14/01/2009

Gaza; How Long Can We Sit on the Fence?


12/01/09

And so, after nineteen months of continuous blockade, three weeks of relentless bombardment, a thousand dead and another four thousand injured, Israeli spokesmen reveal, that Israel is “advancing towards the end game”.

With foreign journalists barred from entering, we have no choice but to rely on UN reports from Gaza, telling of a humanitarian catastrophe unfolding for a "trapped, traumatised, terrorised" civilian population. Such a crisis makes threats to effect a “bigger holocaust” on Gazans, by Israel’s deputy defence minister - seem all the more unsettling. Meanwhile, both sides gear-up for an intense battle in the centre of the besieged city, where many civilians formerly living on the outskirts have been forced to flee.

It is difficult to see exactly what Israel has sought to achieve with this debacle. Prime Minister Olmert has publicly denied attempting to enforce ‘regime change’, or another occupation on the Gaza strip; thus we are left to assume that the current crisis is just the bloody crescendo of a grand, macabre strategy to collectively punish Gazans for their support for Hamas, which seems nothing but emboldened by Israel’s measures. A bonus however, could lie in whipping up nationalistic fervour in support of the government in time for the upcoming Knesset elections.

Whatever Israel’s gains - one thing is for sure; whatever it has achieved, has already been far outstripped by what it has lost in international credibility.

The turn-around in public opinion has been immense. Even American news networks have been shocked into reminding viewers that it was indeed Israel who initially broke the truce which lead to the current crisis. Within Israel itself opinion is divided - but there has been considerable discontent observed by the organisation Jews Sans Frontieres, who have so-far amassed at least 2000 signatures among nearby Israelis in protest to the continued violence. Last weekend’s protests in London managed to draw a crowd of over 100 000 from across the political spectrum. This is all the more significant considering the deflated, post-Iraq public mantra of “protesting won’t make a difference” - which unfortunately seems to sum-up the attitude to our democracy these days.

Despite lack of a Palestinian Solidarity Organisation in Keele, our students have made a show of support - petitioning and raising awareness on the Concourse on Thursday evening. Contributing to many thought-provoking speeches, Glen Watson - coordinator of the Socialist Students, reflected upon the demonstrations in Tel Aviv to reinforce the point that this conflict is not one of “creed vs. creed”.

But does this new spirit of open criticism reflect a growing public outrage against the state of Israel itself? In a word, no. It is certainly a divergence from the zealous neutralism that has carried the debate so far. However, isolating, and flagging-up a case of injustice committed by one party, does not equate to supporting the other extreme - far less, denying that party’s very existence. Injustice has gone on far enough that we can discard this mentality entirely.

Politics will - as always, take time to catch up with public discourse, but this discourse is now one of serious human concern - not a great leap on the anti-Israeli bandwagon. I genuinely believe that the power of anti-Israeli sentiment - often discarded as borderline anti-Semitism, may one day seem as genuine as the virulent (and often petulant) anti-Americanism which has characterised Britain and the rest of the world during the Bush years. An attitude we were quick to extinguish, getting caught up by the idealism of ‘hope’ and ‘change’.

Israel is as capable of effecting a similar change in public opinion, as far as it actually makes that change.

Only public action can spearhead political reorientation on this issue. Despite everyone from Berlin to Baghdad eagerly awaiting Obama to step in and save the day, essentially, governments and states the world-over are content to pick and choose which injustices should be confronted and which can be allowed to continue. Two conditions must be met before our government will act. 1) They must see an opportunity to represent public sympathy - the PR factor, and 2) they must see that this sympathy is joined with real action. In this context - the economic factor.

Naomi Klein, writing in the Nation earlier this week, has joined calls for a publicly-guided strategy of Boycott, Divestment and Sanction of Israel, which has been gradually gaining ground since 2005. The plan is ambitious but simple in its approach; that a grassroots boycott of Israeli goods will provoke companies concerned for their profits to divest from Israel, and give the international community the confidence to threaten economic sanctions if the first two measures yield no results. Punitive measures will alienate rather than persuade Israel, on the merits of its reckless disregard for human rights, humanitarian law and the moral high ground - which they are more than capable of achieving by perusing diplomacy and abiding by UN resolutions.

Everyone is capable of contributing to this campaign, and raising awareness of the issue. Information is widely available on the internet, and a number of protests are being organised across the country. Palestinian Solidarity Societies and campaigns can be formed to work at a local level. Essentially though, it is up to the individual to do what they can for the cause, and wake people’s consciences to the dangers of letting this event become nothing but a comma in the tragic history of the conflict.

The tick-box stances of ‘pro-Israeli’ and ‘anti-Israeli’ have run their course, and have only impeded finding a resolution to the conflict. Rather, we must take a firm stance supporting justice. Without this there can be no lasting peace. In practical terms, this means getting off the fence and showing solidarity with those who are suffering.

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