|A Palestinian woman sits on the rubble of her destroyed house after an Israeli air strike in southern Gaza, December 30, 2008|
In times of crisis, most Arabs tune in to Al Jazeera television. Sometimes it's comforting for the truth to be stated the way it is, with all of its gory and unsettling details, without blemishes and without censorship. When Israel carried out massive airstrikes against Gaza on Saturday, Dec. 27, terrorizing an already hostage and malnourished population, I too tuned in to Al Jazeera. Within seconds I learned of the tally: 290 deaths and climbing, with 700 more wounded, all in one day.
I gazed pointlessly at the screen. Learning of the aftermath of such tragedies seems more of a ritual than a purposeful habit. The Arab and international responses to the killings can only serve as a reminder of how ineffectual and irrelevant, if not complacent, their timid mutterings are. Once again the US blamed Palestinians, and the Hamas "thugs" using words that defy logic, such as "Israel has the right to defend itself." The statement remains as ludicrous as ever, for a country like Israel with an army that possesses the world's most lethal weapons, including nuclear arms, cannot possibly feel threatened by an imprisoned population whose only defense mechanism are fertilizer-based homemade rockets. While Israel has killed and wounded thousands of Palestinians in Gaza, a handful of Israelis have reportedly died as a direct result of the Palestinian rockets in years. Do numbers matter at all?
European governments chose their words carefully, "expressing concern", "calling on Israel to use restraint" and so on. Arab governments were, as usual, distracted with trivialities, protocols and easily lost sight of the crisis at hand.
Then, the same, ever predictable outbursts began. Passionate callers from all over the world called various TV and radio stations in the Middle East and shouted, yelled, cried, vented, called on God, called on Arab leaders, called on all of those with "living conscience" to do something. In turn, audiences too cried at home as they listened to the heated commentary and watched footage of heaps of Palestinian bodies throughout the Gaza Strip.
The passion soon spilled to the streets of Arab capitals, of course under the ever-vigilant eyes of Arab police and secret services. Flags of US and Israel, and in some cases Egypt, were set ablaze along with effigies of Bush and Israeli leaders.
"Rising up to the occasion" some Arab governments declared, with much hype, their intention to send an airplane or two of medicine and food to Gaza, a few boxes clad with the donor country's flag, flashed endlessly on local media. Meanwhile, news reports spoke of Palestinians attempting to flee the Gaza prison into the Sinai desert. They were met with decisive Egyptian security presence at the border.
Strangely enough, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas remained faithful to the script, despite Gaza's unprecedented tragedy. On Sunday, he blamed Hamas for the bloodbath. "We talked to them (Hamas) and we told them, 'Please, we ask you, do not end the truce. Let the truce continue and not stop', so that we could have avoided what happened."
Was Abbas informed of the fact that Hamas hasn't carried out one suicide bombing since 2005? Or that the "truce" never compelled Israel to allow Palestinians in Gaza access to basic necessities and medicine? Or that it was Israel that attacked Gaza in early December, killing several people, claiming that it "obtained" information of a secret Hamas plot?
Even stranger that, while Abbas has chosen such a position, many Israelis are not convinced that the war on Gaza was at all related to the Hamas' rockets, and is in fact an election ploy for desperate politicians vying for Israel's dominating right-wing vote in the upcoming February elections. In fact, the Israeli design against Gaza had little to do with the "escalation" of the rocket attacks of mid-December.
"Long-term preparation, careful gathering of information, secret discussions, operational deception and the misleading of the public -- all these stood behind the Israeli Defense Forces' 'Cast Lead' operation against Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip," wrote the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz on Dec. 28, which also revealed that the plan had been in effect for six months. "Like the US assault on Iraq and the Israeli response to the abduction of IDF reservists Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser at the outset of the Second Lebanon War, little to no weight was apparently devoted to the question of harming innocent civilians," said Haaretz.
And why should Israel devote a moment to the question of harming civilians or violating international law or any such seemingly irrelevant notions as long as their "Palestinian partners," the Arab League and the international community continue to teeter between silence, complacency, rhetoric and inaction? A doctor from a Khan Yunis clinic in Gaza told me on the phone, "Scores of the wounded are clinically dead. Others are so badly disfigured that I felt that death was of greater mercy for them than living. We had no more room at the Qatara Clinic. Body parts cluttered the hallways. People screamed in endless agony and we had not enough medicine or painkillers. So we had to choose which ones to treat and which not to. In that moment I genuinely wished I was killed in the Israeli strikes myself, but I kept running, trying to do something, anything."
Until Arab countries and nations translate their chants into a practical and meaningful political action that can bring an end to the Israeli onslaughts against Palestinians, all that is likely to change are the numbers of dead and wounded. But still, one has to wonder if Israel kills a thousand more, then thousands, or half of Gaza, will the US still blame Palestinians? Will Egypt open its Gaza border? Will Europe express the same "deep concern"? Will the Arabs issue the same redundant statements? Will things ever change? Ever?
Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an author and editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His work has been published in many newspapers and journals worldwide. His latest book is The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People's Struggle (Pluto Press, London).
Are you fed up with corporate sponsored news media?
Watch Al Jazeera English or Arabic at home or work and tune in to the latest news that matters!
Guaranteed to give you a fresh and objective perspective on world events.
Not on Cable or Dish - But it is here at IslamiCity!
Click HERE to see News from Al Jazeera