By Michael Brull, Randa Abdel-Fattah and Amy McQuire
Originally published on ABC Religion.
Dear Mr Turnbull,
We read your recent interview with Chris Uhlmann with concern. When asked about Israel’s attack on Gaza, you said that “Israel risks extinction” and that the “fundamental issue” is Israel protecting the “safety of its people” because Israel “faces an existential threat.” To justify this, you referred to the rockets fired by Hamas at Israel.
So, let us set out some of the relevant facts.
According to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, from June 2004 to 23 July 2014, rockets and mortars fired from Gaza have killed 26 Israeli civilians. If one also counts soldiers, foreign nationals and Palestinians, rockets and mortars have killed 48 people. The cumulative effect of a decade of rockets fired from Gaza has resulted in roughly the number of deaths of somewhere between a day and half a day of Israel’s current bombardment of Gaza.
So if Israel’s massive destruction of Gaza is justified because it faces an “existential risk,” because of those rockets, and Israel has an overriding obligation to “defend the safety of its own people,” what is the obligation of the Palestinian people in Gaza? To meekly accept their own slaughter and subjugation?
You say that “Israelis have to try to work out how to eliminate the source of the missiles” from Gaza. We know what it takes for Palestinians to stop firing rockets, because they’ve done so for great lengths of time in the past and the evidence indicates that it is Israel, not Hamas, who is the “serial truce-breaker.”
If Israel is serious about addressing the underlying cause of hostilities, then why does it not accept Hamas’s modest ceasefire conditions? Hamas offered terms for a 10 year ceasefire. Indeed, Ha’aretz journalist Gideon Levy has written, “Read the list of demands and judge honestly whether there is one unjust demand among them.”
As long as Israel refuses to end its aggression, do Palestinians not have a responsibility to try to end the bombardment of Gaza? If you are opposed to Palestinians engaging in violent resistance to the bombardment of Gaza, how do you suggest that they protect their own citizens? Or do only Israelis deserve protection?
You may say that even if few Israelis are killed by rockets, many of them are forced to live in fear because of them. According to B’Tselem, from July 8 to July 30 this year, Israel killed at least 1262 Palestinians, including 314 children. 90 percent of those killed by Israel were civilians.
According to the latest report by the United Nation’s Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 137 schools in Gaza have been damaged by Israeli bombing, including 88 United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) schools. Over 250,000 Palestinians need emergency food assistance. 9,815 families have had homes destroyed or damaged to the point that about 58,900 people in Gaza need emergency shelter assistance. An additional 5,005 families (an estimated 58,900 individuals) have homes that are habitable, but need “emergency shelter repairs interventions.” 28,400 more families (an estimated 170,400 individuals) also require assistance with damage to their homes. In a population of 1.8 million people, about 14% have sustained damage to their homes.
Israel bombed Gaza’s only power plant, so now most Palestinians in Gaza get little or no electricity each day. OCHA has reported that:
“It is estimated that the entire population has reduced or no access to water, due to electricity shortages, lack of fuel and inability of the water network to reach certain streets, areas on higher altitude or upper levels of multi-storey buildings. Many are also exposed to public health risks due to the mixing of sewage with water from damages that occurred in the sanitation system, the lack of chlorination and the lack of solid waste collection.”
24 hospitals and medical clinics have been bombed by Israel, and 25 ambulances have been bombed too. Eight of UNRWA’s staff have been killed, and four water and sanitation technicians have been killed. 29 Palestinian Red Crescent and Ministry of Health ambulances have been damaged. Critical supplies of medicines and disposables are reported to have almost depleted too. On Saturday, the United Nations described the situation as a “health and humanitarian disaster,” and expressed “grave concern about the lack of protection for medical staff and facilities, and the deteriorating access to emergency health services.”
Within the confines of this letter, we cannot even begin to explain the devastation of Gaza caused by Israeli barbarism. So consider one more fact from the OCHA report. They estimate that over 300,000 Palestinian children require “direct and specialised psychosocial support.” After all the horrors and bloodshed of almost four weeks of bombing and invasion, a generation of Palestinian children are growing up with indescribable trauma. And you dare to say that the “fundamental” issue is whether or not Israelis feel safe?
An August 2012 report by UNRWA wondered if Gaza would be a liveable place by 2020. At that time, about 80% of Palestinians depended on food aid, and 90% of water was not safe for drinking. And this because of the appalling blockade on Gaza. UNRWA asked if Gaza would be liveable, before Israel’s savage attack on Gaza.
And you tell us Israel risks extinction. You are either profoundly ignorant, or profoundly indecent.
Michael Brull, Randa Abdel-Fattah and Amy McQuire
Michael Brull is Jewish. He has written for a range of publications, including The Guardian, the National Times, Crikey, ABC’s The Drum, New Matilda and elsewhere. He has recently completed a Juris Doctor at UNSW.
Amy McQuire is a Darumbal woman and former editor of Tracker and the National Indigenous Times.
Randa Abdel-Fattah is of Palestinian and Egyptian heritage. She is the author of nine books, former lawyer and a doctoral candidate in the department of sociology at Macquarie University.