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Saturday, January 3, 2009

Don't Panic: Why is Israel bombing Gaza?

click to enlarge (Photo by Sameh Habeeb)
  • (Photo by Sameh Habeeb)

Israel says it’s attacking Gaza to stop cross-border rocket attacks into southern Israel by Hamas militants. Because launching rockets at populated areas is an act of war, Israel says its bombings are justified.

Hamas is attacking Israel with rockets because Israel has enforced a devastating economic blockade against Gaza for the past year and a half. Additionally, Israel’s military has controlled Gaza’s borders, airspace, and sea access for 41 years. Because economic blockades are an act of war, Hamas says its rocket strikes are justified.

In other words, Israel is attacking Gaza because Gaza was attacking Israel because Israel was attacking Gaza. Ctrl-A. Ctrl-C. Ctrl-V. Repeat.

Instead of talking about which side is at fault, let’s focus for a minute on all the innocent people who are suffering.

The Gaza Strip is a tiny and crowded Arab enclave on the Mediterranean — as small as Little Rock, Ark., but with 1.5 million people jammed in. It’s as densely populated as Bangkok.

On Dec. 27 and 28, Israel dropped more than 100 tons of bombs and missiles on the place. Israel insists its weapons are aimed at Hamas combatants, not civilians.

Sadly, many innocent Gazan civilians have thus far failed to make the distinction between bombs intended for militants and bombs intended for them. It seems that when bombs land on the heads of Gazan civilians, they die regardless.

As of New Years Eve, the United Nations says 320 of Gaza’s 1.5 million residents have been killed by Israeli airstrikes. An additional 1,400 injured have been injured.

The U.N. claims that 62 of those killed are civilians. The U.N. also says its civilian death count includes only women and children. Either there’s no such thing as a civilian man in Gaza, or the U.N. is vastly undercounting the number of civilian dead.

What’s more, the wounded survivors of Israeli air-raids are being treated in hospitals that are desperately short of supplies.

Israel’s economic blockade of Gaza, imposed when Hamas took over Gaza in 2007, has caused severe shortages of, well, nearly everything. In November, the BBC reported that Gaza’s hospitals had run out of 85 types of medicine, as well as items like cottons swabs and spare parts for x-ray machines.

Overall, the blockade has stopped 75 percent of the goods that used to flow into Gaza. Just to be clear, when we’re talking about imports, we’re not talking flat-screen TVs and J. Crew sweaters. Gaza was disgustingly poor before the blockade. We’re talking about food, fuel, cement, paper for school children, and shoes – things people need to live.

Israel’s offensive hasn’t stopped Hamas rocket attacks, either. Israelis are suffering, too.

According to the Jerusalem Post, three people were killed and 21 injured when approximately 70 rockets hit several cities and settlements in southern Israel on Dec. 29.

Hamas rockets are small. If they hit you, you’ll die, but they can’t knock down apartment buildings. The rockets aren’t especially deadly, but they’re terrifying.

Depending on whose estimate you believe, 300,000 to 500,000 Israelis are within range of Hamas rockets. Southern Israel’s economy is hurting as consumers hunker down. A widely re-printed Associated Press story illustrates the psychological impact of the attacks by noting an increase in bed-wetting among Israeli kids.

I wouldn’t have bothered bringing up the bed-wetting if not for the fact I’ve come across several stories about it recent months — including one last week on the BBC. Clearly, a lot of people in Israel think mass bed-wetting is a big deal. It’s a good illustration of the relative impact of the fighting on both sides. Palestinian kids in Gaza are being killed and maimed by one of the world’s largest air forces. Israeli kids are scared and pissing themselves.

I don’t envy either party, but there’s no question which side is suffering most.

Sameh Habeeb is a 23-year-old journalist in Gaza City. He blogs at gazatoday.blogspot.com and posts his photos at picasaweb.google.com/sameh.habeeb.

The photo above was taken last weekend, part of a series of photos Habeeb took at what appears to be a hospital in Gaza. He gave me permission to use the photo, but his Internet connection failed before I could get all of the details. Based on other photos in the series, I believe the man depicted the photo is dead.

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