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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Gaza: The Quality of Mercy Revisited

Gaza: The quality of mercy revisited
Sonja Karkar, Counterpunch, Sep 27, 2007

A Palestinian child stands near women protesting in Gaza City, calling for the release of relatives held in Israeli prisons. (Hatem Omar, Maan Images)
A Palestinian child stands near women protesting in Gaza City, calling for the release of relatives held in Israeli prisons. (Hatem Omar, Maan Images)

Do we really want to see 1.5 million people scrabbling for food in the garbage dumps, people withering away as diseases begin to spread into an epidemic and the descent into chaos as absolute desperation forces the people to grab at anything for survival? Just in case anyone thinks that this is an exaggeration, the beginnings of that scenario are already in play. Israel is setting up a demonic experiment in human behaviour reduced to the extremes of existence. By demonising the Palestinians over the years and rendering them unfit for human compassion, these now "sub-human" people are to be kept in Dov Weisglass' formaldehyde with the peace process.4 Give it any name you want, this is genocide.

The situation in Gaza is so dire now that mercy is just about all they can hope for if they want to survive. Neither justice nor peace have been offered in any measure nor are likely to be if Israel has its way. The Palestinians know only too well the futility of the peace processes and the barriers to justice. The powers that be have already thrown their weight behind Israel enough times for the Palestinians to be sure that their next generation will be suffering even worse humiliations than they have experienced themselves. But for many, the choice of being killed or living as slaves is not a choice at all. No wonder some of them are fighting back, even if their crude attempts at resistance are met with formidable and unmatchable retaliation. Only last November, the Israeli military attacked Beit Hanoun in the Gaza Strip with a vengeance that left 82 Palestinian civilians dead and 260 injured.5 This was the culmination of five months of killing by Israeli soldiers which saw the number of dead soar to 382 Palestinians with 1,229 injured. In the same period, Palestinian rocket fire had killed one Israeli and injured 26 others.6

It is impossible to make sense of this brutality unless we understand that Israel, since its creation, has been willing the Palestinians to vanish ­ not only those living in Gaza, but also in the West Bank and even inside Israel itself. That what is happening in Gaza is just part of the long and unforgiving litany of crimes that is still continuing.

Over sixty years, Israel has razed Palestinian homes and villages; destroyed their historical records of existence; denied their culture and identity and even promoted elements of it as their own; terrorised the Palestinians into leaving through campaigns of massacres and military brutality; divided families and communities with a prison wall and razor wire; prevented family unification bulldozed their cultivated lands which provided the farmers with sustainable living for centuries; obstructed education to a people long known for their academic achievements; intensified the closure on their society despite agreeing to ease the restrictions; taken their water leaving the Palestinians no choice but to buy it back at exorbitant prices; ruined their economy; demolished thousands of their homes; transferred thousands of others by force; refused them building permits while they allow Jewish citizens and settlers to build; created some 2000 occupier laws and regulations to prevent their natural growth even as they encourage the development of illegal Jewish settlements deep inside the occupied Palestinian territories; herded them into Bantustans while Israel maintains absolute control of all their movements; withheld their taxes so their civil servants could not be paid; put pressure on Western governments to impose sanctions; allowed US armaments in to stoke a civil war between the Palestinians; isolated Gaza from the West Bank and ostracised its leadership; and now, in a particularly venomous act is reducing Gaza to absolute penury while offering the interim Palestinian leadership in the West Bank "legitimacy" and another round of peace talks. And in the neighbouring Arab countries, some 6 million Palestinians are refused their right to return home - a situation going back to 1948 when Israel's first prime minister Ben Gurion set up a "Transfer Committee" which prohibited the return of the then 750,000 refugees who had fled Israel's campaign of terror.7

On the long and painful road towards resolving the injustices that are mounting with each Israeli act of aggression, mercy is very much needed. If Israel is loathe to give it, we must demand it of our governments to pressure Israel into stopping this collective punishment. Otherwise, we will be complicit in acts of calculated misery and ultimately the death of a whole people. However, mercy must extend beyond agreeing to feed the Palestinians properly, letting them have their electricity back and promising not to deprive them of water. This mercy must free the Palestinians from Israel's occupation and allow them the justice that has long been their due. And that, according to Dr Ghada Karmi, is the dilemma that Israel has with Palestine.8 It would mean the end of the grand Zionist plan to establish a Jewish-only state in a land belonging to another people and the beginning of an arduous journey towards reconciliation with the long-suffering victims of its colonial project. In the process, both peoples have yet to find out that mercy "blesseth him that gives and him that takes":9 without it, peace will remain as elusive as ever.

Sonja Karkar is the founder and president of Women for Palestine in Melbourne, Australia.

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