Moments ago, after weeks of relentless humiliation for John Kerry, Israel and Hamas agreed to yet another 72 hour ceasefire - one which if the previous "ceasefires" are any indication, will be broken within hours if not minutes. Regardless, Kerry, who cobbled this agreement after much "hard work" alongside the UN's Ban Ki-moon, was ecstatic: "We urge all parties to act with restraint until this humanitarian ceasefire begins, and to fully abide by their commitments during the ceasefire," Kerry and Ban said. "This ceasefire is critical to giving innocent civilians a much-needed reprieve from violence."
What Kerry did not say is that the ceasefire is merely an extended occupation by the IDF: as Reuters reported, the ceasefire statement said "forces on the ground will remain in place" during the truce, implying that Israeli ground forces will not withdraw. Which also assures that it is only a matter of time before yet another stray rocket is launched into Israeli fields, before the IDF retaliates by blowing up another school or hospital allegedly housing Hamas rockets, and so on.
However, while this too ceasefire will come and go, something far more insidious is taking place in Gaza : as the Daily Beast reports, "The Israeli military, relentlessly and methodically, is driving people out of the 3-kilometer (1.8 mile) buffer zone it says it needs to protect against Hamas rockets and tunnels. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the buffer zone eats up about 44 percent of Gaza’s territory."
To be sure, Israel has been quite clear about its intentions and has given Gazans plenty of advance notice:
It’s not like Israel didn’t plan this. It told tens of thousands of Palestinians to flee so its air force, artillery and tanks could create this uninhabitable no-man’s land of half-standing, burned-out buildings, broken concrete and twisted metal. During a brief humanitarian ceasefire some Gazans were able to come back to get their first glimpse of the destruction this war has brought to their communities, and to sift through their demolished homes to gather clothes or other scattered bits of their past lives. But many were not even able to do that.
They will have a chance to do so again for the next three days, or whenever the ceasefire is broken again which will come first.
In the meantime, constant shelling and bombing have converted nearly half of Gaza into a inhospitable wasteland:
What that means on the ground is scenes of extraordinary devastation in places like the Al Shajaya district approaching Gaza’s eastern frontier, and Beit Hanoun in the north. These were crowded neighborhoods less than three weeks ago. Now they have been literally depopulated, the residents joining more than 160,000 internally displaced people in refuges and makeshift shelters. Apartment blocks are fields of rubble, and as I move through this hostile landscape the phrase that keeps ringing in my head is “scorched earth.”
The author of the original article reflects on a world that may as well have emerged from a TS Eliot poem:
In Beit Hanoun the systematic destruction mirrors Al Shajaya. I walk past old men and teenagers trying to lift cinderblocks and slabs of stucco with their bare hands, sometimes in search of a mattress and other times in search of a relative.
The desert of demolition only becomes more vast as I get closer to the Israeli border. Individually razed homes and stores give way to gray and white plains of obliterated walls with hills of contorted iron bars and broken-up slabs. Here the bodies are hidden under the new landscape and it will take more than a brief pause in fighting to unearth the gruesome extent of the town’s suffering.
“Scorched earth,” historically, means destroying land to deprive the encroaching enemy of its use. Israelis shy away from using the phrase to describe what they are doing because, in Israel, it brings to mind the strategy of the Nazi retreat from Russia at the end of the Second World War.
For Israel, there is a perverse strategy in leveling everything in their path: the practice of systematically flattening neighborhoods is focused on saving the lives of Israeli soldiers, who might otherwise be more exposed to hit-and-run attacks. "Israel is more sensitive than any other country in the West to the death of its soldiers," says Hebrew University political scientist Yaron Ezrahi "The death of [Palestinian] civilians is a moral crisis but is without political impact."
Precisely. And yet the ordinary [Palestinian] civilians, those who have never fired a gun in their lives, lives which sadly have zero "political impact" this is a tragedy beyond words:
When Rania Haels got within 60 feet of the debris that was once her family home in Al Shajaya on Saturday, a machine-gun on top of a nearby Israeli Merkava tank started firing. Probably these were warning shots pumped in her direction, but the 42-year-old mother of seven ran for her life. Now she stays with her family in an overcrowded parking garage in Gaza City and spends her days sitting in a public park full of refugees displaced by the Israeli push.
“We lost our homes and so now we live in the streets,” said Haels, holding a toddler in her arms who clings to her pastel-patterned hejab. “This war has destroyed me.” She says at least she knew where her home was. Some of her neighbors could not find their homes as they walked down streets made unrecognizable by the wreckage and horrifying by the presence of death.
Rashid al Delo and his 11 children were, like Haels, blocked by Israeli machine-gun fire when they tried to return to their home near the bombed-out Wafa Hospital in Al Shajaya. But despite the dire reality, al Delo, who used to work in Israel but has been unemployed these last 15 years, is determined to salvage his life.
At least they are not dead. However, with every passing day the probability of their survival declines. What is most tragic, however, is that regardless of who is to blame for the ongoing war which is merely the culmination of a middle-east conflict that has continued for thousands of years and whose origins are lost in the sands of time, the international community, so vocal when it comes to the pretense of humanitarian intervention in any other part of the world, is so remarkably incapable to do anything for the ordinary Palestinians who face not only the obliteration of their homes but systematic eradication. All the while the world screams but does nothing.
Why? So that a few rich men can promote their military interests and get even richer: a reason as old as the world itself.