Sami Abdel-Shafi: For all the violence in Gaza, hope must not be lost

It is said that most Israelis are unaware of their government's military practices
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The Independent Online

Last week's tragic events in the northern Gaza Strip city of Beit Hanoun will set a moral siege around the Israeli army and its government. While the army's apology, and its reasoning for this incident, largely fell on deaf ears, Israel's Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, pretended all is well and headed off to meet President Bush in Washington

Meanwhile, last Saturday, the UN Security Council vetoed the proposed resolution condemning Israel's actions in Beit Hanoun. The Arab League meeting in Cairo on Sunday then decided to lift the siege on Palestinians, and called for a peace conference to be attended by Arab countries and permanent members of the UN Security Council; but it set no timeframes or feasible implementation methods.

One of the ironies of Palestine, where Christianity, Judaism and Islam meet, is that no rules seem to apply. Instead, religion is politicised, common law is sidelined and expectations have become unrealistic; all in a world that has become misaligned.

Recent years never brought to the world shameful moments as dark as the London and Madrid bombings or the events of September 11 in New York. Nonetheless the Palestinians have suffered under Israel's imprisonment and military aggression; and there have been both Israeli and Palestinian civilian deaths - with the massive disparity in numbers noted - and wars and other attacks around the region. The saving grace, almost everywhere except in Gaza, has been the presence of government and law enforcement to protect people and seek justice; regardless of differing opinions on how justice was eventually delivered in some cases.

In Gaza, however, not only does no one protect civilians, but also no one has been allowed to step in to help defuse matters. People have grown disenchanted and desperate for ways to withstand Israel's confinement of every aspect of their lives.

Recent efforts to form a new Palestinian government have, unfortunately, reduced the plight of Palestinians just to resolving the competition between Hamas and Fatah - the two largest parties - and easing the financial pressure. Success of a new Palestinian government rests in finding ways to develop the Palestinian economy, minimising reliance on foreign aid and advancing peace. But challenging Israel's restrictions on Palestinian movement and its stronghold on all crossing points, including Gaza's airport, is the most urgent priority.

Meanwhile, Israel's policy of continuing to level assaults on Gaza - in order to take advantage of the symptoms of the simmering prison it has created - can only reduce belief in the possibility of peace or the flourishing of anything but violence. The UN is no longer perceived as the guardian of all nations, and one can expect that the Arab League will face pressures that will disable its efforts.

Left unchecked, Israel continues to audaciously employ its physical pullout last year from the Gaza Strip to argue in favour of whatever military and collective punishment it decides to inflict on Gaza. But the fact is that disengagement has became a euphemism for inexcusably imprisoning Palestinians and degrading 1.4 million civilians to utter hopelessness, desperation through their inability to move freely or pursue business and education. Israel has refused to allow Palestinians the peaceful room to develop, to govern well and to learn from mistakes of the past to enact reform.

Palestinian makeshift rockets - fired from northern Gaza into southern Israel - are used by Israel to justify the plausibility of its disproportionate war on Gaza. Little has been publicised about significant opposition to these rockets within the Gaza Strip. And nothing is said about the incomparably smaller number of Israeli civilian deaths from these makeshift rockets compared with those that result among Palestinians from Israel's attacks.

It is said most Israelis are unaware of the military practices of consecutive Israeli governments in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. Hope must not be lost that many in Israel would not accept inflicting such measures upon Palestinians; just as there are many Palestinians who oppose violence in any form.

Israelis and Palestinians could learn from western politicians who, no matter how deeply entrenched in their views they sometimes seem to be, will change course when they have got their backs against the wall. If we, on both sides, could follow this example it might give some incentive to the international community to act.

Sami Abdel-Shafi is co-founder and Senior Partner at Emerge Consulting Group, LLC, a management consultancy in Gaza City