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Gaza: An indefensible attack by Israel

Many of us have been disturbed, and deeply angered, by the Israeli army’s brutal attack on Gaza. Some of us have been so outraged that we joined public demonstrations here in Belfast. It was on one such peace vigil organized by the Church that my good friend and veteran peace campaigner Terry Donaghy collapsed and died. A fitting and noble end for a man who dedicated much of his life to peace and interfaith understanding.

What one must remember about this tragic episode is the ferocious chain of war and violence in the Middle East, is that it was Israel that broke the previous Ceasefire that had lasted from June 2008. Israel deliberately and unilaterally broke the Ceasefire in November 2008, not Hamas. They did so by attacking and killing Hamas personnel in Gaza. Hamas unwisely and predictably retaliated with rocket attacks.

I believe that it was Israel’s intention all along to invade Gaza and to do three things. The first, was to deal a severe knockout blow to the Hamas military structure. Secondly, to destroy what was left of the Hamas/ Palestinian civil administrative structure in Gaza. Thirdly, to impose mass terror on the civilian population so as to alienate them as much as possible from the Hamas political leadership.

What has happened in Gaza at this time is no accident. The Israeli actions were deliberately designed to take place during the American Presidential interregnum. They calculated, and rightly so, that Bush would give them carte blanche to carry out what they wanted, with American support and their political veto in the United Nations Security Council. They also calculated, again correctly, that President-elect Obama would be either unable, or unwilling, to intervene and once he took office the offensive would be over and their military and political objectives would have been achieved. Once in office President Obama would be unable to do anything except accept the ‘new facts on the ground’ created by the Israeli military operations. Thus Israel was guaranteed victory over Hamas and President Obama is now constrained for the time being from doing anything radical. Any new initiative he may have had in mind is now derailed, or abandoned, or at very least delayed.

Whatever the military or political victory that Israel has undoubtedly achieved, it has been achieved at great cost to her international standing and reputation. The brutality of the military offensive on what are densely populated civilian areas must represent a very serious breach of International Humanitarian Law. A basic principal of International Humanitarian Law is that military operations should avoid civilian targets. Given the sustained and intensive bombing and shelling of Gaza City in particular, there is at very least a prima facie case for Israel to face. As evidence of what we have the very horrific figure of nearly 400 children killed. In addition hundreds of women have been killed, as well as elderly non-combatants. Many obvious civilian targets were deliberately hit, including schools, hospitals, mosques, and UN buildings. Over a thousand people have been slaughtered. This unacceptable military action is manifestly disproportionate to any Hamas rocket attacks. It is appalling in its savagery and sustained cruelty against a largely defenceless civilian population.

The SDLP, together with our colleagues in the Party of European Socialists, in the European Parliament, have with other political parties, condemned Israel’s actions, and have called for a halt to the fighting and an immediate Ceasefire with the opening of borders for humanitarian relief. They have also called for a halt by the European Commission to upgrade the EU-Israeli Association Agreement. Europe and the rest of the democratic world cannot stand by and allow Israel to behave in such an unacceptable fashion.

Both the Irish and British governments should support a permanent end to all Israeli military action, and if necessary, introduce sanctions against Israel.

The killing in the Middle East has gone on for too long and must stop. All Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people should be ended, including the unlawful military occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. What is now required is a period of genuine, sustained ceasefire, alongside intensive peace negotiations involving all the relevant parties to the conflict, including Hamas, leading to a permanent peace, guaranteeing  a viable Palestinian state and guaranteeing Israel her rightful political and military security. This is not an option, but a real necessity to bring about a solution to the most intractable international problem, which has dogged relations between East and West for the past sixty years and which continues to threaten global peace. Tel us hope that this appalling episode will be the catalyst to a permanent peace between the Palestinian and Israeli peoples.

Alban Maginness MLA


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