Christmas has ended - so should Gaza siege

By Jim Gibney (for Irish News)

The reoccupation by Israel of the Gaza Strip and the slaughter of its Palestinian inhabitants form one of the most shameful episodes, among a long list of others, for the international community since the state of Israel was set up in 1948.

For the past three weeks the United Nations and the European Union watched with indifference as Israeli bombs rained down on Palestinians and Palestinians fired rockets into Israel.

As I write more than 600 Palestinians and five Israelis have been killed. Entire families are being wiped out in Gaza. In the bombing of a mosque near the town of Jabaliya, five sisters were killed and in the rubble of a home in the town of Zeitoun 14 members of the same family were found dead.

In the early days of the invasion an estimated 70 Palestinian children were killed.

The reoccupation of Gaza, which the Israelis were forced to evacuate more than two years ago, follows almost two years of a siege by the Israelis of the territory which has reduced it to a wasteland with more than a million people being denied food, water, electricity, medication and other essentials.

The two-year punitive siege of Gaza and its people, which Hamas claims provoked reprisal rocket attacks on Israel, the aerial bombardment and the reoccupation of Gaza by the Israelis, however short or long, are an indictment of the international community for refusing to resolve this conflict and do justice to the Palestinians.

It is also an indictment of a feeble foreign policy by western powers, including the EU, who permit the US and Israel to set the terms under which a permanent solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict are to be brokered.

This invasion by Israel is all the more appalling because it is believed that the invasion is being driven by internal politics in advance of Israel’s general election in February.

In other words, bombs are raining down on Gaza killing hundreds of people as part of a pre-election macho popularity contest between the leaders of Israeli political parties seeking to form the next government.

One such contestant in the election is Israel’s foreign minister Tzipi Livni. She told the world’s media last week: “There is no humanitarian crisis and therefore no need for a humanitarian truce.”

In another interview she said that Israel was upholding the democratic values of the western world.

What perverted logic is at work here? Dropping bombs, denying children, women and men the basic needs to live as human beings are considered to be ‘democratic values’ by a possible prime minister.

Other reasons are offered up for Israel’s invasion - collective punishment of Palestinians for daring to elect Hamas as their government in 2006; revenge for the defeat of Israeli forces by Hezbollah when they were forced out of Lebanon the same year; a warning to Iran over its support for Hamas and its regional ambitions; a test for the incoming US president Barack Obama; and of course the rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza.

Whichever reason is the correct one the people of Palestine and Israel are once again plunged into a cycle of war with all the human misery accompanying it.

The central issue in this war and all wars for more than 60 years between the Palestinians and Israelis is the failure to agree a settlement that would secure and protect a state for the Palestinians and a state for the Israelis.

Hamas, Fatah and the Israelis are all part of the problem - they have to be part of the solution.

Isolating Hamas and treating them as if they are a Palestinian version of al-Qaida is wrong and should cease.

President-elect Barack Obama will be in office this month.

A durable settlement to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict should receive his undivided attention until it has been achieved.

Belfast’s international wall has a new message from renowned painter Danny Devenney: ‘Happy war, Christmas is over’ - a play on John Lennon’s peace song Happy Christmas (War is Over).

Christmas is over and so should the war be.

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