War Crimes in Gaza

Jim Consedine

Getting to the truth is always a problem in war. Journalists were barred from Gaza by the Israeli military, so could only report from the Israeli side of the fence. Getting the truth out of Gaza of the economic blockade and gradual stranglisation of the Palestinian community has always been difficult. It was these stifling conditions which eventually forced Hamas to take the stand they did and mobilize against those who were daily throttling the life out of them. Most Palestinians want nothing more than to get on with their lives, to grow their own crops in peace, to run their own schools and hospitals and infra -structure without constant Israeli harassment.

So many wars are fought at the level of myth. That such a high proportion of the Israeli people supported the war most of the time is indicative of how manipulated their media has become and how warped its outcomes. The Israelis are a highly sophisticated nation, relatively well off economically by world standards, well educated, and at regional level, well governed. But they have been totally captured by a sea of myths about Palestinians in much the same way that white South Africans were engulfed psychologically about the dangers posed by black South Africans during the apartheid years. Indeed, the wall the Ariel Sharon Government built between Palestine and Israel (which snakes all over the countryside claiming the best land for Israel) is nicknamed the apartheid wall because of the division it brings between the races. It is not unlike the divisions engineered called the ‘homelands’ to keep the races apart in the worst of the apartheid years. At the heart of that engineering was the grab for land by white South Africa. At the heart of the Middle East conflict sits a land grab by Israel.

The great myth of the dangers posed by Hamas is what sustained Israeli propaganda during the war. Polls show most Israelis supported the war. Yet between19 June 2008 and 4 November 2008, during the period of the last ceasefire, Hamas kept to its agreement and fired no rockets into Israel. On the other hand, Israel failed to keep its side of the bargain and lift economic blockades. Thus the Palestinians remained economically strangled, trapped within their own borders. This is intolerable to any right thinking person and ensured that Israel retained almost total control of movement in and out of Gaza, and made Palestinians dependent on Israelis for nearly everything. No wonder they rebelled and started shelling Israel again.

We need to be clear. Zionism and the practice of Judaism are not synonymous concepts. The ideology of Zionism is like any other ideology taken in its extreme forms. It is a form of ultra-nationalism, with degrees of expansionism and exclusivity at its core. We need to distinguish it from the faith of Judaism, practiced for 4000 years by believing Jews. Judaism is the womb which gave birth to Christianity. Jesus remained a Jew. Zionism and Judaism are not the same. We can reject some Zionist state policies outright and remain pro-Jewish.

And so to war. With two unequal parties. The results we are familiar with. By war’s end, 13 Israelis and more than 1300 Palestinians had died. This included more than 450 women and children. Each death leaves a grieving family and friends to mourn. Each death plants the seeds for renewed anger and bitterness for the years ahead. Parts of Gaza now look like Warsaw after the Nazis evacuated in 1944, with every home in street after street reduced to rubble. It contains a legacy of depleted uranium bullets scattered about. It has been scoured by white phosphorus chemicals, which are banned by international convention. More than 20 000 buildings have been devastated, all in a relatively confined space. As the BBC reporter said, ‘it looks like an earthquake has hit, reducing streets and towns to rubble.’ (20 January)

The UN says that 50 000 people have been left homeless. It accuses Israel of possible ‘war crimes’ because of its attack on a UN school. Amnesty International takes a similar position, claiming it has prima facie evidence of war crimes by Israel and calling for a full independent investigation (BBC, 20 January). A later report spoke of eyewitnesses to Israeli soldiers executing two children and wounding a third (BBC, 24 January). The facts speak for themselves – the numbers are abnormally disproportionate.

The only real winners in war are the shareholders in the arms manufacturing companies who profit from the sale of their weapons of destruction and in no way are held accountable for their sin. And the politicians who sit in their snug offices and plan their re-elections. It was no coincidence that this war was waged just prior to a general election in Israel and in the dying days of the Bush Administration. What cynical timing! Bush leaves office, his hands dripping with blood.

Our days of dalliance with empires should be long past. As Mark’s gospel, currently being read each day in the Church makes clear, Jesus inaugurated a new way of being that would be inclusive, non-discriminatory, non-violent and not tied to the dominant political system. In regard to this war, Pope Benedict has condemned it to the point where he has sent substantial aid to victims in Gaza. And Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace at the Vatican, was adamant. ‘Look at conditions in Gaza. More and more it resembles a big concentration camp.’ Words don’t get much stronger than that.

Is it not time for Christians and Catholics in particular to return to the stance of the early Church and reject war in its entirety as immoral and opposed to the teaching of Jesus? The time is now to implement the paradigm shift in Catholic thinking called for by Pope Paul VI at the United Nations in 1966, when he cried in anguish, ‘War, war – never again.’

22 February 2009

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