By Susan Schwartz, MMNS
While the citizens of Gaza – often called the worldâ€™s largest prison – continue to suffer under the boot of Israel, the scope and intensity of their hardships are routinely ignored by the mainstream media. Human rights activists have been ready, both as individuals and as members of groups, to enter Gaza and bear personal witness to the devastation wrought by Israel, most recently through its December 27, 2008 incursion, Operation Cast Lead.
Reem Salahi, a Los Angeles immigration attorney and member of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Southern California, spoke to an audience about her recent trip to Gaza as part of an National Lawyers Guild (NLG) delegation to study allegations of Israeli war crimes. Should such allegations be confirmed, a corollary concern would be whether these violations then impact US domestic law. Her presentation was titled: Report Back from Gaza. It was co sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee and the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California and endorsed by L. A. Jews for Peace and Women in Black, L. A. The event was held at the Levantine Cultural Center in Los Angeles this past Wednesday evening.
Ms Salahi said that she spoke fluent Arabic and that she took the pictures and video footage that would be presented. This would have the effect of nullifying criticism often directed at Gaza eyewitnesses: that they do not speak the language and are influenced by translators and that they are shown doctored photographs.
The NLG delegation went from February 2 to February 9 of this year. The arenas of investigation of allegations concerned: the deliberate targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure; the use of illegal weaponry or the use of weaponry in a illegal manner; the refusal to admit medical personal to treat the wounded; the disproportionate use of force; the use of human shields, and whether all diplomatic avenues to resolve the conflict had been exhausted prior to the inception of hostilities.
Ms Salahi said that on all counts Israel was guilty of severe violations of international law and of grave war crimes. She proceeded to demonstrate this as she demolished, one by one, the lies that Israel has told the world and that its Western apologists have repeated about Operation Cast Lead.
The United States, Israelâ€™s chief benefactor, is, by its association with Israel, guilty as well.
Ms Salahi reminded her audience that the Gaza Strip is one fifth the size of Rhode Island with one and a half million residents. Israel controls the air space, the Mediterranean coast and the points of entry and exit. This renders Gaza a prison in the physical sense as well as in the metaphorical. The people of Gaza have no where to escape to and must live with the horror Israel imposes on them. When a state is an occupier, it is virtually impossible to sustain a claim to self defense when instigating hostilities.
There were virtually no buildings left undamaged during Israelâ€™s attacks. More than one third of the dead were children. No evidence was found of Israelâ€™s claim that residents received cell phone calls warning them of an imminent attack.
Interviews with parents of dead children, killed by Israeli fire, even when they posed no threat, brought many audience members to tears. Israelâ€™s use of White Phosphorus weapons, illegal under international law as anti personnel weapons, was made chillingly clear when severely wounded people were shown with large parts of their bodies bandaged. White Phosphorus burns may initially present as ordinary burns, but they continue their path of destruction through the body as long as they have a supply of oxygen. A total recovery is usually out of the question for people exposed to White Phosphorus.
â€œI canâ€™t believe human beings would do thisâ€ said one woman.
â€œAnd we paid for itâ€ observed another.
Ms Salahi referenced the Israeli attack on the UN school and on the America International school. The argument made by the Israeli military that these two buildings housed Hamas militants was ludicrous on its face and in its details.
â€œI expect Israel to obey the lawâ€ said Ms Salahi.
Susan Adelman who arrived in Gaza on International Womenâ€™s Day with a delegation from Code Pink also spoke to the audience. She and members of her delegation prepared baskets in Egypt to give to the women of Palestine. Ms Adelman compared Israel and its constant reference to the Holocaust to a child who has been abused. Often an abused children will become abusive adults and perpetuate a cycle of violence because they have not worked through their traumatic experiences. Ms Adelman suggested that Israelis have not worked through their abusive past – the Holocaust. Their mantra should not be â€œNever Againâ€ but â€œNever Again to anyoneâ€
Israel claims that Hamas is a terrorist group, yet it is the duly elected government in Gaza brought into office by an election that was deemed fair by international observers.
Ms Adelman said that the US has not been an honest broker and that Jews should be in the forefront of those who pressure this country to be an honest broker.
â€œAIPAC is not usâ€â€ she said referring to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
The final speaker was Shukran Cattell of the American Association for Palestinian Equal Rights (AAPER), a Washington, D. C. public interest and lobbying group. Mr. Cattell spoke of AAPERâ€™s program, titled â€œFive for Palestineâ€ which permits concerned people to aid the Palestinians with five simple steps.
A lively question and answer session followed.
The Levantine Center is a cultural center located in Los Angeles. In addition to books and art, Arabic classes are available.
To find out more about the organizations referenced, please contact these websites. American Friends Service Committee: www.afsc.org. Code Pink: www.codepink4peace.org. AAPER: www.americansforpalestine.org. LA Jews for Peace: www.lajewsforpeace.org.