It has been a horrible week of death and destruction.
As of today more than 640 Palestinians have been killed and more than 4,000 have been wounded in the escalated Israeli assault on Gaza. Most of the dead are non-combatants, many are children, in some cases whole families, according to the United Nations. Meanwhile rockets continue to be fired from Gaza into Israel reaching as far north as Israel's largest city, Tel Aviv, sending residents into shelters. So far 27 Israeli soldiers have been killed during the Gaza re-invasion, and two Israeli civilians and a foreign laborer in Israel have been killed in rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza. Several Israelis have been reported injured as a result of the rocket attacks. There is fear and terror on all sides.
But the death and destruction is not equal.
Israel has a sophisticated Iron Dome air defense system (funded by the U.S.), and its residents have fled the rockets into shelters. But Gaza has no such defenses and in the tiny, densely populated strip of land along the Mediterranean Sea coast there is no place to hide. On Monday the New York Times reported (in an early version of this article; the sentence was later removed): "The Israelis seemed to be stepping up artillery shelling in the central Gaza refugee camps of El Bureij and El Mughazi, where they had earlier urged people to evacuate."
Gaza officials report that 132 Palestinian children have been killed since Israel's assault began July 8. In one 24-hour period at the start of this week, 28 children were killed. "It's clear from the insane amount of children killed over the past three days that children are bearing the brunt of Israel's offensive," Ivan Karakashian, from Defense for Children International - Palestine Section, told the Palestinian news agency Ma'an. "To be honest, we have never seen it this bad for children."
Also last week, tension in conflict-ridden Ukraine reached a new fever point and 298 people died a horrible death when their civilian airplane was shot down over the eastern part of the country. Many of the victims were AIDS researchers and advocates on their way to a conference. Who did it is not known. Many are accusing pro-Russian eastern Ukrainian separatists of being the perpetrators, but they in turn blame the Ukrainian military.
In both regions, an already fraught situation reached a new kind of meltdown, with ordinary, innocent people paying a terrible price.
Meanwhile in Iraq, more than 5,500 Iraqi civilians died by violence in the first six months of this year, with more than 1,500 killed in the past month, as the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and allied groups ravage swathes of that unfortunate country.
Next door, thousands of Syrians have been killed as ISIS and other unsavory groups battle for power. More than 700 were killed in just two days last week.
Libya is devolving into civil war. It has many aspects of a failed state. The airport in the capital, Tripoli, is closed and is being shelled daily by rival fundamentalist militias.
Sadly, our government bears a heavy responsibility for all these horrors.
The violence in the Ukraine is the result of U.S./NATO provocation over the past decade or so, in an effort to gain political and especially economic influence in the former Soviet region. Experts warned that such actions on Russia's doorstep were likely to provoke tensions, and they were right. Instead of using the airplane shootdown tragedy to promote peace and diplomacy, the White House, evidently bowing to right-wing Republican pressure, is continuing a confrontational approach toward Russia.
In Iraq, the U.S. occupation put in place a sectarian system of self-interested power brokers who have not hesitated to use religious and ethnic conflict to advance their narrow interests with help from reactionary regional powers. This was fine with our government as long as a regime was in place that cooperated with U.S. corporate interests The Obama administration is evidently pursuing a similar approach
In Syria, our government worked with reactionary Saudi Arabia, Qatar and others to arm questionable rebel groups - with the aim of installing a more compliant Syrian regime. Now we are seeing the bloody consequences both there and in Iraq. Yet the White House is planning to send more backing to increasingly extremist Syrian rebels.
And the administration is largely silent about the disastrous situation in Libya, where U.S./NATO military intervention toppled the Ghaddafi regime in the name of democracy.
The horror in Gaza is the result of the failure to resolve the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is now widely acknowledged that the Israeli government sabotaged the most recent peace effort promoted by President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, by continuing to announce settlement construction in the Palestinian West Bank. This was a deliberate slap in the face to the Obama administration. But what is the U.S. doing in response? Not much, it seems.
Now we've had a series of provocations - kidnappings, murders, vengeance attacks, rocket firings, air assaults, invasions - that enable the Israeli right to keep on blocking a peace agreement and establishment of a viable Palestinian state. Our government provides some $3 billion each year to Israel, financing a 47-year illegal occupation and now an air and ground war that, according to Human Rights Watch, violates international human rights laws. With that $3 billion a year, the U.S. is the one country that has the ability to put a stop to the Israeli right's sabotage and obstruction and to compel Israel to move toward peace and a Palestinian state alongside Israel. It's time to do so.
The U.S. needs to rethink its partnership with reactionary Saudi Arabia and Qatar. It's time to stop fueling, funding and arming sectarianism and opportunist self-seekers in Iraq, Syria or elsewhere. It's time to stop seeing Africa, ravaged by poverty, civil wars and massive civilian displacement, as the "next frontier" for U.S. military and corporate influence. On the other side of the globe, it's time to draw back from fueling tensions in Asia with a military-oriented "pivot."
We need a different foreign policy. A foreign policy that puts the peaceful, equitable, collaborative, green economic and social development of the world's peoples before the "interests" of U.S. multinational corporations. But that won't happen unless there is mass public pressure from the American people. It means defeating the Republican saber-rattlers in Congress and making sure they don't get a majority in the Senate. It means strong voices from America's working class, its labor unions, its faith communities, people from every walk of life. It means organizing a broad movement with program and slogans that have wide appeal for Americans and that make the connection between peace and economic and social justice, abroad and at home.
It's time to push for peace and for a humane foreign policy that puts people before profits.
Photo: Palestinian medical personnel treat a wounded little girl at the emergency room of the Shifa hospital in Gaza City, northern Gaza Strip, July 18. AP/Khalil Hamra,