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2009: New year, new war

Last update - Thursday, January 15, 2009, 05:31 By Ronit Lentin

What a start for the New Year! On 27 December, the Israeli Defence Forces launched an attack of unprecedented scale on the Gaza Strip. According to the Israeli government, the attack was in response to unyielding Palestinian rocket and mortar fire into Israel since the end of the Egyptian negotiated ceasefire.

Israeli F16 planes bombed more than 400 targets through the densely populated Gaza Strip (which Israel pulled out of but has kept under siege ever since), killing about 721 people, at least 169 of them young children, 46 women and six medical personnel, and injuring some 3,200 at the time of writing. But rather than succeeding in stopping the rocket attacks,  Israel continues to face short- and long-range rockets fired by Palestinian militants, some landing in major Israeli towns and cities.
Only on the 13th day of the attack did US president elect Barack Obama speak for the first time about his plans to organise negotiations between Israel and Hamas, something Israel has rejected since Hamas was democratically elected.
The attack, which Israel claims was ‘surgical’ and aimed at ‘eliminating’ the Hamas military leadership, hit many public buildings, including mosques, civil police stations, universities, sport centres as well as government and military buildings. The worst was the devastating attack on a UN-run school, which killed more than 50 civilians. Photographs of dead children, and young ones trapped under the rubble beside the bodies of their dead parents are something people will not soon forget.
Even though several of my Israeli friends who live in the south of the country report their neighbourhoods being hit by the rockets, and even though the Hamas strategy of resisting the Israeli closure of Gaza seems to have seriously backfired, I join thousands of Israeli citizens – Arabs and Jews, in Israel and abroad – in expressing our revulsion and protest at this senseless war.
This attack can be seen as a colonial war, waged for a waning US administration: five years after the Bush administration lied about weapons of mass destruction to dupe us into invading Iraq, Israel can use a much more plausible excuse – the Hamas rockets – as justification for its own murderous attack on Gaza.
The attack can also be understood as an election ploy by an outgoing Israeli government. Threatened from the right by Netanyahu’s extreme right Likud party, the Kadima-Labour coalition is flexing its muscles in Gaza in the hope of winning the February elections.
The war started by remote control – F16 jet pilots do not see the people they bomb. As Jerusalem Post writer Larry Derfner noted, “We don’t want to see how people in Gaza are living, we block it out of our minds… which also keeps that war going longer than it might.”
The ground attack is less surgical, yet Israel is determined to carry on despite condemnations from all directions. That it is an illogical war is clear to all, particularly in view of the failure to defeat Hezbollah in the 2006 Lebanon war. Resistance to occupation cannot be stemmed with bombs; bombs breed new martyrs and volunteers.
I join the thousands of Israelis who demonstrate in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and who write and speak about this illogical war in demanding that Israel – described by Ha’aretz columnist Gideon Levi as the ‘neighbourhood bully’ – pulls its army out of Gaza immediately and negotiates with Hamas. Because Israel will have to do so in the end, so why not start now before the bloodshed intensifies and Gaza is totally destroyed?

Dr Ronit Lentin is head of the MPhil in Ethnic and Racial Studies at the Department of Sociology at Trinity College Dublin. Her column appears fortnightly in Metro Éireann

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