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 an 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. In retaliation against the Palestinians,
Israel reduced Gaza to 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 is the home of over 1.5 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 Israeli�s. With the exception of a few astute
observers, everyone who watches Western media knows that it is the Palestinians
who 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 a 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 to 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 60 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
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 from seeing 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 an 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 louaysafi.com.