x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

As the dust settles, Israel’s actions must not be forgotten

The world must not forget the catastrophic loss of civilian life during Israel’s ground, sea and air offensive in Gaza, writes Nabila Ramdani

The rubble of homes that were destroyed by the Israeli military during an offensive that killed over 2,100 Palestinians and displaced hundreds of thousands. (AFP/Roberto Schmidt)
The rubble of homes that were destroyed by the Israeli military during an offensive that killed over 2,100 Palestinians and displaced hundreds of thousands. (AFP/Roberto Schmidt)

Catastrophic loss of civilian life, including the killing of more than 500 children, was the principal result of Israel’s ground, sea and air offensive in Gaza. When a ceasefire was finally called last week, apologists for Tel Aviv’s military machine offered the usual macabre excuses for slaughtering innocent Palestinians.

It was all the result of rooting out irregular enemy forces within a restricted and densely populated urban battlefield, claimed media spokesmen. Using their well-rehearsed sound-bites, they insisted that wives, daughters, fathers, sons, grandparents … even hospital patients and all other particularly vulnerable members of society, were guilty of hiding “terrorists” and their weapons, and acting as “human shields”. Deaths and maiming were, we were told, the inevitable punishment, along with the coordinated destruction of homes.

War is hell, is the essential message of the PR men, and the most barbaric form of “collateral damage” is something that everybody, including the western democracies that supply Israel with billions of dollars-worth of sophisticated weaponry, should learn to live with.

Such logic is flawed, and one of many reasons why Israel’s politicians and military commanders should be in front of war crimes tribunals. Just as crucially, it highlights why all nations should now be rallying against Israel’s routine extermination of civilian populations, taking every measure possible to stop it.

Just look at the way western allies have refused to accept threats to civilians by any other country apart from Israel. It was just three-and-a-half years ago, in March 2011, that a coalition of forces including ones from Britain, France and the USA began a campaign in Libya specifically aimed at protecting innocent lives. United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 called for an “immediate ceasefire in Libya”, and “an end to attacks against civilians which might constitute crimes against humanity”.

Never mind that the Muammar Qaddafi regime had not yet carried out its intention to destroy opponents in Benghazi. As western warplanes prepared for action, the Colonel was warning his enemies in Libya’s second city that: “We are coming tonight.” He said there would be “no mercy or compassion”, but those who “laid down their weapons” would be spared.

The issue was not what Qaddafi had in mind for the ragtag army that wanted to depose him. He was entitled to protect his interests, but what he was not allowed to do was murder innocent people.

Thus warplanes spent eight months bombarding Libya in a ferocious onslaught, which ended with the death of Qaddafi in October 2011. It did not seem to matter that regime change had not been sanctioned by resolution 1973, and that the country would soon descend into anarchy. Even now, as rival militias once more reduce Libya to a battleground, western leaders including British prime minister David Cameron can at least claim that they had helped to prevent a civilian bloodbath.

Such logic must be applied to Israel. Its leaders argue that a military action that resulted in 2,100 plus dead in Gaza, along with 11,000 injured and more than 17,000 homes destroyed or badly damaged, made Israel a safer place. In fact, there is no question of all those civilian deaths having helped defeat Hamas and similar resistance groups. On the contrary, turning the entire population of Gaza into military targets has made them even more determined to resist occupation and regular military invasion by Israel.

Dissent is inevitable when people are being subjugated, but that does not give anybody the right to kill them, least of all an alleged democracy supported by western countries, including the world’s only superpower.

The vast majority of Israel’s casualties during the latest campaign were military ones, 64 soldiers died along with six civilians. The troops would almost certainly have survived had they remained with the rest of Israel’s population under the much vaunted “Iron Dome” – the missile defence system that largely cancels out the obsolete artillery ordnance fired by Hamas.

Moves are already underway to investigate alleged Israeli war crimes, but the international community must go a lot further. It needs, as a matter of absolute urgency, to clamp down on all attempts by Israel to kill civilians. The UN made its position clear on the matter over Libya in 2011, and must continue to do so.

A third of the two million odd people living in Gaza have been displaced, with many now in UN shelters. Their schools, hospitals, businesses and mosques lie in rubble, along with power and water plants. Reconstruction is likely to take up to two decades. It is imperative that those forced into such a grossly unjust and cruel position should be allowed to live.

Nabila Ramdani is a French- Algerian journalist and broadcaster who specialises in Islamic affairs and the Arab world

On Twitter: @NabilaRamdani