Tuesday, November 27, 2012

On Gaza's "Severe Damage" and Why Truce Won't Stop the Violence of Occupation

Sharif Abdel Kouddous on Gaza’s "Severe Damage" and Why Truce Won’t Stop the Violence of Occupation
Democracy Now: November 26, 2012

AMY GOODMAN: As we continue speaking with Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abel Kouddous in Cairo. He just returned to Egypt on Saturday after several days in Gaza. On Wednesday, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi brokered a deal to end Israel’s assault on Gaza that killed 170 Palestinians. During that period, six Israelis were killed as well in Palestinian rocket attacks. Earlier today, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak who presided over the assault on Gaza announced his resignation. Sharif, can you talk about the terms of the cease-fire and the reactions in Gaza afterwards?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: The reaction was one of celebration in Gaza. It was a very bizarre countdown to the 9:00 P.M. deadline which marked the end of the violence. The bombs were falling up until the very last minute. A Palestinian man was killed in the final minutes right before the 9 P.M. deadline. When it did come, we very quickly heard in Gaza cheers going out, mosques going on the loud speakers and claiming victory over Israel, cars whizzing in the streets, and it turned into a massive street celebration by many Gazans.

As you mentioned, the death toll is around 170. They are still getting the accurate figures. At least 34 of those are children. Over 100 are civilians. The destruction in Gaza is severe. The Israeli military targeted many civil institutions, a massive civil administration complex know as Abu Hudra that — where Palestinians would go to get Ids and documents, a bridge, dozens of homes and offices and apartment buildings have been reduced to rubble.

So, in asking Palestinians why they consider this a victory, it’s that they feel that Israel did not achieve any of its objectives, that they managed to avoid a ground invasion by Israeli forces, and they overwhelmingly put this to the resistance, to Hamas’ and other Palestinian factions’ resistance and rocket fire. Many Palestinians that you speak to say that this is the reason that they got a cease-fire, that what they view is on favorable terms.

Now, it must be said — so, part of the deal is that Israel will stop targeted assassinations of Hamas leaders, which they killed the Ahmed Jabari the head of the Hamas’ military wing last week, which set off this week of violence, and they’ve promised to stop ground incursions as well. On the Palestinian side, Hamas has promised to stop rocket attacks, and so forth. This is all guaranteed by Egypt.

What is interesting, also, and is also left very vague, is that Israel has promised to ease the movement of people and goods across the borders. Now, it must be said this is not talking about lifting the blockade that has crippled Gaza ever since Hamas was elected and took over the territory, but we have already seen an easing of some restrictions.

Palestinian fisherman who were barred from going out more than three kilometers from the coast are now allowed to go 6 kilometers, even though under the terms of the Oslo agreement, they are supposed to be able to go 20 kilometers. But, what was   inspiring in a way, on Friday, was in Hanunis in Southern Gaza on the eastern border, the border with Israel, there’s buffer zones   across the border with Israel of about 1,000 feet or more where Palestinians cannot go or risk being shot by Israeli forces.

The terms of the cease-fire were vague on these buffer zones. But, what we saw after Friday prayer was hundreds of Palestinians walking out into these buffer zones without assurance of what the response by the Israeli military would be. And many of them, it was the first time they had walked on the land for many years. Farmers were grabbing the soil for the first time and promising that they would, the next day, begin to form the soil that they hadn’t been able to for many years.

One Palestinian man was actually killed; him and a group of young men approached the border fence and began throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers, who responded by opening fire. So, it shows the fragility of the ceasefire agreement. But, if you just look at that difference in responses in Gaza, the massive celebrations on the streets and the response in Israel, the resignation of the Defense Minister, small protests in some Israeli cities against the terms of the cease-fire. We can see that most people are calling this, at least in Gaza, a victory for the Palestinians.

AMY GOODMAN: The affect on children? The estimates now, Palestinian medical officials say the death toll around 170, included up to 34 children.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: That’s right. The affect on children is devastating, really. We know the death toll and the number of wounded, but what really go uncounted are the severe emotional and mental trauma that many children suffer. The repeated Israeli air strikes have a sever effect on many children. And we’ve seen this effect from Israel’s even more brutal assault in 2008 and 2009, dubbed Operation Cast Lead.

