The recent tentative ceasefire may have halted the military thrashing of Gaza, but it does not constitute an end to its humanitarian crisis and the ongoing illegal occupation, the root causes of the conflict. Power brokers, the media, and the public should remain cognizant of the fact that what needs to be done next is no less important than the ceasefire itself.
First, Egypt, the US, France, and Turkey must work with Israel and Hamas to ensure that the ceasefire is sustainable. Gaza’s civilian population should not wake up daily to the terrorizing possibility of tanks in their backyards and warplanes over their homes. Hamas should not fire rockets into Israel.
Second, the UN should launch an independent investigation into the serious allegations of war crimes committed against Gaza’s civilians during the three week offensive. Israel’s response to the allegations has been either to deflect blame to Hamas, or to declare that it will launch its own investigations which typically amount to nothing. An alleged perpetrator of war crimes cannot be entrusted to launch a fair and transparent investigation into its own violations.
The world has learned important lessons from the experiences of the twentieth century that we cannot afford to ignore. Since World War II and Bosnia there have been awareness programs, international checks and balances, investigative agencies, and punitive courts, established to ensure that crimes against humanity are a thing of the past.
And yet, in the twenty first century, we find ourselves still looking the other way when serious human rights violations occur. Israel is accused of killing 1300 Palestinians, many of them civilians including 300 children. It is also accused of using white phosphorous on civilians, which is banned internationally, as well as violating the Arms Export and Control Act.
Allegations abound of Israel’s targeting of civilians. A grandmother claims to have waived a white flag when soldiers stormed her home, only to have her three grandchildren fired on: four year old Samar is left permanently paralyzed from the waist down while her two sisters were shot dead. Three clearly marked UN schools were targeted with missiles resulting in the murder of 60 civilians. Schools, Mosques, and hospitals were also bombed throughout the offensive. John Ging, head of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Gaza stated that “the Israeli air force hit infrastructure of the state of Palestine rather than the infrastructure of terror.”
The muted world response to those alleged war crimes is made possible by a widespread demonization of the Palestinian that entertains such outlandish notions as “Palestinians use their own children as human shields.” It is only by projecting an image of the Palestinian as something less than human that the Israeli government can hope to justify its human rights transgressions and avert a severe backlash in public opinion.
We cannot afford to let these crimes go without accountability. A third party investigation with binding consequences is imperative.
Third, the international community led by the US, which could not save Gaza’s besieged civilian population from the gratuitous massacres, should now dispense generous humanitarian aid packages to help alleviate the people’s ongoing suffering. Gazans continue to face unlivable conditions. They have courageously vowed to rebuild, but they cannot realistically do much without outside help, especially given the continued blockade.
Lastly and most importantly, the Obama administration must recommit the US, which took a backseat during the Bush administration, to lead a renewed international diplomatic effort that would address the root causes of the crisis and help broker a just and lasting peace. At the end of the day, the illegal occupation of Gaza must come to an end; Palestinians are entitled to choose their own destiny in a free and democratic process.
Only then can both sides of the conflict aspire to peace, security, and prosperity.