I write after spending twenty days in Gaza, where I have seen probably one of the worst forms of collective punishment against a whole population. What we have seen is an Israeli effort to destroy the infrastructure and to subject 1.4 million people to a severe humanitarian crisis and terrible humiliation. Early on in this action the Israeli army has destroyed the only electricity station in Gaza. Water supplies as well as sewer systems could simply collapse at any moment. We are extremely worried about the possibilities of a public health and a serious medical disaster.
Daily, the Israeli planes bombard Gaza. This is usually accompanied by sonic bombing - Israeli F16 jet fighters flying very low to break the sound barrier, causing severe distress.. There is now an epidemic of psychological distress, especially among children but also among the adults. The siege is complete and nobody is allowed to get in or out of Gaza. 5,000 people are already stuck at Rafah crossing, including many patients who were receiving treatment outside and cannot get home. There are hundreds in Gaza who need medical treatment urgently abroad and cannot leave.
This is just a sample the situation. This this is happening not because the Palestinians have taken an Israeli soldier prisoner of war. This is just an excuse. After all, 50 days before this the Israeli army conducted 77 air strikes and 4,000 bombardments by artillery and tanks, causing the deaths of 94 Palestinians, mainly civilians and mainly children and women.
Additionally, Israel has conducted the assassination of the democratic process of Palestine, by kidnapping 27 legislators, members of the Palestinian parliament and 8 ministers in the government. It then subjected them to criminal courts as if they were not elected in front of the eyes of Israel just a few months ago. Suddenly Israel has discovered that they have files of criminal accusations against them.
What is happening is also an indicator that the Israeli court system and legal system is nothing but an instrument that is used by the Israeli occupying army and Israeli government to do what they like. What is happening in Gaza is proof that Israeli unilateral actions have failed and that unilateralism cannot work.
The so-called Olmert plan of unilateralism would end up destroying the whole idea of negotiations and the whole idea of 2 state solutions by transforming the idea of an independent Palestinian state into clusters of prison-like entities.
The wall that he is building will be 4 times as long as the Berlin wall and 3 times the length of the real border between the West Bank and Israel. This is not a plan for peace, this is a plan to annex no less then 46% of the land in the West Bank including all of east Jerusalem, all of the Jordan valley and all the areas where settlements exist; cutting and destroying the connection between the different cities and villages and communities in the West Bank.
This is a plan to consolidate the Apartheid that Israel has created in the Palestinian occupied territories. The attack on Gaza is israel‘s attempt to break the Palestinian resistance to occupation and to Olmert’s plan. They were going to make this attempt anyhow, whether or not there was an Israeli prisoner. The attack had been under preparation since the election took place in the Palestinian territories and since Israel realized that it would no longer be possible to impose any agreements on the Palestinians without them being approved by the elected officials in Palestine.
Given the extent of these crimes, taking place on a constant basis, it is really shocking to see that there is no international condemnation, and no intervention to stop this violation of every aspect of human rights and international law. This has reinforced Israel's refusal to deal with the issue of the Israeli soldier with diplomacy; and strengthened its resolve to act similarly when two other soldiers wre captured in Lebanon.
The Israeli soldier could return safely to his family, if Israel would agree to release some of the Palestinian prisoners. Of course this prisoner has a family and we sympathise with their feeling; I know that this family wants the Israeli government to negotiate. This is what they’ve been asking their government to do. Instead Israel is conducting a war.
There are 10,000 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails. Some of them have been in jail for 28 years. Among them there are 450 children and no less then 150 women, some of whom have given birth to their children in jail and are now in jail with their very young children. When a child with her mother in prison reaches the age of 2 years then she has to be separated from her mother, instead of the mother being released. This is the kind of cruel dilemma that the Israeli army puts us in front of Palestinians. That’s why we don’t understand why a solution cannot be found on the basis of Israel accepting an exchange.
The terrible situation now in Gaza is now combined with Israeli attacks in various cities in the west bank. There have been military actions by the Israeli army in Jenin, Tulkarem, Ramallah, Jericho and in so many other communities and villages. A real war is being conducted yet again against the Palestinian people by the Israeli army which seems to be trying to test out its weapons in the occupied territories. This army, which is the 4th largest in the world, is now attacking a civilian population which does not have an army to defend itself. They are conducting what can only be called war crimes.
Just one day before Israel’s most recent attack on the Gaza, all Palestinian groups, political factions, reached an unprecedented agreement on a national platform. This platform, known as the “prisoner’s document”, provides for accepting a two state solution. All the groups including Hamas would accept this and will accept mutual recognition. All agreed to concentrate mainly on non-violent mass popular resistance. All agreed to accept international law and UN Charter as the terms of reference for resolving the conflict and they all agreed to form a national unifying government.
This document is nothing less than a true Palestinian peace initiative, to achieve peace with the minimum of justice. But as before Israel is undermining this effort by escalating the military conflict. We have seen this happing before in Beirut in Lebanon 1982 and in the West Bank 2000.
Israel enjoys the support of a huge international lobby. It will not be stopped unless it is countered with a strong international solidarity movement that supports the rights of Palestinians and supports the cause of justice in the Middle East. I would like to ask you the left in the UK to help us in every possible way, to bring the truth and reality about what is happening here in the Palestinian territories to the world. There is a strong bias in the international media in favour of the Israeli narrative. It is absolutely essential that the the truth, is known to the people. 'Everything' - as my friend Daniel Barenboim, the famous musician has said, 'everything starts with knowledge.'
We also need action to end the occupation. This should include sanctioning the Israel military establishment. It is so shameful that many countries that support or say that they support human rights and democracy are now silent about this massacre of Palestinian democracy, about for example, the the kidnapping of Palestinian legislators. It is so shameful that so many countries that claim that they respect human rights are importing military equipment from the Israeli state.
Israel has become the fourth largest military exporter in the world. Israel makes 20% of its income from exporting military equipment and supporting wars in different parts of the world. It is absolutely essential that the sanctions against importing or exporting military equipment is supported. We are calling for as many actions as possible in support of the sanctions, divestment and boycott campaigns against Israel occupation.
This is not a conflict between two armies. It is a struggle of people who have been under occupation for almost 40 years, the longest military occupation in modern history. It is a struggle of people who are aspire to freedom and security, like all of you. We ask for your support.This article is based on Mustafa Barghouti's opening speech to the War on Want conference. For more information visit www.waronwant.org/palestine