Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Acts of terror in the Gaza Strip

Title 18,2331 of the US Code defines international terrorism as any activities that "(A) involve violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State, or that would be a criminal violation if committed within the jurisdiction of the United States or of any State; (B) appear to be intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping." This definition, and particularly article B iii, quite succinctly sums up the current actions by Israel in the Gaza Strip.

The official narrative is that the attacks are a reprisal for a week long barrage of rocket attacks from Gaza following the expiry on 18th December of Hamas's ceasefire. But, of course, the story is far more complex that it at first appears. In fact, Hamas offered to renew its ceasefire in exchange for an end to the blockade of Gaza. But the words of
Tzipi Livni, the Israeli Foreign Minister, were unequivocal in stating Israel's true aim in this conflict;

As long as Hamas continues to operate with terror from Gaza, Israel will operate with its own means. The government is responsible for the citizens of the state. It needs and must respond to terror through military means. We cannot allow Gaza to remain under Hamas control.
And therein lies the true heart of this conflict. The rocket attacks on Israel, though themselves inexcusable, were fuelled by desperation. The week-long barrage of attacks left just one Israeli dead, whilst the blockade whose cessation would have prevented this has starved the 1.5 million inhabitants of the Gaza Strip of food and medical resources. According to Oxfam, only 137 trucks of food were allowed into the region last month, whilst the United Nations states that poverty has reached an "unprecedented level" - the Strip is nothing more than a prison of sick, hungry people waiting to die because they voted the "wrong way."

After Hamas won the 2006 elections, which independent observers judged to be unequivocally free and fair, it offered Isreal a long ceasefire and recognition of two separate states, if only Israel would return to its 1967 borders. This was partly in response to a poll conducted by the University of Maryland which showed 72 percent of Palestinians to be in favour of a two-state solution. Israel rejected these terms to declare Gaza a "hostile territory" and blockade the population. Then, as now, it chose overwhelming state terror and collective punishment over diplomacy, with tacit backing from its prime benefactor, the United States.

The solution to this conflict is an obvious one, if only because it is backed by a majority of people in Israel, Palestine, and world-wide. Two states, drawn up along the internationally recognised borders of 1967, with a 1-1 land swap to enable passage between Gaza and the West Bank, and the right of return to Israel for Palestinians.

The reasons that this remains out of reach, however, are more complex. Obviously, the events of the past half-century have fermented massive distrust on both sides, but there is also the issue of the United States to take into consideration. In pursuing its own agenda with regards to the Middle East and control of resources there, the US has consistently backed and funded the hardliners and groomed isolationist policy within the Israeli government, only withdrawing support for Israeli actions, and thus limiting their ability to take them, when they have conflicted with US interests. The most recent example is Bush's veto on an air strike against suspected Irania nuclear sites, but a more telling demonstration of the power relations between the two countries occurred in 2005.

Back then, the US ordered Israel to cease sales of advanced military technology to China, and imposed sanctions when Israel tried to avoid the restrictions. The US then cut off all "strategic dialogue," its defence chiefs refused to meet with their Israeli counterparts, and made further demands. It insisted on tightened oversight of Knesset military exports, the signing of a memorandum of understanding, and the government and Mofat's presentation of a written apology to the United States. And, when Israel capitulated, the US insisted on even harsher demands and showed utter contempt for the Israeli delegation.

Clearly, then, one of the central problems of peace in the Middle East is the US's aggressive pursuit of its own interests, and its use of Israel as a client state in this regard. Which is why, as obvious and attainable as the resolution of this conflict is, it cannot proceed unless the US's influence is greatly curbed, or its policies with regards to the region change quite dramatically. President-elect Barack Obama has been uncharacteristically quiet on the issue thus far, which is why - as well putting pressure on the Israeli government themselves - we need a grassroots movement on the scale that saw Obama surge to victory in the elections to push for the new president to move away from the policies of successive past administrations and make move towards real peace.

Whatever else happens, the people must not remain silent on this issue, or the staus quo will remain and the violence and human misery will continue to escalate exponentially.