Thursday, January 8, 2009

7 Myths about Gaza

by Daoud Kuttab - Jordan Times

It is known that truth is the first casualty in wars. The current war on Gaza is no different. Below is a list of myths perpetuated by Israel and repeated ad nauseam by may in the media.

Myth No. 1: Israel had no alternative.

Ever since starting the air campaign, the Israelis have been stating that they had no choice but to carry out this invasion. The acting Israeli prime minister repeated this myth, saying that Israel had no alternative but to begin the ground war on Gaza Strip.

The truth is that Israel had a clear alternative. The Islamic Hamas movement and the various Palestinian factions in Gaza offered to extend the truce in December if the Israelis agreed to lift the massive blockade and siege on Gaza. Israel would have had an even easier alternative: agree to talk to Hamas and work out a true and lasting ceasefire, but it chose to refuse to legitimise the rulers of Gaza, helped by the so-called global war on terror that Israel’s main ally, the Bush administration, has been carrying on.

Myth No. 2: Hamas rockets were targeting Israeli civilians without provocation.

Every Israeli spokesman repeats this myth. International leaders and media anchors repeatedly ask how could any country tolerate its citizens being attacked without provocation, as was happening to the citizens of south Israel.

The truth is that Palestinians and Israelis have been at war since 1948, when nearly 500 Palestinian villages were erased and its residents became refugees (the refugees constitute more than 50 per cent of the population of Gaza). The UN resolved that the refugees should be allowed to return and the Arab countries have offered a peace agreement that includes a resolution of the refugee problem. Furthermore, Israel occupied Gaza in 1967 and has not (according to international standards) ended its occupation of Gaza. As stated above, Hamas has offered short- and long-term truce to Israel, but the latter rejected these offers.

Myth No. 3: Israel is acting in self-defence.

This myth has been repeated so many times that the naïve rotating head of the European Union initially stated that Israel’s ground invasion is a defensive act (he later recanted). Emerging from a Security Council meeting that failed to stop the Israeli ground attack, the United States’ deputy chief at the UN stated that the UN Charter allows member countries to defend themselves and that “Israel’s right to defend itself is not negotiable”.

The truth is that the Israeli offensive against a population still legally under its occupation is anything but defensive. Countries do have a right to defend themselves, but they do not have the right to occupy and continue to occupy. The same charter that the deputy US official was quoting also states in its preamble: “We the peoples of the United Nations determine to: save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind” and “to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small”.

Myth No. 4. Israel is only targeting Hamas fighters not Palestinians.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livini has been repeating that the Israeli army is targeting only what she called Hamas terrorists and that her country has no fight with the Palestinian people.

The truth is that by shelling the densely populated Gaza Strip (1.5 million living in a 350-square-kilometre area) the Israelis hit both Hamas combatants and civilians. One of the best proofs of this is the fact that about one-third of the casualties in the first week alone were children - hardly members of Hamas.
International law is very clear about the responsibility of warring parties to limit deaths of civilians. The Israelis totally destroying a four-storey building in which a Hamas leader and his wives and children living with F16 planes is a clear example of lack of desire to distinguish between civilians and fighters.

Myth No. 5. Israel ended its occupation of Gaza in 2006.

Part of the well-weaved Israeli narrative is that Palestinians are not really interested in land-for-peace because they have continued to attack Israel after the Israelis ended the occupation of the strip in 2006.

Again the truth is different. The UN Security Council Resolution 242, which called the occupation of Gaza “inadmissible”, called on Israel to withdraw from occupied territories, to acknowledge the sovereignty and territorial integrity and political independence of every state in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognised boundaries, and affirmed the need to “achieve a just settlement to the [Palestinian] refugee problem”. By all standards, and as agreed by neutral international observers, the occupation of Gaza that started in 1967 continues with all the responsibility that befalls on the Israeli occupying authorities.

Myth No. 6. Hamas is the military arm of Iran.

As part of justifying the attacks on Gaza, Israel and its apologists paint a much larger regional picture, with Hamas and Hizbollah as the military arm of Iran and the Iranian Islamic revolution.

The truth is that whereas as a Shiite movement, Hizbollah might have natural relations with Shiite Iran, Hamas is a Sunni Islamic movement and in general Sunnis look down on Shiites and reject them theologically. True, Hamas leaders have visited Iran, but it is a long shot to say that they are the military arm of Iran.

Myth No. 7 Hamas uses the Palestinian population as human shields.

The difficulties that Israel has had in locating and destroying Hamas leaders has led to this myth. The Israeli PR machine uses quotes made by Hamas leaders that the Palestinian population is not afraid of death as proof that they are using Palestinians as human shields.

The truth is that the international law that forbids the use of human shields is referring to militants who use captured enemy civilians as hostages to prevent an attack. There is no evidence that Hamas is forcing its own population to be where it is. In fact, the irony is that Palestinian civilians have nowhere to go within the Gaza Strip even if they wanted to leave.

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