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Obama’s Headache- Israel’s Onslaught in Gaza

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For the past three weeks two issues have been fighting for a prominent place on our television screens, the Israeli assault on Gaza and the Obama inauguration. The scenes of devastation in Gaza are hard to look at. A community of about 1.5 million people subjected to the most brutal attack imaginable, with heavy bombing and shelling, involving, some believe, phosphorous bombs, followed by ground fighting.{{more}} As I write, over 1000 Palestinians have been reported killed, about 400 of them children, 100 women and almost 5,000 injured, with hundreds of thousands without water and electricity. And yet what we see on our screens is far removed from the horrid and blood curdling scenes shown on Arab television, particularly Aljazeera’s Arabic channel. It is these scenes that millions of people in the Arab world see. While Arab countries remain quiet, Hamas stands out as the real friend of the people. It will be difficult to destroy Hamas because with every dead Hamas fighter hundreds of young Palestinians will be converted to its cause.

There is no doubt where the sympathy of our people lies for we put today’s Israel in a biblical context and swallow hook, line and sinker the massive Israeli propaganda propagated by much of the Western media. Israel’s brutal killing of civilians is justified by the statement that the Hamas operatives had been operating and fighting in civilian areas. (Where are they supposed to fight?) The shelling of a UN school in a refuge camp was justified by the statement that Hamas had been firing rockets from the school entrance and even released photographs to confirm this but having later to admit that the photographs were old and to admit, too, that no shots were really fired from the school. We have had the deaths of two UN humanitarian aid workers who were merely attempting to provide relief supplies for people in need. There were other atrocities meted out to persons who were simply involved in humanitarian efforts. What a lot of us are doing is isolating what is happening today from the whole history of Palestinian/Israeli relationship. A large part of the problem has to be put at the hands of the United States of America. They were never honest brokers in this situation. They have stood steadfastly with Israel and the Israelis have always operated knowing that they had the full backing of the US. The Palestinians on the other hand have no trust in any attempt at finding a peaceful solution by the US. It is that country that supplies Israel with its weapons and over $3 billion annually, and gives it full diplomatic support.

Hamas a few years ago took the major step of contesting the elections which they won. The outgoing President of the US who said he was about bringing democracy to the Middle East refused to accept the results as if members of Hamas were foreigners. There was no turning back after this. After conflicts between Hamas and its rival Fatah led to Hamas’ exclusive control of Gaza, Egypt and Israel closed the border creating extreme difficulties for the Palestinians. Israel had implemented a blockade even before Hamas came to power. Then there is the issue of Israel’s expanding settlements. Israel has continued to be in violation of International law with its settlements on the West Bank.

The 47 member UN Human Rights Council voted recently to condemn Israel’s offensive in the Gaza strip. Thirty three countries from Africa, Asia, the Arab world and Latin America supported the resolution, while 13 European countries abstained and Canada voted against it. The view from some of these countries was that there was a bias in the resolution in that due recognition was not given to the role of rockets launched from Gaza in prompting the massive Israeli offensive that resulted in only about 13 Israeli deaths. But the matter is more complicated since it is very much tied in with elections in Israel and Israel’s desire to completely rid the area of the Hamas organisation.

There will be tremendous pressure on Obama as he replaces George W next week. This will be a real test of the man, for the Democratic leaders are lined up solidly behind Israel, Pelosi, Reid and the others. For Obama to have any credibility in that part of the world he would have to undo the policies of former Presidents who have simply sided fully with Israel. Everyone admits that the US has an important role to play in finding a solution to that long standing Middle Eastern problem but the US has continued to discredit itself and cannot command the trust of the Palestinians and Arabs for that matter. Obama is no miracle man. We do not expect him to give up the US’s support for Israel, but can his administration play the role of an honest broker?

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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