By Yousef Munayyer* | Sabbah Report | www.sabbah.biz
One year later, the deadly attacks which targeted an already suffering Gaza Strip have become yet another chapter in the epic tragedy that is the Palestinian struggle for freedom.
During the attacks, over 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza woke up unsure if they would be able to experience waking up ever again. The Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip termed “Operation Cast Lead” by Israel, was a pivotal moment in the region and one that horrified people across the globe. Prior to the start of the attacks, Israel had a negotiated cease-fire with the Palestinian government in Gaza.
During the cease-fire, projectiles fired from Gaza into Israel had dropped 99 percent. Despite this, on 4 November 2008, while the world was consumed with a historic election in the United States, Israel launched an attack that shattered the cease-fire, killing several Palestinians. The crisis elevated through an increase in strikes by both sides and the tightening of an already debilitating Israeli siege on the Gaza Strip.
Instead of working to restore a cease-fire that worked well, on December 27th Israel launched aerial attacks killing hundreds of Palestinians. It became clear from this point forward that life in Gaza, which no one thought could possibly get worse, quickly would.
For two years, Palestinians in Gaza had been struggling to live under siege. Israel controlled all of Gaza’s commercial ports and had sealed them shut, allowing in the bare minimum to keep Palestinians alive. Still, the devastation that was to come made the situation far worse.
The Israelis followed the air attack with a ground invasion. One of the highest-powered and most-mechanized armies in the world invaded a tiny, densely populated area where 80 percent of the population were refugees and half were children.
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The human toll was tremendous and an Israeli arsenal that included one-ton bombs, white phosphorus shells and M-16 machine guns courtesy of American tax-payer money, made a visiting U.S. Congressman later say “I will admit and I was a little reluctant to say that I was an American Congressman. Quite frankly, it might have been the IDF launching the bombs, but they all said made in America.”
After 22 days, more than 1,400 Palestinians were killed. The majority of these casualties were civilians, over 300 of them children and over 100 more were woman. Countless more were injured or maimed in a walled off prison with inadequate medical care.
But it was not only the destruction of human life that was inflicted upon Palestinians in Gaza; unprecedented destruction of infrastructure was wrought upon an already impoverished place. Entire industries were bombed into oblivion.
For example, one of the most badly damaged industries was the construction industry. The United Nations Human Rights report on the Israeli attacks on Gaza, which was released earlier this year, detailed what seemed to be a deliberate Israeli policy to target the construction industry infrastructure to make the reconstruction of Gaza more difficult.
Certainly, this has succeeded. Today Gaza lies virtually in the same situation it did after the war. The only difference now is that more graves have been dug.
The American School in Gaza, which was funded by American taxpayer dollars and ultimately destroyed by bombs bought with American taxpayer dollars, still lies as a pile of rubble. The textbooks that were intended to educate the Palestinians of Gaza can still be found amidst the destruction.
It is obvious that as Americans we have some responsibility for what happened. Not only because we funded the operation, but also because our government, the only one with the necessary influence over the state of Israel, did little to stop the heinous attacks.
At this point, some would make a plea for humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians in Gaza and they certainly do need it. What they need more, however, is a real solution to the political crisis that underlies the ongoing illegal Israeli occupation.
Humanitarian assistance gives Palestinians the ability to survive, but it is the desire to pen the final sentence of their struggle that gives them the will to live.
If we as Americans can help them write it, we can work to erase the painful scar that “Operation Cast Lead” left on the human conscience.
* Yousef Munayyer is Executive Director of the Palestine Center.