What Will It Take?
By Joharah Baker for MIFTAH
January 19, 2009

As terrible as this may sound, many Palestinians, including myself, thought, "Finally, Israel has committed atrocities so heinous in nature, the world cannot possibly ignore them. Something will finally come out of Israel's brutality towards us, even if it is years too late."

Now that the dust is just starting to settle over the devastated Gaza Strip, I find myself shaking my head with incredulity. Even as shell-shocked, bereaved Gazans are pulling limp, lifeless, decaying bodies from beneath tons of rubble, European leaders are heartily patting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on the back in solidarity.

Really, what kind of world do we live in? Certainly not one that applies its international principles fairly across the board, or calls for justice, peace and dignity for all peoples, regardless of who they are or where they live. No, this modern world is hardly fair, and the bleeding Gaza Strip is clear evidence of this.

After 22 days of unrelenting bombing, shelling and shooting, Israeli air and ground forces have managed to level huge areas of the Gaza Strip to the ground, taking not only buildings with it but scores of human lives. United Nations estimates put the number of civilian deaths throughout Israel's "Cast Lead" operation at half the total dead, while the Palestinians claim it is even higher, closer to 80 percent. The scenes today coming out of Gaza are chilling, in the least… apartment buildings left in pitiful heaps of bricks and debris, main streets torn up by the chains of Israeli tanks, rows of wrapped bodies, some only fragments after being ripped apart by an Israeli bomb and some so small, the white sheet is wrapped around the corpse two times over.

Initial estimates for the rebuilding of Gaza have been put at a whopping $1.6 billion, an estimate that is expected to rise once all of the devastation is fully exposed. Hundreds of thousands of Gazans have lost their homes, many for the second time around, and have no place to go. During the bombing, many took shelter in UN-run schools, believing that Israel, even in its indiscriminate bombing of Palestinian targets, would not be so insolent as to bomb a school run, no less, by the United Nations. They were wrong, of course, because Israeli scorn for Palestinian aspirations has no boundaries. Three UNRWA schools were bombed, killing dozens of people. Even UNRWA's main warehouse in Gaza City was struck, sending hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of food and medicines carefully stockpiled for distribution to those most in need, up in flames.

In Gaza, whole families have been annihilated. The scenes are reminiscent of Nazi Germany, where people were killed solely for the sake of who they were and not for what they have done.

As Israeli leaders gloat over achieving many of their "intended" goals while at the time feigning regret for the "loss of civilian life", I can only wonder how any leader with even the slightest bit of a conscience can sit at a table with Ehud Olmert, Tzipi Livni or Ehud Barak and break bread with them.

I am not naïve. I understand that the Hamas rockets fired into Israeli territory from Gaza has offered an excuse for Israeli actions, even if this excuse is extremely flimsy and offers no sort of justification for what Israel has done to the Palestinians. The Hamas rockets and the arms smuggling can be left for discussion another day. For now, I would rather ponder the utter disregard these leaders have for the value of Palestinian life and wonder just what else it will take for the world to see that Israel's intentions are much more far-reaching than stopping some lame rockets that barely put a hole in the ground.

I guess Israel understands the rules of the game. Over the past year, the last several months in particular, it has exaggerated the situation in Gaza tenfold in terms of Hamas's "terrorist power". It has broken ceasefires, killed Palestinians in the heart of Gaza and continued with its strangling boycott and siege, without mercy. In other words, it implicitly drummed up support for its onslaught on Gaza well before the bombs actually began to fall. Hamas and its rockets (no bigger than the size of a large New Years' firecracker) were depicted as the big, bad boogeyman with the capacity and desire to take out thousands of Israeli civilians in the peaceful south of Israel. In short, Israel had to defend itself or it would be annihilated by bloodthirsty Palestinians.

What's worse, now that Israel has done all it can do in Gaza, it unilaterally called a ceasefire, bringing on praises from its western allies. The fact that the UN Security Council called for a ceasefire early on into the assault and millions worldwide took to the streets in protest of Israel's massacres in the Strip is merely a footnote. No, when Israel was finished with the Gazans, it stopped the bombing, and not a minute earlier. Let's also not mention that a unilateral ceasefire means Israel has retained the right to re-enter Gaza at any time it deems necessary, bombing, arresting and blockading Gaza’s citizens when it is under "the threat of terrorism." This is eerily reminiscent of Israel's first unilateral withdrawal from Gaza back in 2004. Funny, that is how this whole mess started.

One reassurance Israeli leaders may get from the fact that European leaders have stumbled over themselves to show their support is the virtual immunity this gives Israel in the face of possible war crimes accusations. Ehud Olmert was awfully relaxed as he spoke to his European counterparts from France, Italy, the Czech Republic and Germany, shaking their hands and saying how much Israel appreciated their support in their war on terrorism. He knows that even if annoying pro-Palestinian groups try to raise the issue of war crimes in European countries, these European leaders have Israel's back. As for the UN, Israel has proven just how much consideration it gives to the international body. Even if the High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay pushes the international community to look into Israel's war crimes in Gaza, there is always the United States ready to torpedo any action against Israel.

As a Palestinian, it is extremely frustrating to watch yet another Israeli atrocity fall victim to western politics. Barack Obama will be inaugurated as President of the United States tomorrow, January 20. He has already given us a hint of how he will treat the Palestinian problem. His complicit silence during Israel's brutal onslaught into Gaza, which claimed over 1,300 Palestinian lives, has already spoken volumes.

Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Program at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at mip@miftah.org.