It is hard to know where to begin talking about Gaza. We are awash in reports, information, photographs, even video of the onslaught on Gaza – the stepped up air and ground assault by Israeli forces onto the most crowded strip of land on earth. More than 100 Palestinians have been killed in the last few days, some half of them unarmed civilians and many of them children, including a number of babies. Hundreds have been wounded and are now being treated in a medical system that was on the verge of collapse long before these latest attacks (and among other targets, the head office of the Palestinian Medical Relief Society, along with the main pharmacy and an ambulance, was destroyed by Israel on Feb. 28th. A 5 month old baby died in the same attack.)
It’s true that parts of southern Israel are suffering rocket attacks now; one Israeli was killed last week and several have been injured in the last few days. As we JPN editors have written before, these (and all) Israeli citizens are being held hostage to their government’s irresponsible and obviously dangerous refusal to come to the one resolution that could end the rocket fire: a mutual ceasefire and an end to Israel’s siege on Gaza.
Israel, backed and guided by the U.S., still refuses to negotiate with Hamas. (See JPN post “The Makings of War” from 2/23/2008 on the U.S.’s adamant position that Israel break Hamas.) Israel has stepped-up attacks on Gaza and threatens worse: on Feb. 29, Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai promised the Palestinians a shoah/holocaust of their own. Racheli Gai writes that “the word “shoah” is not used in Hebrew exclusively in reference to the Nazi holocaust. However, this is the primary and dominant meaning of the word, so any use of it brings forth connotations of the holocaust/genocide. If we add to it the fact that it was used by a public figure, a military man threatening horrendous action against the people of Gaza, there is no way to ignore the presence of the ominous connotations.” Mitchell Plitnick also discusses Vilnai’s use of the word “shoah” in his new blog post: http://www.allvoices.com/user/blog/631.
But the calls for an end to the siege and direct negotiations with Hamas are getting stronger and stronger. See below for:
**1) An urgent petition, a joint Palestinian and Israeli effort, calling for an immediate ceasefire and offering a shared understanding and vision. Palestinian and Israeli civil societies are vibrant and vital. If you are Israeli or Palestinian, please sign the petition. If you are not – and the organizers have explicitly asked that people who are not do not sign the petition – please spread this word to amplify this critical voice.
**2) The majority of Israelis – 64% – support direct negotiations with Hamas towards a ceasefire.
**3) Hamas has repeatedly offered Israel a long-term ceasefire. Most recently, on February 23rd, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said that Hamas will consider any initiative that will bring about a ceasefire. Israel has repeatedly rejected Hamas’s offers. Also there is an op-ed published two weeks ago in Ha’aretz by a senior Hamas advisor reiterating the ceasefire offer.
**4) Uri Avnery’s latest column is an extremely useful FAQ regarding negotiations with Hamas. As always, his analysis is sharp and his memory long. Editor’s note: Though Avnery writes that Arafat was murdered, there isn’t agreement that this was in fact what happened.
**5) And what about Abbas? Ramzy Baroud’s article shows the increasingly narrow space that Abbas has created for himself.
**6) Last, the prominent American Jewish newspaper The Forward recognizes that negotiations with Hamas are a legitimate, necessary pursuit.
The calls are coming from many directions; now we must make them louder, loud enough to push the U.S. and Israel to end the siege and the bombardment now.
Sarah Anne Minkin
Petition for Israelis and Palestinians: Ceasefire Now!
[**Reminder: this petition is only for Israelis and Palestinians to sign]
The escalation in and around the Gaza Strip is causing terrible suffering to people – to men, women, elderly and children, Palestinian as well as Israeli civilians.
The military offensive conducted by the Israeli armed forces has so far caused hundreds of Palestinian casualties; many of them were unarmed civilians. The siege and economic blockade have reduced most of the Gaza Strip’s population to abject poverty, devastated its economy, and caused the death of critically ill patients, denied access to vital treatment. The Palestinian attacks on Sderot have severely traumatized its population, far beyond the physical casualties caused among them.
This is not a conflict between two equal forces. The most powerful army in the Middle East, backed by the world’s single remaining super-power, is daily using tanks, fighter planes, helicopters and gunships against the lightly-armed militias and overcrowded population of a small area whose people have lived under occupation and in poverty long before the present siege.
