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the war in gaza

January 11, 2009

As the Israeli invasion of Gaza is expected to intensify, putting more innocent civilians into harms way, I am surprised that there is little to no reaction from the United States besides the Bush administration’s support and a congressional resolution offering “unwavering” support for Israel and its right to defend itself (US Senate supports Israel’s Gaza incursion). The United States, which has arguably been Israel’s closet ally since 1948, is in a unique position to push Israel to stop this violence, or at the very least, to show restraint. Instead, we, as a country, have done the opposite.

I realize that Hamas is considered by most to be little more than a terrorist organization that fires home-made rockets indiscriminately into Israel, but that does not justify Israel’s disproportionate response. While it is difficult to verify the information coming out of Gaza as Israel has prohibited foreign journalists from entering during these past two weeks, it is estimated that at least 400-700 people have been killed compared to 28 people killed by Hamas rocket attacks since 2001 (BBC News Q&A: Gaza conflict). Many of these are said to be innocent civilians, including women and children.

The civilians themselves are trapped between a rock and a hard place. The Gaza strip, which is smaller than Portland, Oregon, yet has twice the population, is basically a prison state with Israel controlling their airspace and territorial waters, as well as the Gaza-Israel border. The only other access point is the Gaza-Egypt border, which itself is protected by concrete and steel walls. The Palestinians have nowhere to run. So, when Israel says that it has informed the residence of Gaza that they plan to escalate its military action against Hamas, where can they go to escape the violence? Israel says that Hamas deliberately stores their weapons in heavily populated areas so as to assure civilian casualties, but does that justify the bombing of homes, schools, shelters and other civilian locations?

One of the latest stories is that a UN aid truck carrying relief supplies was attacked by an Israeli tank, and as a result, the UN is ceasing aid until their safety is assured. This is bad news for almost half the population of Gaza, which the UN says is dependent on them for food since an 18 month Israeli blockade began. What is worse is that, according to the BBC, “much of the population is without electricity, about half are without running water, and food deliveries to 750,000 have been seriously disrupted” (Gaza humanitarian crisis deepens). It is a nothing short of a humanitarian crisis, and I am dismayed by the lack of sympathy coming out of Washington for the Palestinian people.

I understand that Israel has a right to defend itself, and I think that Israel should do what it can, within reason of course, to stop the rocket attacks and protect its citizens, but not only is the suffering and misery experienced by the entire civilian population of Gaza appalling, it is, in the words of John Ging, Gaza’s director of operations for the refugee agency UNRWA, “… creating fertile ground for the extremists” (UN official says Israel’s siege of Gaza breeds extremism and human suffering).

Even though Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said that, “Our resolution reflects the will of the state of Israel and the will of the American people” (Few speak up for Palestinians in U.S. Congress), I want to make it clear that I neither condone or support Hamas’ rocket attacks into Israel nor do I condone or support Israel’s siege of Gaza. This insanity has to stop. As with others around the world, I hope that a short-term cease-fire can be worked out, and that, ultimately, a true lasting peace can be reached with the help of the international community. That is why I applaud my congressman, Earl Blumenauer, who has released a statement saying:

“I appreciate the widespread concern for the crisis unfolding in Gaza since December 27. The recent conflict in between Palestinians and Israelis is as tragic as it was predictable. The fundamental lesson in the Middle East is clear: without political processes that strive continuously for peace, events and the acts of extremists can overpower the desire of people across the region to reject violence.

“I voted “present” on H. Res. 34 because words matter and this resolution did not express adequately the scope of the humanitarian crisis. To that end I am joining other colleagues in urging the administration to work to meet the immediate humanitarian needs while we work for a ceasefire.

“Any country facing such attacks would wish to respond firmly and decisively, yet it is frustrating to witness the region locked into a downward spiral of conflict. This path will give neither side what it wants, but will continue to destabilize the situation and further impede efforts at a resolution.

“This cycle of violence must be broken. Yet, nearly a decade of failed Bush policies has left America in a weakened position at the table, less able to help deliver peace or improve the humanitarian situation on the ground. At least the administration declined to vote against a January 8 United Nations Security Council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

“Forceful U.S. diplomatic re-engagement now is critical. Though a secure Israel and an independent Palestinian state living side by side seems remote today, I have high hopes that the new Obama administration will exhibit a strong reversal of course and re-engage the region. Our efforts here today are inadequate to this task. We must not only work for a ceasefire that halts this backslide into chaos, but move forward toward an ultimate solution that recognizes the legitimate needs of both Israelis and Palestinians. We know where we need to go, we must have the will to achieve it.”

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