The Palestinians too should take back control of their destiny

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 12/12/2016

Israeli soldiers in riot gear in East Jerusalem [file photo]

From the Middle East Monitor

2016 will be remembered for a new phrase that came to characterise popular uprisings against “the establishment” in the West. From the UK to the USA, “taking back control” struck a chord with the voters when it was adopted by Donald Trump in America and the leaders of BREXIT in the UK. The now infamous image in the golden lift at Trump Tower of President-elect Trump and UKIP’s Nigel Farage was made possible because voters wanted to take back control and thought they would secure it.

The Palestinians too want to take back control of their destiny but how can they achieve this?

In a year which saw their dreams of liberation, freedom and independence dashed once again, they feel their reliance on others to deliver these aims has simply failed. In reality though, it is their leadership which has failed because it has chosen to rely on others to deliver Palestinian rights, but also because it relies on others to ensure its very existence through funding. The Palestinian Authority has also suffocated attempts by the people to rise up against the occupation either collectively or through individual endeavours. As President Abbas has declared repeatedly, the “security cooperation” with Israel is “sacred”, though he does not admit that it only works one way, protecting Israel and never the Palestinians.

Fatah’s seventh congress

Fatah, the ruling party recently held its congress in Ramallah, the seventh since its establishment in 1959. It included a marathon three-hour speech by its past, present and future (elected by acclimation) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in which he reiterated his strategy for delivering Palestinian rights. In summary its internal strategy included reconciliation with Hamas, holding parliamentary and presidential elections, holding the Palestinian National Council. Its external strategy included continued negotiations with Israel, a “smart intifada”, pursuit of Israel through the ICC and continued “internationalisation” of the conflict through membership of organisations.

Internal matters

The reconciliation with Hamas is essential as a united Palestinian people and leadership can put to bed Israel’s claim that there is no Palestinian partner to negotiate with or that the “moderate” Abbas cannot deliver on any agreements because Hamas runs Gaza. Reconciliation would also allow the Palestinian elections, long overdue, to finally take place. Abbas was firm in his insistence that “there can be no Palestinian state without the Gaza Strip.”

Abbas was not very forthcoming on what he meant by the “smart intifada” or “intifada of brains” though he did ask “the leadership” to be out there resisting peacefully with the people.

External matters

Peace talks have been dormant even since US Secretary of State John Kerry’s initiative failed back in 2014 and the subsequent Israeli war on Gaza. Attempts at bringing the two sides together have failed to this day and despite Abbas’ brief meeting with Netanyahu at Shimon Peres’s funeral, the two men have not met. It has not been for lack of trying. Abbas confirmed that although he had accepted an invitation from Russia’s President Vladimir Putin to meet Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, the latter declined the same invitation.

Attempts by France to bring the two men together and to hold a peace conference have also met with Palestinian acceptance and Israeli rejection. Israel’s spin on the reason for the rejection is that the meeting would follow a French-led peace conference, which it considers an effort to impose a settlement on it. Netanyahu spoke to Hollande and said that “if there is no international conference in Paris, the prime minister will come to meet Abu Mazen [Abbas] for direct talks without preconditions.” Israel further claimed that it will “not take part in an international conference that will not contribute to achieving peace”.

In reality, Israel is watching with satisfaction the transition from the Obama to the Trump administration in the US and expecting to be shielded further from any attempts to make a Palestinian state a reality. Why then should it engage wit Putin, Hollande or any other “broker” when Trump will move the US Embassy to Jerusalem and his team do not see the two-state solution as explicitly part of his administration’s strategy?

Options for the Palestinians

The Palestinian leadership has largely relied on unwavering support for the Palestinian cause from the Arab and Muslim world. It regularly consults both about steps it plans to take to ensure they are on board. They in turn have been steadfast in their support for the Palestinians and condemnation of Israel, particularly in international bodies. The Arab League also adopted the Arab Peace Initiative back in 2002, offering Israel normalisation of relations in return for ending the occupation of Palestinian and other Arab land. US Secretary of State John Kerry pushed the Arab states further to including “land swaps” in the initiative back in 2013. Israel has still not accepted the initiative to this day.

