Penn for Palestine | Penn students honor Gaza victims

Guest Column | Penn students: we must hold the Israeli military accountable for the past

· January 17, 2013, 1:14 am

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Tomorrow, Jan. 18, 2013, will mark the fourth anniversary of the end of Operation Cast Lead, a 23-day military offensive launched on Dec. 27, 2008, by Israeli forces in the besieged Palestinian territory of Gaza.

This assault led to the death of more than 1,400 Palestinians, of which approximately 83 percent were civilians and more than 340 were children. Noam Chomsky likened Cast Lead to a massacre, insisting that “Operation Cast Lead [was] sheer criminal aggression, with no credible pretext.”

In addition, the Israeli military targeted crucial Palestinian infrastructure and destroyed thousands of homes, the leading university, 45 mosques, the Palestinian Legislative Council, the ministries of education and justice, 280 schools, a Red Crescent Hospital and dozens of ambulances and clinics, as well as thousands of factories and small businesses.

Four years later, many have yet to be rebuilt due to the Israeli-imposed blockade. According to the World Food Progamme, 35 to 60 percent of Gaza’s agricultural infrastructure and 60 percent of arable land are no longer usable for crops due to Cast Lead.

Amnesty International also reported that Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups fired hundreds of rockets into southern Israel during this time, killing three Israeli civilians and injuring dozens of others.

However, the massive, wanton destruction wreaked by the Israeli military — often with the use of high-precision weapons and advanced aircraft technology against a refugee and civilian population — was beyond excessive, breached international law and “could not be justified on grounds of ‘military necessity,’” according to Amnesty International.

Donatella Rovera, who led Amnesty International’s investigation of Cast Lead, concluded that, “The deaths of so many children and other civilians cannot be dismissed simply as ‘collateral damage,’ as argued by Israel.”

In 2012, the population of Gaza, still struggling to recover from Cast Lead, faced another onslaught of destruction from Israeli forces. Beginning Nov. 14, the Israeli military launched over 1,500 airstrikes. Although the mission was justified on defensive grounds, the Israeli military and administration once again demonstrated a reckless disregard for Palestinian lives.

As the more recent Operation Pillar of Defense began, Deputy Prime Minister Eli Yishai publicly called for the Israeli army to “blow Gaza back to the Middle Ages, destroying all the infrastructure including roads and water.” The following day, Gilad Sharon, son of former Israeli premier Ariel Sharon, called for Israel to “flatten entire neighborhoods in Gaza.”

After over a week of exchanging fire, more than 160 Palestinians were dead — many of whom were civilians, women and children — as well as six Israelis, including four civilians. The damage done to Gazan infrastructure during the airstrike is currently estimated at $1.2 billion.

Gaza represents one of the most densely-populated and impoverished parcels of land in the world, and these hardships are compounded by the effects of the five-year siege that severely restricts access to building materials, medical supplies, food and humanitarian assistance.

The most recent destruction of human life and livelihood in Gaza and Israel is a testament to the fact that we have not learned from the horrors of the past. Tomorrow, members of the Penn community will commemorate the victims of Cast Lead in a reverent display on College Green. Join us to pay your respects, or to engage in respectful discussion of the past and current situation in Gaza and the wider region.

Alternatively, please join us in Claudia Cohen Hall in the G17 Auditorium tonight at 7 p.m. for a screening of “Roadmap to Apartheid,” an award-winning film co-produced by Israeli and South African directors.

Sometimes, it would be much easier to bury the past — especially when many of us can write off the events in Gaza as a distant and irrelevant occurrence. Yet it was American tax dollars that largely funded the Israeli weapons which wiped out so many civilian lives. And for those of us who seek peace, we know no true resolution can come without holding the past accountable.

Now, more than ever, the graves of the Palestinian and Israeli victims are far too shallow — and too numerous — to ignore.

Penn for Palestine is a student organization that aims to raise awareness on all issues related to Palestine. Its email address is pennforpalestine@gmail.com.

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