Gaza Violence

The World Can't Afford to Sit Back and Watch

Hamas and Israel are making the same old mistakes all over again because the latest attacks won't solve anything. The world has to finally get involved in the Middle East conflict, Peter Philipp says

A Palestinian family rushes past a burning building after an Israeli missile strike in the Rafah refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, Sunday, 28 December 2008 (photo: AP)
The German daily Handelsblatt said that Hamas has cynically taken Gaza's Palestinans as hostages. Moreover most of the German media agreed that Israel's air strikes were disproportionate

​​No country in the world would accept being regularly fired at with rockets and taking no action against it. That's why Israel is counting on international support and using renewed rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip since the end of the six-month ceasefire announced by Hamas last week as justification for its massive military operation against Hamas.

The group along with others in the Gaza Strip are "taking revenge" by firing rockets once again on southern Israel. Unless there's a miracle, this is the perfect situation for a further escalation which would have unforeseen consequences. But it's also a completely superfluous yet final proof that the promises made at the Annapolis conference in the US in Nov 2007 to resume peace talks with the aim of reaching a comprehensive agreement by the end of 2008 were nothing more than empty words.

Repeating old mistakes

If the end of this year does possibly bring a new open-ended war, then there's admittedly more to it than the above mentioned rockets. Israel and Hamas would go back to the time when both resorted to violence for lack of sensible policies though it was long obvious that violence only creates counter-violence and that the vicious circle can hardly be broken.

An explosion is seen following an Israeli missile strike in the northern Gaza Strip, Saturday, 27 December 2008 (photo: AP)
Israeli warplanes retaliating for rocket fire from the Gaza Strip pounded dozens of security compounds across the Hamas-ruled territory, killing more than 200 people in the single-bloodiest day of fighting in years

​​Thus Israel is committing a cardinal mistake by believing it can wipe out Hamas with a military operation. Just as it thought it could disarm Hezbollah two and a half years ago. The massive attack on Lebanon at the time instead bombed Hezbollah into the government and the same thing could happen with Hamas in Palestine. In January 2006, Hamas won elections and a big Israeli offensive would drive the Palestinians into the group's arms.

But the frustrated and battered Palestinians as well as Hamas are making a huge mistake too by hoping that Hamas' uncompromising stance will lead to a solution or deliverance. Hamas' vehement rejection of Israel's right to exist cannot be a foundation for peace. Former PLO chief Yasser Arafat learned that lesson after decades of armed struggle against Israel.

Preventing the worst

The result was the Olso Treaty and Palestinian autonomy. But Israel squandered a chance for peace by diluting Oslo. It did that by building new settlements in the occupied territories for instance and thus destroying any hopes that the Palestinians had pinned on the treaty. Israel's one-sided retreat from the Gaza Strip didn't do anything to change that.

An "occupied" territory turned into a "besieged" one under tight blockades particularly when Hamas took control of Gaza. As usual, it was the always the wrong people who suffered the most. It wasn't the ideologues or the snipers but rather civilians – women, children, old people – who bore the brunt. They will be the ones who will do so again in the current escalation. Bombs after all don't differentiate between people.

The world can no longer afford to sit back and watch. If international troops can be mobilized for the fight against terrorists and pirates, then the world should be able to do more in Palestine than simply pay lip service. At least in order to prevent the worst if not to bring peace.

Peter Philipp

© Deutsche Welle 2008

Peter Philipp is Deutsche Welle's Middle east expert and chief correspondent. He was based in Jerusalem as a correspondent for 23 years.

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