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Concerned more for the dead than for the living

By Punyapriya Dasgupta

11/16/06 "
Information Clearing House" -- - “The living will envy the dead”. This apocalyptic prophecy, some Catholics believe, was by an apparition of the Virgin Mary relayed through a couple of Portuguese shepherd girls in 1917, the year of the Bolshevik revolution in Russia. In his days of leadership of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev reportedly used, during the negotiations with America for an arms limitations agreement, the same warning to highlight the pressing need he felt for foolproof safeguards against nuclear conflicts. With a small grammatical change the quote very aptly summarizes the mental reaction of many Palestinians to the report of British “fury” at the damage done by Israel to the war-dead in a Gaza cemetery.

The graveyard, on the outskirts of Gaza city, is 86 years old and holds the remains of more than 3000 soldiers of the British Commonwealth killed during World War I and a couple of hundred who died during World War II. During Israel’s overmuch revengeful thrust into Gaza after the capture of one of its soldiers by a Palestinian militia four months ago, a bulldozer broke into this cemetery and damaged headstones. The British embassy in Tel Aviv immediagely lodged a protest but has not heard in reply yet from the Israeli government. Additionally, an Israeli attack helicopter sprayed the tombstones in the cemetery with cannon-fire about the same time artillery committed the notorious massacre of 19 sleeping Palestinians at Beit Hanoun which, according to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was a “technical” error but could “happen again”.
According to the Daily Telegraph of London, the British are feeling frustrated and exasperated. “The security situation is so poor that this year, for the first time, British diplomats were unable to organize a remembrance service at the cemetery.” The Holy Land representative of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission said: “I just wish the Israelis would pay more attention to what they are doing.” But Israel has gone well past that stage. It does not consider itself answerable to anyone for its assaults on the living or on the dead. The Daily Telegraph sent a detailed questionnaire to the Israeli Defence Force and got in reply what amounted to a dismissal in the form of a curt statement that the Israeli army did not target “religious sites”.

Yet by their prompt diplomatic intercession the British managed to save their war graves from worse damage by Israeli forces. During Israel’s ‘Operation Summer Rain’ in June-July the local Palestinian caretaker of the cemetery alerted the British embassy in Tel Aviv through the War Graves Commission’s Jerusalem representative that a bulldozer had broken through a wall. Olive and lemon trees inside the cemetery were uprooted and the graves looked like going to be overrun by the time British diplomats got the IDF to order the bulldozer away. The Palestinians in Gaza, at constant risk of being killed by artillery fire or missile strikes, cannot but be envying their British neighbours lying in ancient graves.

The British intercede when they see their war dead threatened but when innocent Palestinians are killed in their sleep by monstrous unprovoked Israeli violence, they set about quibbling about the balance of blame between the two sides. The British Foreign Secretary said after the Beit Hanoun massacre that it was hard to see what that Israeli action was meant to achieve and how it could be justified. Yett when it came to voting on a Qatari resolution seeking to condemn that action, Britain’s representative chose to abstain because she felt – no doubt on instructions from the Foreign Office in London – that it was absolutely right that the Council should act on the issue of the consequences of Israeli military action resulting in loss of civilian lives “but it was essential to act in a manner that was balanced”! That abstention for a cynically contrived reason was, by an ironic coincidence, on November 11 --- the same day marked on its calendar as Remembrance Day -- the British embassy in Tel Aviv was fuming at Israeli military activities which had forced the first break in the more than 85-year-old tradition of wreath-laying at the war cemetery in Gaza .

Punyapriya Dasgupta, journalist, can be reached at siliserh@yahoo.co.in

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