Gaza: Some Observations

<b>Photo credits: Al-Jazeera</b><br /> <i>In the foreground is Samar, a 4-year old girl, who explains in the video footage that she was shot by soldiers in the hand and in the back, with a bullet exiting her stomach. Her father explains in the video footage that she was shot three times, and that her 6-year old and 8-year old sisters were killed by Israeli fire shot at close range. In the background, another women sits by the bedside of her injured daughter.....</i>

Photo credits: Al-Jazeera. In the foreground is Samar, a 4-year old girl, who explains in the video footage that she was shot by soldiers in the hand and in the back, with a bullet exiting her stomach. Her father explains in the video footage that she was shot three times, and that her 6-year old and 8-year old sisters were killed by Israeli fire shot at close range. In the background, another women sits by the bedside of her injured daughter.....

On December 27, 2008, shortly before noon, Israel launched a military campaign against Gaza called, ‘Operation Cast Lead. It began with air and missile strikes against various Hamas targets. Israel’s Air Force is the fourth largest in the world. The stated objective of this campaign was to stop Hamas from carrying out further rocket attacks upon Israel by targeting Hamas militants and key members in Gaza. On the evening of January 3, Israel launched its ground invasion as the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) poured into northern Gaza City with tanks and gunships.

Sometimes, I think we forgot how lucky we are – those of us who aren’t living in conflict-torn places. In our complacency, we tend to ignore things that are going on in other parts of the world, preferring to hide behind our self-reassurance that these things aren’t happening to us, or would never happen to us.  We’re wrong. Because when people suffer around the world ─ no matter who they are ─ we, as fellow humans, collectively suffer. So, in this frame of mind, sitting in safety and security in my apartment in Zürich, I did some more reading on what had been transpiring in Gaza over the last few days and years:

  • 1.5 million Palestinians live in the 360 square km (139 square mile) Gaza Strip. More than three-quarters of them are refugees whose families fled, or were driven from their land, in what is now Israel, in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.
  • Egypt captured the strip during that conflict, but lost it to Israel in the 1967 war.(Known as ‘The Six-Days War) Israel withdrew unilaterally in 2005, but kept control of access to and from the coastal enclave.
  • Gaza has one of the world’s youngest and fastest-growing populations. About 45 percent are children aged below 15. The median age is 17.2 years. At the present growth rate of 3.42 percent, the population will double in 20 years.
  • An Israeli blockade and international sanctions, since Hamas won a Palestinian election in 2006, have crippled Gaza’s economy, especially after Hamas seized control of the territory from President Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority in 2007.
  • Most Gazans live on less than $2 a day, and up to 80 percent are dependent on food aid, according to aid groups.
  • Israel’s ban on exports and on all but humanitarian imports has forced 98 percent of Gaza’s industry to close. The World Bank estimates unemployment at 35 percent.
  • The war has put more pressure on already stressed services. Casualties have overwhelmed hospitals and rescue teams. Food, cooking gas, fuel, electricity, and running water are scarce. Last week the World Bank said nearly all sewage and water pumps had stopped working due to fuel and power shortages. (Source — Reuters)

Yet, Israeli Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, was quoted as saying, “There is no humanitarian crisis in the Strip, and therefore there is no need for a humanitarian truce.”

Some might disagree when they learn that, despite Israel’s IDF insisting that it was only targeting Hamas, by January 14, 2009, the Palestinian death toll had surpassed 1000 – including over 300 children, and the wounded in Gaza numbered at more than 4,500.

Further, even though chief army spokesman for the foreign media, Major Avital Leibovich, stated, “We do our utmost to avoid hitting civilians, and many times we don’t fire because we see civilians nearby,”  the most recent figures, as put forth by medics in Gaza, are 1,330 dead – 65% civilians – and 5,450 wounded. (Source—MWC)

As well, Israel is using white phosphorus as a weapon. Several sources reported that there is ample evidence to suggest the white phosphorus was being used as a weapon, such as photographs of the incandescent falling rays among the civilians in areas of Gaza, and burn victims with very specific injuries were appearing from those areas.

The UK Times Online reported, “The 1980 Geneva treaty says that white phosphorus should not be used as a weapon of war in civilian areas, but there is no blanket ban on its use as a smokescreen or for illumination. It produces a thick white smoke when exposed to oxygen, but can cause severe burns, and will melt flesh to the bone, if  it comes into contact with skin. The sudden influx of burns patients at Nasser Hospital coincided with Israel’s expanded ground offensive, which included the Al-Qarara and Kuza’a suburbs of Khan Yunis.”

