Over 1,000 dead and still they go and watch.
Israel should be proud: it took the IDF exactly a month to kill nearly 1,000 people in Lebanon during the 2006 war with Hizbullah; this time it has taken them only 18 days. Lebanon however had a population of roughly 4 million; Gaza has a population of 1.25 million. All while the IDF has been pummelling Gaza, Israelis have been travelling to Parash Hill, near Sderot, to have an overview of what their military is inflicting on a population that it first sealed off, then attempted to starve, and is now finally trying to bomb into submission. We've already seen smiles and laughter, stories of picnics and ghouls saying that more could be done, now we have a CNN reporter smiling and laughing with two women as they discuss the carnage going on only miles from where they're sitting. There's the others openly celebrating as they look through binoculars as the air strikes rain down and the phosphorous lights up the sky. And then there's the mealy-mouthed others, those who've had their own homes hit by Palestinian rockets, offering insincere concern for the innocents that might also be suffering in Gaza, the ones whose homes will be unrepairable and the others that will never recover from their injuries.
The reports continue to come in of suspected atrocities, of deliberate targeting of civilians. The Times speaks to a soldier that says everything is being treated as hostile, that this is the most "aggressive line" that has ever been taken with the Palestinians, that even he is shocked by the devastation that they are discovering and which Israel has tried as hard as possible to stop being glimpsed by too many Western eyes. The BBC reports that women responding to an Israeli call to leave, additionally carrying white flags, were shot and one was killed, while others trying to find water were similarly shot and apparently killed. From a less reputable source is an even more shocking, upsetting story, of an 92-year-old man injured on the first day of the Israeli bombardment, only reached today, found decomposing with a white flag in his hand. If substantiated, it is such accounts that remain on people's minds for years to come.
So brutal has the assault on Gaza been that even those supposedly on the Israeli left, such as Yossi Alpher, co-editor of Bitter Lemons, are left looking for comparisons which play down the carnage which has been unleashed. Alpher alighted upon the final battle for Fallujah in Iraq at the end of 2004, where similar accusations of war crimes were made, but which reflects better on the IDF as there were suggestions that up to 6,000 civilians were killed, out of an insurgent force estimated at being between 3,000 and 6,000. Israel claims there are around 20,000 Hamas fighters in Gaza. Alpher fails to mention that even if it did calm Fallujah somewhat, all that it achieved was a dispersal of the insurgency from the city into Anbar province itself, with it only eventually being tackled by the rise of the Awakening programme, when the tribal sheikhs tired of the tyranny and bloodshed brought by their alliance with the likes of al-Qaida in Iraq. Furthermore, there's a rather larger inconvenient fact which Alpher strangely omitted from his analogy: the US army allowed a large majority of the population of Fallujah to flee the city before the attack. In Gaza no one has been allowed to leave, except for those holding foreign passports who wanted to, and the very few that have been transferred to Egyptian hospitals for treatment. If we accept the Israeli figures of 20,000 Hamas fighters, and add another 10,000 to account for the militants of Islamic Jihad and other groups, that leaves 995,000 civilians directly in the line of fire, with hardly anywhere to run to, far above the numbers that were left in Fallujah to face the US military at its most destructive.
As alluded to yesterday, it is indeed telling that it's Iraq that Israelis are pointing towards, for it's quite true that the war on Iraq now has even less justification than Israel's assault on Gaza. They talked of the "shock and awe" of the initial "surprise" attacks on the police and Hamas security officials, and doubtless they would like Hamas to be seen as the Islamic State of Iraq is in that country. You could at least however see the motives for attacking Iraq, whether it was to remove the supposed threat from WMD, to overthrow a tyrant that had been subjugating his people for decades, or to gain control of the country's oil, as being either somewhat noble or at the very least either defensible or achievable, as indeed the initial removal of Saddam Hussein was. The same cannot be said for the attack on Gaza. It won't stop the rocket fire without agreeing to the lifting of the siege, it won't turn the people of Gaza against Hamas, and it probably won't help either Ehud Barak or Tzipi Livni to win the election and keep the Labour/Kadima coalition in power. Just as we are now horrified by the spilling of blood in Iraq, it has to be hoped that eventually both sides in the conflict on Gaza will come to feel the same nausea, and reject the hate that both sides push. Before that though, the killing has to first stop.