Life in Gaza is bad. There is appalling poverty. Unemployment is 60%. Most people exist on UN food handouts. The hospitals are on the verge of collapse. Many people are being killed – over 100, including children, died in the recent Israeli incursion into the Strip. Israel claims that 90% of those killed were militants. But B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights group, claims that “from 27 February to the afternoon of 3 March, 106 Palestinians were killed in the Gaza Strip. At least fifty-four of the dead (twenty-five of them minors) did not take part in the hostilities. In addition, at least forty-six minors were wounded.”
On the other hand, the Israeli town of Sderot has been on the receiving end of a total of 7694 rockets which have caused injury and death and which have made the population live in constant fear. No country can allow its innocent civilians to be indiscriminately attacked in this way. Some Israeli response was inevitable.
However, Israel has come under widespread criticism for a disproportionate response to the rocket attacks from Gaza. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon told the Security Council: “While recognizing Israel’s right to defend itself, I condemn the disproportionate and excessive use of force that has killed an injured so many civilians, including children. I condemn Palestinian rocket attacks, and call for the immediate cessation of such acts of terrorism, which serve no purpose, endanger Israeli civilians, and bring misery to the Palestinian people.”
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert responded to this criticism by saying: “I hear criticism and claims that civilians are being hurt and that Israel is using too much force. Israel is defending its residents in the south, and with all due respect, nothing will prevent it from protecting them – and no one has the right to preach to us over actions that are in self defence.”
Israeli Minister of Defence, Ehud Barak had sought legal advice from the Attorney General on the legality of Israel moving Palestinian civilians from the rocket-launching areas. The answer is that it is not clear if it is legal.
However, the question is whether military action or rocket attacks are the best way forward for the sides carrying the out. The idea that either side can beat the other into submission seems mistaken. The people of Gaza, not just the militants, have received punishment. The rocket attacks from Gaza have not ceased.
One unfortunate development is that, because of the Israeli attacks, Mahmoud Abbas broke off peace talks with Israel and the Egyptian Head of Intelligence cancelled his visit to Israel. This effectively gives the Hamas militants a victory and encourages their intransigence.
It appears that Hamas wants a ceasefire, so long as it doesn’t appear to be a defeat for them. And 64% of Israelis support the idea of the government having talks with Hamas. A Hamas spokesman in Gaza said: “We will halt our fire in exchange for a complete end to Israeli military operations in Gaza and in the West Bank, and a lifting of the blockade on Gaza. Otherwise, we have no intention of halting our activities against Israel.” The Israeli and Fatah negotiating teams were due to re-establish contact today and Condoleeza Rice has stated she believes a peace deal could still be achieved this year.
1. Pray that both sides will recognise the futility of violence and will find a way to achieve a ceasefire without appearing to lose face.
2. Pray that the peace talks between Israel and Fatah will indeed resume.
3. Pray that Israel and Hamas will find a way to talk which does not appear to imply the violence has been successful.
4. Pray that Egypt and moderate Arab states will resume their peace initiatives and co-operate positively with the western powers.
5. Pray for the suffering innocent people on both sides: the fearful, the injured and the bereaved.