Thursday, June 29, 2006

Here is the English version of an article that appeared in the Dutch daily Trouw one week ago. Developments this week changed the picture in more than one way ( today an article appears in the Dutch daily Friesch Dagblad about the abduction of Gilad Shalit, the murder - or, as the AP likes to call is, execution - of Eliyahu Asheri, Israel's response to that and - most of all - the different roles played by Hamas ) but, at the same time, plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.
The first victims of war
'Truth is the first victim of war' is a cliché, which does not mean that it is a lie. On June 9th an explosion rocked a Gaza beach and killed seven members of one Palestinian family. In the weeks that have passed since then the Hamas government used this incident in its power struggle with President Abbas and his Fatah movement, and in its efforts to score macabre 'goodwill points' with the international community. Israel murders children while Hamas restrains itself. They do not mention that the Qassam rockets which for years have been fired almost daily in the direction of Israel – with the active and passive support of Hamas – also claim victims ( among them 3-year-old Afik Zahavi ) and have made life hell for thousands of children in cities like Sderot. The Israeli army, on the other hand, tried hard to prove that it was not an Israeli shell that killed these seven Palestinian civilians. In newspapers, on websites and on television evidence and arguments are presented that either exonerate Israel and prove that the explosion was staged or caused by Hamas itself, or show that Israel is the one to blame. Of course I, like anybody else, tend to prefer believing one version of the truth rather than another. Still, in the end it does not really matter who is responsible. As Yael, an idealistic new immigrant from the US, wrote on her weblog: go and ask Huda Ghalia, the little girl who in one bang lost her parents and three siblings, whether she really cares who did it. That in different media this little girl is seven, ten, eleven or twelve years old only makes things even more confusing and unreal. Each of us creates and believes his own truth, and yet the only truth that matters is that Palestinian and Israeli children are the first and most important victims of 'the' conflict, more so than any truth. Children on both sides of the border between Israel and Gaza live in constant fear. The Israeli government is pressed and eager not to leave the continuing Qassam attacks unanswered, which could be one of the reasons why the Israeli army appears to be less cautious than usual when it operates in heavily populated areas. This results in even more children being killed, which is a welcome excuse for Hamas and other Palestinian terror organizations to swear revenge and fire even more rockets. And so on and so forth: unfortunately in the Middle East logic and the circle of life often are a bit twisted and bitter. The Palestinians and Israel seem unable or unwilling to solve the conflict themselves. President Abbas is quite weak and has to make sure not to be seen as too compliant towards Israel. Obviously Ehud Olmert's government does not have the murder of Palestinian children as its objective, but it also cannot let Sderot become a ghost town. In the five months since its election the Hamas government never really proved that it is prepared to become a sincere negotiation partner. The organization still has not recognized unambiguously Israel's right to exist. At best it insinuates halfheartedly that a long-term truce can be negotiated, while at the same time – with the knowledge and cooperation of Hamas – enormous quantities of arms are smuggled into the Gaza Strip, Qassam rockets keep falling in Israel ( and in Gaza itself ), and suicide attacks inside Israel continue as well. Clearly the Bush administration, Russia and the UN have more important issues on their mind. It is time, therefore, for the European Union to take the lead and break the deadlock. This should be done in a positive manner. By now we all know that the Union does not want to deal with the Hamas government, nor will it recognize any borders that are unilaterally determined by Israel. Now the EU has to state unequivocally what it does want exactly, and how it views the future for both Palestinians and Israelis. After that it will have to follow the example of Vito Corleone and make both the Israeli and Palestinian government a comprehensive offer that neither can refuse, at least not without losing their credibility in the eyes of the international community and of their own peoples. A balanced, determined and clear-cut European proposal, with political and economical carrots and sticks, I cannot think of any other mircale drug that could bring us deliverance here. What I do know, though, is that as long as the children of Gaza and Sderot are at the mercy of our non-leaders their lives will not become much more livable.

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