricity and running water are scarce. Last week the World Bank said nearly all sewage and water pumps had stopped working due to fuel and power shortages.

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