Israeli offensive in Gaza
Madam, - We are well rid of the annus horribilis of 2008. It now looks, however, as if 2009 may be even worse. It certainly is for the unfortunate inhabitants of Gaza.
As I write I am sitting within a hundred miles or so of the conflict watching Al-Jazeera, the only broadcaster providing live TV coverage from the area. I have known both Israel and Palestine well over the past 30 years and have very good friends on both sides, and I am horrified, as they are, by what we are being forced to witness. I have often supported Israel and deplored terror attacks and suicide bombings against her citizens. Not even the most rabid Zionist dare call me either anti-Semitic or anti-Israeli. Indeed at this very moment I have as a guest at my house here in Cyprus one of my close Israeli Jewish friends.
For all the nasty and inflated rhetoric of people like Ahmedinajad in Iran it is actually the Israelis, under the protection of the Washington-Jerusalem axis led by Bush and Olmert, who are driving the Palestinians into the sea. Where does all this horror and barbarism come from? More than 60 years ago Christian Europe was complicit in the Nazi extermination of 6 million Jews as well as hundreds of thousands of gypsies, homosexuals and political dissidents. Europe then attempted to assuage its guilt by helping to create the state of Israel, thus landing our problem in the lap of the completely guiltless Palestinians. Tragically, it seems that, as sometimes happens with individual humans, the abused is becoming the abuser. That is why the massive bombardment from land, sea and air of a civilian population besieged and entrapped within a tiny area carries such sinister resonances of the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto. It is astonishing that there has been virtually no international condemnation at official level of the bombing of a mosque in Gaza during evening prayers with at least a dozen people militarily murdered in the process. Had this been a church or a synagogue in Israel, one can only imagine the outcry.
Just as was recorded by the great Jewish scholar Richard Klemperer, trapped in Germany in the 130s and 1940s, language itself has become debased. Words must have lost their meaning when persons such as the Israeli Minister Tzipi Livni and the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice can maintain that "there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza". Tell that to the mother in Gaza who saw her five daughters blown to pieces in front of her eyes, to the 11-year-ld boy who had his face burnt off by an Israeli incendiary or the 1.5 million Palestinians with virtually no food, water, electricity or medical supplies and indeed no effective shelter from the US-supplied bombs raining down on them from the sky. How dare the incoming Czech presidency purport to speak in the name of Europe in describing the Israeli blitz as defensive rather than offensive? And of course the United States has used its veto once more to prevent any statement emerging from the UN.
I have seen American-accented Israeli spokespersons repeatedly ask how European countries would react if they were subjected to sporadic bomb or missile attacks. For two decades the United Kingdom, both in Northern Ireland and Britain, was subjected to just such sustained attacks by the Provisional IRA. I am very glad to say that they did not invade Dundalk or flatten the city of Dublin in a series of air raids. Of course it is to be deplored that Israeli civilians have also become casualties in this downward spiral of tit-for-tat violence. However,when the casualties are running as they now are at 125 to 1,one must question the proportionality of Israeli actions.
I have often raised both in the Senate and in the Foreign Affairs Committee the matter of the human rights protocols attached to the external association agreement between the EU and Israel. So far both our own Government and the EU itself have steadfastly refused to ensure that these human rights provisions are even monitored, let alone implemented.
Alas for suffering humanity. But thank God for the sparks of decency visible even in this terrible conflict. I salute in particular the tremendous moral courage of those Israeli Jews whom I have seen on TV speaking out against the current violence and in support of peace. - Yours, etc,
Madam, — With reference to the ongoing Irish Times coverage of Israel's military action, including its ground incursion, against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, I wish to make the following points:
1. The questions I have been asking the Irish people are fundamental to any discussion of Israel's action: "What would you do if Dublin were subjected to a bombardment of 8,000 rockets and mortars similar to that endured by Israeli towns and cities for eight years?" And: "What would you do if you had only 15 seconds to run for shelter from rocket fire, not once or occasionally but almost every day for eight years?"
2. Even leading Arab countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and the chairman of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, have blamed Hamas for ending the ceasefire and triggering the current situation.
3. The goal of the present ground operation is to destroy the terrorist infrastructure of Hamas - the rocket launch sites and the tunnels used to smuggle weapons and explosives into Gaza, in order greatly to reduce the quantity of rockets and mortars fired at the civilian population of southern Israel. We are not interested in the reoccupation of Gaza, but in the creation of a more secure reality for almost a million residents of southern Israel and a life without the constant threat of rocket and mortar fire.
4. All civilian deaths in this conflict, whether Palestinian or Israeli, are tragic. The people of Gaza are not our enemies. Israel makes every possible effort to avoid civilian casualties by leafleting and telephoning evacuation warnings to families living in houses used by Hamas as launch pads for rocket fire, or for storage of weapons and explosives.
It is Hamas that turns these places into military targets; some of its members even boast about the use of women and children as human shields.
5. Since Israel withdrew completely from Gaza in 2005, Hamas has been the enemy of normality there, and bears chief responsibility for the so-called "siege". Its rocket fire forced Israel to close the crossings periodically. The Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza remains closed because Hamas in 2007 expelled the European Union monitors charged with supervising the crossing under the agreement that accompanied Israel's withdrawal. Egypt refuses to reopen it until Hamas reinstates the European monitors and Palestinian Authority control. Since the present operation began, Hamas has also rejected an Egyptian offer to evacuate injured Palestinians to hospitals in Egypt.