Yet the individuals caught in the fighting are all suffering – on both sides of the fighting, among both peoples. The pain of living in daily fear, of being wounded and mutilated for life, of grieving for the loss of loved ones, is the same pain – whether one’s country be oppressed or oppressor, occupied or occupier, rich or poor, powerful or powerless.
The attacks on both sides of the border feed on each other and intensify each other. Palestinians in Gaza, rightly feeling themselves still living under occupation despite the Israeli ‘disengagement’, seek to resist occupation, but when some use launching of rockets against civilians, they manage only to provide an additional justification for tightening the siege on Gaza and the escalation of Israeli violence.
The cycle of violence and bloodshed goes on and on, and the threat of an overall invasion and re-conquest of the Gaza Strip is openly and repeatedly made by the Israeli military and political leaders – with the cost estimated at hundreds or thousands of casualties.
We, the undersigned – Israelis and Palestinians – do not accept this grim reality as inevitable. There is a clear and obvious alternative to bloody escalation and strangulating siege, an alternative providing hope: an end to the siege of Gaza, and a ceasefire and cessation of all hostilities.
The siege of Gaza and the collective punishment of its population are totally unacceptable. It is a medieval form of war which is in utter contradiction to the present norms of human rights and international law – which Israel, as an occupying power, is bound to respect. There should be an immediate end to the siege, unconnected with any other issue, and the Gaza Strip must have free access to the outside world, for the free passage of persons and goods.
It has already been clearly seen that the suffering inflicted on Palestinian civilians in Gaza did not and cannot solve the problem of Sderot. The only solution is a complete and mutual ceasefire, an end to all armed attacks by the Israeli occupation on Palestinians, including all shootings by infantry, tanks, artillery, aircraft and gunboats, and all targeted killings, armed incursions and arrests across the border, and an end to launching of rockets by Palestinians on Israelis. In addition, this should involve a reopening of the prisoners issue, starting with negotiations on the exchange of Israeli soldier Gilead Shalit with Palestinian prisoners.
We regard such a ceasefire as an entirely realistic, achievable and desirable act, which would save lives, alleviate misery and create better conditions for any attempt to achieve peace between the two peoples – while understanding that no long-lasting solution is possible while the Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem continue to live under occupation.
First list of Palestinian signatories
Dr. Eyad Sarraj, President, Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, Gaza
Mr. Khaled Abdelshafi, Economist, Gaza Mr. Abdelkarim Ashour, PARC, Gaza
Mr. Omar Sha’ban, Economist, Palthink, Gaza
Dr. Ahmad Abu Tawaheena, GCMHP, Gaza
Mr. Talak Okal, Political Analyst, Gaza
Mr. Ma’moun Abu Shahla, Vice-President, Bank of Palestine, Gaza
Mr. Sami Abdelshafi, Consultant, Gaza Dr. Ryad Za’noun, Former Health Minister, Gaza Mr. Constantine Dabbagh, Secretary General of Near East Council of Churches, Gaza
Dr. Fawwaz Abu Sitta, Lecturer, Gaza
Mr. Mostafa Mas’oud, Businessmen Association, Gaza Ms. Rania Kharma, Gaza
Dr. Ali abu Zuhri, President of Al Aqsa University, Gaza Mr. Ibrahim Khashan, Gaza
Mr. Nader Shurafa, Ramatan, Gaza
Dr. Kamalein Sha’ath, President of Islamic University, Gaza
Mr. Hashem Shawwa, President, Bank of Palestine, Gaza
Ms. Hanan Taha, Paltrade, Gaza
Dr. Yehya Sarraj, Islamic University
Ms. Nebras Bseiso, Gaza
Mr. Hani Masri, Bada’el Association, Ramallah
Ms. Laila Atshan, Sociologist, Ramallah
Mr. Haseeb Nashashibi, Ramallah
Mr. Mamdouh Aker, the Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizen’s Rights, Ramallah
Mr. Jumana Odeh, Pediatrician, Ramallah
Jewish Peace News editors:
Sarah Anne Minkin