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Zaina Arafat

Zaina Arafat

Posted January 5, 2009 | 01:10 PM (EST)

Israel's Extensive PR Campaign


On the morning of Saturday, December 27, my mother and I crossed the Allenby Bridge from Jordan into Jericho. In Jerusalem an hour later, we heard that Israel had struck Gaza. Approximately 200 people had been killed by nightfall.

Ten days later, Israel's military operation continues, and has escalated to a ground war. The death toll has risen to over 500 Palestinians, a large portion of them children. The Shifa Hospital is overflowing, dead bodies strewn across the floor. Medical supplies and food are scarce. Journalists have been barred from entering. Israel has repeatedly rejected calls for a cease-fire. The U.S. has blocked the UN Security Council from taking any action, allowing Israel to continue its attacks.

In addition to its military offensive, Israel is launching an incredibly extensive and effective public relations campaign.

After Hamas seized control of Gaza in June 2007, Israel blockaded the territory, closing its borders and sealing it off from all sides. Israel has since halted nearly all movement in and out of Gaza, intercepted foreign ships carrying humanitarian aid to civilians, and prevented students awarded Fulbright scholarships from studying abroad. Last winter, Gaza's central power plant was forced to shut down due to a shortage of fuel, leaving residents without heat or electricity. On November 4, while the rest of the world was focused on the U.S. presidential election, Israel violated a six-month truce with Hamas by launching air strikes on Gaza. Now it is slaughtering civilians there by the dozen, killing entirely families in one strike, and labeling it self-defense. Israeli Cabinet Secretary Oved Yehezkel has denied that there is humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Last Friday, at the height of the attacks, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak announced without a hint of irony: "We are peace seekers."

Israel has managed to obscure the facts and get away with these crimes, with impunity and free from accountability, by painting itself the victim, rather than the civilians in Gaza.

The rocket attacks I do not condone. I am not a Hamas supporter; neither they nor Israeli officials are blameless. Only the civilians of Gaza are, and they are the ones who are suffering the most.

For the past 18 months, Israel's policy in Gaza has been to punish the entire population for the actions of a few. According to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, collective punishments are a war crime. In addition to being illegal and inhumane, collective punishment in Gaza has been entirely ineffective: Hamas has only stepped up its resistance. It is a policy that completely disregards democratic principles, human rights, and rationality.

In addition, Israel has violated the doctrine of proportionality, originated in the 1907 Geneva Conventions, which holds that "a state is legally allowed to unilaterally defend itself and right a wrong provided the response is proportional to the injury suffered." From 2001 to 2008, less than 30 Israelis were killed by rocket attacks, the halting of which is the proclaimed reason behind the series of attacks on Gaza. The doctrine continues, "The response must also be immediate and necessary, refrain from targeting civilians, and require only enough force to reinstate the status quo ante."

Behind all of this lurks the elephant in the room; namely, Israel's military occupation of the West Bank. The occupation has been upheld for over forty years. It is brutal, oppressive, and above all, illegal; a direct violation of UN Resolution 242. Additionally, Israel has continued to build settlements in the West Bank, a violation of yet another UN Resolution, 446. Israel wants normalcy, but refuses to end the occupation and remove illegal settlements. It cannot expect to achieve the former as long as it maintains the latter.

Last week in Beirut, Lebanon, I attended a demonstration against the attacks. Protesters marched while carrying boxes made to look like coffins, draped in black sheets painted with the words, "We are all Gaza." As thousands of others across the Middle East and all around the world stand up in protest, it seems as though the only people who've remained silent are those with the power to stop Israel's actions..

There have been many atrocities in recent history that we've looked back upon and said, "Never again." And yet similar atrocities have continued to occur, again, and again. In time, those who hold power will realize that today's massacres in Gaza fall in this category. One day, they will look back upon the onslaught with horror and shame: horror that it happened; shame that it was allowed to continue. Unfortunately, for the civilians of Gaza, that day will come too late.