By Sukrit Kapoor in Gaza
I have seen the worst-case scenario for Gazans, who a week ago, woke up to the air-strikes and the shudders of bombings. In April this year, in fact, the United Nations in a report declared that Gaza would become unlivable by 2020 if herculean efforts were not taken to better the conditions of energy, education, health, water and sanitation for its residents. Poverty is coupled with a blockade of 1.7 million Gazans by Israel in an area that stretches on just 350 square kilometres.
A very recent and sad example of Gaza’s distress can be witnessed when International Criminal Court, in April this year, failed to do justice to the crimes committed against Gazans in 2008 Operation Cast Lead by Israeli forces. During this operation 1,735 Palestinians were killed and 8,308 wounded, with more than half of the people killed being innocent civilians. All of this happened in just 22 days. The international court’s shocking rejection came despite the 2009 Goldstone Report, a UN initiative, which concluded that Cast Lead was targeted not against the rocket firing but against the “people of Gaza as a whole.” Ironically, the International Criminal Court in its legislation enshrines that the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole must not go unpunished. A look at the list of crimes in this legislation will tell you that Gazans have been subjected to every horrible act enough to be considered a crime by the court. This also tells how the world is actually least concerned about Gaza. And the international community closing its eyes is the main reason why Gazans are forced to “pull the tail of the wolf.” They will very desperately continue to do so until they are heard and healed of their innumerable miseries caused by the Wolf.
The Israeli Operation Pillar of Defense may be over but the sound of Israeli jets, drones, and warships still reverberates in the Gazans’ head. The killing machines led to the death of nearly 150, most of them civilians, including children and women. Moreover, 922 Palestinian civilians were injured out of which 258 are children and 149 are women. This is not the final count, however. There are many in hospitals walking on the tight rope of life and death. I still remember how Israeli forces escalated attacks on civilian houses. They first fired warning missiles and ordered the residents to leave their homes without actually giving them any chance to vacate their belongings. The time between the warning shots and the major air strikes by F-16 fighter jets was less than 10 minutes. Israeli warplanes also attacked civilian facilities, especially, press offices, which are located in apartment buildings, causing civilian casualties and destruction to nearby buildings. During the past eight days, I have heard at least one explosion every hour. As a lawyer myself, I am disheartened to tell you that going by the precedent, I don’t see Gazans being remedied for their immeasurable losses anytime soon.
Apart from the Israeli aggression, Gazans witnessed deadly factional firefights in 2006 and after 2007 polls in which Hamas came to power and saw itself containing Fatah in the area. During this factional fighting, 98 innocent civilians were killed and over 1,000 injured. But it wasn’t entirely a Hamas verses Fatah clash. In 2008, David Rose, a noted journalist reproduced internal US documents that revealed US and Israeli involvement in the internal armed conflict. It was divide and rule being implemented in Gaza.
The Gaza situation is a classic example of modern warfare, which goes far beyond the traditional battlefield. The means and methods used in this warfare are not just restricted to bullets and bombs, but extend to blockades, sieges and of course, occupation of land.
For the trapped Gazans, their daily diet is decided by Israel. The 2003 report ‘Nutritional Assessment of the West Bank and Gaza Strip’ prepared by international NGOs, USAID and CARE found that Gaza children aged between six months and five years were suffering from malnutrition and undernourishment. The deficiencies include vitamins, iron, zinc, and the daily calorie intake was not up to the recommended mark. Last month, an article in Huffington Post mentioned that Israel controlled (by allowing aid and food through transit points) the number of calories Palestinians would need to avoid malnutrition. Imagine living off a diet, the sole purpose of which is to make sure that you don’t die, but get killed by air strikes? This shows the magnitude of the worsening conditions of the Gazans.
One would expect the international community to step up and show solidarity with the innocent civilians of Gaza and ensure that the horrific incidents that happened in Cast Lead in 2008-2009 and the just-ended Operation Pillar of Defense are not repeated. The UN Security Council and the Human Rights Council need to ensure that violators of previous ceasefire are held accountable and those who have killed innocent civilians be tried for war crimes. Battered by the air-strikes and tank shells, the Gazans need remedies like compensation, restoration and rehabilitation, and that such wars aren’t initiated against them again. Countries like India, which recognised Palestine as a country in 1988, is presently a member of the Human Rights Council and it can use its position to advocate for an independent international investigation of these crimes.
From my interactions with Gazans ever since my visit, I have not met even a single person who wants war with Israel. But people want both justice and peace. While the current ceasefire is a ray of hope for them, the world leaders need to make concrete efforts to strengthen the truce.
(The views expressed in this column are the writer’s own)
Sukrit Kapoor is an Indian lawyer specialising in the international law of armed conflicts. He is presently working with an NGO based in Gaza City.