Arab states have also worked closely with the Palestinians in the United Nations, putting down resolutions both to the General Assembly and the Security Council. Their efforts in the Security Council have been scuppered by the US veto or US pressure on members that haVE led to potential resolutions falling by default. This included a resolution for the admission of Palestine as a full member. This pushed the Palestinians to the General Assembly to secure an upgrade in Palestine’s status to “Non-Member Observer state” in 2012, perhaps their most notable success in recent years. This was not only because it again demonstrated the overwhelming support for Palestinian rights, but because it allowed Palestine to join a multitude of international organisations and accords. This included the International Criminal Court (ICC) and UNESCO.

The ICC is still considering whether it can bring cases against Israelis involved in the 2014 war on Gaza and illegal settlements. The wheels of justice move slowly and to date the ICC has not declared whether and when it will bring cases against suspected Israeli war criminals. However, in a recent report, the court significantly confirmed that Israel was still in occupation of Gaza and that Jerusalem was illegally annexed. Israel suspects this indicates a leaning by the ICC towards the Palestinian view.

The ICC is one plank of the Palestinian “internationalisation of the conflict” strategy. Another important body is the UN Human Rights Council, which – due to a lack of US veto – often calls out Israeli actions in contravention of international law. The UNHRC produced an important report on the 2014 Gaza war which accused both Israel and Hamas of possible war crimes.

A further significant plank of internationalisation is seeking protection for Palestinian cultural and religious sites through UNESCO’s membership. This again showed some success when UNESCO adopted a motion condemning Israel’s activities around Muslim sits in Jerusalem and while this eventually watered down under pressure from Israel’s supporting states; it still showed what the Palestinians can achieve through careful diplomacy and through their own efforts.

On the ground a recent refusal by PA security forces to allow Israeli army vehicles to enter Jenin is very much in line with the Oslo accords which included Jenin in “Area A” which handed security in the city to the PA. Again, an example of how Palestinians can take matters into their own hands using existing accords and international law.

As President Trump moves closer to the White House and having declared his support for Israel including a commitment to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, the PA is still banking on a last minute move by the Obama administration. It is sending a delegation to Washington to seek support for or at least an abstention, for a possible UNSC resolution condemning settlements. Despite suspicions that in its last few days the Obama administration may support such a move, I am not hopeful.

This should signal to the Palestinian leadership that relying on the US or other countries that support Israel when it really matters is unlikely to yield results.  They must continue to explore and pursue avenues over which they can exercise some control. It seems that pursuing Israeli violations through international bodies is a sound strategy and the more avenues it can pursue for this the better. Internationalising the conflict is part of the Palestinians “taking back control” of their destiny.

Supporters of justice must thwart Netanyahu’s efforts to liquidate the Palestinian cause

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Netanyahu produces another prop at the UN General Assembly

The Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu is on a mission to finally end the chances of a two-state solution to the Palestine Israel problem. His strategy seems to have the following elements:

There is no occupation

He is now regularly repeating the absurd statement that the whole of historic Palestine belongs ‘to the Jewish people’ who gave had a ‘continuous presence for three thousand years’. Therefore, the indigenous Palestinian people are merely squatters with no rights. The quicker they return the land to its rightful owners the quicker we have peace, or at least the Zionists will.

In addition, the names of places must reflect the reality of the theft of Palestine. Extremist Minister, Naftali
Bennet on a visit to recently taken homes of Palestinians in Silwan that the area was ‘formally called Silwan, now the ‘City of David’.

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Hamas is ISIS and therefore the Unity Government is a terrorist Government

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He is equating Hamas, whatever you think of it’s strategy with the violent Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL or IS). But he couldn’t be more wrong. Hamas is a national liberation movement, which also holds an Islamist allegiance.

It is interesting though how quickly gullible supporters of Israel, particularly in the US have regurgitated Netanyahu’s analogy without question.

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He argues that Israel cannot deal with a Palestinian Government backed by the ISIS like Hamas. The reality is that he does not want to deal with a United Palestinian people.

