Death hovered over Gaza long before locally-made Palestinian
rockets struck near the Israeli southern town of Sderot on February 27, killing
Roni Yechiah and sparking an Israeli �retaliation� that has already claimed
over 120 Palestinian lives.
Yechiah�s death was actually the first of its kind in nine
months, and understandably so. The crude Palestinian rockets were often
criticised even by Palestinians as useless in the tit-for-tat style of war
underway, while easily used by Israeli officials as a casus belli, or at least
as an excuse for keeping Gaza �contained,� besieged and on the brink of
For Israel, the rockets are important as a pretext to
maintain a state of siege against Hamas, and a low-intensity warfare that
creates permanent distraction from the confiscation of Palestinian land and the
expansion of illegal settlements -- and also as justification for the slow
moving �peace process.'
However, while pro-Israeli pundits in the US and elsewhere
are prepared to defend Israel�s actions, many Israelis are no longer buying
into their government�s pretexts.
According to a recent Tel Aviv University Poll, cited by the
Israeli daily Haaretz on February 27, �sixty-four per cent of Israelis say the
government must hold direct talks with the Hamas government in Gaza towards a
cease-fire and the release of captive soldier Gilad Shalit."
The mayor of the Israeli town of Sderot, which borders Gaza
and is the main target of rockets, had also told the British Guardian on
February 23, "I would say to Hamas, let's have a ceasefire. Let's stop the
rockets for the next 10 years and we will see what happens."
Hamas was actually first to issue calls of ceasefire. In
fact, for years it has held true to a self-declared abstention from carrying
out any suicide bombings inside Israel.
Meanwhile, the uneven numbers of casualties speak volumes.
While Yechiah�s death is tragic, he was the �first person
killed by rocket attacks from Gaza since May 2007, and the fourteenth overall
since the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian armed clashes in September 2000,�
according to a Human Rights Watch Press release on February 29, citing Israeli
human rights organisation B�Tselem.
B�Tselem reported that �1,259 of the 2,679 Palestinians
killed by Israeli security forces in the Gaza Strip (since September 2000) were
not participating in hostilities when they were killed, and 567 were minors.�
According to news agencies� report published in Al-Arabiya
website, as of February 22, 190 Palestinians were killed since the resumption
of the peace process in Annapolis last November. That number received a major
boost when the Israeli army escalated its attacks against the Gaza Strip, killing
34 Palestinians in 48 hours between February 27 and 28, and over 60 on March 1
alone, not counting several other Palestinians killed in the West Bank during
the same period.
Despite the facts, Israel�s actions are repeatedly accepted
by most media as a legitimate �response� to Palestinian violence.
In an article published days before Yechiva�s death, the
Sydney Morning Herald reported on the death of three Palestinians who were
killed by Israeli tank missiles. The men were picnicking at the time, according
to eyewitness accounts. However, the article seemed to report an entirely
different story, featuring a photo of a Palestinian rocket that hit an empty
field. �Deadly rain,� read the caption, conveniently forgetting that the
rockets had not caused any deaths. The article also undermined the fact that
the killed Palestinians had been picnicking, citing this as yet another
Donald Macintyre of the British Independent, who is usually
much more objective than his counterparts elsewhere, reported on the killing of
four Palestinian children: �Four boys playing football have been killed in Gaza
by Israeli air strikes . . . as Israel responded to the death of a man from a
barrage of rocket attacks with a bloody escalation of violence.�
The perpetuation of the idea of Israel always �responding�
to events and never initiating them is indeed unfair.
When the utter desperation of Gazans forced them to storm
massive walls separating them from Egypt in search of food and medicines, their
cry fell largely on deaf ears. Palestinians were herded back into Gaza, and the
border was sealed once more, followed by an escalation of troop levels
alongside it (reportedly beyond those set in a 30-year-old peace accord).
Besieged, browbeaten and starved -- in a way that all major
human rights groups have decried as illegal and inhumane -- Palestinians are
told to expect more of the same. Only this time the terminology used is much
more frightening. Israel�s Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai threatened Palestinians
in the Gaza strip with a �holocaust,' stating that, �the more Qassam [rocket]
fire intensifies and the rockets reach a longer range, they [the Palestinians]
will bring upon themselves a bigger shoah [Hebrew term for Holocaust] because
we will use all our might to defend ourselves."
Since the Nazi Holocaust, the Hebrew term has been used
almost exclusively to describe that tragic event. While many media commentators
jumped to limit the damage caused by Vilnai�s revelation, the acknowledgment of
the Israel-imposed crisis on Palestinian -- and the term �bigger,� in
particular -- is but another fleeting reminder of the horrors under which Gaza
lives, and Gaza alone is blamed for.
As Palestinians hurriedly buried their dead, US and Israeli
celebrities -- including Sylvester Stallone, John Voight and Paula Abdul --
rallied at an LA benefit concert for Sderot.
Speaking via satellite, Clinton, McCain and Obama also
expressed their unquestionable allegiance to Israel, as if only Israel�s dead
counted, only Israel�s security mattered. Clinton -- as the other presidential
contenders -- received another golden opportunity to express her �unwavering
commitment� to Israel.
When will US officials begin to acknowledge that both
Palestinians and Israelis have equal rights and equal responsibilities?
When will the media begin to provide the needed context and
stop manipulating terms and numbers in such a way that the Palestinians are
always at fault? When will we all accept that military occupation and
state-sponsored terror beget violence and breed more terror, and how this will
always be the case in Palestine -- as anywhere else -- as long as the
circumstances remain unchanged?Ramzy
Baroud is a Palestinian-American author and editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His work has
been published in numerous newspapers and journals worldwide. His latest book
Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People�s
Press, London). Read more about him on his website: ramzybaroud.net.