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Mark Shields: The Suffering in Gaza Must Not Be Ignored

How long will America let Israel get away with its war on the Palestinians?

The Israeli military invasion and assault on Gaza that began Dec. 27 “has crushed the military organization of Hamas, killed senior figures of the group, but also killed hundreds of civilians and injured thousands. The basic infrastructure in the Gaza Strip has also suffered a fatal blow. The UNWRA (U.N. Works and Relief Agency) hospital and food agencies that were hit (Thursday) now join a list of population centers and power plants which have already been struck in the operation.”

Mark Shields
Mark Shields
That is not the indictment of the spokesman of a government unfriendly to the Jewish state. That was the Friday editorial in Israel’s oldest newspaper, Haaretz.

Those who care about Israel and its future well-being do that nation harm by uncritically cheerleading — as both American political parties have overwhelmingly done — Israel’s unleashing of its modern war machine in Gaza. “Israel, Right or Wrong ” is not a strategy, it is a disservice and, potentially, a prescription for disaster.

First, a genuine and deserved denunciation of Hamas, whose “courageous” leaders, such as Khaled Meshaal, from their safe havens in Damascus urge the suffering residents of Gaza to suffer more in a futile battle against the Israelis. Hamas’ criminal and terrorist actions have rightly earned the censure of so many. And, yes, civilian neighborhoods of Israel had been subjected to Hamas rocket attacks from Gaza.

But just imagine if what has happened in Gaza in the first weeks of January had happened in the United States. In Gaza, 1.5 million exist on what is commonly called “the most densely populated area in the world.” As of this writing, some 1,100 Palestinians have been killed, more than 400 of them women and children, and more than 5,000 wounded in less than three weeks of war. There are by actual count only 164 intensive-care beds in all of Gaza. In this war, deaths and casualties of Palestinians are running more than 100 to one over those of Israelis. If the United States had suffered comparable casualties, the numbers would be mind-numbing: 221,000 dead and more than 1 million wounded.

Life in Gaza is so terrible it could make the survivors envy the dead. Two-thirds of the people are now without power; half of the residents are without running water. In peacetime, half the population depends on the UNWRA for its food.

In addition to the deprivation, humanitarian and relief workers have reported Israeli forces preventing paramedics and other medical personnel from treating the wounded. Doctors have been denied admission into the territory. The Israelis have imposed a media blackout, effectively keeping out most foreign news coverage. That has meant that the sources of information from the front have been primarily the individuals and officials doing humanitarian work.

That has not been good for Israel. The International Committee of the Red Cross, traditionally dispassionate in its statements, condemned Israeli policy of refusing to allow rescuers to reach a Gaza City neighborhood where wounded civilians were untreated for four days. When Red Cross teams finally gained entrance, they found in one home four small children, too weak to stand up, lying next to the corpses of their mothers. The Red Cross official on the scene concluded, “The Israeli military must have been aware of the situation but did not assist the wounded.”

Nine human rights organizations in Israel, including Physicians for Human Rights, charged that Israel’s conduct in Gaza “constitutes a blatant violation of the laws of warfare and raises the suspicion, which we ask to be investigated, of the commission of war crimes.” Israel responds that it does everything possible to avoid civilian casualties, but that Hamas uses civilian buildings, including schools and private homes, for operations weapons storage.

The question before the world — including most especially the American people, Israel’s indispensable and unflinching ally — is this: Does the catastrophic suffering of our fellow human beings in Gaza bother us enough to stop handicapping the Oscars or betting on the Super Bowl or naming the Obamas’ new dog in order to end the war and the hurt? Think about it, please.

Mark Shields is one of the most widely recognized political commentators in the United States. The former Washington Post editorial columnist appears regularly on CNN, on public television and on radio. Click here to contact him.

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