There are more important issues in the Middle East than the Palestinians

Netanyahu and his spokesmen and his ministers are working overtime to once and for all divert what they consider to be disproportionate attention to the Palestinian issue. There’s Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, ISIL and if course Iran.

Once all of the above has been sorted out then come back to talk about the Palestinians, that is if there is anything left to talk about.

How dare anyone criticise illegal settlements?

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This is a real beauty. The recent mild rebuke by the Obama Administration about another batch of illegal Jewish only home units in illegally occupied East Jerusalem was in his view ‘going against American Values’. He claimed that Arabs can buy homes in West Jerusalem so why can’t Jews buy private homes in East Jerusalem. He even claimed some of the new units were designated for Arabs. Both statements are blatant lies.

You can only recognise Palestine on Israel’s terms, basically never

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The new Swedish Prime Minister announced in his inaugural speech that Sweden would recognise the state of Palestine. All hell broke loose as the Moldovan turned Israeli Foreign Minister summoned the Swedish Ambassador to tell him effectively what an ignorant Prime Minister Sweden gas, that thus step is damaging to ‘the peace process’ and that there were more important Middle East issues to worry about.

Netanyahu further talked about the need for a new definition of sovereignty (to suit Israel of course). This is dealt with below under the old chess nut, security.

Israel’s security needs require a continued occupation

To put it simply, Netanyahu argues Israel has to maintain the military occupation to guarantee its security. This is code for there can never be an independent sovereign Palestinian state anywhere west of the river Jordan. Any such entity would be another ISIS, he argues.

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All of the above amounts to a ‘no solution’ and a perpetual conflict. Further, there is no Pslestinian problem so stop talking about it.

But supporters of justice and those not gullible enough to fall for Netanyahu’s new strategy must stand up to him.

Sweden, having taken its principled stand on recognition of Palestine must see it through quickly. No backtracking please.

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The British Parliament votes on a motion to recognise Palestine on the 13th of October. Those UK MPs that support the two state solution out of belief and those pro Israelis that use it to justify endless negotiations have no excuse. They must vote for recognition. The more countries that recognise the state of Palestine, the more pressure will be applied on Israel to end the occupation of a neighbouring state.

Tell Netanyahu to shove his new strategy to liquidate the Palestine cause where the sun don’t shine!

Palestinians entitled to celebrate a famous victory

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Out of this devastation, a victory

The rockets and bombs stopped at 16:00 hours GMT on the 26th of August 2014, marking the end of Israel’s terror campaign on the Palestinian people in Gaza.  There was no formal announcement from Cairo as advertised.  Israel remained silent bth in print and on TV and Mahmoud Abbas held a meeting with the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah to outline his ‘unconventional’ plan for peace.

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Spontaneous celebrations broke out first in Gaza, then in the rest of Palestine.  Many of those interviewed in Gaza that had lost loved ones and homes, were unanimous in celebrating the victory and praising and thanking the resistance.

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At this moment of time, let us all give the unbelievably brave people of Gaza the time and space to celebrate. Yes, the price has been astronomical, both interms of death and injury and in the destruction.  Israel showed its true colours, a violent, callus, colonialist occupier with a supremacy and arrogance unmatched in the whole world.  The hatred that its campaign in Gaza has generated could be felt for generations to come.Almost 60 families in Gaza were wiped off the national register.  Over 500 children have been killed and a total of over 2,100 Palestinians were killed.  The over 10,000 injured, many with permanent disabilities and the destruction to homes, hospitals, mosques, water and electricity services is simply obscene.

The reason Palestinians claim a victory despite the above is that Israel failed to achieve any of stated and often changing objectives.  Rockets were launched, reaching Tel Aviv right up to the ceasefire. The extent of damage to the ‘tunnels’ is unsubstantiated and the resistance groups have not been disarmed.

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The resistance groups did not start or invite this attack.  Israel used he pretext of the kidnapping and killing of three settlers to attack Palestinians, first in the West Bank, then in Gaza.  Its murderous armed forces killed mainly civilians while the Israeli dead were almost all military personnel.  Therefore the terror came from the IDF not the Palestinians.