6. Israel has acted and continues to act to improve the humanitarian situation. During the ceasefire period, even while smuggling and tunnelling continued, Israel almost doubled the number of truckloads of humanitarian supplies entering Gaza from Israel - to 17,000, compared with 9,000 in the six months preceding the ceasefire.
7. Israel, a democratic state, is acting in self-defence, whereas Hamas, a terrorist organisation bent on Israel's destruction, stands in the way of peace. - Yours, etc,
Madam, - Israel is again displaying its outright disregard for international law. One small example of its ruthlessness is more than evident in its programme of dropping leaflets on the people of Gaza warning them to leave their homes which are about to be bombed. Given that Israel has the Gaza Strip surrounded, where do they expect them to go?
It is time to boycott this pariah state. We should send home the Israeli ambassador instead of allowing him space in this paper to peddle his lies and justify Israel's crimes against humanity. - Yours, etc,
Madam, - While some would argue that our Government has been unworthy of praise in recent months, Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin is certainly to be commended for his comments on Israel's actions in Gaza. Mr Martin's comments were reasonably clear by comparison with the mealy-mouthed opinions offered by other governments.
Yet again the Israeli government has executed a grossly disproportionate response to the actions of Hamas, and in doing so has provided Hamas with its most efficient recruiting officer. In the long term, the current actions will do nothing to resolve the "situation", but will in fact make it worse for Israelis and Palestinians alike.
Israel, which regularly likes to point out that it is the only true democracy in the region, must recognise that Hamas was itself democratically elected, and ask the question why. Only when Israel - and indeed the so-called western world - face up to the reasons Hamas has been able to take power democratically in Gaza can the problem start to be resolved.
Our Government, in concert with the EU, and hopefully America under its new leadership, must bring Israel to realise that it cannot beat a nation into submission.
The only workable solution will come through dialogue. - Yours, etc,
Madam, - Here is a question for all those demonstrating on behalf of the Palestinians. Which Palestinians do you support? The "moderate" Palestinians of the Fatah-controlled Palestine Authority, with which Israel is in negotiations based on a two-state solution, or the extremist Hamas Palestinians who control the Gaza Strip?
Hamas has been labelled a terrorist organization by the UN, the EU and the US, and has refused to recognize the existence of Israel. Not only did it take control of Gaza by an illegal coup in which many Fatah operatives were killed and injured, but during the current conflict, according to Khaled Abu Toameh, the Jerusalem Post's Arab Affairs correspondent, Hamas has murdered 35 Fatah prisoners and "kneecapped" or mutilated 75 more detainees.
So let's be clear, there is a vast difference between supporting the Palestine Authority and supporting Hamas in Gaza. The former want a negotiated settlement with Israel while the latter wants to destroy Israel and then start a world-wide Caliphate. - Yours, etc,
Madam, - The World Press Photo of the year award 2006 was given to photographer Spencer Platt, who captured an image of four stylishly dressed young women and their driver cruising through the rubble of war-torn Beirut in a convertible. The photograph, not surprisingly, caused controversy.
Nikola Solic's photograph in your edition of January 2nd is equally striking, and will surely be remembered as an iconic image of the tragedy that is Gaza 2009. The image is of a group of young, clearly well-off Israelis, five females and one male, surveying from a hilltop distance an Israeli air strike on the Gaza Strip. One young woman is laughing heartily; another gazes languidly into the distance, and has a mobile phone glued to her ear; another, armed with binoculars, is looking, presumably, at a scene of devastation. An extraordinary photograph that narrates, even better than words can do, the attitudes of a nation. - Yours, etc,
Madam, - Much of the media and several of your letter-writers seem to have forgotten that Israel and the Palestinian Authority had an internationally supported workable peace until Hamas decided to abandon it, just as they did the recent ceasefire. Several commentators who wanted no negotiating with Sinn Féin-IRA unless there was a ceasefire seem to think Israel should negotiate with Hamas, whose avowed determination is to drive Israelis from the Middle East. And in all the talk of proportionality, one mustn't forget who it is that supports Hamas. - Yours, etc,
Madam, - Nadav Cohen of the Israeli Embassy (January 3rd) suggests that one of the elements that precipitated his country's current slaughter of Palestinians - using US-supplied aircraft, let us not forget - was the blowing-up of a border fence.
He is ready to ignore the fact that there should be no fences at all around Gaza; that fences, walls, refusal of food and medicines, targeted murder of Hamas leaders and other such events have turned Gaza into a ghetto from which its citizens have every right to attempt to escape, and every right to fight for their basic dignity. He has forgotten his history if he cannot see - as many enlightened Israelis can, thankfully - the dreadful comparisons between what is happening around Gaza and the dark military violence visited on the ghettos of Poland six decades ago.
Thus has Israel, an abused child, been raised to become the abuser, complete with self-justification of its actions and an unwillingness to listen to others. One excuse for violence follows upon another. Does this rage not also have its root in Israel's deep sense of guilt at having displaced so many Palestinian people in order to establish its own identity? No, Mr Cohen, it's got nothing to do with blowing up a fence. - Yours, etc,