Outrage and shock is growing around the world as the Israeli war on Gaza takes its toll on a defenceless civilian population. The slaughter of women and children at a United Nations school compound yesterday prompted Venezuela to expel diplomatic staff from the country and angry demonstrations are taking place in many countries against the US-backed attacks.
The atrocities perpetrated by the Israeli military are war crimes on a large scale. Of that there is no doubt. John Ging, head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA) in Gaza says bluntly that Palestinians are being terrorised, adding: “There is no place safe in Gaza for ordinary people. One million are without electricity, 750,000 have no water, hospitals are overwhelmed, with heroic staff working around the clock.”
He confirmed that UNWRA had provided the Israeli military with the exact GPS co-ordinates of all UN facilities, which are clearly marked with UN flags, brightly lit at night. In fact the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) spokesman did not deny knowing it was a UN facility, simply claiming that Hamas was using the building to launch rockets. Yet another lie to justify the latest atrocity.
As politicians and diplomats at the UN try to patch together a ceasefire/truce, we might ask: what does Israel actually seek to achieve with this ferocious assault on people, most of whom are defenceless civilians? The IDF claims that it plans to root out Hamas fighters who are launching puny rockets at southern Israel. But despite its vastly superior firepower – and the powerful backing of the US - it can never achieve a lasting victory, as some military experts are already noting.
More and more observers are increasingly seeing the Gaza offensive as “tragic and self-defeating”. Michael Clarke of the Royal United Services Institute, questions whether the Israeli defence chiefs are pursuing the correct overall strategy. "In terms of day-to-day tactics they [Israeli defence chiefs] know what they are doing, but it's not clear they know what the strategic goal of this operation really is," he says. "You can't go into a territory like this and eradicate Hamas in any meaningful sense.”
Veteran observers like Robert Fisk are noting what should be crystal clear to all but the most blinkered. The latest bloodbath perpetrated by Israeli forces is stoking up more hatred against what is seen as “The West” around the Arab and Muslim world. The question is: does the United States and the rest really give a damn? After all, they need some reason to carry on with their “war on terror”.
In fact, the rise of Hamas, much like the Taleban, is a case of the big-power sorcerers’ apprentice. As Stephen Zunes has pointed out,“if it were not for misguided Israeli and American policies, Hamas would not be in control of the territory in the first place”. He explains how Israel initially encouraged the rise of the Palestinian Islamist movement as a counter to the Palestine Liberation Organisation, the secular coalition composed of Fatah and various leftist and nationalist movements.
After Israel cut off negotiations with the Palestinians in 2001 and carried out a devastating military offensive as well as undermining the Palestinian economy, support for Hamas grew from 15 percent in 1993 to 44% of the vote in the January 2006 elections. Hamas was seen as the only force opposing Israeli occupation.
No wonder that the Middle East peace process is getting nowhere. It is not intended to. The present crisis makes the campaign for a unified secular state that guarantees rights and freedoms to Palestinians and Jews alike the only viable long-term solution. So Hugo Chavez’s call to the people of Israel to deal with their leaders, who launched the offensive in no small part to get themselves re-elected, is not a pipe-dream but a realistic proposal.