On Wednesday, November 12, Israel deliberately provoked Hamas by breaking a two day long truce, carrying out some 20 airstrikes on the Gaza Strip, the heaviest barrage on the Palestinian territory in four years, and, for good measure, to make sure the provocation worked, assassinating Gaza’s supreme military commander Ahmed Jabari.
It killed him even though it was he that was mainly responsible for arranging the release of Shalit, even though his interest in entering into a long-term truce agreement had been communicated to Israeli authorities.
When Gaza, as expected, responded with a fresh barrage of rockets, Israel used that as an excuse to continue its murderous attack on Gaza and launched its Operation Pillar of Defense.
It pummeled Gaza – again, barely four years after it infamous Operation Cast Lead – for eight straight days, day and night, launching well over 1500 deadly airstrikes, shelling targets from tanks and gunboats, killing 161 Palestinians, including a large number of innocent men, women, children and even babies, wiping out families, injuring at least 840, flattening residential buildings, Hamas leader’s he4adquarters, police stations, several other infrastructures, targeting and damaging dozens more, including a hospital and the international media center.
Then, on Wednesday , November 21, under intense international pressure, Israel signed with Hamas a truce agreement.
The agreement provides, for Hamas: an end to Israeli airstrikes and assassinations of Hamas militants wanted by Israel. For Israel the agreement provides a halt to rocket fire from Gaza and attempts at cross-border incursions into Israeli territory from Gaza and especially from the Sinai area.
However, the agreement left the door open to a possible ground incursion of Gaza at a later date.
People all over the world heaved a sigh of relief. Gazans celebrated by firing guns into the air, dancing in the streets, distributing sweets and waving Hamas flags.
It is to be hoped that the truce will last. Unfortunately all indications are that violence will flare up once again, perhaps sooner than what we wish.
To begin with, already there are differences as to what the agreement provides, especially with reference to the opening of checkpoints.
According an Associated Press report on November 22, the agreement provides for Israel “discussing easing an Israeli blockade constricting the Gaza Strip.” Khaled Mashal, Gazan leader in exile, insists that “the document provides for the opening of all crossings.”
According to a copy of the agreement obtained by AP, the agreement provides, after a 24 hour cooling off period, for “opening the crossings and facilitating the movement of people and transfer of goods and refraining from restricting residents’ free movement.”
Under the Israeli blockade, Israel continues to restrict the movement of certain goods through Israeli controlled crossings. There is a near complete ban on exports, limited movement of people leaving the territory and limits on construction materials that Israel says could be put to military use.
The agreement is vague on what restrictions Israel would lift.
There is also the question of Gaza’s southern passenger terminal on the Egyptian border, not to mention whether Israel will have the right to continue intercepting and seizing, in international waters, aid flotillas headed for Gaza or limiting Gazans from fishing in their own waters outside or even within the three mile water rights, as it now does.
On any of these points a difference can be interpreted as a rejection/violation of the truce agreement and violence can restart.
But these are details.
The main point to note is that, notwithstanding claims to the contrary, Operation Pillar of Defense was NOT a response to the recent escalation of rocket firing by Hamas. The rockets being fired from Gaza has very little to do with Israel’s repeated deadly military operations against Gaza.
Consider this. During the present conflict, Hamas rockets killed five Israelis, injured not more than a couple of dozen people and partially damaged two buildings. Hardly figures to invite a massive military operation that lasted eight days, killed 161 Palestinians and inflicted unimaginable misery and destruction on the Gazans.
The reasons for Israeli operations go beyond the rocket firing activities of Hamas. Israel’s reasons and objectives go much, much deeper.
Put simply, behind it all is Israel’s objective to have all of Palestine. It wants to establish Eretz Yisrael on all of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, complete with biblical Judea and Samara.
Israeli leaders have long maintained that Jordan is the homeland of the Palestinians and Palestine, all of it, is the God given homeland of the Jews.
Several Israeli leaders have openly stated that their aim is to make life so miserable for the Palestinians that they will eventually flee to neighboring countries.
To ensure that Palestinians never have the ability to stand up against or challenge Israel, Israel is committed to preventing any arms coming into Gaza (even as shiploads of arms keep flowing into Israel from the USA and other countries!), preventing Gazans from manufacturing any such arms, even primitive rockets, and destroying from time to time any rocket making facility that Gazans may put up, as also destroying periodically all stockpile of such arms that Gazans may accumulate.
Another goal of Israel’s repeated attacks on Gaza is to cowe the Gazans and beat them into submission.
None of Israel’s military operations has succeeded in weakening Hamas. After every Israeli military operation, the Gazans, though suffering huge human and material loss, have emerged stronger.
Operation Pillar of Defense has made them stronger than ever. Arab leaders, taking a lesson from the Arab Spring, and sensitive to the sentiments of their people about Israel and Palestine, for the first time came together to try and save Gaza from further death and destruction. World leaders, including UN chief Ban Ki-moon, US Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton, Turkey’s foreign minister, a delegation of Arab foreign ministers, Khaled Mashaal, the top Hamas leader in exile – all of them converged on the region.
The UN Security Council held closed door consultations at the request of Russia. A resolution would have emerged but for the feet dragging by one of the members.
In addition, the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is an offshoot, is now in power in Egypt and Tunisia and Hamas is also getting support from Qatar and Turkey.
The political situation has changed dramatically.
As to the spirit of Gazans, it is best illustrated by a message given by a 13 year old girl from Gaza who sustained shrapnel injuries throughout her upper body, with some pieces still in embedded in her chest. Here is her message: “I say, we are children. There is nothing that is our fault to have to face this. They (the Israelis) are occupying us and I will say, as Abu Omar said, ‘If you’re a mountain, the wind won’t shake you.’ We’re not afraid. We’ll stay strong.”
Trying to beat the Gazans into submission apart, the Israeli attacks ion Gaza are, as pointed out by Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire, a continuation of Israel’s “policies of war, illegal occupation of Palestine, siege of Gaza, carrying on building illegal settlements and confiscating Palestinian land”, not to mention transferring a large number of its citizens onto occupied West Bank, bulldozing Palestinian homes and razing Palestinian villages.
This is a legacy of Israel’s policy of dispossession that precedes the creation of Israel.
With Hamas having become stronger than ever, more defiant than ever, instead of docilely submitting to Israel, and with Israel’s goal of eliminating all rocket manufacturing facilities and stockpiles of rockets in Gaza not having been accomplished, and with the truce eliminating any further attempts by Israel to strike Gaza again, the indications are, given Israel’s history in this regard, that Israel will, as soon as it can, create another incident to provoke Hamas once more into retaliating and use that retaliation as an excuse, once more, to mount a better planned and more massive attack that will inflict massive destruction in a short time, before the world starts putting pressure on Israel once again to agree to a ceasefire.
The words of Israeli President in a recent CNN interview are ominous. He let it slip that “You don’t negotiate with terrorists. You strike’” Perhaps even more ominous is what Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said: “I know there are citizens that expected a wider military operation and it could be that it will be needed. But at this time, the right thing for the state of Israel is to take this opportunity to reach a lasting cease fire.” (emphasis added)