Photo: flickr/DAVID HOLT

In her speech for the 70th commemoration of the Warsaw Ghetto rebellion, the last Ghetto survivor, Chavka Folman Raban, revealed her understanding, from personal experience, of the plight of Gaza and all Palestinians by calling on Israeli youth to rebel against the occupation: 

“It is forbidden for us to rule over and oppress another people,” she said. “The most important thing is to achieve peace and an end to the blood cycle. My generation dreamed of peace. I so want to achieve it. You have the power to help. All my hopes are with you.” 

Gaza has been under blockade since 2006 due to Israel’s rejection of the results of a free and fair election that brought Hamas into power. And, despite the fact that the Palestinian Authority — having less actual authority than a Canadian mayor — has cooperated fully with Israel, the West Bank suffers from an unofficial siege that disrupts and constricts Palestinians’ daily lives with roadblocks, incursions, home demolitions and more. 

Ironically, while blockading Palestinians, the Israeli government is increasingly ghettoizing its own people — both physically and mentally — by such means as the separation wall, the Iron Dome and an increasingly militarized society that fears and distrusts the entire surrounding region and even alienates and denigrates allies such as the U.S. In short, attempting to subjugate all to Israel’s perceived needs with no thought for the freedoms, rights and needs of others. 

Although social media and news from Western reporters inside Gaza have modified what we see on our small and large screens, a one-sided, Israeli-centric narrative from those behind mainstream media desks in North America remains the norm, with blatant propaganda going unchallenged. 

Consequently, Netanyahu gets away with demonizing Palestinians/Hamas with such statements as: “They want to pile up as many civilian dead as they can. They use telegenically dead Palestinians for their cause. They want the more dead, the better.” 

But, during the previous invasion of Gaza, Thomas L. Friedman, writing for The New York Times and no friend of Hamas, saw the disproportionate killing of civilians as an Israeli strategy: 

“Israel basically said that when dealing with a nonstate actor, Hezbollah, nested among civilians, the only long-term source of deterrence was to exact enough pain on the civilians — the families and employers of the militants — to restrain Hezbollah in the future.” (Israel’s Goals in Gaza, NY Times, January 13, 2009).

Then there are those who continue to chant that Hamas is bent on destroying Israel, citing its old Charter while ignoring that, prior to the 2006 election, Hamas removed from its Charter the hateful call for Israel’s eradication, while retaining the right for armed struggle against the occupation. 

In any case, how can people with any common sense believe that Israel, a nuclear military power under the protection of the mighty USA, could be destroyed by any one, let alone Hamas?

Our own government, including some segments of the opposition parties, continues to act as echo chambers for Israel, repeating in unison that “Israel has the right to defend itself.” Agreed, but how about the same right for Palestinians? Especially since this so-called war was initiated not by Hamas and its rockets, as some continue to say, but by Netanyahu. 

In fact, on June 30, 2014, The Times of Israel quoted Israeli officials as saying, “Hamas fires rockets for first time since 2012” and the Shabak website mentions that “This year [2013] there were no casualties from attacks which originated in the Gaza Strip and Sinai.” (Israeli Security Agency, 2013 Report, Data on fatalities in terrorist violence).

Meanwhile Israel killed nine Palestinians in Gaza during 2013, and another 11 between January and March 2014, while the restrictions on movements of people and goods in and out of Gaza is not even mentioned. Obviously the party that didn’t respect the terms of the 2012 ceasefire was Israel.

For Netanyahu, unwilling to talk peace and tackle the hard issues with the new Palestinian unity government, this is a war of choice. Speaking in Hebrew to Israeli media: 

“He made explicitly clear that he could never, ever, countenance a fully sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank… And he more than intimated that he considers the current American, John Kerry-led diplomatic team to be, let’s be polite, naive.” (The Times of Israel, July 13, 2014).

Netanyahu claims that Israel warns Palestinians to leave their homes before a strike and that Hamas prevents them from seeking shelter. But considering that Israeli troops occupy 50 per cent of Gaza (as Mohammad Shtayyeh, a senior adviser to Abbas, told CNN on Sunday) and that its Palestinian residents are landlocked, Netanyahu knows full well that they are, in fact, like sitting ducks for Israeli bombs and missiles, and that the warnings are little more than a cynical joke.

After an on-site assignment for the BBC, Jeremy Bowen wrote in his Gaza notebook:

“I saw no evidence of Hamas using Palestinians as human shields… I defy anyone with an ounce of human feeling not to feel the same after ten minutes in Gaza’s Shifa Hospital with wounded and dying civilians. In the mortuary, it’s so overcrowded that the bodies of two children are crammed on to a single shelf. One day, they had only found enough of the remains of six women and children to fill a single stretcher.” (New Statesman, July 22, 2014)

The casualty count for the current siege, so-called Operation Protective Edge, is over 1,000 out of 1.8 million, equivalent to 19,000 people for the Canadian population of almost 35 million, not to mention the wounded of over six times that number. “According to rights groups such as Defence for Children International and World Vision, Israel has killed more children than it has Hamas fighters.” (CTV News, July 23, 2014)

For me, this is déjà vu. It seems I am repeating what I wrote during Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012 and Operation Cast Lead in 2008, recalling my friend’s agony at not being able to get in touch with her family in Gaza as missiles rained on the area in which they lived. 

The greatest tragedy is that not one of the deaths on either side serves any purpose nor creates any winners, despite so many Canadian cheerleaders. Israeli security cannot be achieved until Palestinians are secure also. Anybody imagining otherwise is seriously in need of a wake-up call. 

Bahija Réghaï is a human rights activist and former president of the National Council on Canada-Arab Relations (NCCAR).

Photo: flickr/DAVID HOLT


Bahija Réghaï

Bahija Réghaï is a well-known human rights activist, former president of the National Council on Canada-Arab Relatons (NCCAR).