Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Israel's charity should begin at home

Israel's charity should begin at home

Israel's charity should begin at home

I read with interest of the Israeli ambassador visiting Phnom Penh to discuss ways of improving medical treatment in Cambodia and offering some second-hand military ambulances ("Israelis drop in to do good deeds", Post, December 1, 2006). But what a pity Israelis have to travel so far from home to do good.

The donation of army medical vehicles shouldn't be too taxing. Israel is itself the recipient of United States aid on a far grander scale. This year alone it received $1.8 billion in military aid and $1.2 billion in economic aid - one-third of all American foreign aid - and a further $2 billion in federal loan guarantees, according to the Palestine Free Voice web site.

That Israel, a fully developed modern state, is the recipient annually of such enormous amounts of American aid enables it to continue its 39-year-long illegal and violent occupation of Palestinian territory in the West Bank and Gaza in defiance of United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.

Unicef reported on October 5 that the occupying Israeli army had killed 91 children in the West Bank and Gaza during the first nine months of 2006. I have read no reports of any Palestinian children being taken to hospital by the army's four-wheel-drive medical trucks. Perhaps they are reserved for Israeli soldiers hit by the occasional child-thrown stone.

In the course of their discussions with government officials the Israeli ambassador and her consul perhaps could have swapped some handy hints on state-sanctioned expropriation of privately owned land and the forced eviction of lawful owners.

The Israeli organization Peace Now says leaked official maps and other data show that almost 40 percent of the land appropriated by Israel for its settlements in the occupied West Bank is the private property of Palestinians, according to a Reuters report on November 22. The use of private land is especially prevalent in settlements that successive Israeli governments have said they are determined to keep: data for the largest settlement of those built on occupied West Bank territory, Ma'ale Adumim, to the east of Jerusalem, indicates that 86.4 per cent of it is built on privately owned Palestinian land.

Peace Now says the data demonstrate that "in addition to ignoring international laws and agreements, Israel has violated its own norms and laws in the West Bank through the confiscation of private Palestinian property and the building of settlements upon them."

But illegal occupation of territory, confinement of its occupants into Bantustans and seizure and destruction of their property are only a few of the State of Israel's offenses against humanity.

On June 25 this year Palestinian militants in Gaza killed two Israeli soldiers and kidnapped a third. Israel's response was to close all entry points to Gaza, and in the months since to conduct frequent military ground raids and bombings that are reported to have killed 262 Gazans and wounded 1,200.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency and the UN World Food Program report that Israel's military and economic siege of Gaza has led to a collapse in Palestinian living conditions, with people surviving by scavenging food scraps from rubbish dumps. The agencies say 70 percent of Gazans cannot get enough to eat: they are starving.

In June the Israeli air force destroyed Gaza's electrical power plant, an action the Israeli human rights group B'tselem has described as a war crime.

Gaza's 35,000 fishermen cannot fish because Israeli gunboats fire on them if they go more than a few hundred meters offshore, according to London's Independent newspaper. And the international boycott of the Hamas government means there is no foreign aid to pay Palestinian government employees. The Palestinian government's monthly budget has fallen from nearly $200 million to $25 million, meaning 165,000 public sector workers go unpaid.

To Israel's north, Hizbollah killed three Israeli soldiers and captured two on July 12 - not a particularly clever move in the light of Israel's response to the Gaza kidnapping a few weeks earlier.

But "disproportionate" is not a strong enough word to describe Israel's retaliatory destruction of Lebanon during July and August: 1,187 Lebanese civilians killed - one third of them children - a million people displaced, and damage to infrastructure estimated at $3.5 billion, according to Wikipedia.

During the final days of hostilities, when a UN-sponsored ceasefire was imminent, the Israeli air force is reported to have dropped four million cluster-bomblets in 800 locations in southern Lebanon. According to the Lebanon Daily Star, one million of these remain live, contaminating farmland and residential areas. The continuing toll of these bomblets is an average of three people killed or wounded every day.

The cause of Israel's difficulties in its neighborhood is its near-60-year exile of a vast number of Palestinians, and its subjugation of millions more.

If Israel desires international respect, it should forgo benevolent gestures in safely distant East Asian countries and concentrate on curing the ills of its own making nearer home. That will include withdrawing from all the Palestinian land it has occupied since 1967, recognizing Palestinian sovereignty, and allowing the return with their families of the Palestinians who fled their homes and lands in 1948 to escape the terrorism of Irgun Zvai Leumi and the Stern Gang. Charity should begin at home.

John Trezise - Phnom Penh


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