They call it self-defense, I call it what it is: civilian massacre in Gaza

By Hatim Rahman

While the most densely populated area in the world was under a brutal assault, the voices of those who were suffering were being muted. According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the Israeli government barred journalists from entering Gaza during the conflict, despite the rulings by the Israeli Supreme Court and demands by journalists to be let in. It wasn’t until after the conflict had ended that journalists were able to view the extent of the destruction.

What happened to the Samounis family, a family of farmers in Gaza, is just one of the many stories that reflect the terror inflicted on Gazans. Forty-eight members of the Samounis family were killed while seeking refuge in areas that the Israeli army advised them to move to. Not only were 12 of the Samounis’ houses reduced to rubble, but also, according to the Guardian, graffiti on the walls of the houses that the Israeli army used as a base were found reading, “Arabs need 2 die,” “Die you all,” “Make war not peace,” and “1 is down, 999,999 to go.” On another drawn image of a gravestone, soldiers wrote, “Arabs 1948-2009.”

As the reports of what happened in Gaza continue to emerge, the Israeli government’s claim that the attack was purely in “self-defense” is visibly contradicted by the actions of their soldiers. Despite the fact the U.N. provided coordinates of their facilities before and during the assault and thoroughly checked all of the people who sought refuge in their shelters, the Israeli army destroyed many United Nations facilities and schools. And what to make of the Israeli claim that militants were using U.N. facilities to launch rockets?

The New York Times reported that, “Christopher Gunness, a spokesman for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, said that in a meeting with its representatives on Thursday (after the attack on the main U.N. compound), Israeli Army representatives “privately admitted” that the source of the militants’ fire was several hundred yards away from the (U.N.) compound.”

The Israeli government repeatedly stated that this was not a war on the civilians of Gaza and that they would, as Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said, treat the Gazan civilians with “silk gloves.” Yet, they did no service to Palestinians by destroying universities, schools, houses, mosques and other civilian infrastructure.

If the Israeli government is sincere in its claim that the destruction was done in the name of “self-defense,” why haven’t they pledged to help Gazan civilians when the time has now come to help rebuild schools, mosques, houses and international shelters that the Israeli army destroyed?

Why haven’t they heeded the repeated demands to launch a full war crimes investigation as demanded by Israeli human rights group B’Tselem and other human rights agencies?

After Israeli settlers left Gaza in 2005, Palestinians participated in what is widely considered a free and fair election. In response to their democratically elected choice, it has been well documented by B’Tselem, Amnesty International and the U.N., that Israel has, yet again, disproportionately responded.

In the months that followed the election, Israel seized full control of their seaports and airspace, shut Gaza’s borders to control and restrict the movement of all goods and people, and enforced an economic boycott that has strangled the civilians in Gaza. All of these actions resulted in more than 80 percent of the Gazan population living below the poverty line before the recent devastation even took place.

Too much blood has been shed and too many lives have been lost. It is time to put aside partisan politics and polemical arguments. We must demand that our leaders never let the civilian massacre that took place in Gaza ever happen again. To secure peace, it is absolutely critical for Hamas to stop launching rockets into Israel.

Additionally, what is clear is that after all of the actions Israel has taken, including their most recent assault on Gaza, the citizens in Palestine and Israel are still not safe. Israeli security is intricately tied to the security and well-being of the Palestinians.

Peace is likely to remain elusive until Israel removes its policies that continue to suppress Palestinians’ access to clean water, ability to move, right to education and other basic human rights that Israeli civilians enjoy.