The Al Aqsa hospital in Gaza was shelled by the Israeli Defence Force yesterday.
The enduring international silence around Israel’s assault on Gaza has prompted a passionate plea from four prominent human rights activists.
We are writing this letter, Jews and Palestinians together, in the hope of making a simple point: the fighting between Israel and Gaza right now is not an even-handed clash.
Both sides are not equally to blame.
The Israeli army is committing mass murder against an overwhelmingly innocent and mostly defenseless population in Gaza.
There are 1.8 million people in Gaza. Most of them are children, and two-thirds of them are refugees.
They have lived under Israeli occupation since 1967, and a brutal siege since 2006 which limited the amount of food, medicine and other supplies entering the city.
This siege is a form of criminal collective punishment directed at the entire population and described as the ‘civilian levers’ by the Israeli security cabinet.
Ariel Sharon’s chief advisor, Dov Weisglass described the siege as ‘an appointment with a dietician. The Palestinians will get a lot thinner, but won’t die’.
This official Israeli policy, has resulted in the devastation of Gaza.
According to Oxfam, over 40 per cent of Gazans are unemployed. According to UNRWA, 80 per cent of the population is dependent on international aid.
The siege on Gaza has ‘decimated lives and livelihoods, resulting in the impoverishment and de-development of a highly skilled and well-educated society’.
According to UNRWA over 90 per cent of water in Gaza is unfit for human consumption. The former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, observed of the siege: “Their whole civilization has been destroyed. I’m not exaggerating…. It’s almost unbelievable that the world doesn’t care while this is happening.”
As for the issue of Israel’s security, it is worth noting that even as Israel grinds the people of Gaza into the ground, the Palestinians have delivered Israel greater levels of security and peace than Palestinians themselves have ever known under Israeli rule.
It was Israel that breached a ceasefire with Hamas in the lead up of the war on Gaza in 2008.
According to the Israeli government’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Hamas had upheld the ceasefire effectively, except when in response to attacks by Israel on Gaza.
After that war, in which Israel killed 1,400 Palestinians in Gaza, Hamas observed another ceasefire with Israel which also held for years until Israel once again intensified its killing of Palestinian civilian… and so on, a deadly pattern that seems to repeat itself every time.
The lead-up to Israel’s latest attack on Gaza was similar to previous attacks.
In response to the murder of three Israelis by unknown parties, Israel launched raids throughout the West Bank, arrested hundreds of Palestinians, and engaged in what a coalition of 11 human rights organizations called ‘collective punishment’ against Palestinians.
Since then, the fighting has flared up again.
By fighting, we mean Israel has dropped over 1,500 tonnes of bombs on a tiny strip of land, which is densely populated, primarily by children.
Their borders with Israel and Egypt are closed: Gazans have nowhere to go. While Hamas shot thousands of its primitive rockets indiscriminately into Israel.
It must be noted that over the years, Israel has bombed schools, hospitals, homes, UN shelters, and just about any target one could think of.
Hamas has offered a 10-year truce to Israel.
Its 10 terms are entirely reasonable: they include freeing the Palestinians arrested in the mass raids that human rights organizations condemned in June.
They include ending the brutal blockade on Gaza, and posting international monitors on the border, to help prevent future ceasefire violations by Israel, and easing the conditions Israel imposes on Palestinians who want to pray at the al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.
If Israel accepted it, it could guarantee for its citizens far greater security than could be achieved by its military onslaught.
Instead, Israel has ignored this offer.
It is true that Israel has offered a ceasefire to Hamas: its condition is that the Palestinians continue to accept the blockade and Israel’s right to continue attacks on the West Bank at will.
We do not think that the Palestinians in Gaza should have to accept their subjugation, in order for Israel to stop bombing them.
Israel’s rejection of Hamas’s ceasefire offer means that all of the dead and suffering – on both sides, though the dead are always overwhelmingly Palestinian – should be attributed to the Israeli government.
If the Israeli government was willing to limit aspects of its oppression of the Palestinians, and take meager steps to remedy their desperate situation, it would simultaneously guarantee the safety of its citizens, as shown by the many ceasefires it has accepted in the past with Hamas, and which Israeli leaders have openly agreed have been effective.
What makes the current situation shameful is not only are atrocities being committed, but there is a conspiracy of silence in the international community about Israel’s war crimes.
Indeed, among some countries, including our own, it is worse than that. Israel’s war crimes – the slaughter and maiming of children, the bombing of hospitals, and the destruction of homes – are justified as ‘self-defense’.
Palestinians in Gaza are penned in like lambs to the slaughter, unable to flee the bombs.
Nowhere is safe, not even hospitals.
Children are either being murdered or watching their parents be murdered.
Do the world’s leaders not see that an entire population is being psychologically traumatized and terrorized?
How many murdered Palestinians will it take to evoke the compassion and conscience of our government?
At what point will our government recognize that its unqualified support for Israel is akin to providing Israel with a license to kill?
This senseless massacre cannot be allowed to continue.
With over 565 Palestinians dead, mostly civilians, and 27 Israelis killed, 25 of them soldiers, it is crystal clear who the victims in this conflict are.
We appeal to the Australian government to take a constructive role in bringing this conflict to a just resolution by calling on all parties to abide by international humanitarian law.
This would mean that all parties adhere to a ceasefire that at a minimum addresses the basic rights and needs of the civilian population by ensuring the lifting of the inhumane crippling siege of Gaza.
It would also mean ensuring all human rights violations are investigated by relevant United Nations bodies, and that perpetrators of war crimes finally be held accountable for their actions.
This letter has been provided by Australian Jews Michael Brull and Peter Slezak, and Australian Palestinians Randa Abdel-Fattah and Samah Sabawi. All four are prominent activists against the atrocities committed by Israel.