Behind the Current Israeli Escalation in Gaza: Questions and Answers

1. There seems to be a massive upsurge in violence in Gaza these past few days; what is happening?

It is important to recognize that the violence is mostly one-sided. On the one side, Israel is conducting a major military operation into the Northern Gaza Strip that includes ground forces, air-strikes and missile-strikes in crowded residential neighborhoods. It has also fired upon ambulances and destroyed many civilian homes. On Saturday (March 1), Israeli operations killed over 60 Palestinians, some of them were reported to be armed fighters but at least half of them were civilians, including 10 children and three women. Since last Wednesday (February 27) the Israeli assault has killed over 100 Palestinians and injured over 200. Israel claims this is only the first phase of the operation; the next phase will involve more ground troops.

On the other side, Palestinian rocket fire on Israel from Gaza killed one Israeli last Wednesday (February 27) and Palestinian fighters killed two Israeli soldiers in this operation.

2. How did this start?

This latest round of violence started when Israel air-strikes assassinated five high-level Hamas militants in southern Gaza early on Wednesday (February 27) and Hamas responded with a rocket barrage on the Israeli town of Sderot, killing one man, the first Israeli victim of rocket fire in nine months, and then fired longer range rockets on the large Israeli town of Ashkelon. Israel then responded with air-strikes on Gaza, including destroying the Hamas government interior ministry building, and then launched this major new operation it is calling “Operation Warm Winter,” the largest inside Gaza in the past few years. Reports in the Israeli press suggest that Israel had been preparing for a major operation in Gaza over the past month.

3. Israel claims that its actions are defensive and necessary to end Palestinian rocket fire into Israel that kills Israeli civilians. Doesn’t Israel have the right to defend itself?

Palestinian rocket attacks from Gaza have killed 14 Israelis and wounded hundreds more since 2001. These rocket attacks contravene international law and should stop immediately.

However, there are many ways a country can defend itself and Israel’s current military operation is unjustified for two main reasons.

First, Israel’s actions themselves are war-crimes. Attacks on residential areas (Gaza is one of the most crowded areas in the world) and the targeting of civilians, including homes and medical teams, represent war crimes according to the provisions of international humanitarian law. The use of disproportionate and lethal force against a civilian population even in response to the unlawful rocket attacks carried out by Palestinian armed groups is a blatant violation of the laws of war, enshrined in customary international humanitarian law and the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Second, if Israel’s goal is to end rocket attacks from Gaza, the most logical step it could take would be to respond positively to Hamas’ repeated cease-fire proposals for a complete end to rocket fire on Israel, most recently on February 23rd, when Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said that Hamas will consider any initiative that will bring about a ceasefire. Hamas claims it has secured the agreement of all factions to halt rocket fire and promised to impose the cease-fire provided that Israel reciprocates. Israel’s Prime Miniser Ehud Olmert immediately rejected the cease-fire offer, even though a growing number of Israeli politicians and security officials are calling for Israel to accept a cease-fire. Israel’s current operations are clearly about much more than securing Israeli civilians lives. Israel could easily end the rocket fire by accepting a cease-fire.

4. What would a cease-fire include?

Hamas has proposed a cease-fire many times and has been clear that it would have to include a cessation of all hostilities: Hamas would cease and impose a halt to all rockets and mortar shells from Gaza provided Israel would end its “targeted liquidations,” military incursions and its siege of Gaza. The negotiations should be conducted by Egypt, particularly since it would have to open the border between the Gaza Strip and Sinai to end the siege of Gaza and give it back its freedom of communication with the world by land, sea and air.

5. But how can one reach a cease-fire settlement with a violent organization that declares that it will never recognize Israel?

Israel’s demand that it cannot negotiate a cease-fire because Hamas does not “recognize Israel’s right to exist” is nothing more than a pretext for avoiding an end to violence on anything other than Israel’s terms. Even though Hamas has been responsible for many reprehensible and violent attacks on Israel, it is the main power in Gaza and has a track record of living up to its agreements. The claim about recognition is faulty for the following reasons:

First, the lack of recognition has never stopped states from negotiating with its adversaries; history is replete with negotiations between sworn enemies.

Second, such recognition is traditionally reciprocal; in order for Israel to receive recognition it would have to simultaneously recognize the state of Palestine and define its own borders, which it refuses to do.

Third, and most importantly, in practical terms, if one state or group makes an agreement with another state, then it has recognized that state. So if Hamas were to agree to a cease-fire with Israel, it is meaningless whether or not it has formally recognized Israel because in fact, it has.

6. What then are the political reasons why the Israeli government rejects a cease-fire and chooses massive military invasions and violence in Gaza as its preferred policy?

The immediate reason is that the current Israeli government is under severe domestic pressure to take major actions to stop Palestinian rocket attacks, and since it will not accept a cease-fire and knows it cannot completely reoccupy the Gaza strip without major casualties, it is choosing to unleash intense violence upon the area where rocket attacks come from and upon Palestinians–both fighters and civilians — in order to pressure Hamas to halt rocket attacks. This is a form of collective punishment; it has never worked in the past and contravenes international law.

