An Israeli air assault on Palestinian targets in Gaza has taken an estimated 300 lives over the course of the past several days, and the death toll is mounting rapidly. Dozens of children have been killed, confirming that there is nothing “surgical” about these strikes.
Most U.S. media coverage portrays a simple struggle between Israelis on the one side and Gaza’s Hamas militants on the other. This is the line that is being advanced aggressively by the Bush administration and that has effectively been accepted by President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team, which is maintaining its “Bush speaks for the U.S. until January 20” line even as the crisis mounts. Following Bush’s lead, Obama has refused to call for a more nuanced and effective U.S. response to an escalation of the Middle East conflict that Palestinian parliamentarian Mustafa Barghouti on Sunday described as the worst since the 1967 war in the region.
Obama and his aides should be openly counseling the Bush administration to use every diplomatic avenue to promote a ceasefire and, above all, to urge against an Israeli invasion and occupation of Gaza.
Unfortunately, the president-elect is doing nothing of the sort.Some may imagine that this disengaged approach confirms Obama as a true “friend of Israel.”
But Jeremy Ben-Ami, the executive director of the U.S.-based pro-Israel, pro-peace advocacy group J Street, argues that: “While (the recent) air strikes by Israeli Defense Forces in Gaza can be understood and even justified in the wake of recent rocket attacks, we believe that real friends of Israel recognize that escalating the conflict will prove counterproductive, igniting further anger in the region and damaging long-term prospects for peace and stability. Respecting Israel’s right to defend itself, we urge leaders there to recognize that there is no military solution to what is fundamentally a political conflict between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.”
That sentiment is echoed in Israeli, where many war-weary citizens are objecting to their government’s escalation of a simmering conflict.
While moves to prevent rocket attacks on Israeli targets that have been launched from Gaza enjoy broad popular support in Israel, there is good deal of genuine concern about the prospect that Israeli forces might invade and occupy all or part of Gaza.
A substantial crowd of Israelis – estimated at 2,000 by organizers — rallied in Tel Aviv Saturday to protest their country’s attacks on Gaza and to call for an immediate ceasefire. Chanting “No to War – Yes to Peace,” the protesters carried signs urging “Negotiation Instead of Slaughter” and calling on Israeli leaders to “Lift the Siege from Gaza”.