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15 January , 2009

There are two sides to every story, and in the face of the destruction targeted upon Gaza, most people are trying desperately hard to remember that Israelis too are finding themselves victim to an incessant supply of rockets launched into their towns, leaving them running for shelter and to safer territory.

A question of proportionality

But where there may be balance in the story telling, there is no balance or proportionality in the impact being felt between Israel and Gaza today, nor has there been over the last twenty days. The world is asking politely for a ceasefire, whilst Israel demonstrates, again, utter contempt for the world community, and mostly for the 1.5 millions Gazans whom it is now seeking to punish in a brutal and callous act of retribution against a civilian population. Politeness, and tiptoeing around the Israeli government has to end today when Ban Ki-Moon arrives in Israel for talks.

Nor is there truth in the storytelling, and so far as the IDF are concerned, there rarely is either truth or accountability. History has shown that time and time again. The IDF has told both Human Rights Watch and news reporters that it is not using white phosphorus in Gaza, a substance that can burn down houses and which can cause horrific burns to the skin. On January 7, an IDF spokesman told CNN, “I can tell you with certainty that white phosphorus is absolutely not being used.” Television images clearly show a substance that looks alarmingly like white phosphorous being sprayed from Israeli helicopters over one of the most densely populated areas on earth, amidst the barrage of shelling which has left an entire population trapped in buildings, with no bomb shelters within which to seek refuge, no ambulances to collect their dead or injured, and no space or opportunity to flee the terror as borders remain entirely closed. If television images are not enough to convince the sceptics that the IDF is lying again, Human Rights Watch researchers in Israel say that they have observed multiple air-bursts of artillery-fired white phosphorus over what appears to be the Gaza City/Jabaliya areas.

Strikes at the UN and vital infrastructure

This morning, the UN compound in Gaza has been shelled not once, but twice. Medical Aid for Palestinians have confirmed just this morning that both Al Wafa Hospital, in the eastern part of Gaza City, and Al Fata Hospital, in Tal El Hawa, west of Gaza City, have both been bombed by the Israeli military. The World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that Al Quds Hospital has suffered a direct hit. The International Red Cross and Red Crescent are unable to move freely or safely. Vital infrastructure that supports civilian populations, such as electricity pylons, water sanitation plans and of course the hospitals, have been destroyed and the so-called “humanitarian corridor” of three hours is neither sufficient nor determinate, adding to the psychological battle being waged by Israel on this Gazan civilian population. This is a people under massive fire, without access now to even the most basic of amenities, and significantly without the possibility even of escape. Trapped in their homes, maybe for days on end, Gazans must be wondering why the world is gently talking, whilst their land and people burn.

The laws of war

The Geneva Conventions were drawn up and agreed by 194 states, in order to put an end to the naked barbarity of war between two sovereign states. Hamas, for all its own attempts at wreaking terror, is hardly a competitor for the third biggest army in the world, and it is not a sovereign state in possession of a real army. Let us be clear. Hamas must be accountable for its own actions that strike fear into the heart of Israel, and their rocket launches must stop now. Israelis, and the world at large, must come to the table and accept that their actions over the last sixty years, not least the blockade which it has subjected the Gazan people to over the last eighteen months, is the reason why the Israeli population is under fire. It is time for the terror to end, for the world to stop mincing words, and for the IDF to stop its bombs. Later, everyone can talk, investigate, draw up terms and consider whether legal action is appropriate. For now, there should be no alternative. Israel has to stop bombing Gaza immediately. Last words, fittingly, fall to the summary provided by the International Red Cross as to the laws of war:

“The parties to a conflict must at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants in order to spare the civilian population and civilian property. Neither the civilian population as a whole nor individual civilians may be attacked. Attacks may be made solely against military objectives. People who do not or can no longer take part in the hostilities are entitled to respect for their lives and for their physical and mental integrity. Such people must in all circumstances be protected and treated with humanity, without any unfavorable distinction whatever. It is forbidden to kill or wound an adversary who surrenders or who can no longer take part in the fighting. Neither the parties to the conflict nor members of their armed forces have an unlimited right to choose methods and means of warfare. It is forbidden to use weapons or methods of warfare that are likely to cause unnecessary losses or excessive suffering.”

January 15th 2009

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