Beyond the Cease-Fire: What's Next For Gaza?
By Ahmed Rehab
January 27, 2009
The recent tentative cease-fire may have halted Israel's military thrashing of Gaza, but it does not constitute an end to its humanitarian crisis and the ongoing illegal and immoral occupation, the root causes of the conflict. Powerbrokers, the media and the public should remember that what needs to be done next is no less important than the cease-fire itself.
First, Egypt, the U.S., France, and Turkey must work with the Israelis and the Palestinians to ensure that the cease-fire is sustainable and not merely a prelude to future conflict. Gaza's civilian population should not wake up each day to the terrorizing possibility of tanks in their backyards and warplanes over their homes. Palestinians should not fire rockets into Israel.
Second, the United Nations should launch an independent investigation into the serious allegations of war crimes committed against Gaza's civilians during the three week offensive. Israel's response to the allegations has been either to deflect blame or to declare that it will launch its own investigations, which typically amount to nothing. A perpetrator of war crimes cannot be entrusted to launch a fair and transparent investigation of its own violations.
The world has learned important lessons from the experiences of the 20th century that we cannot afford to ignore. Since World War II and the war in Bosnia, there have been awareness programs, international checks and balances, investigative agencies, and courts established to ensure that crimes against humanity are a thing of the past.
And yet, in the 21st century, we find ourselves still looking the other way when serious human rights violations occur. Israel is accused of killing 1300 Palestinians, most of them civilians, including some 300 children. It is also accused of using white phosphorous on civilians, which is banned under the commonly-accepted rules of war.
Allegations abound of Israel's targeting of civilians. A grandmother claims to have waived a white flag when soldiers stormed her home, only to have them fire on her three grandchildren: four-year-old Samar was left permanently paralyzed from the waist down while her two sisters were shot dead.
Three clearly marked UN schools were targeted with missiles, resulting in the murder of 60 civilians. Schools, mosques, and hospitals were also bombed throughout the offensive. John Ging, head of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Gaza stated that “the Israeli air force hit infrastructure of the state of Palestine rather than the infrastructure of terror.”
Israel's chief military rabbi distributed pamphlets urging soldiers “to show no mercy” in Gaza.
The muted world response to those war crimes is made possible by a widespread demonization of Palestinians. It is only by projecting an image of the Palestinian as something less than human that the Israeli government can hope to justify its human rights transgressions and avert a severe backlash in public opinion.
We cannot afford to let these crimes go without accountability. A third-party investigation with binding consequences is imperative.
Third, the international community, which could not save Gaza's besieged civilian population from the massacres, should now dispense generous humanitarian aid to help alleviate the ongoing suffering. Gazans continue to face unlivable conditions. They have courageously vowed to rebuild, but they cannot realistically do much without outside help, especially given the continued Israeli blockade.
Finally, and most importantly, the Obama administration must recommit the United States, which took a backseat to the pro-Israel lobby under the Bush administration, to lead a renewed international diplomatic effort that will address the root causes of the crisis and help broker a just and lasting peace.
At the end of the day, the illegal occupation of Gaza and other Palestinian land must come to an end. Palestinians are entitled to choose their own destiny in a free and democratic process. Only then can both sides of the conflict aspire to peace, security, and prosperity.