Israel pounded Gaza strip in retaliation for rockets fired at its Southern borders, killing over 280 Palestinians and wounding hundreds more, over half of whom were civilians, and bringing destruction to the already deteriorating Palestinian infrastructure. Israel used F16 bombers against an essentially defenseless population. The greatest weapon in the Palestinian arsenal is inaccurate makeshift rockets with extremely short range that often miss their targets.
In responding to questions by CBS's Face-the-Nation this Sunday, Tzipi Levni, Israel's foreign minister, justified the Israeli attacks by citing its rights to defend its citizens against attacks by Hamas. When asked whether Israel wants to reoccupy Gaza and overthrow Hamas, she insisted that Israel does not wants to return to Gaza and that its military operations are limited to bring quiet to its southern borders.
The above narrative, intended to bring sympathy to Israel's aggressive actions by depicting the Palestinians as the aggressors and Israel as the victim of aggression has little resemblance with the reality on the ground. The truth is that Israel has never freed Gaza from its heavy handed occupation, but only evacuated Jewish settlers when it became apparent that it could not guarantee their safety. Its retaliation against the Palestinians, Israel reduced Gaza into the largest concentration camp in world history. Placing people under siege is an act of war and aggression.
Sealed off completely from the outside world, Gazans are prisoners in their own land. Gaza which occupies a little less than 140 square miles (4 miles X 10 miles) is the home of over 1.4 million Palestinians. Suffocated in their tiny strip of land, Gazans are not allowed to travel, trade with the outside world, or even complain about the inhumane conditions imposed on them by Israel. Their painful narrative has never found its way to Western media, which has managed, to the determent of Western long term interests, to conceal the Palestinian narrative while amplifying the Israeli's. With the exception of few astute observers, everyone who watches Western media knows that it is the Palestinians that must be blamed for their own suffering.
Israel's efforts to beat its Palestinian subjects into submission flies in the face of every principle of political equity and social justice we cherish today, and our silence in the faith of the Israeli violation of the principles of freedom, equal dignity, and justice makes mockery of our cherished values, and is bound to undermine political freedom and reverse the progress modern society made in the last two centuries.
Apparently, Israel's goal is to soften the Palestinians and bring them down on their knees. In reality, though, Israel is likely to widen and deepen the level of animosity towards it in the Palestinian territories and beyond. The history of the last sixty years shows that Israel's reliance on force has widened and broadened the negative feelings towards it throughout the world, and has intensified the level of resistance against it in the Middle East.
Hamas can be faulted for targeting civilians, for being impatient with its Palestinian rivals, or even for adopting the wrong liberation strategy. But that does not by any means justify the collective punishment imposed on all Palestinians. Israel must take major responsibility for forcing the Palestinian people to overwhelmingly choose Hamas leadership when it chose to support settlement expansion while it was engaged in Peace negotiations. The Israeli expansion into the West Bank and Gaza squeezed the Palestinians into small cantons and into the orbit of Hamas as Mahmoud Abbas and his party appeared increasingly helpless and confused.
Changing the current dynamics requires less reliance on force and more reliance on good will and humane treatment of the Palestinians. Unfortunately, the Israeli leadership is trapped in a siege mentality that prevents it to see that it is turning the Palestinians and the rest of the Muslim world into a fierce enemy. Rather than ensuring peace for the Jewish people, it is building a record of aggression and injustice that future generations will find appalling, and that future Jews will find overwhelming and burdensome. Israel can create propaganda to cover its current aggression, but will never be able to erase the records of its aggression against defenseless people in the age of information explosion.
It is about time that all people of decency and foresight in Western society in general, and Western Jewry in particular, to pressure Israel to free the Palestinians of the harsh conditions of occupation, and to embark on a process of genuine peace with its neighbors.
Dr. Louay Safi is the executive director of ISNA Leadership Development Center, an Indiana based organization dedicated to enhancing leadership capacity. He writes and lectures on issues relating to Islam and the West, democracy, human rights, leadership, and world peace. His commentaries are available at: http://louaysafi.com
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