Wednesday

1st Jun 2016

Israel vs. Palestine: one-nil?

  • Gaza City football stadium showing craters form Israeli missiles (Photo: EUobserver)

Israel last month showed off the accuracy of its weapons by bombing a football stadium in Gaza. But civilian deaths and settlement expansion have caused diplomatic defeats.

At about 9am local time on 17 November an Israeli F16 jet fired two missiles at a football field in Gaza City. One of them hit a goalpost, leaving a 2-meter-deep crater full of sand and bits of metal. The other one landed behind the opposite goal, just missing the goalposts but creating another big hole.

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  • Hole in wall of UN-run school, showing destroyed Palestinian interior ministry building (Photo: EUobserver)

The strikes were part of an eight-day-long war between Israel and Hamas, the militant Palestinian group in charge of Gaza.

They prompted a joke from Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh when he spoke to a group of visiting European parliamentarians in his residence nearby on Sunday (2 December).

Noting that he used to play football at the stadium on Wednesdays with friends from his university days in the 1970s, he said: "They scored a goal with their F16."

But there is nothing funny about the rest of what is being called the Eight-Day War.

The next day an F16 rocket hit the house of the al-Dalu family also in Gaza City, killing 10 people and wounding nine others. The dead include a one-year-old baby, Ibrahim, two boys, Yousef and Jamal, aged four and six, and a seven-year-old girl named Sarah.

The Israeli strikes killed about 180 people in total, almost half of them children and women.

One of them was Marwa al-Qumsan, an Arabic teacher who worked for the UN refugee agency, UNWRA.

They also smashed up an UNWRA children's school, a Jordanian-run hospital, a sports centre for disabled people, several media buildings, mosques, olive farms, wells and police stations.

"I worked as a surgeon for 30 years and I have never seen such injuries before. Some people came to us so badly burned that they were mummified. I don't know what kind of weapons can do this. Some had lost their limbs because of special shrapnel in what looked like surgical-type amputations. Some had no visible injuries, but when we did a post mortem, we saw that their viscera were completely destroyed," Hamas health minister Mufeed Mkhallalati told the European fact-finding mission also on Sunday.

On the other side, Hamas rockets hit several Israeli towns near Gaza, as well as the outskirts of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

They killed six people, three of them - Etti Sarraf, Aharon Samdaga and Isaac Amsalem - in one direct strike on a civilian home in Kiryat Malachi.

The Israeli army says Palestinian civilians were killed either because Hamas was using them as "human shields" or accidentally.

Scott Anderson, the deputy head of UNWRA in Gaza, told the European MPs: "If a militant is firing a rocket from a house where there are women and children inside and Israel fires on it, then both sides are to blame."

Another Gaza-based UN employee, who did not want to be named, said Hamas does not fire rockets from civilian houses, however.

"They do it from open ground. I can see how it happens from my balcony. The ground opens - whoosh - the rocket comes, then the tunnel closes again. Then an Israeli jet appears and bombs the whole area," he told EUobserver.

"I don't think they target civilians. But they don't care if civilians die," he added.

For its part, Hamas does not make any excuses for targeting Israeli homes.

Asked by this website on Sunday if he is sorry for the Israeli civilians killed in the conflict, Haniyeh said: "The occupying force [Israel] is the only one responsible for this carnage. The Israeli side started this occupation and started this war as well."

A senior Hamas official in its education ministry, Ahmed al-Najar, at an earlier meeting in Cairo, told EUobserver: "Thanks be to god we now have rockets that can hit Tel Aviv and even Jerusalem as well."

The EU listed Hamas as a terrorist entity in 2003.

As a result, there are no European diplomats in Gaza to see what Israel did or did not do.

But for the EU's ambassador to Israel, Andrew Standley, the Gaza war is one reason why 26 out 27 EU countries said Yes or abstained in a vote on upgrading Palestine's UN status 10 days later. The vote would have been "quite different" if not for the conflict, he said according to Israeli daily the Jerusalem Post.

For the European parliamentarians who went to Gaza, the football field bombing gave the lie to Israel's line that civilian deaths were accidental.

"Given their boasts about the accuracy of their weapons, we have to ask why so many women and children are being killed," Pat Sheehan, an MP in the devolved parliament in Belfast told Hamas' health minister.

"There's nothing to justify the aggression of the Israeli people against the Palestinian people," Portuguese left wing MEP Alda Sousa said.

Meanwhile, Israel's post-UN-vote decision to build 3,000 new settler homes in the West Bank has cost it even more sympathy in EU capitals.

Denmark, Finland, France, Ireland, Spain, Sweden and the UK on Monday and Tuesday summoned Israeli ambassadors to issue formal complaints.

British foreign minister William Hague also raised the prospect of punitive measures against Israel in a speech to parliament on Monday. "If there is no reversal of the [settler] decision that has been announced, we will want to consider what further steps European countries should take," he said.

"The Israeli occupation is now isolated. Its narrative, which transforms the aggressor into the victim and the victim into the aggressor, is no longer accepted," Haniyeh said on Sunday.

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