Earlier this week, Hamas indiscriminately launched a series of rocket attacks into Israel, tragically killing an Israeli. (Another second Israeli was killed in rocket fire on Monday.) On Saturday, the Israeli air force dropped over a 100 tons of bombs onto Gaza Strip in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, OPT, often described as one of the most populated and crowded places on earth. Over 270 Palestinians were killed in two waves of relentless air strikes. Among the dead are scores of children and women. Over 700 Palestinians were injured in the attack, which was said by Israel to target the Hamas infrastructure. Among the buildings bombed were a police station and a mosque where many Gazans deliver their prayers.
Hamas irrationally and unjustly launched rockets into Israel in an attempt to kill innocent Israelis. Such irresponsible and inhumane action deserves retaliation because whether Hamas likes it or not, Israel exists and its people, like any other people, deserve to live in peace and security. Yet what of the retaliation by Israel on the people of Gaza? It is necessary to attack Hamas infrastructure used for launching rockets, yet why the police station, the mosque, the markets? Collectively punishing the mothers and children of Gaza does not just violate international law, it does not just kill the people of Gaza, it kills any chance of a future peace. The air strikes continue today, with talk of a possible ground offensive in the coming days. BBC video from the ground shows bodies of babies and women and young men being piled up outside hospitals. As the dust settles for a brief moment, we see over 200 Palestinians murdered and one Israeli murdered. Loss of any human life is a tragedy and no human life is worth more than the other. But one cannot deny the disproportionate amount of lives lost in one attack versus the other, over 270 to 2.
It is hard to be frustrated by the international community's silence about the attack on Hamas since Hamas is a corrupt entity, yet the air strikes were not simply an attack on Hamas, rather, the attacks have largely killed and injured the people of Gaza and destroyed the fragile infrastructure of Gaza. What is worrisome in this situation is the lack of coordinated condemnation by the international community and the United States concerning the deaths and injuries of hundreds of Gazan children and women and young men and the existing humanitarian crisis now exacerbated by the Israeli air strikes . The only noise has been that of indifference. It is this indifference that spawns the anti-Western sentiments affecting US interests in the Middle East and North Africa, and in turn, the security of Americans.
Indifference gives rise to the toxic combination of helplessness and humiliation that breeds the extremism and terrorism that Israel and the US and the world at large are seeking to eradicate. To eradicate groups like Hamas and Al Qaeda, a nation must act on the principle that bombs and guns are a small part of a holistic approach that must incorporate more economic development, less indifference, more education, more humanitarian projects, less impunity and more justice and accountability. To truly weaken groups like Hamas, one must win the battle of the minds and the hearts and support the well being of a vulnerable people. Such a battle is lost every time a bomb is dropped on a crowded market in which innocents are killed. Helplessness and humiliation then take over rationality and open up the minds of vulnerable youth to desperation, which terrorist groups like Hamas thrive on for their power.
To further understand this point let us look at the attack on Gaza, which has more harmed the people of Gaza than it has Hamas, in the context of what Gazans have already endured in recent months. While Israel did take steps to release over 200 Palestinians detainees and forcibly evicted Israeli settlers living in illegal Israeli settlement, Gazans were simultaneously living under a crippling Israeli blockade. As a result of the blockade, over three quarters of Gaza depends on food aid to be able to survive. No exports are permitted from Gaza, thus crippling the local economy. November 2008 saw a particular deterioration of Gaza society due to the blockade. The United Nations Office for the Coordination on Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, released a report in December describing the blockade as a " profound human dignity crisis." The OCHA report shows that since November, the blockade has drastically cut electricity to Gazan homes and infrastructure. Gazans must live with out electricity for up to 16 hours per day. Such an exponential drop in electricity handicaps the water plants, sanitation systems, and hospitals. Imagine New York's schools, water facilities, hospitals, and sewage plants working without electricity for 16 hours of the day, everyday. Half of Gaza's population receives running water once a week and only for a few hours. The World Health Organization, WHO, reports that 80% of water supplied to Gazans does not meet WHO standards. 70 % of agricultural land, from which many Gazans depend on for work and food, is not irrigated. With the blockade, many in Gaza with skills and jobs were unable to get to work. Consequently, OCHA reports that unemployment has risen to 50%. "Israel still maintains its Gaza siege in its full fury, allowing only barely enough food and fuel to enter to stave off mass famine and disease," United Nations Special Rapporteur Richard Falk wrote. "Such a policy of collective punishment initiated by Israel to punish Gazans for political developments within the Gaza Strip constitutes a continuing flagrant and massive violation of international humanitarian law." (It is worth noting that a few weeks ago, Falk was denied access by Israel to carry out his UN mandate on the situation of Palestinians in the OPT. The UN Human Rights Council responded by saying that Israel's actions were "unprecedented and deeply regrettable." UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay added "it is the responsibility of States to cooperate with the independent United Nations experts appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council.")
The independent data from UN OCHA shows the humiliating situation innocent Gazans are forced to live under everyday. It is within such an environment that Hamas irresponsibly governs the territory and recruits the desperate and the vulnerable. The end result is that Gazans are victims of both the corrupt and poor leadership of Hamas as well as the Israeli military, who collectively punish the people of Gaza for Hamas's actions.
While Israel must protect its borders and root out terrorist operation centers, it must also realize that its collective punishment of the Gazan people sets Israel's security and reputation back a hundred fold, for the security of Israel is directly tied to the security and dignity of the Palestinian people. And in turn, the security and well being of Americans is directly tied to the dignity and rights and security of the people of the Middle East. Actions such as the air strike on Saturday and the humanitarian crisis created by the Israeli blockade of Gaza creates an environment of helplessness and humiliation that breeds terrorism and extremism. The promise of true peace and regional security cannot be found in the space of air strikes and collective punishment, but instead, it is in the fragile space where there are the vulnerable hearts and minds of a people seeking dignity and peace. The international community must not support or justify the collective punishment and murder of hundreds of innocent Gazans by placing the onus solely on Hamas.
My prayers go out to the hundreds of Palestinians killed on Saturday by the Israeli air strikes and their families. I also extend my condolences and prayers to the families of the two Israelis killed by Hamas rocket fire.