Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A pause between wars

Nationalists and republicans familiar with the frequent bias and official and unofficial censorship that was the rule in British media coverage of the north over three decades will not have been surprised by that media’s current coverage of the Israeli assault on Gaza. The BBC has especially and justifiably come in for considerable criticism of its’ reporting.

Six years ago an independent group chaired by Quentin Thomas of the British Home Office, produced a report into the BBC’s coverage of the ‘Israeli-Palestinian conflict’. It concluded that there were ‘identifiable shortcomings, particularly in respect of gaps in coverage, analysis, context and perspective.’

The report was binned and the effect of that has been obvious in the current reportage of the violence in that region.

Palestinian citizens ‘die’. Israeli citizens are ‘killed’. Countless images are used of rockets being fired from Gaza but no comparable reports are given of the huge arsenal of weaponry, including nuclear weapons, that are available to the Israeli forces and much of which is being used against Palestinian civilians.

So let’s be clear the conflict in the middle east is not a war of equals. The Gaza Strip is a third world region, poor, under economic siege for six years and with most of its citizens living in poverty and relying on international aid.

Israel by comparison is a first world, highly developed, rich and heavily armed super-state with nuclear weapons. It’s as if Mohammed Ali at the height of his power and heavy weight champion of the world had decided to take on a teenager just learning to box. No contest.

Misinformation is also a weapon in every conflict. One example was reported in the last 48 hours by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency which looks after millions of Palestinian refugees scattered across several middle east countries.

It reported that on “17 November 2012 at 22:16, the Israeli Defense Forces tweeted from their official Twitter account (@IDFSpokesperson) a link to a video hosted on their official YouTube channel, featuring an animated film that depicts militants firing rockets from a school clearly marked with the UNRWA insignia.”

This didn’t happen. It wasn’t true. UNRWA denied the allegations and expressed concern at ‘the creation and use of footage that wrongly suggests that UNRWA is allowing its premises to be used for terrorist activities in the current conflict and the unauthorised use of its logo in computer-generated material. In a situation of conflict these allegations have potentially grave consequences. UNRWA takes with utmost seriousness the neutrality of its installations, particularly in times of heightened violence.”

It is worth noting that in the 2008-9 assault on Gaza the Israeli Army destroyed 10 schools and damaged another 204.

The overwhelming firepower of Israel is also evident in the numbers of Palestinian dead and the major physical damage being done to the infrastructure of the Gaza strip.

By Wednesday over 130 citizens of the Gaza strip had been killed. Five Israelis had also been killed. At least half of those killed in Gaza were women and children, like the Dula family. Their home was destroyed on Sunday afternoon. Nine family members, including a mother and four children were killed. In the Gaza strip at least 850 people have been wounded in the last 7 days. 260 have been children and 140 have been women.

There has been much talk of a ceasefire or truce and we must remain hopeful that one will be agreed. But the fact is that without a significant effort by the international community to create a meaningful and inclusive peace process any ceasefire will only be a pause between wars.

Real progress toward a negotiated political settlement requires an end of armed actions by all of the combatant groups. That means an end to the rocket attacks from Gaza. It also means an end to Israeli aggression and its bombardment of the Gaza Strip which has caused enormous suffering, and the lifting of the six year blockade.

The Gaza strip is in deep crisis. The future looks bleak for those living there.

 A United Nations report published recently – ‘Gaza in 2020 – A liveable place?’ concluded that within a decade, ‘There will be virtually no reliable access to sources of safe drinking water, standards of healthcare and education will have continued to decline and the vision of affordable and reliable electricity for all will have become a distant memory for most.”

The report added that; ‘The already high number of poor, marginalised and food-insecure people depending on assistance will not have changed and in all likelihood will have increased.’

Currently 80% of the one and a half million people who live in the Gaza strip are dependent upon international aid. Gaza is running out of water. And with a huge proportion of young people it needs 250 additional schools now and another 190 in the next eight years. It also needs 71,000 housing units.

 The UN report concludes that ‘one of the main reasons for the economy’s inability to recover to pre-2000 levels has been and is the blockade of the Gaza strip.’

The Palestinian people have been robbed of their land, imprisoned by separation walls and borders into ghettoes, and have little power or influence.

In 2009 I visited the Gaza strip and Israel. I saw for myself the impact of the Israeli attack and the enormous devastation it had wrought. I also spoke to Israeli victims of rocket attacks from Gaza.

The international experience and one of the main lessons from our peace process is clear. Refusing to engage in dialogue; demonising opponents; treating them as non-citizens; stripping them of their rights and entitlements, of their self-esteem and integrity as human beings; engaging in censorship and vilification, makes war easier and peace harder.  It is an approach which will perpetuate the cycle of conflict.

A real peace process must be inclusive, based on dialogue and equality, and all sides must respect the right of citizens to elect or select their representatives. That means Hamas must be involved in the negotiations.


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