Fear and loathing in the Gaza Strip

What exactly is going on in Gaza at the minute? Amidst all the accusations of infanticide, genocide and racial hatred, WNOL reporter Ian Horrocks speaks to people on both sides of the conflict and separates the fact from the fiction.

The Gaza Strip is by no means the only conflict point in the Middle East today. Syria, Jordan, Bahrain and Iraq are all currently experiencing similar levels of violence at present. Whilst these nations are tearing themselves apart from the inside, what sets Gaza apart is that it is in conflict with another sovereign state – Israel.

But this is no normal war. In fact, it bears more in resemblance to the civil wars surrounding it than any typical western perception of ‘war’.

Paul Hughes-Smith, founding member of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s West London Branch spoke to WNOL and describes the situation as an “asymmetric conflict”. The military might and information technologies of Israel far outstrip the punitive artillery of Hamas, the de facto governors of the Gaza Strip.

Just like the governments in Syria and Jordan battling against internal revolutions, “Israel hold all the cards,” says Hughes-Smith. The current Palestinian death toll stands at 125. In Israel just three people have lost their lives.

Away from the disaffecting numbers, it is the personal stories of suffering which enrage Palestinian supporters more.

As Hughes-Smith recounts, “I was in Palestine a month ago and visited a house in the West Bank that has been destroyed six times by the Israelis. It is now known as Beit Arabiya and was rebuilt as a peace centre. Since my return to the UK it was destroyed again for the seventh time. This is why I do this (Palestinian charity work).”

So why are Israel unleashing a barrage of missiles across the Gaza border?

Adam Mallerman, broadcaster at Israeli radio station Arutz 7, accuses Gaza’s militant leaders:

“I 100% blame Hamas. They’ve fired rockets on a regular basis into Israel. They’re always aimed at civilian areas, and always fired from civilian areas in Gaza. Children have been their target on occasion – on the first day of the school year, they fired rockets at the times kids went to and from school!”

And there have been many rockets. According to the Jerusalem Post, nearly 2000 missiles have been fired from Gaza into Israel in 2012, although deaths are proportionally low, with the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs reporting that there have been 61 Israeli causalities.

This has led to a pervasive fear throughout the Jewish community. Mallerman told WNOL, “There are three boys I have known since birth in the army, one of whom is virtually a brother. I lie in bed worrying about them.”

Hamas’ rockets during the now defunct cease-fire were, of course, not without provocation. Since 2007, Israel have been imposing a stringent blockade around the Gaza Strip which has crippled the state and resulted in what the United Nations describes as “the impoverishment and de-development of a highly-skilled and well-educated society”.

As Hughes-Smith puts it “The siege is a humanitarian disaster. Surrounding an area and not letting anything in or out is virtually the same as occupying it.”

Israel claim that the blockade is solely to prevent Iranian weapons from reaching Gaza, cutting off Hamas’ ability to fire rockets, but it has had little effect upon mortar levels. It is in fact Israel’s latest attempt to curtail Palestinian mortars that has led to the current intensification of conflict and casualties – the assassination of Ahmed Jabari, commander of Hamas’ military wing.

Hughes-Smith argues that, “the Israelis have reignited the conflict by carrying out a targeted assassination which was bound to get a response from Hamas.”

Many Londoners agree with Hughes-Smith. At a ‘Boycott Batsheva’ demonstration on Monday evening, one protestor who preferred not to give his real name noted that “Israel don’t want peace. They assassinated the Hamas leader after he agreed to peace negotiations!”

Mary Beaman, a self-employed 60 year old at the same protest was also in agreement, “The Israeli government is to blame for all this. They have no interest in the Palestinian people, nor their struggle.”

But Israel supporters counter-protesting at the same event are equally as bullish. David Nyman, a retired Jewish lawyer, believes the Palestinian government will never engage seriously in a peace process:

“The settlements and blockade aren’t the issue. No matter what compromise we offer, Hamas & the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (governors of the other Palestinian territory, the West Bank) will find another reason to ignite a war.”

Marian Kings, an Israeli Jew living in London, concurs and despairs at the effect the conflict is having on the region:

“I know children as young as nine with grey hair. They’ve lived with it their whole lives and that’s disgusting. I hope and pray we (Palestinians & Israelis) can live together, but it depends on who wants peace. Palestinians need to recognize Israel’s right to exist and agree to share.”

After listening to these remarks, it’s startling to realise that both Palestinians and Israelis hold similar grievances, whilst the international community is split down the middle on who the true aggressor is in this most complicated of conflicts.

But it is human nature to side with the underdog, as the West did to such revolutionary effect during the Arab Spring. With the USA’s unfailing support of Israel, that is unlikely to be repeated for the people of Palestine and peace seems a long way off. As the protestor Mary Beaman ironically puts it:

“You can’t expect David & Goliath to sit side by side.”

Images courtesy of:

MarcinMonko

Alex92287

WNOL Camera Operator, Tabrayz Khan

This article was originally published on Westminster News Online

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