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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Lull on the killing fields

The unilateral cease-fire may or may not hold for very long, given that Hamas has vowed to keep fighting unless its demands are met. But those demands are very simple and reasonable: Israel must pull its forces out of Gaza and open the border posts.

Israel is declaring victory, claiming that it has accomplished all it intended to during this war that cost 1200 Palestinian lives and 13 Israeli lives. In reality, it has lost and lost badly. Hamas is not only still in charge in Gaza, but it was able to launch more rockets after the cease-fire was declared. The Jewish state stands exposed more than ever as an entity willing to engage in the worst kind of barbarism to hang onto its settlements in the West Bank and thwart the creation of a viable Palestinian state. And it has created a whole new generation of children who, barring serious intervention in Middle East affairs by the new Obama administration, will grow up remembering what they experienced in Gaza these past few weeks and determined to do something about it.

Jeremy Bowen, the BBC's Middle East Editor, in his insightful account of the ceasefire, points out the real reasons why Israel has silenced the guns and bombs this weekend:

By saying that it will stop now, Israel will feel it will start on the right foot with the Obama administration in Washington after it takes office on Tuesday. And if Israel did start to fight again, it would expect to get the backing of the new president.

Indeed, it seems reasonably clear that Israel launched its assault when it did precisely because it knew that its financial and moral backer, the United States, would not lift a finger to stop it. But whether or not it will get the backing of Obama to begin attacking again remains to be seen. Obama is now on the spot, morally and politically, and perhaps that is exactly where we need him to be if there will ever be an end to the killing.

This war was possible because the overwhelming majority of Israelis, and way too many Americans, think that Jewish lives are worth more than Palestinian lives. But the Jews of Israel are outnumbered, and unless they have a change of heart, they will eventually pay a heavy price for what they have done today. As Bowen concludes his report:

After inflicting so much pain and death, Israel still says that Gaza's civilians are not its enemy. That is something that Gazans - and millions of others in this part of the world - do not believe.


Gaza war a challenge and an opportunity for Obama. So suggests Gershom Gorenberg, in an interesting piece in Ha'aretz: "While public support for Israel continues, blind support for hawkish Israeli policies can no longer be assumed, even among Jews. J Street, the new, dovish pro-Israel lobby, exceeded expectations in raising funds for congressional candidates. Jews are among the pundits calling for a more balanced American approach. New York Times columnist Roger Cohen has written recently of feeling despondent and shamed by the war in Gaza. Matthew Yglesias, an influential young blogger, has called for public American pressure on Israel to freeze settlement. The disqualification of the Arab political parties is likely to increase the discomfort of liberal Jews. So are the prime minister's boasts of his ability to change the American vote in the Security Council, which seemingly confirm claims that Israel controls U.S. policy."

Update: The aftermath.

Israeli forces demolished the house of the Sammouni family in Gaza City after ordering them to remain in it for safety.

Twenty-seven members of the family died and another 90 Gazans remained trapped under the rubble, with rescue efforts hampered by Israeli forces.

Al Jazeera's Sherine Tadros reports.



Uncovering the bodies. Another report on the aftermath from the Los Angeles Times, from within Gaza. And another from the BBC, including video footage.

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