bitterlemons: After Sunday’s operation at Kerem Salem/Shalom, Israeli PM Ehud Olmert is threatening that the era of Israeli restraint is over. What is your reaction?
Sarraj: Well we have already seen, over the last few years, the ugly face of Israel, a face that has no respect for human life or peace. It is not surprising that this is what he is saying. I think it is a sign of the pressure he is under after the insult to his army with the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier.
Israel talks about restraint, but the Israeli army has been killing children, killing families, destroying homes and destroying lives. The Gaza Strip has been suffering a months-long constant artillery barrage. Israel has really been restraining itself. It is a restraint we are very familiar with. It is nonsense.
bitterlemons: Can you give a sense of what this artillery barrage has done to ordinary people?
Sarraj: It is devastating. Some families have had to give their children sleeping pills at night because otherwise they can’t sleep. Many have had to leave the affected areas, and there are harsh economic consequences for those living off farms in the north. People are desperate and helpless.
This situation, in fact, is one of the reasons for the popular pressure on Palestinian groups to stop firing rockets into Israel.
bitterlemons: Were you surprised by Hamas’ decision to end the truce earlier this month?
Sarraj: No, I’m not surprised. Hamas really did restrain itself for over a year. It did not undertake a single military operation. But Israel did not respond. So, after the international boycott and conspiracy against the Hamas government, and in addition to the continuous Israeli killings, I think I understand why Hamas ended the truce.
bitterlemons: Was Hamas under popular pressure to end the truce?
Sarraj: Hamas was not under real pressure from the people to end the truce. On the contrary, the public mood was in favor of truce and reconciliation, and the pressure was on Hamas to end its defiance and climb down its tree so the peace process could go on and we could have a secure and quiet life. That was the pressure Hamas was under.
But ending the truce was the result of the continuous Israeli violence and killings of ordinary people.
bitterlemons: Does Sunday’s operation constitute an escalation?
Sarraj: I don’t consider it an escalation. I consider it legitimate resistance against the occupation. It is not against civilians, it is not any form of terror. I think to the Israeli army and Israel’s supporters it is surprising and shocking that Palestinians can execute such heroic operations.
If the world is concerned about escalation, the international community should have been condemning Israel for the continuous killing of children and families. But it didn’t.
bitterlemons: Are you concerned about a major Israeli ground invasion as a result of the missing Israeli soldier?
Sarraj: I am concerned. I hope Hamas will use this soldier to bargain with Israel to release Palestinian prisoners. I hope it can use the kidnapping effectively.
Israel knows that if it invades populated areas of Gaza, so much damage and so many casualties, including Israeli casualties, will result. Israel will be very cautious. We have been here before and the Israeli army suffered badly. But as we know, Israel will want its soldier back and will go to any length to secure this.
bitterlemons: Is there an international climate to prevent Israel from doing what it feels is in its interest?
Sarraj: Unfortunately the international community, headed by the US, is pressuring the Palestinians rather than Israel. Also, the Palestinians in the past five years have not done well to gain the support of the international community, particularly because of terror inside Israel and particularly because of the destruction of the peace camp in Israel, caused by the terror. This situation also arose because of the corrupt regime championed by Arafat and the paralysis of the new regime headed by Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas].
All these factors have left Palestinians without the necessary international support. In addition the international community is under the control of the Americans, who, as we know, are very biased toward Israel.-
Dr. Eyad Sarraj is the head of the Gaza Community Mental Health Program.