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Iraq's Sistani Calls for Action on Behalf of Gaza; Third Day of Bombardment; Gaza Hospitals Overwhelmed

by juan cole (reposted)
From a Monday, December 29, 2008 entry on Informed Comment a blog run by Juan Cole
Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani of Iraq has called upon Arab and Muslim nations to support the Palestinians in Gaza with more than lip service. Iran's PressTv translated the statement this way:
' "Condemning what is going on in Gaza and supporting our brothers only with words is meaningless, considering the big tragedy they are facing . . . Arab and Islamic nations need to take a decisive stance, now more than ever, to end these ongoing aggressions and to break the unjust siege imposed on the brave people of Gaza . . ."

The relatively secular governments of Egypt and Jordan do not like fundamentalist Hamas, and they are implicitly or in Egypt's case actively cooperating with Israel to weaken Hamas. Iran, which supports Hamas, is seeking a propaganda coup in the Middle East over this issue. That is to be expected. Sistani's forceful call for practical action, on the other, shows an increased militancy and self-assuredness on the part of the Shiite authorities in Iraq. The prospect of a quick US withdrawal may be helping fuel this confidence.

Aswat al-Iraq reports in Arabic that Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, the leading Shiite party in parliament, also came out strongly on behalf of the Gazans.

The Israeli bombardment of Gaza entered its third day on Monday, as the prospect of a possible land invasion loomed, with Israel massing tanks on the border.

What I can't understand is the end game here. The Israelis have pledged to continue their siege of the civilians of Gaza, and have threatened to resume assassinating Hamas political leaders, along with the bombardment. The campaign of brutal assassinations launched by Ariel Sharon earlier in this decade were, Sharon, promised us, guaranteed to wipe out Hamas altogether. Do the Israelis expect the population at some point to turn against Hamas, blaming it for the blockade and the bombardment? But by destroying what was left of the Gaza middle class, surely they a throwing people into the arms of Hamas. The US experience of bombing North Vietnam and mining Haiphong Harbor, etc., was that it only stiffened Hanoi's resolve. The massive Israeli bombardment of Lebanon in 2006 did not achieve any significant objectives. In fact, Hezbollah was politically strengthened; it now sits in the Lebanese cabinet and has been recognized as a formal national guard for the south of the country. Its stock of rockets has been replenished. There is a UN buffer now, but in the past such buffers have been removed when hostilities threaten.

If the Gaza population doesn't turn on Hamas, and Israeli measures don't destroy the organization (which they helped create and fund back in the late 1980s when they wanted a foil to the secular PLO), then what? They'll just go on half-starving Gaza's children for decades? Malnourished children have diminished IQ and poor impulse control. That would make them ideal suicide bombers. Plus, sooner or later there will start to be effective boycotts of Israel in Europe and elsewhere over these war crimes. The Israeli economy would be vulnerable to such moves.

Of course, there are only 1.5 million Gazans, and they increasingly are being forced to live in Haiti-like conditions, so in the short term the Israelis can do whatever they want to them. But I can't see this ending well for the Israelis in the long term. Very few insurgencies end because one side achieves a complete military victory (I think it is about 20%). But by refusing to negotiate with Hamas, Israel and the United States leave only a military option on the table. The military option isn't going to resolve the problem by itself. Gaza is a labyrinth. Those Qassam rockets are easy to make. There is so much money sloshing around the Middle East and so many sympathetic Muslims that Gaza will be kept just barely afloat economically, making Hamas hard to dislodge. And the Israeli blockade of Gaza is so distasteful to the world that eventually there is likely to be a painful price to pay for it by the Israelis.

Among the 210 targets hit by Israeli airstrikes this weekend was the campus of the Islamic University. Israel also bombed the Interior Ministry.

The Washington Post reports a growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza, where the death toll from Israeli air strikes has reached 300 with 1300 wounded, 235 of them wounded. WaPo writes:
'Humanitarian aid groups sounded the alarm Sunday about what they described as a deteriorating medical situation in the strip and urged the opening of Gaza's borders to allow supplies to flow to hospitals. There are growing shortages of vital medicines and equipment, the aid workers said. "There are hundreds of wounded in the hospitals in the Gaza Strip, and what we have received so far has only been a fraction of our need. Our supplies have been depleted, and we are in desperate need for supplies," said Iyad Nasr, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Gaza. "We ask the parties to avoid striking the civilian population on both sides." '

Aljazeera English gives video on Gaza hospitals struggling to treat civilians wounded by Israeli airstrikes. The hospitals' ability to treat had already been degraded by the long Israeli blockade of Gaza.

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