Gaza: a very big problem

In one of these strange bits of journalistic shorthand, the “Middle East” is often used as a way of referring to the Israel-Palestine situation.

To me this has always seemed slightly bizarre. OK, I get the part-for-the-whole metonymy idea (“crown” for monarch, 20 “head” of cattle etc)? But not this inversion – where a relatively smaller thing (Israel/Palestine) is represented by a much bigger thing (the whole geographical region).

But the “Middle East problem” is often how it’s designated and I guess it’s because, one way and another, Israel/Palestine really matters right across the Arab world, into Iran and even further afield in predominantly Muslim countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Which is why … the al-Habbash family’s story matters. This is just one case of dozens included in the new Amnesty report on the Gaza conflict earlier this year. At 3.30 in the afternoon of Sunday 4 January, an Israeli missile (from an F-16 or drone plane) slammed into the roof of the al-Habbash family’s home in the al-Tuffah neighbourhood of Gaza City. Thirteen-year-old Isra’ Qusay and her 10-year-old cousin Shadha ‘Abed were killed. As children do there, they had been playing on the flat roof of the building, including feeding the pigeons kept by the family. Shadha’s 14-year-old sister Jamila was also hit: she was so badly injured that both her legs were amputated. Her 16-year-old cousin Muhammad also got blasted off the roof and was left “hanging on a window” (he too lost a leg).

I say it matters because after trawling through this report – all 117 pages of it – what comes out of it for me is: (1) a clear sense that right now there is simply no justice available for families like the al-Habbash family (or for Israelis hurt by Palestinian rockets fired into southern Israeli towns like Ashkelon); and: (2) though the world has – in that degraded political parlance – moved on, the sense of grievance in Gaza, the wider Palestine and southern Israel, is extremely deep.

Since Obama took office shortly after the death and destruction of the Gaza conflict (the most deadly of any Israeli attack on Gaza to date), much of the media coverage and diplomacy around the “Middle East” has been focused on Israel’s new government and the issue of illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Amazingly – with about 1,400 Palestinians dead and about 5,000 injured on one side, and nine Israelis killed and dozens injured on the other, plus thousands of buildings in Gaza utterly destroyed – the issue of the “Middle East” in most media reports has regularly condensed down to Netanyahu, Obama and the (non-Gazan) settlements.

Except … hundreds of thousands of people in Gaza (and southern Israel, which itself was hit by at least 700 hundred rockets) are hardly going to forget about those traumatic 22 days at the start of this year. (Nor, for that matter, are they on the Gaza side likely to “forget” about the two-year-long economic blockade). Amnesty’s report is partly about ensuring that this level of suffering and injustice are not forgotten.

While neither the Israeli or Hamas governments will respond to Amnesty’s detailed findings with anything more constructive than blanket denials (or a typical blaming of the “other side”), it’s my belief that a big report like this is actually more in tune with the reality of life for those caught up in this appalling, never-ending conflict as well as for the wider “public” who follow the “Middle East” situation (people reading it in places like Damascus or Stamford Hill in London).

In other words Amnesty hasn’t forgotten, moved on or given up on the idea of breaking the vicious cycle of human rights abuses in the Middle East. Please send an appeal urging the international community to do the same – in particular by supporting the Richard Goldstone-led UN inquiry into the Gaza conflict.


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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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