Palestinian leader says Gaza war will end only when peace talks start
by Bernardo Cervellera
For Prof Bernard Sabella, this war that has lasted for 25 days is bound to continue indefinitely if leaders do not agree to open talks on "two peoples-two states." Gaza's youth (75 per cent of the population) has no economic and social prospects. Fundamentalism is growing even among Israelis. A ruthless war, in which both Hamas and Israel use civilians as a shield.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) - The announcement of a 72-hour truce - already violated with Israel and Hamas blaming each - appears to confirm Prof Bernard Sabella's (quite realistic) scepticism. Prof Sabella, a Catholic and Fatah representative for Jerusalem, is executive secretary of the Department of Service to Palestinian Refugees (DSPR) of the Middle East Council of Churches. I talked to him on the phone.

Professor, you continue to emphasise that there is no perspective and direction in this war.

The fundamental problem is that no one is able to reach a peaceful solution. The Israeli leadership needs to move, and does nothing instead. They want to keep the (illegal) West Bank settlements and go on as if it was not wrong. Instead, we have solve the problem that exists between us Israelis and Palestinians and that is the question of territory, once and for all.

The efforts of US Secretary of State John Kerry, for more than a year, did not come to anything because the Israeli government did not want to move on a substantive point: the recognition of a Palestinian state, once and for all.

Many people in the West think that the only problem is the rockets fired by Hamas, but I wonder: what is the cause, the root of this situation? I do not want to justify what Hamas does, but at the root of this there is the continued Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories; for years Gaza Strip has been under siege, not eight years, as some say, but 12 years.

Now politicians on both sides are using the population as hostages and each side blames the other for the killings and destruction. The way Israel is bombing civilians in Gaza is terrible. I know for certain that UNRWA [the UN organisation for Palestinian refugees] sent many messages to the Israeli army showing the places where there are schools, offices, shelters for the population, but two schools were hit. Israel's excuses or pretexts are not convincing . . .

Excuse me, but there is evidence that militant groups in the Gaza Strip are using civilian homes to hide weapons or launch their missiles near population centres . . .

Sure, but that does not justify the destruction of an entire neighbourhood. It does not justify killing children playing at the beach, or playing in a yard. For this reason, people are terrified. On the one hand, the army tells them to go away; on the other hand, if people move, they are hit all the same. And then they say to stay at home, but then bomb the house.

It is indiscriminate killing. What Israel is doing is against all international laws applicable in times of war. I repeat: I am not in any way justifying the firing of rockets against Israeli civilians' homes - that is another problem - but at the same time, hitting and killing whole families, just because inside that house there is one person to hit, or because supposedly there is a tunnel in that house. That is not justifiable.

This attitude is similar to that of Islamic fundamentalists: since you are not a believer, you are not on our side, we will kill you.

Israel and Hamas share responsibility for using civilians as a shield, forcing people into a dangerous situation. But Israel cannot claim that all Palestinians in Gaza are with Hamas; it cannot treat them all as terrorists, hitting everything, even churches.

Pope Francis, when he came to Jerusalem, said that everyone should try to feel the pain of the other. In this war, it seems that everyone is worried by their own pain . . .

The problem is that Israeli society has become increasingly polarised. At least 87% of Israel's population supports this war. This huge majority certainly does not feel the pain of the Palestinians. We see from the expressions of racism on the internet and on television.

Even the Palestinians for their part are starting to say: I do not want to talk with Israel. We want to get it over with because they do not care about our pain.

Even a well-known intellectual and academic like Benny Morris has come out with a statement that says: 'We must defeat Hamas'. What does that mean? Do you want to destroy and raze Gaza to the ground? Is this a path that will lead to peace?

I am not saying that Hamas bears no responsibility or Palestinians in general. I am saying that the gap between Israelis and Palestinians has become so wide that any attempt to open a dialogue is bound to be difficult.

For this reason, we need courageous leaders. Politicians are not helping our peoples because they always call for a truce under certain conditions. Instead, the UN has called for a truce without conditions.

We are in a terrible situation. Many Palestinian doctors from the West Bank would like to go to Gaza to help the health emergency in the Strip and give the exhausted medical staff some time to rest after 24 days of treating bombing victims. The Israeli military said no, that they would not allow it.

In Gaza, there is no water, no electricity; the sewage system is broken. Life in Gaza has gone back to the Middle Ages, even to the stone age!

Is this a way towards peace? Where does the responsibility of leaders lay when it comes to  thinking about a path out of this situation? I must say that the problem is mainly the Israeli leadership because they have power but not the will. Sure, we all feel the pain of others, but who feels my pain, my desire for freedom, for an end of the occupation?

A friend of mine in Gaza told me yesterday that if Hamas is eliminated here in the Strip, we will have even more problems because there will be more groups, even more fundamentalist ones, and there will be more disasters. I believe that if we do not start a dialogue now, if we do not talk and feel each other's pain, we will move forward from one war to another, and then another, without end.

And this is not good for either Palestinians or Israelis. We need to decide to start on a real path towards peace, and immediately stop the war in Gaza.

A dialogue between Israel and Palestine should have specific interlocutors, but who leads the Palestinians? Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas leader in Gaza, has lost control of the situation; Khaled Meshaal leads Palestinians from Doha (Qatar); Mahmoud Abbas has resigned as president. There is not a single Palestinian interlocutor.

I disagree. This war shows the important and constructive role played by the leadership in Ramallah [Mahmoud Abbas]. Today those in Ramallah are heeding the people's voice and speaking for the people of Gaza. Meshaal met Abbas. Saeb Erakat [PLO Palestinian negotiator] yesterday went to Doha to talk with Meshaal. These are all signs that the Palestinian Authority is the voice of all the Palestinian people.

I think the problem lies mainly with Israel, if you really want the two peoples, two States solution. And if they do not want that solution, what then? Go on as now? That is not possible. In the West Bank 50 per cent of the Palestinian population is under 25 years; in Gaza it is 75 per cent. What can we do with these people? They have no job, no future, no economic prospects . . .

You say that Hamas is the problem. That is not true. Hamas is not the only problem. It is necessary to give these people a future making a political, cultural, and economic commitment. This is why politicians should not just "play" but offer solutions. If the Israeli government does not offer solutions, even if they destroy all the tunnels today, people will still be there. Gaza will still be there. Even if you got rid of Hamas, what would happen then?

How do you see the attitude of the international community?

Unfortunately, we hear around us the politicians of the European Union and those of the United who have thrown in the towel and say: We cannot do anything. So what? What do you want to do? Bring some of economic aid for the emergency?

Taking care of 250,000 displaced people at UN facilities (which are perhaps half a million if you count those in Catholic schools, churches, hospitals . . .) will not solve anything.

What about after? A new war? Strengthen a group that hates you? That one day you will be able to make war against you?

Palestinians are responsible for many things, but what about Israel? If Israeli leaders do not come up once and for all with a proposal for the future, we will remain mired in violence. And these are the leaders who are concerned about the safety of their own people?

How to get out of this impasse? It is important to respond to our peoples. My thoughts are that unless there is a move to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian problem permanently, the tragedy that we are witnessing these days in Gaza will be repeated continuously, endlessly.