I saw several families and spoke with them; children who — one child, his name is Hela Debwalta [sp] who can no longer talk after a Israeli missile strike shook the room he was in so hard, the doors blew off the hinges, and so he went into shock and never fully recovered. Another woman, Heba Allalter [sp], her daughter, 13-year-old daughter, Diann [sp] cannot stop crying. She needs to be held at all times, cannot walk without her mother holding her hand, and is constantly terrified.

So we always hear about the physical destruction, the death toll, and the wounded, but the severe, sever mental trauma that not only on children, but on adults as well, has really taken its toll on Gaza, and you can see it by speaking to the victims of this Israeli offensive.

AMY GOODMAN: Sharif, in an interview with the BBC, Sunday, British Foreign Secretary William Hague, urged the U.S. to take a decisive lead in the resolution of the Palestinian-Isreali problems. This is what he said.

WILLIAM HAGUE: It is time for a huge effort on the Middle East peace process. This is what I have been calling for, particularly calling for the United States, now after the election, to show the necessary leadership on this over the coming months, because they have crucial leverage with Israel that no other country has. But yes, it does need the very active support of European nations and Arab nations to create incentives and disincentives for all involved to make sure that this final — that this last chance — we’re coming to the final chance maybe for a two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

INTERVIEWER: Would you like to see Bill Clinton come in?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well I heard David Miliband saying that earlier. I think, in the government, we will keep our conversations with the Americans about these things private. But, certainly, on form or another, whatever personal form it takes, we do look to the United States to take a decisive lead on this in the coming months. And after the tragic conflict in Gaza, in the last ten days, if it is now possible to move on to the opening up of access in and out of Gaza and stopping the smuggling of weapons into Gaza, well then some good could actually come of that awful crisis and terrible casualty.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s British Foreign Secretary, William Hague. What is your sense, Sharif, of Palestinians’ feelings about the United States being an honest broker here?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, there’s no question, that they view the U.S. as being a dishonest broker, a huge disappointment with the Obama administration, but really a lack of surprise. The U.S. displaying the same kind of staunch unwavering support for Israel that it has had for decades.

The essence of the problem, the cease-fire may have stopped the immediate violence, but the essence of the problem, the core of the problem is the occupation. Israel withdrew its illegal settlers in 2005 but it has maintained control of the Gaza’s borders, Gaza’s air, Gaza’s water access, preventing exports. And this by international legal definitions, is still occupation. The crippling siege of Gaza — the U.N. issued a report in August saying by 2020 Gaza would be unlivable. This is the core of the issue, and if these fundamental issues aren’t addressed, if we just see a slight easing of restrictions on the movement of goods — and also to mention that Egypt is complicit in this siege, with the Rafah border crossing being closed to trade and most of the trade being done illicitly in these tunnels. It’s the core of the problem the occupation isn’t addressed, that we’re going to see, going to continue to see these waves of violence, waves of attacks by Israel.

To the United States’ discredit, it has not acted as an honest broker. We saw them pull out all diplomatic stops to prevent the bid for observer status at the United Nations, and the Palestinians are going to go again this year to the United Nations with the same bid. We will have to wait and see whether the U.S. puts on the same pressure on so many other countries to reject that.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, following the cease-fire, Sharif, reports have emerged bolstering speculation Israel launched the assault as a means to prepare potential future attack on Iran. The New York Times reports, the Gaza assault and the rocket attacks it provoked were, "something of a practice run for any future armed confrontation with Iran." Your response to that they cited unnamed Israeli and U.S. officials?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: It is difficult to say. I mean, the two situations are so completely different. The fact that Hamas’ military wing and other militant Palestinian factions were able to continue firing rockets into Israel while this assault was going — that it is unclear how their capacity was affected but it seems that they still have this capacity, going forward. A completely different situation to what is essentially a group in an open air prison compared to a very powerful country in the Middle East, Iran, with a massive army. So, a training run, I don’t see how the two are comparrible at all. The very notion of practicing or training by killing up to 170 people, most of them civilians, including over 30 children, is reprehensible. We have to think of things in these terms, not in geopolitical terms, that we sometimes hear in publications like The New York Times.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much, Sharif, for joining us. Sharif Abel Kouddous, Democracy Now! correspondent, wrote a piece last week before Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s announcement of taking more power, called " Mohamed Morsi in the Middle ."

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