Israel ends this war defeated, exposed as a racist, brutal occupier, under increasing isolation and facing an escalating Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS).  Its multi-billion dollar arsenal of weapons, which it unleashed without mercy failed to bring it victory. Its leaders are now seen as failures, including Netanyahu.

The Palestinians come out of this war more united.  This should help them achieve a just peace as the deterrence factor which the resistance holds is now a strong card in their hands.  The Investigative Committee into Israel’s war crimes will confirm that war crimes were committed. The Palestinians are now on the verge of signing the Rome Statutes and therefore bring cases against Israel to the International Criminal Court.

So on balance, the Palestinians can celebrate a famous victory.  This battle may be over but the war for liberation continues and freedom could be just that bit closer.

What next for Palestine? My prediction, with lots of health warnings

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Throughout the Israeli terrorist attack on Gaza, the question I have been asked repeatedly has been “What next for Palestine”? I have resisted committing to an answer or at least to expressing a view because it is a very complicated situation to understand, analyse and then gaze through a crystal ball and see beyond the here and now.

At the time of writing, over 2,100 Palestinians were murdered by Israel, over 10,000 injured, tens of thousands of homes destroyed and the infrastructure of Gaza has been almost reduced to rubble. On the Israeli side less than one hundred have been killed including only four civilians, some minor damage to infrastructure, air raid sirens have sounded regularly and flights in and out of Ben Gurion airport has been disrupted.

Both sides have claimed a victory of of sorts. It seems to me that if measured by death and destruction, Israel has one. However, if measured by resilience and disruption to everyday life, the Palestinain resistance has own hands down. As I said in a previous blog Netanyahu has looked and sounded less convincing both to his people and to the world. In contrast, Hamas in particular has sounded more believable and reliable in its media campaign.

I am not a military person and have no access to assessments of the military capabilities of the resistance groups but if Israel’s strategic objective was to halt the firing of rockets then it has failed. On day 50 of the attack, over one hundred rockets were fired, reaching as far north as Tel Aviv. The main success Israel can really claim I terms of degrading the capabilities of the resistance groups are a number of assassinations of key military leaders. However, history shows, military leaders are replaced seamlessly and the resistance groups were at the start of the attack stronger than ever.

I am naturally very sad that so many Palestinians have lost loved ones, so many are injured and so many have been displaced and in many cases have no homes to return to. I had hoped that the ceasefire, which held until the 18th of August could have morphed into. Permenant ceasefire, but Israel preferred to continue its terror campaign. It’s targeting of family homes is simply immoral and counterproductive. It simply raises hatred towards Israelis that will take a major effort over many years to subdue. How can child that has lost a mother, father and brothers and sisters and knows it was Israel that ‘did it’ forgive?

How long might the fighting go on for?

All the signs point to a continuation of the fighting. Although Egypt has invited the Palestinian and Israeli delegations back, there has not been a rush to Cairo. It seems the resistance and the people of Gaza -as far as I can detect- are united of wanting as a minimum a complete lifting of the siege and the Permenant opening of the Rafah crossing. Demands for reconstruction of the airport and seaport seem to have been out off for a future discussion. Israel wants the Gaza’disarmed’.

Pressure on Israel is mounting from settlers in the settlements nearest to Gaza, particularly as the new school year approaches. They have lost patience with Netanyahu’s leadership and Ya’lon’s empty promises for Permenant quiet. I would argue that the recent return of the Israeli negotiating team from Cairo, followed by the assassination of three senior Hamas leaders, led directly to the renewed firing of rockets that have impacted on their lives. Therefore Netanyahu is directly to blame for their predicament. They also saw senior politicians and military leaders cancel trips to their settlements for ‘security fears’ despite asking them to return.

I think however, that their pressure more than any other factor, could have the most significant impact on the situation. If anything is going to force Israel to return to the negotiating table, it is this pressure. I therefore call on the settlers to be even more vocal!

There seems to be less pressure from Palestinians on the resistance groups to concede on any of their demands for the complete lifting of the siege, despite the heavy human and economic cost.

