Taking in consideration the current financial crisis and the lowered expectations of the American people, Obama’s honeymoon domestically might last for a long time. To the contrary, Obama and his administration might not be as lucky on the international stage.
In his inauguration address, Obama struck all the right notes, “to all the other peoples and governments, who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born, know that America is a friend of each nation, and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity. And we are ready to lead once more.” The subsequent media reports indicate that a world starving for a new American foreign policy is optimistic, excited, and open for the possibilities.
However, the ramifications of the recent Israeli operation in Gaza might be the first real test for the new president as calls for war crimes investigation mount.
The Palestinian Center for Human Rights has been publishing daily death toll updates since the beginning of the war, with names, ages and whether the victims were civilians or combatants, and expects to present the final list in several days. http://www.pchrgaza.org/files/W_report/English/2008/22-01-2009.htmThe group released a tally on Wednesday January 21, saying 1,284 Gazans were killed and 4,336 wounded. The report indicates that 894 of the dead were civilians, including 280 children and minors (17 and under), as well as 111 women. The remaining 390 dead were members of Hamas or other militant groups. They included 167 civil police; many of them killed on the job, and 223 fighters. The fighters figure is higher than the 158 acknowledged by Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other militant groups.
The huge disparity between these numbers and the thirteen killed –four by friendly fire- on the Israeli side, created a backlash across the world. In addition, there are mounting credible evidence of the IDF use of white-phosphorus and depleted uranium –two illegal weapons- during the operation Cast Lead.
According to the Times Online, photographic evidence has emerged that proves that Israel has been using controversial white phosphorus shells during its offensive in Gaza. The use of white phosphorus against civilians is prohibited under international law. The Times has identified stockpiles of white phosphorus (WP) shells from high-resolution images taken of Israel Defence Forces (IDF) artillery units on the Israeli-Gaza border this week. The pale blue 155mm rounds are clearly marked with the designation M825A1, an American-made WP imunition.
The Human Rights Watch made the same accusation on Jan. 10, in the midst of the fighting, and the United Nations said it also believed the munitions had been used. The Amnesty's accusations were made on the basis of an on-the-ground study by a British weapons expert following the ceasefire put into force by Israel and Hamas on Sunday.
International law forbids white-phosphorus use against military targets within concentrations of civilians, except when the targets are clearly separated from them and "all feasible precautions" are taken to avoid casualties among non-combatants.
The facts of the Israeli practices during the Gaza operation generated many cries from some of the most distinguished authorities in the international community.
For example, the UN chief Ban Ki-moon reiterated Wednesday his demand for a full explanation of recent "outrageous" Israeli attacks on UN facilities in the Gaza Strip during a Security Council briefing on his Middle East tour. The attacks, which Ban described as "outrageous," included strikes on a compound of the UN agency providing aid for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), and on a UN school.
The UN human rights expert and retired Princeton law professor Richard Falk said that there is compelling evidence that Israel violated the laws of war by “conducting a large-scale military operation against an essentially defenseless population.”
He added, “This is the first time I know of where a civilian population has been essentially locked into the war zone, not allowed to leave it despite the dense population and the obvious risks that were entailed,” Falk pointed out, “the civilians in Gaza were denied the option of becoming a refugee.” http://news.antiwar.com/2009/01/22/un-expert-compelling-evidence-of-israeli-war-crimes-in-gaza/
The evidence of the Israeli’s use of excessive force, and illegal weapons, while preventing -to a large part- medical and humanitarian supplies have struck a cored with the international community. It translated into huge rallies across the five continents, hundreds of NGOs calling for a complete boycott of companies with economic ties to Israel, and several governments severing diplomatic relations with Israel.
As the magnitude of the devastation in Gaza becomes more apparent in the coming days with media access to the enclave -suspended during the operation- I expect the calls for War Crimes investigations to gain momentum.
The new president will then have to accept the facts on the ground and bring America back to its rightful leadership position in the world community, or he will turn his own words into empty rhetoric, and enforce America’s isolation.
I hope and pray that our new president will have the vision and the courage to stand with the rest of the world against the Israeli aggression in Gaza. After all, the damage to Israel because of international criticism will be far less than the price America will have to pay if we found ourselves once again on the opposite side of the world will.