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Amid broad Israeli support for Gaza war, a rare dissenting voice

Sari Bashi of the group Gisha argued before the Israeli Supreme Court Thursday that Israel is still responsible for Gazan civilians because it controls the enclave's borders, airspace, and sea space.

By Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / January 16, 2009

In the minority: Sari Bashi, director of human rights group Gisha, says Israel is responsible for Gazan civilians.

Josh Mitnick


Tel Aviv

With the sleek tower of the Israeli defense ministry dominating the skyline outside her office window, Israeli-American human rights lawyer Sari Bashi wages a counter offensive on the military's blockade of the Gaza Strip.

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Breaking with mainstream Israelis who turned their backs on Gaza after the army pullout three years ago, the graduate of Yale Law School and an Orthodox Jewish elementary school argued in Israel's Supreme Court Thursday that Israel is still responsible for the well-being of Gaza's civilians.

As the head of Gisha, a legal group that lobbies for freedom of movement for Palestinians, Ms. Bashi is at the forefront of a small coalition of human rights groups pressing the government to ensure water, electricity, and medical supplies are restored for Gazans.

"Today we're fighting for their right to exist at the most basic level, and that is tragic," she says. "Because the long-term damage that we're doing in Gaza right now by destroying the infrastructure and traumatizing civilians ... is going to make it very difficult to build a better future in this region."

The Supreme Court appearance was part of a petition to force the government to allow fuel into Gaza so electricity plants can supply power for water pumps and to enable Palestinian technicians to fix downed power cables.

On Wednesday, the Israeli human rights coalition held a press conference to call for an international investigation into alleged war crimes by the Israeli army. In addition to pressure for a renewal of Gaza's water and electricity supply, the coalition called on the army to stop targeting civilian buildings and to allow civilians escape routes to flee battle zones.

When Israelis unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005, pulling out soldiers and uprooting settlements, there was a sigh of relief that their four-decade-long occupation of the enclave was over.

The contention that with the withdrawal Palestinians lost their casus belli to launch cross-border attacks into Israel is one of the main reasons why the onslaught against Hamas enjoys wide support in Israel. A poll published Thursday in the left-wing Haaretz newspaper found that 78 percent of the public believe the war is a success. So strong is the approval that a recent demonstration in favor of a cease-fire by Peace Now only drew about 1,000 people.

Experts cite eight years of Israeli malaise after the 2000 Camp David peace conference collapsed into the Palestinian uprising. "Some of the people in the peace camp lost hope in the Palestinians, and some left hope in the Israelis," says Akiva Eldar, a political commentator for Haaretz. "Some don't believe a two-state solution is practical and doable."