Homeless and handicapped Palestinian man Mohammed Daher, 60, sits outside his tent with his handicapped 80 years-old mother in eastern Jabalya refugee camp March 14, 2009. His family’s house and his wheelchair were destroyed during Israel’s three-week long offensive in Gaza Strip last January. REUTERS/Yannis Behraki
While the attention of the world is focused on the beleaguered residents of Gaza, very few know the true conditions there or the actual extent of destruction and suffering. The media, always reluctant to blame Israel, have presented an air-brushed version of events while at the same time largely refusing to identify Israel as the perpetrator of violence.
The United Arab Students of UCLA presented a speech by human rights activist Nora Erakat this past Tuesday evening. Ms Erakat, a member of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) and an adjunct Professor of Human Rights at Georgetown University, spoke about the situation in Gaza, which she witnessed first hand while part of an NLG delegation there, tasked to investigate whether there were human rights violations by Israel during the recent attacks.
Ms Erakat gave three categories of military action which were investigated and analyzed during the NLG visit. They were: 1) Did Israel deliberately target civilians or civilian infrastructure in Gaza? 2) Did Israel use weapons that were outlawed in its attacks on Gaza? 3) Did Israel impede the entry of medical personnel and equipment to aid the wounded in Gaza?
In all three categories, Ms Erakat said, Israel was guilty.
Ms Erakat used a Power Point presentation to illustrate the human cost of Israelâ€™s attack. One frame showed small babies with wounds over their bodies. It took the audience a few seconds to grasp the fact that these infants were dead – the smallest and most innocent casualties of Israelâ€™s war.
â€œThis is too much. I have to look awayâ€ said one woman, putting her face in her hands.
In the town of Zaytoun, a man spoke of losing members of his family when Israeli air fire demolished a house. When asked whether the people inside could have in any way acted to bring on this event as a reprisal or whether militants were in the house with them, the devastated man said that they were all farmers. A young man was so traumatized by having to spend days in a house with four dead family members that he was unable to speak but a few words. Members of the Palestine Committee on Human Rights (PCHR) said that this trauma, in addition to afflicting the young man, was a collective trauma for the people of Gaza.
A wife and mother and beloved community member who led a peaceful demonstration of women through a public area was killed by an Israeli sniper. She and her sister demonstrators all wore white scarves as a token of peace. The ambulance driver who sought to reach her was fired upon by the Israelis, and he told the delegation of this ordeal. The Israelis would not permit access to the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) or the International Red Cross (IRC).
When Israel finally gave permission to retrieve the wounded so that they might receive medical aid, they allowed the Gazans three hours for the task, allowing them only to use donkey carts for the task; and the donkey carts had to be pulled by hand as Israel would not permit the use of donkeys.
Ms Erakat said Israel used outlawed weapons such as DIME (Dense Inert Metal Explosives) and White Phosphorous. Both of these weapons produce horrific injuries and appear to have been used by Israel in a way calculated to produce prolonged suffering and trauma. Doctors who thought they were treating ordinary burns were puzzled when the burns did not improve. They soon realized that they were treating White Phosphorous burns.
To name but two more examples of civilian targeting; the Israelis bombed the UN school and the American International School. The former had the UN symbol clearly marked on its roof. One member of the UN delegation in the school was on the telephone with an Israeli telling him that their fire was getting closer and that they were a purely civilian target. This to no avail.
In a particular kind of irony, the American International School with its American curriculum had been the target of criticism from some religious leaders in Gaza. The school and the leaders finally agreed to disagree, and the American school continued. To believe that the school would house militants might, under less tragic circumstances, have been laughable.
Ms Erakat stressed that she did not want to deny the Israelis the right to self defense, but that even in war there are parameters of what constitutes acceptable military action and when force is considered disproportionate. She referenced the Geneva Convention and commonly accepted rules of international behavior. â€œLaw is not separate from politicsâ€ she said.
She further told her audience that while the US has labeled Hamas a terrorist group, it is also a political party chosen by the people of Gaza and performs many valuable social services.
Ms Erakat said that she wants the American Congress to launch an investigation into Israelâ€™s actions in Gaza.
A lively question and answer session followed. Ms Erakat then spoke of a group she had helped found, the American Association for Palestinian Equal Rights (AAPER).
AAPER has issued a statement of its beliefs. They are: 1) The right of Palestinian Christians and Muslims to full equality and freedom; 2) The support of non violent Palestinian, Israeli and International resistance to Israeli occupation; 3) The support of the Israeli peace and human rights community as it attempts to reconcile the Israeli-Palestine conflict; 4) To advance the Arab League Initiative for Comprehensive Peace with Israel; 5) To support the co existence of Israelâ€™s Jewish community with the people of the Middle East.
AAPER reminds us that Israel is the worldâ€™s leading recipient of United State aid, and that this aid is not conditional on Israeli behavior. The US has thus far not defended the rights and freedom of the Palestinian people.
â€œEnough is enough. The time for a change has come!â€
To find out more about AAPER and its plan for direct involvement in Palestine, called â€œFive for Palestineâ€, please access the following web sites.
AAPER may be accessed at: <www.americansforpalestine.org. Five for Palestine may be accessed at: www.fiveforpalestine.org.