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Five Little Girls on a Sofa

Gaza’s One-Sided Images

by BRIAN CLOUGHLEY

You wouldn’t know from the western media that Israel’s foreign minister (and would-be prime minister), Tzipi Livni, made a disastrous appearance on al-Jazeera television last week, just as you wouldn’t have seen dreadful pictures of dead children and their screaming distraught mothers in Gaza unless you watch al-J TV, which is almost impossible in the US. Here in France we can receive al-Jazeera, and the images are truly horrific. But Ms Livni doesn’t want us to see them. Nor do most western governments. She declared that "when you show one-sided images from Gaza you’re not helping peace. I understand that pictures which create provocation lead to anger and hostility among the citizens, but we want a better future for this region." In other words – don’t look at pictures that tell the truth because they will make you angry about people who blast children into ragged fragments. What we don’t see, says Livni, won’t harm us, which is the theme of authoritarian censors through the ages.

This woman, with all the compassion of a raging shark that has smelled blood in flesh-strewn water, is furious that pictures have appeared in public of the mangled bloody bodies of children her country has slaughtered in its frenzy of vicious bombing and rocketing. But they’ll never be seen by the great majority of people in the west, simply because media outlets don’t want to upset readers and viewers. Nor, of course, do they want to upset Israel, that bastion of kindly morality which wields so much influence over US politicians that they dare not speak out against airstrikes that kill children.

Livni claimed that prior to the air assault Israel informed all the residents living in the area of the planned strikes and urged them to leave. She was asked "leave for where?" (Where could they go in tiny Gaza, mainly desert, with its 1.5 million people?) and of course had no answer – because the blitz had been kept secret. She is a blatant liar.

She said that Israel is trying to avoid civilian casualties, while "Hamas is looking for children to kill . . . But, unfortunately, in a war . . . sometimes also civilians pay the price."

Like the price paid by two sisters, Lama and Haya Hamdan, who were in a donkey cart in the northern town of Beit Hanun. They were killed by one of the thousands of US-supplied missiles fired by US-supplied aircraft flown by gallant Israeli pilots who targeted these pesky terrorist donkey carts carrying terrorist children. Then there were "The five Palestinian sisters [who] were fast asleep when a night-time Israeli airstrike hit the next-door mosque in Gaza. One of the walls collapsed on to their small asbestos-roofed home and they were all killed in their beds. The eldest sister, Tahrir, was 17 years old, the youngest, Jawaher, just four . . ." Just a casual paying of the Israeli price.

Tzipi Livni has been conducting a propaganda promenade before elections to be held in February, caused by the exit of prime minister Ehud Olmert who is being investigated on charges of corruption. She wants to present as energetic an image as possible to Israeli voters and rich American supporters of Zionism, and her campaign included appearances on Fox News Sunday, when she said she had been in "close connection" with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and that she had spoken with her the previous night. Rice is the person who said "I first visited Israel in 2000. I already then felt that I am returning home despite the fact that this was a place I never visited. I have a deep affinity with Israel. I have always admired the history of the State of Israel and the hardness and determination of the people that founded it." Little wonder the Palestinians have had no support whatever from the Bush administration, for, as White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe declared, "The United States understands that Israel needs to take actions to defend itself."

The Bush administration has been entirely supportive of the Israeli blitz that has killed over sixty children so far. In a horrible echo of the US war on Iraq, the Jerusalem Post recorded that " the [Israeli Air Force's] goal [was] to shock and awe Hamas with a blow the likes of which has not been seen in Gaza since the territory was conquered by Israel in 1967." To "shock and awe" is to inspire fear by terror, indiscriminate killing, and mass destruction of a people’s basic necessities. The Tel Aviv-Washington symbiosis could not be clearer. What a meeting of minds.

As the Jerusalem Post reported, the blitz was long-planned. It took place at a time when the illegal blockade of Gaza by Israel had succeeded in imposing near-starvation and caused a critical scarcity of medical supplies. It was all thought out beforehand. A Gaza Health Ministry spokesman, Hamam Nasman, said that "Since August we have not received basic medications. The ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross], which usually delivers 60 types of medication, has been unable to deliver a shipment for one month. 105 drugs and 230 basic supplies . . . are out of stock." Then the Israelis struck, just when casualties could not be treated.

This is deliberate targeting of civilians. It is malicious cynical rubbish to try to claim that civilian deaths could be avoided or civilian injuries treated with any approach to effectiveness in such circumstances. The Israelis are criminals. They tried to starve 1.5 million people and intensified the effects of their evil (and illegal) food blockade by denying hospitals the equipment, drugs and bandages they needed.

Tzipi Livni says "Hamas is targeting deliberately kindergartens and schools and citizens and civilians because this is according to their values. Our values are completely different. We are trying to target Hamas, which hides among civilians." So the attack on a building in the Jebaliya refugee camp next to Gaza City that killed five children under 17 from the same family demonstrated different values? The mother of the five Palestinian girls murdered by Israel "sat on a sofa surrounded by other women at a neighbour’s house further along the street and struggled to speak, pausing for long moments and still overcome with shock. "I hope the Palestinian military wings retaliate and take revenge with operations inside Israel. I ask God to take revenge on them," she said.

Her husband, Anwar, 40, sat in another house where a mourning tent had been set up. He was pale and still suffering from serious injuries to his head, his shoulder and his hands. But like many other patients in Gaza he had been made to leave an overcrowded hospital to make way for the dying. Yesterday his house was a pile of rubble: collapsed walls and the occasional piece of furniture exposed to the sky. He spoke bitterly of his daughters’ deaths. "We are civilians. I don’t belong to any faction, I don’t support Fatah or Hamas, I’m just a Palestinian. They are punishing us all, civilians and militants. What is the guilt of the civilian?" Like many men in Gaza, Anwar has no job, and like all in the camp he relies on food handouts from the UN and other charity support to survive. "If the dead here were Israelis, you would see the whole world condemning and responding. But why is no one condemning this action? Aren’t we human beings?" he said. "We are living in our land, we didn’t take it from the Israelis. We are fighting for our rights. One day we will get them back."

Well, they might. But only if the Obama administration decides to cease American toadying to Israel.

Does anyone believe this will happen? Probably not, because there is little chance that Washington’s one-sided image of Israel will ever alter. It is more likely that Israel will continue to be given the freedom to ensure that Palestinian children "pay the price" and, thefore, that the violence will never end.

BRIAN CLOUGHLEY’s book about the Pakistan army, War, Coups and Terror, has just been published by Pen & Sword Books (UK) and will be published in the US in May by Skyhorse (New York).