If pushed then I would say that I expect the negotiating teams to return to Cairo in the middle of next week and for a renewed ceasefire to be agreed towards the end of the week. This would allow both Palestinain and Israeli children to return to school and it would become difficult for both sides to renew the fighting on e that pattern has been established.

I may have to eat my words!

what about the political situation?

Once the dust has settled, which is an unfortunate phrase in the context of Gaza, the Palestinains will have to decide what steps to take next to reach their goals of independence and freedom. PLO Chairman, Mahmoud Abbas, gave an indication in a recent interview that because Israel does not want to see a Palestinain state based on the 1967 border, he will be putting forward and alternative within the next week or so. He would not elaborate but importantly thought the Americans would not like it. His Foreign Minister, Riyadh Almalki would not be drawn either on a different channel on what this proposal might entail.

Pressure is mounting on the Palestinain Authority to sign the Rome Statutes in order to start the process of bringing Israeli war criminals to justice for their war crimes. Abbas had asked all factions to agree before signing the request as they would need to weigh up the implications for them. I understand that all but Islamic Jihad have now agreed to this step and therefore we could soon see Abbas’s signature on the request to join the Rome statutes.

Once that step is taken, the doors of legal hell will open on Israeli leaders and rightly so. Even since Palestine was recognised as anon-member state of the UN, in 2012, Israel has committed sufficient war crimes through military attacks and settlement building to fill the ICC’s calendar for years. The ICC will be assisted by the UN Human Rights Council Investigative Committee into the current attack in Gaza, which will add volumes of evidence to war crimes.

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This of course will not pass without incident. The US and European allies of Israel will do everything in their power to dissuade the Palestinians from this step. They will use economic blackmail on the PA and Israel may simply lay a siege to the West Bank. It is already stopping many Palestinians from leaving via Jordan for their normal business and can strengthen birth internal barriers between cities and towns and stop all travel.

Palestinian Unity

Thought the current attack in Gaza Palestinians from all factions have insisted that the previous divisions that existed before the Government of National Agreement was announced are largely behind them. The Cairo negotiating team was made up of all the factions and this has held up well to pressure. This augurs well for the future, although there are still major hurdles to overcome, especially in terms of security arrangements and absorption of PA workers from both Fatah and Hamas into the Government of Gaza . I would even predict that Mahmoud Abbas himself will visit Gaza within three months.

Israel to face more isolation

Israel’s attack on Gaza this time has surpassed all its previous violent, callus attacks both on Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza in 2008/9. It’s reputation and standing in use World are in tatters. If it wasn’t for the strength of the pro-Israel Lobby in the US and parts of Europe, it would have been isolated and faced sanctions. But the level of disgust among ordinary citizens of these countries with its actions has reached a new high. Social media has provided them with accurate information about this terrorist campaign and Israel lost the PR war, despite its influence in traditional media.

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Rafah Commercial Centre

Israel will become rapidly more isolated and boycotts of its products both by Palestinians and the escalating international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement will have a growing economic and cultural impact. It is of course possible that Israeli society will simply choose to ignore this and carry on as if there is no problem. They are in what I described as a moral coma and do not seem to be waking up from it. But this will come.

Will the two state solution survive the 2014 Gaza war?

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In my view, the two-state solution, based on Israel leaving the occupied territories any time soon is dead. Most senior Israel leaders have told us as much but the PA and interestingly, the US and other supporters of Israel have refused to prepare its coffin. Does anyone think that Netanyahu, Bennett, Lieberman, Livni or Lapid really want it? No they do jot. They simply have different ways of articulating its death.

This leaves the Palestinians with no option but to call for equal rights for all that live in historic Palestine in one state. After all those that live in western style democracies should be calling for this as the fair democratic right of all human beings. They will of course make an exception here because they have been told by Israel that Israel is a state for Jews. But since they have failed to persuade Israel to leave the occupied territories, it say to them only come back and suggest a two-state solution when Israel says it accepts it and negotiates simply a schedule for leaving the illegal settlements, starting with Hebron and leaving East Jerusalem.

Peace or security?

Israel wants a ‘quiet occupation’ which guarantees security. It does not have that. Only yesterday (23/8/2014), it faced rockets from Gaza, Lebanon and Syria. It is time Israelis understood that security comes hand in hand with a just peace and not a moment before it.

