Whilst an Israeli temporary truce had been anticipated due to the respite to be afforded Palestinian civilians during the inauguration of President Obama, the unilateral nature of that decision must be a concern.

“Demands” from foreign governments (including Australia) that Hamas respect Israel’s demonstrably self-serving decision to suspend its invasion would have more credibility if they had been preceded by demanding Israel cease:

  • Its occupation
  • Its indiscriminate targeting of civilians
  • Its lockdown of Gaza even whilst signing agreements to do the contrary
  • Its November invasion of Gaza which signaled the end of the truce
  • And its refusal to negotiate a renewed truce in order to provoke the pretext for its invasion.

I was astonished a week ago to see Richard Farmer’s observation in Crikey that Gaza shouldn’t get much coverage because there are worse disasters elsewhere. This didn’t seem to apply to Gazan rocket fire for which reliable reports are that, in the year up until the end of the truce last month, they caused between four and zero Israeli deaths, and other reports that none were fired in that period by Hamas. In the face of Gazan adherence to the truce during 2008 (admitted by Israel’s government, but now seemingly removed from its official website place), Israel had three main motives to get that truce out of the way: Livni and Barak were trailing Netanyahu in the polls, the IDF was still smarting over its loss of face in Lebanon, and there was uncertainty of the US looking the other way once Obama came to office.

So what has changed for Israel? It has reportedly (Israeli newspapers report) killed 2.5 per cent of Hamas, with no regard for the accompanying civilian slaughter: Olmert freely uses words like “unfortunate” even as his successor, Livni, denies any humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Olmert continues to put his face-saving self-interest ahead of Livni’s desperation to self-promote; and the only way of stopping continuing rockets from Gaza remains to engage in dialogue for a political solution. Presumably, Israeli public opinion of the IDF has been somewhat restored, except for that nasty level of international public reaction to wanton civilian deaths that has to be dealt with.

Given such a hopeless outcome for Israeli warmongering against a civilian population for crass domestic political purposes, it now has appeased the White House with a short-term measure which may serve to reverse its disastrous damage to world opinion. This is what the ceasefire will bring — a huge scaling-up of Israeli propaganda about its ruthless aggression with a human face: the latter demonstrated by a short-term suspension of the former.

It will also bring humanitarian responses in repairing schools, hospitals, sanitation systems, water supply and shelter, and the renewed stocking of medical supplies, before the destruction of the next onslaught once Israel has figured out Obama’s tolerance levels. My colleagues — under siege in Gaza with their families — have suffered dead relatives, severely traumatized children and demolished houses, and no possible refuge. (I’m safely based in Jerusalem, making almost daily trips through Israeli military checkpoints to Ramallah for meetings with various Palestinian Authority Ministries.)

The media have kindly spared Australian lounge rooms the worst images of Israeli actions, such as children’s faces blown off, and decapitated children’s heads on the ground. But there are plenty of TV images of some broken walls and kitchenware if a Gazan rocket lands near a populated area. This is something which Palestinians — with access to both local and international reporting — find impossible to comprehend, and conclude that Palestinian lives are of no interest to the rest of the world.

The only reason I haven’t been called for a blood donation is that Israel had limited the amount allowed in each day, and Gazan hospitals lack facilities for proper storage. Otherwise demand would be very high. Very many people aren’t even getting to hospitals. A current report on one UN agency website describes the situation of a woman in Gaza who went into labour and no ambulance could come for her, so she went into the street accompanied by a friend, two other people came to her assistance: all four were killed by Israeli fire. Ambulances are reluctant to head out at night due to how many have been hit. Another of my colleagues was told on Thursday by his doctor to take his wife to hospital to be induced during the three hour ceasefire period next day, despite nervousness due to how frequently the IDF continued to violate those short daily breaks. Day or night, civilians in need of medical attention are targets.

Ban Ki Moon’s presence in Israel didn’t stop the IDF from bombing UN headquarters based on a lie (first that resistance fire had come from inside the UN compound, then — when that was disproved — that it had come from outside but they’d taken refuge inside). However, the cessation of actions for the duration of Obama’s inauguration will at least send a message to both the White House and the UN about Israeli diplomatic policy toward each of them. But this was a lesson already learned by the UN here, given that its regular provision to Israel of the precise coordinates of UN facilities inside Gaza turned out to be like painting a great big red “X” on top of such buildings for the benefit of overhead aircraft.

Peter Fray

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