Reporting from Palestine

by Patricia Dougherty

The Israeli state has dishonored the holocaust and the people who hid Jews to save their lives. They would be horrified at what Israel has done to the Palestinians. - Susan Nathan, British-born Jewish-Israel author of The Other Side of Israel.

For 3 weeks, beginning December 27, Israel carried out a full scale, nearly round-the-clock military assault (air, ground, and sea) on the entire population of the Gaza strip. Despite Israel's having barred journalists from Gaza before and during the assault, the horrific scenes of suffering, destruction and carnage could not be hidden.

The world watched while Israel massively bombed the densely populated area, destroying municipal buildings, police stations, media buildings, UN schools, hospitals, ambulances, mosques, universities and thousands of homes. Nothing was spared and nowhere was safe for the 1.5 million Palestinians of Gaza who live in an area about the size of Sacramento.

Gazans have long suffered Israeli aggression. Eighty percent are refugees from the violence and expulsions of 1948 and 1967. The history of Israeli military assaults, incursions, extrajudicial killings, kidnappings is too long to list here. And the history of Palestinian resistance to Israel's colonial occupation and military rule could also fill volumes. In June 2008, a ceasefire was negotiated that was to include Israel's lifting of its crippling siege on Gaza. Israel failed to comply, but the fragile ceasefire still held for nearly 6 months until Israel broke it in early November by invading Gaza and killing six Palestinians. Homemade rockets from Gaza followed.

For more than 18 months, Israel has effectively imprisoned Gaza, limiting fuel, food, medicines and other essentials. The suffering caused by this "low intensity warfare" has been well documented by aid agencies and human rights organizations. Even now, during this time of extreme and dire need, Israel refuses to lift its deadly blockade, hindering humanitarian relief and rebuilding efforts, guaranteeing further loss of life.

Richard Falk, United Nations Special Rapporteur, said that Israel's actions against the besieged Gazans were reminiscent of "the worst kind of international memories of the Warsaw Ghetto." Falk, a Jewish-American, was one of the first to condemn the Israeli assaults on Gaza as "war crimes," also condemning nations, like the United States, which provide military support to Israel and participate in the siege on Gaza.

Palestinians in the militarily occupied West Bank watched the news nonstop, helpless to do much else. "Only God is with them," said one woman to me tearfully, "They are utterly alone!" On an evening when images of white phosphorus bombs raining over Gaza were being televised, I entered my corner vegetable stand. The grocer was holding back tears and rage. I speak very little Arabic but understood when he said to me pointing at the TV, "this is against international law!" Of the over 1300 people killed in Gaza, an estimated third were children; the overwhelming majority of the over 5000 wounded are civilians. (Three Israeli civilians and ten soldiers were killed; 230 soldiers were injured.)

Protests of Israel's assault erupted all over the world, including in Palestine. Here in the West Bank, Israeli soldiers and the police responded with repression and violence. In January, dozens of Palestinian children were abducted by soldiers from their homes in the middle of the night, most for throwing stones at the Apartheid Wall. (The 26-foot wall was declared illegal by the International Court of Justice in July 2004, a ruling that has been completely ignored by Israel and the U.S. as Israel continues its planned 400 mile path through illegally confiscated Palestinian land.)

United Nations, Amnesty International, the International Committee for the Red Cross, Human Rights Watch, as well as Palestinian and Israeli human rights groups are calling for a thorough investigation and appropriate prosecution of Israel's conduct as allegations of Israeli war crimes continue to mount.

If there is any hope to be found in this sickening massacre, it is that perhaps the world has had enough of turning a blind eye to Israel's decades of illegal occupation and brutality against the Palestinians. This recent horror may finally end Israel's impunity as prosecutors at the International Criminal Court are preparing charges against Israeli military leaders. Prominent Jewish activists such as Naomi Klein and others are joining the call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.

This will not happen easily. Neither Israel nor the United States are signatories to the International Criminal Court. Political courage is in short supply. In the midst of this most recent assault on the essentially defenseless Palestinian population, the U.S. Congress responded by overwhelmingly passing a resolution stating that Israel has a right to protect itself. Not surprising since the same Congress approved billions for the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.

But we can no longer just watch. The Geneva Conventions arose from a global awakening after atrocities of Nazi Germany. If "never again" is to mean anything at all, it must apply to every situation where crimes against humanity are being committed, including those committed by Israel and the U.S.

Patricia Daugherty (pdmc1234@gmail.com) and her partner have been living in the West Bank, Palestine since mid-October, 2008. Their weekly updates are posted at bethlehemnarratives.blogspot.com and at davispeace.org