Thursday, April 18, 2024
 
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Rafah Under Siege



Asad Mirza

It seems that at last, the international community and leaders have become fully exasperated with Israel over its continued aggression against Israel. The EU Vice-Chief and US president have sharply criticised Netanyahu’s plans to lay siege to Rafah.

After decimating Gaza completely, it seems that Israel is hell-bent on laying siege to Rafah, the last border point for Palestinians, on its border with Egypt. Israeli strategy right from day one, after it claimed the Hamas attack on 7 October, as an attack on its sovereignty and against Israeli citizens, is to get the whole of Palestine cleared of Palestinians, so that in future it could reinforce its claim to the ‘promised land’ for Jews only.

On this point it also negates the history of the Abrahamic faiths, and instead of being inclusive, by assimilating Christians and Muslims communities in Israel, it lays claim to the whole of Israel, by displacing the original inhabitants of Palestine – the land of Canaanites.

However, the recent outrage expressed by international leaders, gives hope that the international comity is coming together to isolate Israel, on its aggressive policy towards Palestinians. The latest Israeli strategy is to decimate the city of Rafah after more or less completely destroying the Gaza city and parts of West Bank.

The Vice-President and EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell Fontelles sharply criticised the Biden administration for ignoring the growing death toll in Gaza while, at the same time, providing Israel with weapons to prop up its military campaign.

Speaking in Brussels on Monday, hours after Israeli forces bombarded the southern Gazan town of Rafah, the EU's foreign policy chief called on Washington to stop pleading with Israel to cease the killing of civilians and to start “doing something” instead.

Borrell further said that if you believe that too many people are being killed, maybe you should provide fewer arms in order to prevent so many people being killed. Responding to Netanyahu’s statement that refugees in Rafah would be evacuated from the area before a major military offensive, Borrell said: “Where? To the moon? Where are they going to evacuate these people to?”

International Outrage
The EU reproach came hours after an appeals court in the Netherlands ordered the government to halt deliveries of parts of F-35 fighter jets to Israel for fears that Dutch exports could be contributing to violations of international law in light of the ICJ ruling.

In addition, outpourings by international leaders and various countries suggest that more and more countries are now coming out against Israel and its policy of apartheid against Palestinians.

Meanwhile, the US administration has in recent months bypassed Congress to continue sending weapons to Israel, whilst also calling for restraint in its war in Gaza, which has claimed the lives of some 28,000 Palestinians, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

Senate Democrats have in recent days pushed on the White House to consult Congress before any future arms sales to Tel Aviv, fearing American complicity in the devastation and humanitarian crisis wrecked on Gaza.

President Biden responded to those calls last Thursday with an executive order authorising the cut-off of military aid to foreign governments that do not abide by international law. The memorandum claims to "strengthen" US national security by "reinforcing respect for human rights, international humanitarian law, democratic governance, and the rule of law," and hopes to "reduce the risk of civilian harm."

It is estimated that Israel has received more military aid from the US than any other nation since the 1950s owing to a long-standing, bipartisan policy of support.

Data shows that many other EU countries – including Italy and Germany – have also provided Israel with some of the military equipment and components used in its offensives.

Barcelona-based Centre Delàs d’Estudis per la Pau (Centre of Studies for Peace J.M. Delàs) in one of its reports said that Europeans are together “one of Israel's main suppliers of military systems and equipment” behind the US, and that member states have licensed military contracts worth over €2 billion to Israel.

Organisations like Amnesty International and the European Network Against Arms Trade (ENAAT) have long called for a comprehensive arms embargo on both Israel and Hamas.

Rafah’s Siege
Meanwhile, in a somewhat encouraging development, US President Joe Biden has added his voice to growing international calls for Israel to drop plans for an all-out military assault on the city of Rafah, in southern Gaza, after a ferocious hostage rescue operation that killed dozens of Palestinians.

Speaking after talks with Jordan’s King Abdullah at the White House on Monday, the US president said that a major military operation in Rafah should not proceed without a credible plan for ensuring the safety and support of more than one million people sheltering there.

King Abdullah echoed Biden’s appeal for a broad ceasefire, saying, “We cannot stand by and let this continue. We need a lasting ceasefire now. This war must end.”

Borrell’s sentiments were echoed in more diplomatic language by David Cameron, the British foreign secretary, who said: “It really, we think, is impossible to see how you can fight a war among these people, there is nowhere for them to go.”

Penny Wong, the Australian foreign minister, also suggested that a failure to ensure special care for civilians in Rafah would “cause serious harm to Israel’s own interests.”

Last week, her German counterpart, Annalena Baerbock, warned that an Israeli offensive on Rafah would be a “humanitarian catastrophe in the making. The people in Gaza cannot disappear into thin air.”

Volker Türk, the UN’s human rights chief, said: “The world must not allow this to happen. Those with influence must restrain rather than enable.”

Hundreds of thousands of families from other parts of Gaza who are now living in makeshift tents in Rafah, which sits on the border with Egypt, have moved up to half a dozen times in the past four months in desperate attempts to flee bombardment and ground fighting.

Despite mounting warnings from aid agencies and the international community that an assault on Rafah would be catastrophic, Netanyahu has reiterated his intention to extend Israel’s offensive. Hamas said a new advance into Rafah would “blow up” continuing negotiations to return hostages in exchange for a ceasefire.

The only encouraging sign emerging during the last week is that many European supporters of Israel are coming out openly against Israel and its aggressive policies. Now it remains to be seen whether they’ll be able to execute these sentiments into real action on the ground or not.




(Asad Mirza is a Delhi-based senior political and international affairs commentator.)







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