Independent on Gaza

This is a long feature story. It shows why The Independent is one of the best corporate papers I know of. Macintyre notes the racist graffiti, he notes Israel breaking the ceasefire. He writes: “More than two weeks into the war, the Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni would boast in a radio interview that “Israel … is a country that when you fire on its citizens it responds by going wild – and this is a good thing”.”

He writes:

Whether, as Judge Richard Goldstone’s UN-commissioned report on Operation Cast Lead charged, Israel “targeted” the civilian population, or whether, as some soldiers have since attested, the military simply subordinated the preservation of Palestinian lives to those of its own troops, the figures tell their own story of the extent to which “a country” went “wild”. Though disputed by the military, exhaustive research by the respected Israeli human-rights agency B’Tselem put the total death toll at 1,387, of whom 773 were civilians. In the same period, four Israelis were killed in Israel by rocket fire, and nine soldiers in Gaza, four from friendly fire. Because the borders were closed, there was no flow of refugees out of Gaza of the sort that would have followed an equivalent onslaught elsewhere.

Either way, there is no sign as yet of an investigation into a separate incident early the previous day, the first of the ground invasion. Israeli soldiers, their faces camouflaged in black, some with branches round their helmets, stormed into the house behind Hilmi’s home, where his uncle, Atiya Samouni, a 46-year-old farmer, was taking refuge with his two wives and 15 children.

The family say that the house’s front door had deliberately been left open so the advancing troops would see there were children inside. According to their account, Atiya, who spoke some Hebrew, walked with his hands up to the open door of the children’s room – where the family was huddled – to show himself to the soldiers who were by now in the adjacent living room. His four-year-old son Ahmad followed him, crying out “Baba, Baba” – “Daddy” – and Atiya told him: “Don’t be afraid.” But as Atiya started to speak to the soldiers he was shot dead. The troops then began shooting into the children’s room, to screams from the adults of “katan” and “ktanim” – “little one(s)” in Hebrew. Five of the children were hit; Ahmad was shot twice in the chest, fatally.

Or this:

Down the road, 22-year-old Rami Samouni, whose brother Hamdi was killed by Israeli forces along with the 18,000 chickens in his coop, is helping to rebuild the destroyed house of his cousin Arafat.

Or this:

The “bad to unbelievable” period, which began in mid-2007, reflects the recent political history of Gaza. Having won the 2006 electoral contest for control of the Palestinian parliament, to the consternation of just about everyone, possibly including Hamas itself, the militant Islamic faction rapidly found itself at odds, not only with Israel and the international community, which united in demanding that it recognise Israel as it had consistently failed to do, but also with the Fatah Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who unlike his political co-habitants had long renounced violence and long embraced the idea of a two-state solution. Despite the mounting tensions through 2006, exacerbated by the abduction of the Israeli corporal Gilad Shalit and the ensuing military conflict, a short-lived Saudi-brokered coalition with Fatah was established in February 2007. In June of that year, however, the coalition broke down amid savage internecine fighting on Gaza’s streets which was decisively won by Hamas, who seized control in Gaza. Abbas “sacked” the Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh, leaving the putative future Palestine split between the West Bank under his own control, and Gaza under that of Hamas. And Israel imposed a total economic siege which at a stroke halted Gaza’s once- vibrant manufacturing and agricultural sectors – which often exported to Israeli trading partners – by closing the borders to all but the inward passage of basic humanitarian goods. It is a policy for which Gaza’s population of 1.5m has been paying the price ever since.

He talks about the tunnels, he talks about reconstruction. MacIntyre actually knows a lot about Gaza. For example:

Every diplomat familiar with the area believes that Hamas is actually benefiting from the tunnel economy created by the siege. It’s not just the 10,000 shekels (£1,600) each operator has to pay the Hamas-controlled Rafah municipality, ostensibly for “regulation and health and safety” – but which has not prevented 32 children and young people under the age of 18 being killed in the tunnels this year. One prominent Gaza businessman says that Hamas also brings in consumer goods through its own secret tunnels – the ones Israel believes it uses to import weapons – and then enlists tame traders to distribute the goods and share the profits with the faction. All of which can only make a mockery of the idea that the Israeli-imposed blockade hurts Hamas rather than the civilian population.

This is very important

Ging acknowledges that this is not a “typical human emergency” made visible by “emaciated bodies and an overwhelmed medical service” – though he points out that 80 per cent of Gazans are dependent on food aid, that the medical services are overloaded but somehow coping, and that the water and sewage infrastructure is on the brink of crisis with 80m cubic litres of raw sewage pumped daily into the Mediterranean, 80 per cent of the drinking water below WHO minimum standards and 60 per cent of people with only irregular access to water. Instead, he says, “the problem here is the destruction of a civilised society and what the impact of that will be for the solution to this conflict”.


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