Sunday, January 18, 2009


It doesn't get more bizarre than this. Two ceasefires.

Last night I watched Ehud Olmert, Israel's prime minister, announce a unilateral ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian factions in Gaza. But when I spoke with friends in Gaza today, the buzz of Israeli drones was still loud and clear in the background. Israeli troops are still on the ground in Gaza, separating the north of the strip from the south. A Palestinian farmer was killed and his son injured this morning as they walked outside their home to survey the damage*. This is not the dramatic sigh of relief that people in Gaza have been waiting and praying for.

Meanwhile, Palestinian political factions announced their own ceasefire this afternoon. They are giving Israel one week to withdraw from Gaza. I suspect they will keep their word on this because people in Gaza are tired of the constant attacks and loss of life, and Hamas’ popularity may decrease if they give Israel an excuse (not a reason) to continue its horrific attacks on civilians.

I feel like I’m missing something – some vital piece of information that explains the logic behind these ceasefires. It is so obvious to me that a meaningful and lasting ceasefire must be singular and must be agreed on by all parties. But logic has never been a key piece of Israeli diplomacy. With the full and unconditional support of the United States, Israel doesn't need to bother with diplomacy or logic. Israeli politicians make and then break promises as they see fit, label anyone they don't want to deal with as a terrorist, bar human rights observers and international politicians from seeing things they don't want them to see, the list goes on.

I've looked for the logic too in the claims of victory coming from Israeli and Palestinian leaders. It seems clear that there are no winners, just thousands of losers. In Gaza the death toll is 1,300 with more bodies being pulled out of the rubble by the second. More than 5000 people are injured and 100,000 homeless. Refugees who were driven from their homes by armed gangs in 1948 are refugees a second time over. 16 hospitals and 60 schools were hit. The damage is immense. There were Israelis killed too, 3 civilians. But I can’t put the deaths of the Israeli occupying soldiers side by side with those they killed.

Of course people in Gaza welcomed these “ceasefires”. “A chance to bury our dead,” one friend cynically called it. It is a chance to look for missing friends and relatives, to go back to their neighborhoods and sift through remnants of houses, to venture out for food and other necessary items. "I'm back in my house with my family, we're lucky that there's not too much damage. But when I went looking for Dr. Mahmoud I didn't even recognize the spot where his house had been."

For aid agencies, these “ceasefires” are a chance to distribute food, to safely transport goods (though not between north and south), to assess the situation. MECA sent funds to our partner, Afaq Jadeeda Association, to cook meals and buy whatever supplies are available and deliver them to displaced families in the southern Gaza Strip. There is a lot of work to be done.

But what next? What about the Israeli imposed blockade of Gaza that left families without food, children without schoolbooks, and hospitals without medicine? How do Gazans rebuild their lives under the constant threat of another Israeli attack?

No matter how many ceasefires are in place, the international community must keep up the pressure on Israel for an end to its apartheid occupation in Gaza and the West Bank as well as of Palestinian citizens inside Israel proper.


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