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Opinion: Israel Faces a Growing Barrage of Criticism

The UN Security Council has passed a resolution condemning Israel's killing of civilians and demolition of homes in the Gaza Strip. The U.S. abstained -- a sign that its normally staunch support for Israel is fading.


Israel denies deliberately firing on Palestinian demonstrators.

We'll probably never know the exact number of victims. But what happened near Rafah in the southern end of the Gaza Strip is clearly the worst escalation in the 37-year old Israeli occupation: In less than 24 hours, at least 25 dead -- half that number in a single incident as an Israeli tank and military helicopter fired into a thousand-strong group of demonstrators.

In the past, human rights organizations such as Amnesty International have deemed Israeli actions in the region to be war crimes. This time, the United Nations Security Council also found the harshest words to condemn Israel. The resolution was made all the more remarkable by the fact that the United States -- which usually vetoes anti-Israeli resolutions -- abstained.

Israel is facing an increasing barrage of criticism that cannot be overlooked. But Israeli officials continue to act as though they have nothing to worry about. The "operations" in Rafah are forging ahead. The death of innocent civilians is "regrettable."

Denial, indifference

Government spokespeople tried to deny that demonstrators were attacked. A warning shot accidentally hit the crowd, they said. Then, we were told that Palestinians were to blame for allowing gunmen to mix in with a civilian crowd. Another official simply said that civilians who hang around in warzones should know they're taking a risk.

That must sound like sheer mockery in the ears of the Palestinians. Civilians weren't just "hanging around" there -- they live in the area, and were demonstrating against the destruction of hundreds of homes, and against the restrictions they face in their daily lives because of the occupation.

Many of these restrictions run contrary to the Geneva Convention, and to most international agreements. In Israel's official circles, one frequently hears the opinion that such conventions don't apply when they stand in the way a state's own military and political strategy. For decades now, Israel has insisted that the West Bank and Gaza Strip aren't really "occupied territories" and for that reason, the Geneva Convention doesn't have to be obeyed there.

Understandable motive

The reason for the army's incursions? Weapons and explosives are being smuggled from Egypt into the Gaza Strip through underground tunnels. Israel says the offensive will continue until it can be sure that these tunnels are cut off for good.

It's an understandable motive, but it in no way can it or should it justify the random killing of civilians, especially children. In the most macabre of ways, parallels are being drawn between Israel's actions in Rafah, and those of the U.S. in Fallujah -- between the shooting of demonstrators, and the U.S. bombing of a wedding party in western Iraq. There, just as in Israel, soldiers become extremely thin-skinned, and find themselves making knee-jerk reactions in certain situations. First, they fire, and only then -- sometimes -- do they ask.

Still, there are voices in the Israeli public, and in the government, who are drawing the only appropriate conclusion from this current situation. The occupation has to end. In the case of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, those voices have yet to be heard. But Washington's decision to abstain from the Rafah question points to the first stirrings of change.

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