Weeping for Gaza and for Israel

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Israel Palestine by Rusty Stewart, flickr cc

Desperate images of death and destruction in Gaza have flooded the media, including social media. With many taken on mobile phones, never before has the world seen such immediate and confronting images of the dead and wounded, including of many children.

By Sunday 3 August, 1700 people had been killed in Gaza, with more than 8,000 injured. Over 70 per cent of these are reported to be civilians, including hundreds of children. In Israel, 61 soldiers had died, and three civilians.

One can only weep for those suffering on both sides. One can understand the need for Israel to stop the rockets being fired from Gaza, some 3000 of them, though most were fortunately destroyed by Israel’s Iron Dome missile system.

But it is impossible to ignore the vast disproportion in Israel’s response, with one of the most powerful armies in the world pitted against the Palestinian militias of Hamas spread throughout the 1.8 million people in the tiny Gaza Strip. Its 140 square miles are only six miles wide in places.

International law insists on the immunity of non-combatants. Israel alerts Palestinians just before it intends to destroy their homes and neighbourhoods so they can flee, in order to minimise civilian deaths. But how can one bomb whole districts to the ground without killing civilians on such a scale? And why was the electricity power station destroyed, on which depend water supplies and sewerage systems?

Moreover, the economic blockade of Gaza has created a humanitarian crisis, with over 70 per cent of children anaemic and 30 per cent malnourished, according to the UN. With 40 per cent of workers unemployed, most people rely on international aid for support. Ben Saul, professor of international law at the University of Sydney called, in the Age of 29 July, on Australia to support an independent international investigation of war crimes both by Hamas and by Israel.

Weep also for Israel. It seems the hard men of the Right have taken charge, failing to realise that there can be no military solution, only a political one with Palestine and Israel two securely established states. Some factions on the Right believe God granted Israel to the Jews two millennia ago, and that they have a right to drive out the Palestinians, achieved of course by continual warfare. Meanwhile, Israel continues to expand Jewish settlements on the West Bank.

Wiser heads in Israel and among many Jewish people elsewhere are weeping also for Israel, since such excessive destruction in Gaza will inflame further anger and resentment in the Middle East against Israel. The Israeli writer David Grossman has castigated Israeli leaders: “How could you have wasted the years since the last conflict without initiating dialogue” with moderate Palestinian leaders, and ignored efforts by the Arab League and others to reach a lasting settlement?

One fears that the spiral of violence will bring further calamities for the Palestinians, but also for Israel.


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