Apr 14 2004

Stop the killing in Gaza

Published by at 12:00 am under Articles,US-Middle East

During the difficult negotiations following the signing of the declaration of principles on the White House lawn in 1993, Palestinians tried to convince Israelis to give up Netzarim and Kfar Darom. After all, Palestinian argued, these two tiny Jewish settlements were located in the center of an extremely populated area of the Gaza Strip.

Yitzhak Rabin and his negotiators adamantly refused. Their opposition was not ideological or practical, but simply tactical, aimed at denying the creation of a precedent until a final agreement was reached. Rabin, and all the prime ministers after him, held tight to this futile position.
Too many Palestinians – and a few Israelis – have died unnecessary deaths because of this argument.

But now with hard-line Prime Minister Ariel Sharon agreeing to a total withdrawal from Gaza and some parts of the West Bank this argument is no longer valid. A neutral observer would say that with this important Israeli announcement there is now no need for a single further Palestinian or Israeli to be hurt in Gaza. After all, not a single suicide attack in Israel has been carried out by a Gazan or by a person coming from the tightly encircled Gaza Strip.

So why does the killing continue in Gaza?

In February alone, 27 Palestinians were killed as well as a number of Israelis. Tens were injured. Hundreds of Palestinian homes especially in the Rafah region were razed.

The only logical answer seems to be pride. Israel doesn’t want its withdrawal from the occupied Gaza Strip to be seen as a defeat. Therefore, it is using even more firepower, acting more ruthlessly toward the local population than it would if Israel had plans to stay put in Gaza.

Respect and tolerance for the local population these days is hovering around zero.

THE ISRAELI army knows full well from its experience of the last few years that Palestinians will insist on taking revenge for every violent Israeli act. So by killing Palestinians in Gaza, Israelis are unnecessarily causing harm to both Palestinians and Israelis.

Meanwhile, Palestinian militants want to show that they are violently pushing out the occupier. They are willing to sacrifice their own population to keep proving the senseless point that they will not let any act go without a response.

So with the genie out of the bottle and everyone knowing that Israel is planning to leave Gaza the most important thing that needs to be done is to make sure that this withdrawal takes place quickly and in an orderly manner, and with the least amount of casualties.

Obviously a quick unilateral withdrawal might leave the situation chaotic. But a long delay will simply mean that more human beings on both sides will suffer. This is certainly a problem that requires outside intervention.

If ever there was a case for armed international intervention, this is it. Whether it be UN forces, NATO troops, or even American soldiers, what is needed, especially in Gaza, is for an outside force to play a role.

Also needed is the physical separation of the two parties until a political agreement is reached. But, short of such a drastic operation, a much easier solution also exists: a serious cease-fire agreement.

Palestinian officials have for months been calling on Israel to agree to a cease-fire agreement, to no avail. Israel says it will not deal with “terrorists” or act “under fire.”

Such a claim would have sounded credible prior to Israel’s withdrawal declaration and prior to the recent prisoner exchange with Hizbullah. Now that Israel has made clear it no longer plans to stay in Gaza, the bleeding and suffering there need not continue for one more day.

A successful cease-fire agreement requires three basic conditions: It must be mutual; it needs to have a neutral party reinforcing it; and it must be followed immediately by serious political negotiations.

These days the Egyptians, Americans and Europeans are deeply involved. Palestinian militants and the Palestinian Authority are on record as willing to accept a cease-fire agreement. Politically, all sides concur that the road map is still the only game in town. With all this going for it, a cease-fire agreement could be reached quickly.

All that is necessary now to be able to say “no more killing and suffering in Gaza,” is for the Israeli army and government to be willing to swallow the bitter pill and move out of Gaza quickly and in an orderly way.

The writer, a Palestinian journalist, is director of the Institute of Modern media at Al Quds University in Ramallah.

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