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Israel Bombs Gaza, Killing Hundreds

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Issue: 57 Section: International News Geography: Middle East Gaza, Palestine/Israel Topics: war

December 30, 2008

Israel Bombs Gaza, Killing Hundreds

Emergency demonstrations attract thousands worldwide

by Dru Oja Jay

A demonstration in solidarity with the 1.5 million residents of Gaza, in London on Sunday.

MONTREAL, QUEBEC–On December 27, 2008, Israeli military forces initiated "Operation Cast Lead," a bombing offensive against the Gaza Strip. F-16 jets and Apache helicopters, which are manufactured in part in Canada and largely paid for by an estimated $3 billion in annual US military aid, dropped 100 tonnes of bombs in the first day. Reported targets included municipal buildings, police stations, mosques, homes, cross-border tunnels, and a university. According to on-the-ground reports, facilities that have been hit by bombs include hospitals, medical storage facilities and fuel depots.

As of December 30, over 363 people have been killed, and over 1,700 injured. According to a UN report, at least 39 of the deaths were children. Casualties have thus far included government functionaries, children, women, traffic police in training, and bystanders. In some cases, attacks began when children were on their way home from school.

Operation Cast Lead was named in reference to a children's Channukah song written by Israel's national poet, Hayyim Nahman Bialik. The attacks began on the sixth day of the Jewish festival of lights, an official holiday in Israel.

The aim of the operation, according to Israeli officials' initial comments, was to put a stop to Palestinian rocket and mortar attacks against towns close to the Gaza strip, such as Sderot and Ashqelon. In the last seven years, an estimated 24 Israelis (16 within Israel, eight in now-vacated Gaza settlements) have been killed and 433 have been injured by Palestinian rocket and mortar attacks. The attacks have caused post-traumatic stress disorder among residents of the affected towns.

"After this operation there will not be a single Hamas building left standing in Gaza, and we plan to change the rules of the game," armed forces deputy chief of staff Brigadier General Dan Harel told journalists.

"We are hitting not only terrorists and launchers, but also the whole Hamas government and all its wings," he added.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak has said that Israeli forces "will expand to a ground attack if that is needed."

Since Israeli forces vacated settlements and pulled out of Gaza in 2005, they have maintained control over Gaza's airspace, borders, and coastal waters. Since 2007, in response to the election of Hamas, Israel has maintained a tightening siege of Gaza. Shipments of food, fuel, clothing, cooking oil and medicine have been severely restricted, and many Gazans rely on cross-border tunnels to smuggle in basic supplies. Malnutrition affects an estimated 70 per cent of Gaza's population of 1.5 million. After Israeli forces bombed Gaza's main power plant in 2006, the sole remaining plant fell into disrepair, leaving the majority of Gazans without electricity. Israel has turned away several ships carrying food and aid supplies.

Ehud Olmert's advisor, Dov Weisglass, described the siege thus: "The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not make them die of hunger."

Protesters condemn Canadian complicity with Gaza assault in Montreal on Sunday. Photo: Grant McSorley

Demonstrations and Criticism

Immediately following the bombing, emergency protests were organized around the world, with tens of thousands taking to the streets in England, Denmark, Italy, Spain, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, India, Australia, New Zealand, and many other countries.

In Canada, emergency protests brought out an estimated 200 in Halifax, 600 in Montreal, 200 in Ottawa, 800 in Toronto, and 300 in Vancouver. Additional demonstrations are planned in Montreal, Vancouver and Winnipeg.

The New Democratic Party called on the government of Canada to immediately call for an end to the attacks. The Liberal Party and the Conservative government both released statements supporting Israel's "right to defend itself" and condemning rocket attacks.

"The people who’ve been subjected to this don’t have the right to defend themselves, but Israel has the right to defend," Dr. Ismail Zayid said to reporters at a protest in Halifax.

Demonstrators in Montreal shouted slogans like "Israel assassin, Harper complice" (Israel assassinates, Harper is complicit) and "Québec, Gaza, solidarité."

A press release from the Toronto-based Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid condemned what it called "the single worst massacre in Gaza since it was illegally occupied in 1967," and called for an end to the "two-year siege" that "has restricted all flow of aid, medical supplies, fuel and other necessities of life into the territory."

Vancouver organizers also condemned "official US and Canadian complicity."

"Targeting Hamas targets, when any civilian employed by the Hamas government, be they traffic police, civil police or in the Ministries, counts as a target, is an immoral declaration of war against a civilian population," Canadian Gaza-based solidarity activist Eva Bartlett wrote in a blog entry.

In Israel, some observers have ascribed the attacks to positioning for Israeli elections coming in February. "Israeli leaders are competing over who is the toughest and who is ready to kill more," Michael Warschawski of the Alternative Information Center in Jerusalem told journalist Jonathan Cook. Writing shortly before the bombing began, Yoel Marcus observed that "the hysterical reaction by the public as a whole and politicians in particular stems mainly from the fact that the country is in an election period."

Ali Abunimah called for increased support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, initiated in 2005 by Palestinian Civil Society organizations. "Palestinians everywhere are asking for solidarity, real solidarity, in the form of sustained, determined political action," Abunimah wrote on the day the bombing began.

Media coverage was criticized for omitting the historical context of Palestinian dispossession. Writing in the Independent, Robert Fisk said, "The fact that the five sisters killed in Jabalya camp had grandparents who came from the very land whose more recent owners have now bombed them to death simply does not appear" in media coverage of the bombing.

Dru Oja Jay is an editor at the Dominion.

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