Fighting in Gaza defies easy answers

Sunday, January 11, 2009 | 12:53 p.m. CST

Loory: The grim situation in Gaza defies all efforts at resolution. In fact it worsens. [Since the program aired on KBIA Thursday, the UN passes a cease-fire resolution that both sides rejected.] France and Turkey tried to promote a cease-fire and although both Hamas and Israel welcomed that in principle, neither side could buy it in detail. Egypt has been trying to work out an agreement. There is also a war to win public opinion. Israel has refused to allow foreign reporters into Gaza to cover its military actions. Hamas continually shows pictures of the devastation and killing by Israeli forces, but there are reports that Hamas, itself, is killing Gazan Arabs opposed to its rule. Little is heard from the occupied West Bank where Fatah, the more moderate Palestinian organization opposed to Hamas, is in control. Fatah lost control of Gaza in an election two years ago. So, once again we discuss a problem of destruction and killing that appears to have no reasonable chance of settlement. What is currently happening in Gaza?

Amjad Al-Shawa, director of the Palestine Network of Non-governmental Organizations, Gaza City: Israeli forces continue to bomb houses, schools, ministry buildings, and have killed more than 700. The humanitarian conditions in Gaza are getting worse. There is no electricity, cooking gas, or water in thousands of Gazans’ homes. The Israelis are committing crimes by bombing schools made into shelters for hundreds of Palestinian families. [Last week] a school was targeted by Israeli bombs, killing 43. No place is safe, not in the home, the streets, or the shelters that belong to the U.N. Most of the people killed are civilians. I helped evacuate an injured family where a 70-year-old woman bled for two days because she could not leave her home. The international media is giving the Israeli story most of the time.


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Jay Bushinsky, correspondent, CBS Radio, Savyon, Israel: I have been covering this story for a succession of media since 1966. The situation, undoubtedly, is very bad. Nobody in Israel is happy about it, however, there is a thing called cause and effect. The cause was eight years of missiles launched from the Gaza Strip and especially the last year and a half, and Israel reacted.

Loory: Is anything being done by the Palestinian Authority to broker an arrangement between Israel, with which it has some relations, and Hamas, with which it has no relations at all?


Kristen Ess, English director, Palestine News Network, Ramallah, West Bank: The Palestinian Authority, thankfully, severed all its negotiating and diplomatic relations with the Israeli administration upon this massacre, which started on Dec. 27. The idea that the footage that is coming out of the Gaza Strip is exaggerated is absurd. The reality is as devastating as anyone could possibly imagine. The International Red Cross is reporting the same thing. The idea that there is a reason for this, that there was an actual threat inside the Gaza Strip is untrue. There are armed resistance factions from all parties, and they all have been working against the occupation, which is their right under international law.


Loory: There have been stories, not only in the American press, that Hamas has executed Gazan Arabs who are opposed to it.


Ess: There are all sorts of horror stories that have come out from Fatah against Hamas and vice versa. The Israelis have tried to increase this split to spin the real situation and are getting away with it. This is part of the divide-and-conquer technique to prevent a contiguous state; unfortunately it is working. This is not a tit-for-tat situation; the rockets being launched are no real threat to the Israeli military and the people dying are not a threat to the occupation.

Loory: Why has the U.N. not been able to bring about a cease-fire?


Betsy Pisik, U.N. correspondent, Washington Times, New York, U.S.: The 15 members of the Security Council couldn’t agree on how to phrase the language to demand an immediate cease-fire. There [were] two competing drafts, one much stronger worded, but both use the same basic language. It makes the U.N. look completely impotent every day that this goes on. It is the U.N. that suffers, and the Gazans, of course. The [U.N.] is doing [its] best on the humanitarian situation, considering that they can’t get any trucks or trained personnel in. The council is powerless.

Loory: What, if anything, is being done in Washington in the last days of the Bush administration?

Ken Silverstein, Washington editor, Harper’s Magazine, Washington, D.C.: The Bush administration was not in any way opposed to Israel’s attack in Gaza. Whether it was an overt green light, I don’t know. The Israelis saw an opportunity that the Bush administration is on its way out in a few weeks and assumed that it was better to do this now than wait for Obama. Obama hasn’t said anything that indicates American foreign policy is going to be any tougher on Israel.

Loory: Yet, there is a lot of distrust in Israel that Obama might change policy positions, is that right?

Bushinsky: Obama has a very brief relationship, politically, with the Israelis. He is an unknown quantity here. People are a bit leery about him, mainly for his willingness to reach out to the Iranians, which most of the Israelis think is a bad idea.

Loory: What is Iran’s role in this situation? The rockets, we are led to believe, are smuggled into Gaza through tunnels from Egypt after being shipped from Iran by boat. Iran is also important for Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Bushinsky: The weapons get there by a mysterious circuitous route, apparently. Beyond the logistical support, Iran is the political support for Hamas, both believe that Israel is an illegitimate state and has no right to exist. But, that is not what caused the Israeli onslaught against Gaza. Only one thing did: For the past eight years, more than 2,000 surface-to-surface missiles have been launched from the Gaza Strip, creating terror for maybe a million Israelis.

Silverstein: That is an incredibly one-sided point of view for a far more complex situation. Israel has a much bigger and more potent military than anything Hamas could mobilize; it is a complete mismatch. Anything that Iran has smuggled into Gaza is tiny compared to the weapons that the U.S. has openly sold to Israel.

Loory: Bob Simon of CBS called Gaza the largest prison in the world, and he wasn’t talking about occupation.

Ess: It is well known that the Gaza Strip is. It is 1.5 million people that are controlled by air, water and at the borders. People cannot connect with the outside world. Most of the infrastructure is controlled by Israel, and it is officially still an occupied territory under international law.

Loory: If Fatah had not lost the election and control in Gaza a year and a half ago, would the situation in Gaza be different today?


Ess: Israel and the Americans both pushed for elections in public but didn’t accept the outcome. The people voted for the Hamas Party, that is the point. Unfortunately, the Palestinian Authority wasn’t ready to lose position because it had a relationship with the Israelis and the Americans. Hamas was outspoken in saying that it did not recognize the validity of the Israeli occupying states; the Palestinian Authority said they would accept them, and therein the conflict.


Loory: Israeli defense officials and some Hamas officials are both going to Cairo to talk to the Egyptians. Does it look like that might offer some hope?


Pisik: This is all about the Rafah Crossing, which is south of Gaza and goes into the Egyptian Sinai; this is also where the tunnels are. Egypt is going to try to broker an arrangement for international monitoring. This sounds straightforward, but nothing is here. The problem, among others, is where to put these monitors. Hamas does not want the monitors in Gaza; they want to control the crossing. The Egyptians don’t want the monitors on their side, but insist that they be on the Palestinian side.

Loory: In the 10-year history of this radio program, we have revisited this problem many times, always with hope that some solution might be at hand, but nonetheless with increasing despair.

Producers of Global Journalist are MU journalism graduate students Jared Gassen and Sananda Sahoo. The transcriber is Pat Kelly.







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