After being subjected to almost two years of relentless economic siege and vicious military assault, the 1.5 million residents of Gaza are on the brink of collapse. Israel is apparently determined to push them over the edge.
Before the latest round of Israeli killings, Hamas had been observing an “informal moratorium“, largely refraining from attacks on Israel. In fact, Hamas hadn’t claimed responsibility for an attack inside Israel for months. Flatly rejecting an offer of a formal truce, Israel continued its policy of collectively punishing the population of Gaza, assassinating Palestinian “militants” (in scare quotes because there were no trials and I’m not prepared to take Israel’s word for it) and destroying Palestinian infrastructure. Failing to provoke the desired reaction, Israel began killing Palestinian leaders, assassinating high ranking activists in the PRC, the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades and Islamic Jihad, as well as numerous Palestinian civilians and scores of Hamas “militants”, along with the son of Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar.
The effect of this was entirely predictable. Hamas ended its de facto truce and began firing hundreds of Qassams into Israel. Islamic Jihad and the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades both escalated their attacks, as a direct and explicit response to the Israeli assassinations. This is a familiar pattern that has been replayed a thousand times over. Ha’aretz sums it up well:
“The current escalation began on Tuesday, when the Israel Defense Forces killed 19 Palestinians, mostly armed Hamas operatives. Since then, Palestinians have fired more than 130 rockets and dozens of mortar shells at Israel.
Hamas was responsible for most of Thursday’s launches, and senior IDF officers believe that unless the situation calms down soon, Israel will have to further escalate its military operations.”
So Israel provokes a Palestinian response through assassinations, Palestinians
|Casualties between January 2nd – 8th, 2008. (Source: UN OCHA)|
(eventually) respond and Israel then uses this inevitable reaction as a pretext to escalate the conflict further. Countless ceasefires have been destroyed in this way, most recently Hamas’ 16-month unilateral, self-imposed ceasefire which ended after eight Palestinians were killed on a beach by an Israeli shell, or Hamas’ five-month unilateral truce which was brought to a close in April 2007 after Israel continued to kill Palestinian militants and civilians in the West Bank. Of course, in 1982 Israel tried the same strategy of provoking the Palestinians into a conflict. The PLO failed to bite, so Israel just invaded anyway. It must be difficult to know how to respond to such an enemy.
Israel yesterday tightened the siege on Gaza still further, closing all the border crossings and preventing even the delivery of UN humanitarian aid to a place where 80% of the population is dependent upon UN food aid for survival. This is a clear act of collective punishment, the rationale bluntly expressed by Ariel Sharon’s son in Israel’s leading daily:
“It is better to see a whole Gaza neighborhood turning into ruins than seeing funerals for our soldiers.”
The third option – responding positively to Hamas’ overtures for a ceasefire and making serious steps towards a negotiated solution of the conflict – being too absurd to warrant mentioning.
The closure will “lead to the deterioration of an already dire situation,” warned an UNRWA spokesman. According to the UN, half the residents of Gaza no longer have access to fresh water as a result of Israel’s fuel restrictions, while a shortage of cement has a put a stop to all construction. Palestinians have had to resort to burying people killed by Israeli air-strikes draped in flags and bed sheets, because they’ve run out of burial shrouds. The situation in Gaza is so severe that 99.4% of Gazan children suffer trauma (via), 40% suffer insomnia (.pdf) and 34% suffer anxiety. Gazans continue to experience widespread power cuts as a result of Israeli restrictions on the import of fuel. As one Palestinian explained,
“We had electricity for only two hours during the day yesterday,” said Um Sultan, from Beach (Shati) refugee camp. “We can’t afford to buy gas heaters, or even gas,” the widowed mother of five said. “We try using blankets to keep warm, but we don’t have enough blankets.”
Put simply, Gaza is being destroyed. The proposed justification for this is that it is a necessary measure to stop the Qassams, which killed a total of two Israeli civilians last year. The first point is that Israel has alternatives if it wants to end Palestinian rocket attacks – that is, to make serious efforts to reach a negotiated solution to the conflict based on international law, negotiate a ceasefire with Hamas, end the criminal siege of Gaza and stop assassinating Palestinians. The second point is that the Israeli government has pursued policies that have knowingly and predictably not only failed to reduce the number of Qassam attacks, but actively increased it. This suggests either that Israel is deliberately seeking a confrontation with Hamas, or that it simply couldn’t care less about the Qassams. Finally, if the pathetically inept Qassam missiles constitute a justification for the mass collective punishment of the people of Gaza, then the Israeli occupation and its associated brutalities are certainly enough to legitimise Palestinian rocket attacks and suicide bombings against Israelis. Those who approve of the former must do likewise for the latter, and I expect them to say so loud and clear.
Throughout it all, of course, construction of the annexation wall and in the settlements has continued apace (.pdf). But then, you knew that already, didn’t you?
Cross-posted at The Heathlander