Saturday, November 11

The Aftermath of the Bet Hanoun Tragedy

The unfortunate loss of life of 19 civilians in Bet Hanoun on Wednesday morning, 8th November 2006, has resulted in the predicted outcries of grief, anguish and anti-Israel rhetoric from the Palestinians. Israel has apologized for the unfortunate tragedy and an investigation into the cause is now underway. All of us are upset about this tragic loss of life and while it is true that no matter how many apologies are uttered it will not bring the dead back. However, the question that should be uppermost in our minds is “Where do we go from here?” It is a matter of urgency to end the bloodshed on both sides. No side will gain from the deadly Qassam rocket fire into Israel or the Israeli military retaliations which will cause further death and misery to the Palestinian People.

According to a report in Haaretz 11th November, 2006, the United Nations Security Council will discuss on Saturday a softened version of a proposed resolution calling for a condemnation of Israel for killing 19 Palestinian civilians in Beit Hanun on Wednesday because of Israel Defense Forces artillery shelling.The proposed resolution, initiated by Qatar, originally called for an "immediate investigation into the massacre that took place in Beit Hanun" and for Israel to "cease all violence against the civilian population in the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem."

The Qatari draft also demanded the deployment of UN observers in the area to oversee the implementation of the cease-fire outlined in the draft. Unfortunately, the record of UN observers in this area has been poor and ineffective. They have had no influence in preventing violence at all.In its current softened version, the resolution no longer calls the shelling a "massacre" and does not include the demand to place international observers in the northern Gaza Strip.The resolution includes a demand that Israel vacate its soldiers from the Gaza Strip.

While the resolution falls short of total condemnation of Israel, it does not take into consideration the provocations of Qassam rocket fire into Sderot and Ashkelon in the south of Israel. The fact that there have been relatively few losses in life and damage to property is because of the inaccuracy of these rockets. However, the psychological damage to victims is great. This, unfortunately, cannot be measured accurately. The UN Security Council resolution in this context shows some balance but falls short of demanding the immediate release of Gilad Shalit the Israeli soldier kidnapped in June.

If Israel would withdraw its soldiers from Gaza then there should be provisions to replace them with an International Force, similar to the International Force stationed in Lebanon. The border between Israel and Lebanon is relatively quiet. At least for the moment, the International Force does seem to be effective. This International Force should have powers of monitoring violations between the two sides and preventing any hostile activity between Israel and the Palestinians. It is odd that the resolution proposed does not make any provisions for that and seems to lay an emphasis on Israeli Army withdrawal without any form of security monitoring on both sides in order to prevent tragedies between the two sides from occurring. The resolution calls for an international enquiry into the tragedy. It is reasonable to assume that an internal Israeli Army enquiry is not sufficient. It is important that the findings of an Israeli Army enquiry be ratified also by the findings of an international enquiry in order to prevent possible Israeli Army cover-ups of this tragedy and thus increase Israel’s credibility.  This is positive if it is objective and accepts the evidence of the Israeli side no less than the Palestinian side and reaches a fair conclusion. This is the attitude of Human Rights Watch (HRW) according to reports from Aljazeera.

There are reports of the possible resignation of Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas Prime Minister in order to pave the way for uplifting the embargo on Hamas. This is not sufficient unless there is a change of attitude on the side of Hamas in ceasing terror and recognizing Israel’s right to exist. However, it may be a sign towards some moderation and a movement towards a new path of recognizing Israel and ceasing violence. After all, Haniyeh has been considered a more moderate Hamas leader. If he leaves the scene, who knows who will replace him? If Haniyeh resigns, this does not mean an automatic facilitation of forming a National Unity Government between Hamas and Fatah. The main sticking points of recognizing Israel and ceasing violence are still not clear.

However, the magnitude of this tragedy is so great and may emphasize the futility of the Hamas present attitude towards Israel. This could cause a change in direction of Hamas’s thinking towards recognizing Israel. Hopefully, it will result in an improvement in the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians and a chance for a peaceful solution to the conflict.

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