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Commentary Last Updated: Jan 4th, 2007 - 01:08:31

Israel's reign of terror must be stopped
By Linda S. Heard
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Nov 16, 2006, 00:30

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While channel surfing the other day I came across a rerun of Gandhi just in time to witness the scene where British troops gun down unarmed fleeing protestors.

As a Brit, I experienced a moment of shame which I was able to quickly suppress with the thought this brutal act happened long ago. Nobody today would fire on a crowd of civilians and if they did they would be prosecuted for war crimes right? There would be an international outcry. The UN would be scrambling to pass condemnatory resolutions or worse. Isn't that right?

Actually that's wrong. There is one country that has virtually been handed carte blanche to commit any atrocity it likes. It can humiliate, imprison and starve an entire people with seeming impunity.

It can wage wars on its neighbour, using cluster bombs, depleted uranium tank shells and white phosphorous without barely a peep from the so-called international community.

It can level entire neighbourhoods, murder hundreds of women and children without even a rap on the knuckles from the UN Security Council. It can develop weapons of mass destruction to its heart's content and the international nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, so outspoken on Iran and North Korea, stays silent.

That country is, of course, Israel.

Just days after I watched the Gandhi movie, I saw a real-life rerun of that nightmarish scene in the form of Israeli soldiers firing on unarmed women moving towards a mosque in the town of Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza. They were desperate to protect their men folk who were trapped within the mosque.

These were men without whom those women and their children could not survive. They didn't hesitate to move forward even as the bullets tore at their sisters, felling them to the ground. Their sacrifice was humbling.

One of those women, Jameela Al Shanti, describes how they got the strength and the courage to keep going. "It is not easy as a mother, sister or wife to watch those you love disappear before your eyes," she wrote.

"Perhaps that was what helped me and 1,500 other women to overcome our fear and defy the Israeli curfew last Friday - and set about freeing some of our young men who were besieged in a mosque while defending us and our city against the Israeli military machine."

I couldn't help thinking that deliberately firing at women was a low even for Israel, whose spokespeople later made lame excuses that their soldiers targeted militants dressed as women.

But those whose broken and bloodied bodies were carried to the hospitals and morgues were not gun-toting militants. They were someone's mother, someone's daughter.

But just days later, Israel surpassed itself by shelling residents of Beit Hanoun as they slept. Nineteen civilians died in that attack, including eight children, many of them toddlers. You won't see this massacre on CNN or the BBC.

The sight of lifeless children with missing limbs or eyes is not for the sensitive eyes of Western viewers or advertisers. But those images are out there for anyone with a strong stomach and an even stronger heart.

They've been carried on Arab satellite channels and recorded for posterity on YouTube. There is one in particular taped by a woman who is quietly sobbing in the background.

Vestige of humanity

Anyone with any vestige of humanity or compassion would condemn this massacre termed "a technical error" by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. A technical error is a term used by airlines when planes are delayed or television stations when satellite uplinks fail to materialise.

There was no technical error. It was one more horror in Israel's siege of Beit Hanoun, a hellish city bereft of water, electricity, jobs and freedom.

Once again, the United Nations didn't fail to disappoint. On Saturday, Security Council members voted on a resolution, proposed by Qatar, urging the immediate withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza and condemning the killing at Beit Hanoun.

And once again, the US, which supplied Israel with the weapons used to kill those women and children, flourished its veto, while its sycophants Britain, Japan, Slovakia and Denmark, fine democracies all, shamefully abstained.

If only the leaders of those proud nations possessed a crumb of the courage displayed by the women of Beit Hanoun, the world would be a better place.

There is, however, one tiny bright spot. The Arab League appears to have woken from its long stupor. On Sunday it condemned the US veto and America's unfriendly stance towards the Arab world.

It further called for an investigation into the massacre and asked for international troops to be sent to protect the people of Gaza from Israeli aggression.

The Arab League has also expressed its intention to break the US-led embargo against delivering aid to the Palestinian National Authority and encourages other countries to follow suit. This is a positive move forward. Let's hope that body will put its money where its mouth is.

The Palestinians can't eat words. They cannot be saved with official declarations or comforting platitudes. Now is the time for Arabs to show just how much clout they have in the international arena.

The Palestinians have been alone and friendless for far too long through no fault of their own. They need their brothers as never before. Don't let them down.

Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at

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