Short ceasefire brings little relief in Gaza

Bombs stopped falling on Gaza for three days, allowing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to return to what had once been their homes and neighbourhoods. For many, this brief respite provided no relief since they emerged from their shelters only to find that the places they knew no longer existed.

Homes in which they were born and raised, that held within their walls memories of the lives they lived, had been reduced to rubble. Not only had lives and hope been victims of this onslaught, memories were shattered, as well. The one-month casualty totals were staggering which included large number of children, women and elders. Hundreds and thousands more have been wounded. At the peak of hostilities, more than one-quarter of all Gazans were internally displaced and of that total, 65,000 are now permanently without homes.

What remains unknown are how many bodies are still buried under the rubble and how many homes, though standing, will be deemed unfit for habitation, creating an even more desperate situation in the impoverished strip called Gaza.  

With or without an infusion of massive amounts of international aid, clearing away the mess of this war will take years. Streets can be cleaned, but the wounds, both physical and mental, will not soon heal, nor will the survivors easily erase the feelings of helplessness, despair, and anger with which they have been left.

As Palestinians took advantage of the 72 hour calm to sift through the ruins and attempt to reconstruct their shattered lives, Israel began a clean-up operation of its own. Instead of brooms and shovels, their tools of choice were full page ads, "studies", and a "setting the record straight" press conference by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. What they attempted to clean up was not the mess they left behind in Gaza, but the damage they had done to their image world-wide.

Their relentlessness in waging war was matched by their efforts to reshape the narrative of what happened during the bloody month-long onslaught. Using misdirection and fabrication they spared no effort to provide reinforcement for their supporters and sow confusion among the public at large.

The blood of the dead had not yet dried and the bodies of the missing had not yet been recovered, when the Israelis released studies arguing that the body counts issued by a number of UN agencies operating in Gaza were wrong and, of course, biased against Israel. Based on a preliminary review of the names of what they claimed were the first 150 dead Palestinians, the Israelis concluded that one-half were, in fact, fighters.

Extrapolating from that unscientific "sample" they advanced the facile conclusion that one-half of all the casualties must have been fighters — this, in a brazen effort to deny the UN claim that more than 70 per cent of those who died had been civilians.  

Then, on the first day of post-cease-fire negotiations, the Prime Minister held a press conference and two pro-Israel groups placed full-page advertisements in US newspapers both of which regurgitated the arguments Israel had been making since the conflict began: Israel is the moral nation; Israel is the victim; and Israel cares more for Palestinian life than Palestinians care for their own — since it was Israel that provided warnings and even aid, food, water, and electricity to the people in Gaza, while Hamas used civilians as human shields. In his press conference, Netanyahu feigned sadness for the loss of life while placing the blame squarely on Hamas: they made us do it; they wanted to increase the number of dead, so they could use it against us; our actions were proportionate, and the justified response of a civilized victim nation fighting against evil.

By any measure, this Israeli clean-up operation was an obscene form of self-absolution designed to provide supporters with talking points, while creating confusion among all-too pliant reporters and the publics whom they impact.

The purpose of this effort was to change the public's understanding of the scenes of entire neighbourhoods that had been destroyed, or the entire families that had been wiped out by errant bombs, or the civilian targets that had been struck by deadly missile attacks.  Instead of being seen as evidence of overwhelming and disproportionate force by a callous occupier, Israel wanted all of this to be seen as the inevitable and tragic consequence of what the very evil Hamas "forced" the very moral Israel to do.

After the 2008-2009 Gaza war, Israel was able to escape scot-free. Using the same clean-up tools of misdirection and fabrication, they were able to keep the US solidly in their corner.

When that failed, they resorted to intimidation to silence critics — even pummelling the venerable Justice Goldstone into submission.

Believing they can get away with the same game plan, Israel sees no reason to change course. As a result, Hamas also sees no point in changing its behaviour, and so the sad saga will continue until there is international intervention and equal doses of justice and accountability for the misdeeds committed by all parties.    

The author is the President of Arab American Institute. All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of Times of Oman.


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