Gaza civilian toll could backfire on Israel - World Blog - msnbc.com
Posted: Friday, January 16, 2009 2:49 PM
Filed Under: Tel Aviv, Israel
By Lawahez Jabari, NBC News Producer
JERUSALEM – For 17 days I have been covering the Gaza conflict, working in several Israeli towns and cities – Sderot, Ashkelon, Beersheba – and also along the Israel-Gaza border.
For the first time I witnessed the effect that the al Qassam rockets fired from Gaza have on daily life in southern Israel. People would be on their way to work or school when all of a sudden, their morning would be interrupted by the wailing sirens warning everyone to rush to the shelter.
They displayed emotions ranging from annoyance to fright, but mostly life went on. Shops stayed open, people continued their errands in the street. Part of this is that, unfortunately, they have become accustomed to the barrages, but I thought how nerve-wracking it must be to wait for sirens, knowing that something like a missile could rain from the sky without warning.
Later, we went to the border, where sometimes we were joined by families, young and old, who came to see their army, the Israeli Defense Forces, at work.
As horrific as the Hamas rockets had been, the violence here was much worse. The F-16s, Apache helicopters and tanks were moving into Gaza – firing into the northernmost Gaza towns of Beit Lahiya, Beit Hanoun, and the refugee town of Jebalya. The explosions were terrifying and I’ll never forget the "jellyfish" – those missiles which would explode in mid-air, dropping more of their kind over the area.
I was working with Tom Aspell, as his producer, and every day we would do our live TV reports on how the operation in Gaza was going. The Israelis strictly restricted journalists’ access into the area, but every day I called people inside Gaza and spoke with local journalists there who would tell me how difficult it was to cover the story.
A different perspective
After 17 days of round-the-clock live-reports, I decided to take a day off and went home to Jerusalem.
For the first time I turned on an Arab channel, al-Jazeera, to get an update on what was going on. And then I knew it was impossible to give any equivalency between the situation in the Israeli towns in the south with the tragedy that was unfolding in Gaza.
That night I felt sick, I couldn't sleep – I could only see images of children, and children, and more children. The ones who had been blinded, the ones who had lost their limbs, or just that picture of the small girl's head, her eyes wide open. It was only her head, nothing else.
It was now very difficult to comprehend what was really going on. What was the true goal –the mission – of the Israeli army? Are they really fighting Hamas, or are they targeting civilians?
The figures would seem to point to the latter. As of Friday, more than 1,100 Palestinians have been killed since the war began on Dec. 27, including 346 children, according to the U.N. and Gaza health officials. And countless houses have been demolished and infrastructure destroyed. Meanwhile, 13 Israelis have been killed, four by rocket fire, according to the military.
Already, new information has emerged about the bombing of the U.N. school where 45 civilians taking shelter were killed by a bomb blast. Israel has now retracted its initial claim that the school was being used by Hamas to fire rockets into Israel. The military is now admitting that instead it was a bomb that missed its target. The U.N., meanwhile, is drawing up a report on this to submit as possible evidence of a war crime.
What peace will be won?
Who can rationalize more than 1,000 Palestinians being killed in less than three weeks, 5,000 more injured – and perhaps the hardest part to accept – the fact that more than 50 percent of the casualties were women and children?
Another disturbing aspect of this carnage is the apparent cynicism when it comes to talk of minimizing civilian casualties, including the massive dropping of leaflets asking people to leave their homes.
Leave their homes for where? Gaza is in essence an open prison. There are no borders to cross. Instead, people are running from house to house like mice. There is nowhere to hide; their next hiding place could be where they die.
If civilian casualties are part of Israel’s strategy -- a way of teaching Hamas a very costly lesson – then I don’t think there will be a victory to claim.
Instead, a new generation full of anger and hatred is being created on a daily basis.