War etc

Shooting yourself in the foot

A Palestinian writer, Mona El-Farra, – apparently a doctor and human rights activist – has written a very moving account of the hardships faced by civilians in Gaza following the Israeli retaliation for the killing and kidnapping of Israeli soldiers.

Her article (“My Life in Gaza” aka “Living with fear and resolve”) was published in The Boston Globe and the International Herald Tribune, and has been republished on various other sites, including the International Solidarity Campaign.

She says:

As a physician, I fear for our patients. Twenty-two hospitals have no electricity. They have to rely on generators, but the generators need fuel. We have enough fuel to last a few days at most, because the borders are sealed so no fuel can get in. The shortage of power threatens the lives of patients on life-support machines and children in intensive care, as well as renal dialysis patients and others. Hundreds of operations have been postponed. The pharmacies were already nearly empty because of Israeli border closures and the cutoff of international aid. What little supplies were left have gone bad in the absence of refrigeration.

Food too is spoiling without refrigeration, and food supplies are low. West Bank farmers threw away truckloads of spoiled fruit after sitting for days and then being denied Israeli permission to enter Gaza. Children grow hungry as we watch the food that could nourish them thrown into the garbage instead. More than 30,000 children suffer from malnutrition, and this number will increase as diarrhea spreads because of the limited supply of clean water and food contamination.

As a mother, I fear for the children. I see the effects of the relentless sonic booms and artillery shelling on my 13-year-old daughter. She is restless, panicked, and afraid to go out, yet frustrated because she can’t see her friends. When Israeli fighter planes fly by day and night, the sound is terrifying. My daughter usually jumps into bed with me, shivering with fear. Then both of us end up crouching on the floor. My heart races, yet I try to pacify my daughter, to make her feel safe. But when the bombs sound, I flinch and scream. My daughter feels my fear and knows that we need to pacify each other. I am a doctor, a mature, middle-aged woman. But with the sonic booming, I become hysterical.

Few can fail to be moved by the difficulties, hardships and suffering she describes. Unlike the SWP who issued this statement today on the Mumbai train bombings…

The Indian government of Manmohan Singh will doubtless pledge itself to fight against the terrorists who have committed this atrocity with increased resolve. But if what results from this pledge is a greater threat of military conflict with Pakistan, more repression in Kashmir, and an increased willingness of the Indian state to be a partner in the “war on terror”, it would serve only to compound the tragedy of the bombings. It is exactly these actions that have meant India has become a target.

… I don’t hold with ‘collective punishment’. The SWP may make an effort to understand the motives of the bombers and claim it is payback for the Indian government’s policies – thereby condoning the ‘collective punishment’ of ordinary Indian commuters for the sins (real or imagined) of their government, but I don’t. Similarly, if it is the case that Israel is simply taking excessive and disproportionate revenge against ordinary folk in Gaza, I would not hesitate to condemn that either.

The problem is, Mona El-Farra appears to be arguing something else. She says:

Ostensibly, this bombing campaign started because of the soldier’s capture. To the outside world it might seem like an easy decision for Palestinians: Let the soldier go, and the siege will end. Yet for Gazans, even in the face of this brutal violence, another decision comes, not with ease, but with resolve. He is one soldier who was captured in a military operation.

Notice how she so unselfconsciously says: “He is one soldier who was captured in a military operation”

This is where I completely lose sympathy for her. She is stating quite plainly that Gaza is in a state of war with Israel. The cross-border raid to attack Israel and kidnap a soldier was – she says – “a military operation”.

What’s more, she says, ordinary citizens of Gaza were resolved NOT to return the soldier. In other words, they were complicit – deliberately so – in this “military operation” against Israel. You do not undertake “military operations” against countries you wish to be at peace with. It is unequivocally and act of war that she is describing.

If she believes then, that Gaza, under a Hamas government, is at war with Israel, why is she surprised at the effects of war?

Thus, she shoots her own argument in the foot.

But she continues:

Today, several hundred Palestinian children and women are locked in Israeli prisons. They deserve their freedom no less than he [the kidnapped soldier] does. Their families mourn their absence no less than his family does. So while Gazans endure Israel’s rainstorm, most want the soldier held — not harmed — until the women and children are released.

Again, it is an image calculated to generate sympathy. Women and children locked up in Israeli jails, ostensibly for no good reason. But is this true? Writing in the Jerusalem Post, Barbara Sofer explains:

The demand for release of terrorists who are either women or younger than 18 is another tactic to chip away at Israel’s deterrent imprisonment of murderers. That, together with the elevation of the status of jailed terrorists through the Prisoners’ Letter could make us forget what these men and women are in jail for in the first place. It portrays Israel as a society in which Palestinians are detained and arrested out of capricious cruelty.

Is that the case? Let’s take a look at some of these ‘women and children’ whose families “mourn their absence” and who “deserve their freedom”:

In the Neveh Tirza women’s prison, for example, you’ll find Ahlan Tanimi, who brought the bomb that murdered 16 in the Sbarro pizza restaurant in Jerusalem. You’ll also find Kahira Sa’adi, a mother of four who drove a terrorist to King George Avenue, where he blew up three people. She has expressed her eagerness to do it again. Others are wannabe Wafa Idris, who blew herself up on Jaffa Road in Jerusalem, or Hanady Jaradats, who killed 21 in the Maxim restaurant in Haifa.

El-Farra concludes her article by saying:

Though we do not now live with ease, we live with resolve. Until the world pressures Israel to recognize our rights in our land, and to pursue a peace that brings freedom and security to Israelis and Palestinians, we both will continue to pay the price.

She’s right of course, ordinary Israelis and Palestinians will continue to pay the price of these “military operations” from both sides. Perhaps her resolve is misplaced. If I were her, I’d be resolving to put an end to that. I’d be arguing for a unilateral declaration of peace.