More than 50 people with burns were taken into Nasser Hospital in the southern town of Khan Yunis, in what the hospital director, Youssef Abu Al-Reesh, said was a massive case of exposure to white phosphorus. “We don’t have the medical experience to judge these cases, but we searched the internet according to the cases we have, and it indeed confirmed that it’s white phosphorus munitions. I have been working in this hospital for ten years, and I have never seen anything like this.”

Although there is apparently some debate as to whether white phosphorus is actually a chemical weapon, according to the Chemical Weapons Convention, if the toxic properties of white phosphorus are intentionally used upon a civilian population, then it is prohibited. Although Israel did not sign the CWC, it is beholden to the Geneva Conventions which state that a civilian population must be protected while targeting the opposition and in considering enemy response.

Despite the evidence, Israel vehemently denied using WP in Gaza. However, a few days ago, The Guardian reported this:

“After weeks of denying that they had used white phosphorus in heavily-populated areas of Gaza, the IDF has admitted that Israeli forces may have used the napalm-like chemical in violation of both international law and the Israeli military’s own policy.”

Israel is also using DIME Weapons, which stands for ‘Dense Inert Metal Explosives.’ This was reported on Al Jazeera’s coverage of Operation Cast Lead. Marc Garlasco, a senior military analyst at Human Rights Watch, who is in Israel to investigate both sides’  use of weaponry, had this to say:

“DIME – the dense inert metal explosive, consisting of 25 percent TNT and 75 percent tungsten, [is] a heavy metal. You mix the two in a fine grain, like pepper, and when the bomb hits the ground, it aerosolizes. In less than a second, the mist dissipates and explodes. [The bomb] strikes a very small area, 10 to 20 meters, and the fire it ignites burns out very quickly. If it hits us now, we will die, but no one around us will be hurt. The problem is that when you are killed, you are ripped to shreds and there is nothing left.”

Al Jazeera also reported Dr. Jan Brommundt, a German doctor working for Medecins du Monde in the south Gazan city of Khan Younis, described the injuries he had seen as “absolutely gruesome.” […] Brommundt also described widespread, but previously unseen abdominal injuries that appear minor at first, but degenerate within hours, causing multiple organ failure.  He said:

“Initially, everything seems in order … but they will present, within one to five hours, with an acute abdomen which looks like appendicitis, but it turns out on operation that dozens of miniature particles can be found in all of their organs. It seems to be some sort of explosive or shell that disperses tiny particles at around 1-by-1 or 2-by-1 millimeters that penetrate all organs, these miniature injuries, you are not able to attack them surgically.”

Another doctor who treated such injuries was Dr. Erik Fosse, a Swedish doctor who worked at Shifa Hospital in Gaza from December 31 to Jan 10.  He submitted a report to the Swedish government accusing the Israeli government of waiting until the aid workers from Western countries had gone home for Christmas before deliberately attacking civilians.

“The Palestinian witnesses, as medical workers, are very accurate in their reports, but if we hadn’t been there to confirm their testimony, it would all have been presented as Hamas propaganda,” he said.

Here is a video of the report:


Israel has banned foreign journalists since December 27th, an indication that a country knows it is committing an atrocity. American mainstream news sources, in particular the cable news sources, leave the American people largely ignorant of the real news, especially in regards to these events, which were not reported. The information above comes from BBC World and Al Jazeera. Americans are not getting the majority of real news coming out of Gaza right now, because Al Jazeera has been the only network broadcasting live coverage from inside Gaza. This network is only available from cable providers in the United States in three cities ─ in Burlington, Toledo, OH, and Washington, D.C. – thanks largely to the Bush administration’s propaganda against the network in the early years of Iraq. However, for those who wish a more unbiased footage of events,  the Al Jazeera broadcasts can also be found online, without censorship.

Israel and Hamas have since agreed to a cease-fire. And perhaps taking note of widespread global condemnation for its actions in Gaza, Israel has put together a defence team for the military and civilians involved. All this might leave one wondering whether Operation Cast Lead actually achieved Israel’s goals, because while Israel’s leaders claimed victory, Hamas has also claimed a victory of a different kind. And with this, the old maxim springs to mind, “violence begets violence”.


Last 5 posts by Natasha J. Stillman

Last 5 posts by Natasha J. Stillman