Update 25/8/2014

Pressure will now mount on Netanyahu to end the attack on Gaza and bring quiet. Support for his violent campaign is plummeting. See below

Massive drop in support for Netanyahu — poll

In the Palestinian camp leaks suggest “Abbas to turn to international community with deadline for Israel”. The idea would be to require a deadline for the end of the occupation. If this failed then it is suggested he could dissolve the Palestinian Authority. The next step would I believe be yo ask for equal rights. Will Abbas ask for a vote for the Knesset?

Israelis are in a ‘moral coma’, Urgent help needed for all our sakes

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Berieved parents following attack on children at Shati camp

This is not an attack to stop rocket fire from Gaza. That may have been the pretext but what we see is a war on the Palestinian civilian population to force it to surrender. Israel has targeted civilians, especially children, homes, hospitals, universities, sewage treatment works, the only electricity generation plant, schools, TV stations,the beach and playgrounds. What it is saying to the Palestinian People is die, see loved ones die and live on the streets, be dependent on aid as quasi prisoners or surrender.

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Gaza’s only power station in flames

Despite the attack now lasting longer than Operation Cast Lead, I have not heard a single Palestinian in Gaza either blame the resistance, ask for an end to the fighting or ask to leave to some other place. They are of course beleaguered but are also resilient.

The message is consistent and clear,they will not accept a ceasefire that keeps the siege in place and they support the resistance ‘to the last child’. This is not because they love death over life, as Islamophobes would have you think or as Israel claims, but because they have had enough of the occupation, siege, humiliation, living on aid and handouts, and with no prospect of the siege being lifted without major sacrifices.

Readers maybe a little sceptical about what I say. They could argue that they have to say this because if they did not, Hamas would kill them. They simply do not understand Palestinian society. What unites Palestinians is their fight for liberation from Israeli occupation. They may support Hamas or not but they will stand behind the ‘resistance’. Israelis need to understand this or continue to believe their deluded leaders that it is all to do with Hamas and that Palestinians loathe them.

Palestinians In the West Bank were cheering the achievements of the resistance even those that disagreed with them politically. Anyone who knows the makeup of Palestinian society and saw the recent demonstrations will understand that they came from across the political and religious spectrum.

Israel knows this but has presented its attack on Gaza as an attack on Hamas (Khamas), thinking Palestinians would be less concerned. It is interesting that despite the very active engagement of Islamic Jihad, Israeli spokespersons hardly ever mention them.

As the terror campaign, and that is what it is, continues and escalates and as casualties among Israeli forces mount, Israel is acting as a depraved animal. It is simply lashing out, using a most devastating arsenal of mainly American weapons. But Israel has failed to achieve either its military target of stopping the rockets or its political objective of toppling Hamas and bringing the PAs control back over Gaza. This despite this war lasting longer than the 2008/9 ‘Operation Cast Lead’.

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Child dies terrorised in Gaza

Israel thinks that it can move Palestinians like cattle from one place to another, demolish their homes, attack their infrastructure, kill them, maim them and win. It relies on so called ‘International Community Support’. It has been nauseating to see Prime Ministers, Presidents and Foreign Ministers alike regurgitating Israeli Foreign Ministry propaganda. “Israel has a right of self defence”, “which other state would allow rockets to be fired at it”, “It is about terror tunnels”, “the only offer on the table us the Egyptian initiative” and now “Gaza must be disarmed”.

The objectives of this war appear to be ‘developing’. Today the tunnels, tomorrow, who knows. What is really worrying for the future is the edits city of the attack and the solid support, indeed joyous celebrations at the obliteration of children, it is enjoying at home. An analyst described it well, I thought when he said in Arabic, Israelis are living in a ‘moral coma’. They have lost their moral campus and allowed hatred to completely take over. Not even the images of tiny torts blown up into bits now troubles them.

Former Prime Minister, Sharon was in a coma for right years. For the sake of not only Palestinians and Israelis, But for all our sakes, I hope they wake up from their ‘moral coma’ without delay.

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