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Al Jazeera Magazine – The siege of Gaza: Barack Obama’s first “test”?

By John L. Esposito

While some had predicted Barack Obama would be « tested » early in his administration by America’s enemy Osama, Obama’s first major foreign policy « test » has instead come from America’s ally, Israel.

Israel’s war in Gaza has been calculated and deliberately planned to occur at this time. The Israeli government has taken advantage of a world in which many are distracted by the global economic crisis and the celebration of Christmas and the New Year.

Equally important the bombing of Gaza has been executed on George Bush’s « watch » so that Israel can count on a Bush administration whose failure to act as an honest broker was seen most starkly in the U.S. silence and support during the Israeli war in Lebanon.

The Israelis struck during the U.S. presidential transition and before Barack Obama, who could prove less sympathetic, takes office.

The pretense for the bombings and threat to invade Gaza with ground troops is Hamas breaking the ceasefire by shelling Israel. However, Hamas started shelling after the talks to renew it failed.

Israel ignores the fact that during the ceasefire, Israel put up blockades to stop essential goods from getting in. The siege created a humanitarian catastrophe for Gaza’s 1.5 million Palestinian residents by restricting the provision of food, fuel, medicine, electricity, and other necessities of life.

The U.S. and Europe were complicit in the blockade of a democratically elected Hamas government, a siege whose primary victims have been Gaza civilians. Hamas fighters vented their anger by firing rockets.

Reports have been circulating for sometime in the Israeli press that the Israeli military was planning for and looking for a pretext or provocation to strike. Despite the fact that the fighters shelling did not kill a single Israeli, Israel acts as if it has been driven to a « fight to the bitter end. »

Following a past pattern, most recently in its humiliating defeat in the Israeli-Hezbollah war, the Israeli military engages in an all-out war that ignores moral and international standards of warfare: the bombings and massacre of more than 375 people and injuring of some 700 lacks any sense of proportionality.

Mosques and the Islamic University have been targeted and destroyed as have homes and hospitals. The Bush administration lamely and falsely blames Hamas, holding it alone responsible for the deaths. If Palestinians had slaughtered and injured a similar number of Israelis, the administration would denounce such actions as war crimes and rightly seek to mobilize the international community.

The international community must move swiftly not only to demand an immediate ceasefire as has the UN and EU but also put pressure on the Bush administration, which has in recent years claimed that it wishes to act multi-laterally and not unilaterally as it had in the decision to invade Iraq.

While the shelling by Hamas’ fighters cannot be condoned, Israel’s unbridled military response must also be condemned. Until the Israeli government gets a message that the international community will hold Israel to the same standards as it does other nations and the Palestinians, there can be no hope for peace negotiations to work.

President-elect Barack Obama cannot remain silent. While he is right to acknowledge that until January 20th George Bush is in charge of American foreign policy, for him to remain silent now will be seen as simply condoning Israel’s devastation of Gaza and undermine his promise of a new international vision and a new approach to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. He will be brush-stroked by the failed policies of the Bush administration in the Middle East and lose his credibility before he even comes to office with an Arab and Muslim world that sees his election as one of hope and promise.

— John L. Esposito is University Professor and Professor of Religion & International Affairs, Georgetown University and co-author of Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think.


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