Despite a rising world outcry against the Israeli government’s attack on the Gaza Strip last week, the Israeli military continued to push ahead with a large-scale offensive that appeared to be aimed at bringing down the Hamas government and crippling Gaza’s infrastructure for years.
As the World went to press, new hostilities had broken out on the Israeli-Lebanese border, threatening to escalate the crisis in the region still further.
The Israeli assault on Gaza, which included the bombing of the territory’s only electrical power station and a resulting loss of electricity and water for a majority of its 1.4 million Palestinians, has created a severe humanitarian crisis, United Nations officials said.
Peace activists said the rescue of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, one of Israel’s stated reasons for the assault, appeared to be only a subsidiary objective, given the Israeli military’s attack on the power plant and its bombardment of bridges, roads, part of a university, schools, factories, political offices and other civilian buildings.
“Israel has specifically targeted civilian sites and infrastructure in this invasion,” said Mitchell Plitnick, director of education and policy for the San Francisco-based Jewish Voice for Peace, in a statement. “That is not going to save Cpl. Shalit, nor is it going to bring peace or security any closer for either Israelis or Palestinians.”
Gush Shalom, an Israeli peace group, placed newspaper advertisements July 7 that made a similar point: “The sowing of destruction in the Gaza Strip does not bring Gilad Shalit home. It is endangering his life.” Further, it said, the offensive had not curbed the launching of primitive Qassam rockets from Gaza into Israel — another stated reason for the invasion — but, on the contrary, had led to their increase.
Gush Shalom said the Israeli government’s refusal to talk to the elected Palestinian leadership has led to a situation where “the only dialogue left now is the dialogue of the bombs, often directed at civilian targets on both sides of the border.”
Josh Ruebner, grassroots advocacy coordinator for the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, said, “I don’t think the current actions by Israel have anything to do with trying to save Cpl. Gilad Shalit. This operation was planned weeks in advance. The logistics would have taken at least that long to plan.”
Ruebner told the World in a July 6 phone interview that the invasion needs to be viewed in the context of Israel’s actions in June, including the June 9 artillery shelling of a beach in Beit Lahiya, which killed eight Palestinians — including seven members of the same family — and injured 32; and several other episodes where civilians were killed and wounded by missile or shelling attacks.
At least 51 Palestinians have been killed since the June 27 invasion alone. One Israeli has been killed during the same time period.
The escalation of Israel’s military operations amounts to “an all-out war against the civilian population of Gaza,” Ruebner said. “By targeting civilians and the infrastructure, Israel is in clear violation of the Geneva Conventions. Such actions are considered war crimes.”
The real objective of the assault, Ruebner said, “is to undermine the elected Palestinian government.” Ironically, he said, it is having the opposite effect.
Israel’s attack shows that it remains the occupying power in Gaza, despite last year’s so-called unilateral withdrawal, he said.
Ruebner’s group is spotlighting the role of the U.S. in the assault, particularly its role in furnishing weapons that are used to target innocent civilians and infrastructure. “In particular,” he said, “we are concerned with the F-15 and F-16 fighters, along with over $1 billion in spare parts, engines and missiles, provided to Israel by the U.S. over the last five years.”
“We feel these weapons are being used in violation of the U.S. Arms Export Control Act and the Foreign Assistance Act. Congress and U.S. officials need to investigate these violations of U.S. law and impose sanctions on Israel for using these weapons — by cutting off aid.”
To date, the Bush administration has merely called on Israel to “exercise restraint,” he said. “Such calls for restraint are tepid, at best. The Bush administration needs to take a much more forceful response, not just to restrict aid but to end it until 860,000 Palestinians have their electricity and water restored and UN personnel are allowed in to provide humanitarian aid.”
The U.S. Campaign, a Washington-based coalition of over 200 groups, has been involved with the protests of the Israeli actions in several U.S. cities, including in Washington, New York and San Francisco. For more information about the campaign’s activities, including the work of member groups in raising funds for medical aid to Gaza, visit www.endtheoccupation.org.