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Wednesday, November 08, 2006 

Just another horrible, ugly massacre.

Scenes of the carnage caused by today's Israeli shelling of Beit Hanoun, which killed 19 Palestinians. The last image shows the aftermath of Israeli firing on unarmed Palestinian women residents of Beit Hanoun, who marched last week to a mosque where Palestinian militants were taking refuge.

It is completely impossible to describe the Israeli shell attack today on Beit Hanoun, which killed 19 Palestinians, including 9 children, as anything other than a massacre. Israel, as it always does when its soldiers kill civilians, has said that it "regrets" the "incident", and is investigating what went wrong. It's worth remembering that a previous inquiry into a similar attack, the shelling of the Gaza beach which killed 7 people, including all of Huda Ghalia's siblings, concluded that the deaths were actually caused by a Hamas land mine, even though every piece of evidence pointed to the carnage being caused either by an errant Israeli shell or by previous unexploded Israeli ordnance. While a cover-up along the same lines will be more difficult this time, it's highly unlikely any soldier will even be so much as disciplined for the latest tragedy in what is an increasingly bloody war of attrition.

As the weeks go by, it becomes more and more difficult to take any positives at all from the current situation, both in Gaza and the West Bank, as well as Israel itself. The week-long Israeli incursion into Beit Hanoun, a town of 35,000 on the border between the Strip and Israel, has resulted in the deaths of at least 50 Palestinians, some of whom were militants, but the toll also includes women, children and ambulance drivers. The Israeli justification for the incursion, the continuing firing of feeble Qassam rockets into Sderot (some have reached further inside Israel, hitting the city of Ashkelon), the majority of which either hit nothing or cause incredibly minor damage or injuries, only very rarely kill. 6 to 8 Israelis have so far been killed since the first Qassam hit Israeli territory in early 2002. 3 foreign workers and a number of Palestinians have also died as a result of their use. By the crude method of body count comparison, more died in today's shelling than have been killed in four years of Qassam firing. While the firing of such rockets is an act of simple resistance, their use is just as counter-productive and indefensible as sending suicide bombers to kill innocent Israeli civilians. While they may not kill, they are designed to terrorise, something which they amply do. Their continued usage only provides the Israelis with yet another excuse for their acts of collective punishment on the Palestinians of Gaza as a whole.

Last week's collective civil disobedience by the women of Beit Hanoun, who heeded the call of the radio to help defend suspected miltants who were seeking refuge from Israelis soldiers in a mosque, was an example of the kind of tactics that the Palestinians should employ more often. The bravery of the mass of hijab wearing women, marching towards what turned out to be the death of two of them, was one of the most humbling spectacles that has been broadcast on the news for a long time. The savagery of the Israeli response, which was to fire into the crowd of unarmed women underlined yet again the abyss that the IDF has dived into, from the moral high ground which it continues to claim that it operates from. Their justification was that armed militants were among them. While the militants in the mosque were later freed, disguised wearing spare hijabs brought by the women, there has been no evidence presented that any of the women were armed, or that militants were among them. Television pictures showed what appeared to be a young male Palestinian dressed in a hijab who had been shot, but there were no weapons to be seen.

While the use of violence by both sides leads to an impasse that renders both sides in the eyes of the world as little better than each other, the potential of civil disobedience to wring concessions from the Israelis has been little used. It has to be said that such potential protests could be foolhardy against a state which fires Hellfire missiles into the crowded, bustling streets of Gaza City, yet could Israel withstand the international condemnation which would arise from the deaths of unarmed men and women confronting Israeli soldiers when they make incursions into the Strip? At the moment the Israelis constantly hide behind the pretence of killing terrorists and stopping the Qassams from being fired, but how could it justify the summary execution of an unarmed massing of women and men which stops the soldiers and tanks from operating?

At the moment, all the Palestinians are left with is their anger and the thirst of elected politicians for revenge. Even though Israel has called a temporary halt to the shelling of Gaza while it investigates today's outrages, Hamas has responded predictably but irresponsibly by firing yet more Qassams. Any lulls in the launching of missiles should be reciprocal, however much one side is angered by what happens from one day to the next. The current mindset of Hamas, still negotiating with Fatah over attempts to bring them into the Palestinian Authority government, seems to be on the level of cutting off your nose to spite your face, calling for apparent action against America, although whether they intend their message to be taken as a call for violence or for a boycott is unclear. Ghazi Hamad, a Hamas spokesman, in a similar call to that alleged to have been made by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said that "this state [Israel] should cease to exist." Despite the war of words, Hamas's sort of ceasefire, known as tahdiyah, a period of calm, continues to hold. No suicide bomber from Hamas has been sent into Israel itself since August 2004, while their final suicide bombing to date was carried out at the Gush Katif checkpoint in January 2005. Islamic Jihad and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade have continued attacks, although only 2 suicide bombings have been directed against civilians in 2006.

There are apologists on all sides for the killing and maiming which continues unabated. Davide over at the Nether-World made a mild post linking the mid-term elections in the US to Israel's incursion into Beit Hanoun, and was targeted by the Israeli online pressure group GIYUS.org for his trouble. Their purpose is to distort polls and shout down anyone who even so much as dares to speak out against the crimes committed by the Israelis. No one denies that the Palestinians are often their own worst enemy, yet Israel is by far the country most associated with state terrorism. To say so is not to deny that bloody massacres have been committed in the past by the party which now forms the Palestinian Authority, but neither does it justify the continuing boycott of the Hamas government, which is only contributing to more support for the group. Hamas has put forward plans for a ten-year ceasefire, which while not going far enough, should be a good starting point for negotiations with the West over the dropping of sanctions. The worst thing now would be a continuing of the status quo. With the bringing into the Israeli government of the openly racist Avigdor Lieberman, the Palestinians for once can stand on the moral high ground. Now would be a perfect time for genuine concessions. For our part, the British government should do as much as possible to further the cause of moderates on both sides. The return to peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians cannot come soon enough.

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Unfortunately, the government do plan to create "a new offence to deal with violent pornography" (quoted from the Home Office background note - http://www.pm.gov.uk/files/pdf/criminal%20justice%20bill.pdf).

Visit the Melon Farmers site - www.melonfarmers.co.uk - for more information and debate.

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