The Aftermath Of Israel's Offensive Into Gaza
A human rights perspective. AWID interviews Jessica Montell
By Kathambi Kinoti
The Israel-Palestine conflict seems to be intractable. While political perspectives may differ, it is clear that the recently ended Israeli offensive into Gaza had adverse human rights implications. A few weeks ago, while the attacks were still going on, we interviewed* Islah Jad, a Palestinian professor and activist. Israel has now declared a ceasefire. We spoke with Jessica Montell of B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories about the attacks and the ceasefire.
AWID: What is your understanding of the recent Israeli army offensive in Gaza?
JESSICA MONTELL: There was enormous pressure on the government to take action to stop the rocket fire into southern Israel. For B'Tselem as a human rights organization, we are not focused on the decision to launch the operation in Gaza - whether it was smart or appropriate. Our concern is whether the fighting was conducted in accordance with International Humanitarian Law; the laws of war. We have several criticisms of the Israeli military's conduct in the operation: the targetting of civilian infrastructure because it is affiliated with Hamas, the amount of force used, the types of weapons used, access of medical teams to the wounded. Of course Israel's conduct can only be examined together with an examination of the behavior of Hamas fighters. Israel has leveled very harsh accusations that Palestinian fighters willfully endangered Palestinian civilians, abusing ambulances, shooting from inside hospitals. All of this has to be investigated and those responsible held accountable.
There is no doubt that the suffering of the Palestinian population is tremendous. The high number of people killed and houses destroyed is liable to overshadow the personal tragedy of each individual family, which is a world in itself. And it is very disturbing to see the lack of public discussion inside Israel about the Palestinian reality. During the fighting itself there was almost no attention to the very severe suffering of Palestinians just over the border. The media conducted itself as if this reality did not exist, and this partly explains the very high support for the military operation. Now that the fighting has stopped there is a bit more attention to the moral and legal issues, and the human suffering, but only a bit. Most Israelis are unwilling to confront the reality of our actions in Gaza.
AWID: How did women's organizations in Israel respond to the offensive and its effects?
JM: Most women's organizations reflect the broader Israeli society, which overwhelmingly supported the military operation. I only know of the women's peace coalition that organized against the operation.
AWID: Has B’Tselem or other Israeli women's organizations worked with Palestinian women's organizations, either during this recent attack or before, to address the ongoing conflict?
JM: B'Tselem works primarily with the traditional human rights organizations, both Israeli and Palestinian. We have not formally worked with Palestinian women's organizations.
AWID: What is the situation now that there is a ceasefire?
JM: The ceasefire is clearly very fragile. Rockets are being fired from Gaza, and Israel has retaliated. Gaza is still recovering. Thousands do not have homes to return to. Families have been decimated. Public infrastructure is barely functioning. The recovery will take a long time, and will require concerted international efforts. Certainly this situation puts an additional burden on Palestinian women primarily responsible for taking care of the home and the children.
Inside Israel the heightened attention to security has always meant that the public space is disproportionately filled with retired generals. This is reflected in next week's elections to the Knesset, where the lists of the three largest parties are filled with generals, with very few women represented.
AWID: How do you think that the perpetual Israel/Palestine conflict can be settled permanently?
JM: B'Tselem is a human rights organization, not a political organization and we emphasize the distinction very clearly. However, it is clear that human rights violations will continue so long as there is no diplomatic resolution to the conflict and an end of the Israeli occupation. Our job is to make sure that any diplomatic resolution ensures respect for human rights.
NOTE: To read additional AWID interview and related articles and resouces on the conflict in Gaza, click here