“The war belongs to (Israeli PM Ehud) Olmert, the victims belong to us”: Israelis protest against the attacks on Gaza in Tel Aviv
Israelis protest: “End the massacre in Gaza!” Photos by the Israeli peace group Gush Shalom
It is not just Arabs and many anti-war folks outside Israel who are protesting against the attacks on Gaza, which have now killed over 400 people, many of them civilians and police officers. Jewish Israelis too have protested in the heart of Tel Aviv against the attacks on Gaza. Another demonstration is scheduled this Saturday evening in Tel Aviv.
This report from the Israeli peace group Gush Shalom. “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies! Our demand: A full truce and the lifting of the siege on Gaza NOW!” said Gush Shalom, in publicising the protest:
No organisation called for the demonstration – but more than a thousand men and women gathered spontaneously in order to protest in front of the Ministry of Defense in Tel-Aviv, only a few hours after the murderous Air Force attack on the Gaza strip started.
They were members of the diverse peace organizations, from “Gush Shalom” and the “Women’s Coalition for Peace” to the “Anarchists Against the Wall” and Hadash. The police, apparently afraid that the protesters would storm the building in which the Minister and the Army High Command were conducting the war, took special precautions: the elite police commando unit was backed by mounted police. Reserves were hidden in side streets. At the beginning of the demonstration, some of the police confronted the crowd with loaded and pointed guns.
“Barak, Barak, Minister of Defence – How many children have you murdered today?” shouted the protesters, whose slogans were backed up by drums. They were especially incensed by the Meretz Party statement the day before, which justified an attack on Gaza, and shouted: “Meretz, Meretz Party – Again for a War?”
Another group, Jews for Justice for Palestinians, has written a letter to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, pointing out breaches in the previous ceasefire:
Claiming that this is an action to stop rocket fire is a wholly unpersuasive argument…. The Israeli government steadily sought to break down the ceasefire, not just in Gaza since early November, but also in the West Bank. Israeli forces have carried out an average of 33 incursions, 42 arrests or detentions, 12 woundings and 0.84 killings a week in the West Bank during the ceasefire. The tactic has been to continue attacking Hamas and other militants in the West Bank, provoking responses in Gaza, and to use the responses as the pretext for the massive attacks of the last 24 hours.
On 23rd December Hamas offered to renew the ceasefire if Israel would undertake to open border crossings for supplies of aid and fuel, and halt incursions. For those of us appalled at the collective punishment involved in the ongoing siege, and concerned that Israelis should not fear death or injury from Qassam rockets, that seems a truly reasonable response.
For Israel to reject it bespeaks a bankrupt body politic especially since the army and the politicians are acting against the wishes of the Israeli public. It is after all the civilians on both sides who will bear the brunt of this dangerous folly.
Meanwhile, The UK Guardian’s award-winning journalist Seumas Milne reports on the context leading up to the attacks on Gaza. “The issue is of course not just the vast disparity in weapons and power, but that one side is the occupier, the other the occupied”:
… Hamas and the Palestinians of Gaza are held responsible for what has been visited upon them. How could any government not respond with overwhelming force to the constant firing of rockets into its territory, the Israelis demand, echoed by western governments and media.
But that is to turn reality on its head. Like the West Bank, the Gaza Strip has been – and continues to be – illegally occupied by Israel since 1967. Despite the withdrawal of troops and settlements three years ago, Israel maintains complete control of the territory by sea, air and land. And since Hamas won the Palestinian elections in 2006, Israel has punished its 1.5 million people with an inhuman blockade of essential supplies, backed by the US and the European Union.
Like any occupied people, the Palestinians have the right to resist, whether they choose to exercise it or not. But there is no right of defence for an illegal occupation – there is an obligation to withdraw comprehensively. During the last seven years, 14 Israelis have been killed by mostly homemade rockets fired from the Gaza Strip, while more than 5,000 Palestinians were killed by Israel with some of the most advanced US-supplied armaments in the world. And while no rockets are fired from the West Bank, 45 Palestinians have died there at Israel’s hands this year alone. The issue is of course not just the vast disparity in weapons and power, but that one side is the occupier, the other the occupied.
Hamas is likewise blamed for last month’s breakdown of the six-month tahdi’a, or lull. But, in a weary reprise of past ceasefires, it was in fact sunk by Israel’s assassination of six Hamas fighters in Gaza on 5 November and its refusal to lift its siege of the embattled territory as expected under an Egyptian-brokered deal. The truth is that Israel and its western sponsors have set their face against an accommodation with the Palestinians’ democratic choice and have instead thrown their political weight, cash and arms behind a sustained attempt to overthrow it.