Gaza on fire

As I write this reports are coming in of a massive wave of air strikes on Gaza by the Israeli air force.

Initial counts show 250 Palestinians killed and over 800 wounded. Gaza’s morgues are overflowing with the dead while hospitals are overwhelmed with the wounded.

It is reported as one of the highest death tolls for Palestinians since the formation of Israel 60 years ago. Israel says the attacks are directed at “terrorist infrastructure” in retaliation for the firing of rockets into Israel since the recent cease-fire ended.

The US is the only country to come in behind Israel. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice says “the United States strongly condemns the repeated rocket and mortar attacks against Israel and holds Hamas responsible for breaking the cease-fire and for the renewal of violence in Gaza.”

However the problem is not the amateur rockets fired into Israel from Gaza but Israeli policies which have turned the Gaza strip into a massive open-air prison for one and a half million Palestinians. Israel has blocked off land, sea and air access while regularly choking off energy and food supplies along with work access for Palestinians.

Under these appalling of circumstances it would be astonishing if Palestinians did not fight back. The have lived in an Israeli-created hell-hole of deprivation and oppression for 60 years. It’s the modern-day equivalent of a decades-long medieval siege.

Israel gets away with this barbarism because there is a feeble understanding of middle east history. Most in the west have grown up believing that plucky little Israel is fighting valiantly for peace against hordes of filthy, sweaty Arabs.

We shouldn’t be surprised so many New Zealanders reflect this view because bias in media reports from international news agencies has been well documented.

It’s no wonder surveys have so often found the majority in countries like New Zealand believe Palestinians occupy Israeli land rather than the reverse when Palestinian fighters are called terrorists or militants while Israeli fighters are referred to as soldiers.

There seems precious little use in complaining. A recent New Zealand Press Council decision on a complaint of biased reporting on the middle-east was not upheld on the basis our newspapers don’t have the resources to report in an unbiased manner.

The Press Council effectively says we will have to get used to bias in reporting of international stories and there is little responsibility on our media outlets to do otherwise.

New Zealanders who take the time to visit the Palestinian territories are always appalled at what they find. New Zealand author Elizabeth Laird did so and says “I visited both Gaza and Ramallah, in the occupied territories in 2002 while leading workshops for Palestinian writers. I was appalled by the circumstances in which people were living, and became aware that we in the west know very little of what life is like for Palestinians living under military occupation.”

She wrote a stunning book called “A Little Piece of Ground” about life for young Palestinians. It’s aimed at teenagers but it’s a brilliant read for anyone. More material like this read more widely will help bridge an appalling knowledge gap for New Zealanders.

So what about the argument that it’s Israel’s right to retaliate to keep its people safe from rocket attacks. Yes any government should keep its people secure but there isn’t the slightest moral or military justification for the strikes against Gaza because the Palestinians living there have the moral right, if not the military means, to fight back against their oppressors.

New Zealand supported the French resistance fighting German occupation of France in the 1940s and we should do the same for the Palestinians.

Having been driven from their homes and land 60 years ago by Jewish terror squads the Palestinians are left with just 22% of the land of the original Palestine. Not content with seizing most of the land for an exclusive Jewish state the remaining Palestinian land on the West Bank is criss-crossed with Israeli-only, military-patrolled roads which link together new Jewish settlements being built on Palestinian land. All this despite innumerable UN resolutions calling on Israel to abide by international law.

Meanwhile the occupation of Palestine continues along with the daily debasement of Palestinians at checkpoints along with food and fuel shortages and air strikes.

New Zealand should condemn Israeli brutality and applaud the fighting spirit of Palestinians. We should also celebrate the actions of Israeli activists such as Neta Golan who was arrested by Israeli police earlier this month for joining the crew of the fifth boat to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza, bringing much needed supplies to the territory.

Brutality against Palestinians will continue while the US supports Israel. It does so not because it believes what Israel is doing is right but because it suits US interests to have a client state in the middle-east.

It’s time for real pressure on the US and the rogue state of Israel.