The deeper reason Israel chooses violence over a cease-fire is that Israel wants to avoid negotiations with a united Palestinian government that holds firm to basic Palestinian rights to a full and sovereign Palestinian state in the lands occupied by Israel in 1967. It wants to impose an agreement upon a weakened and divided Palestinian people who could be pushed to accept a deal that allows for Palestinian rule in truncated territorial enclaves under complete Israeli control, with most of the Israeli settlements remaining on Palestinian land. Dividing Hamas-ruled Gaza from the West Bank and refusing to negotiate any deal with Hamas helps it do this.

7. But do all Israelis oppose a Cease-Fire?

No. According to a recent poll, a majority of the Israeli public (64%) support direct talks with Hamas to achieve a mutual ceasefire. Moreover, Knesset Member Yossi Beilin and other high level politicians have called for an agreed ceasefire with Hamas and the former head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, Efraim Halevy, calls for Israel and the US to negotiate a ceasefire with Hamas.

8. What should American policy be regarding the situation in Gaza?

The U.S. Government should demand that all attacks in either direction between Gaza and Israel cease now, permanently. It should support a resolution to that effect in the UN Security Council. It should pressure Israel to accept a cease-fire.

A cease-fire should be welcomed by all who truly want to see the violence stop, the siege of Gaza end, Israeli civilians secure and see a new basis for negotiations that will lead to full political rights for Palestinians according to international law and peace for Israel. Call for an immediate cease-fire now.

Steve Niva teaches International Politics and Middle East Studies at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. He has written for and served on the editorial board of Middle East Report magazine, and his recent writings have also appeared in Peace Review, Middle East International, Al-Ahram Weekly, The Seattle Times, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Z Magazine, and Counterpunch, among others. Read other articles by Steve, or visit Steve's website.

19 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Steven Snyder said on March 7th, 2008 at 7:35am #

    A well written, reasoned article which should give persons on all sides of the issue pause for reflection

  2. Gretchen Osgood said on March 7th, 2008 at 8:07am #

    Stop killing each other. Please stop killing each other.

  3. jaime said on March 7th, 2008 at 8:13am #

    Basic agitprop from Rachel Corrie’s old alma mater.

    Here’s one especially idiotic assertion:

    “Israel wants to avoid negotiations with a united Palestinian government that holds firm to basic Palestinian rights to a full and sovereign Palestinian state in the lands occupied by Israel in 1967..”

    The Hamas and Fatah are as much at war with each other as with Israel.
    They’re not even close to presenting a “united front.” Heck they can’t even agree on lunch.

  4. Hatuxka said on March 7th, 2008 at 10:37am #

    One has to remember that Bush financed the war between Hamas and Fatah in Gaza, which backfired and produced the Hamas takeover. And of course Israel helped Hamas come into being.

    So both Israel and its patron the U. S. have fueled the conflict, first attacking Fatah for corruption, calling for the elections through which Hamas came to power and then attempting to have Fatah take over by this coup in Gaza that backfired.

    And now jaime attempts to convince anyone that the conflict between the two groups is any kind of excuse for Israel not to negotiate. These entities are of the same mind that the occupation must end and that’s what matters.

    But jaime knows that, knows he can’t convince anyone with his rantings, but can’t help it.

  5. Ben Becker said on March 7th, 2008 at 12:56pm #

    “This latest round of violence started” when Israel pulled out from Gaza and received Kassams in return. Do not be so blind as to consider this “round of violence” as some isolated turn of events. Terrorists have been shelling the western Negev for YEARS not months. If Israel was confident that Palestinians could live in Gaza and could handle going into Israel without attacking her citizens, there perhaps be no siege.

    “Palestinian rocket attacks from Gaza have killed 14 Israelis and wounded hundreds more since 2001. These rocket attacks contravene international law and should stop immediately.”
    The rocket attacks are unlawful, reprehensible, and they should stop immediately…but are they not war crimes themselves?

    “Israel could easily end the rocket fire by accepting a cease-fire.”
    It is Israel’s responsibility to protect her civilians, it is the Palestinians’ responsibility to end the rocket attacks. Moderate Palestinians who want peace are unfortunately too outnumbered and afraid to raise their voices and demand that their terrorist neighbors stop fucking it up for everybody else. It is the the world community’s responsibility to stop being so blatantly one-sided in this conflict and to demand civility from the Palestinian population and their representatives.

    What do you think Hamas wants more: their own Palestinian state, or the destruction of Israel. A ceasefire is a guise to gain legitimacy and to destroy Israel in baby steps. This year a cease fire that will last a year at best and then terrorists in Gaza will find any reason whatsoever to mount more attacks against Israel. Alright I agree Israel is choking to death on occupation and every military incursion just breeds more hatred and resentment. But how dare you blame Israel for protecting its civilians? Any other nation in the world would have invaded or bombed the shit out of a neighboring territory that was shelling it daily. Yet, Israel restrains herself for years and years because she has to subjugate herself to the world’s opinion. Giving Palestinians a state will not end the conflict. Israel is a holy land to millions but it is the ONLY holy land for the Jews. Even so, Israel has repeatedly offered to give up the cradle of Judaism in exchange for peace. Arab Muslims must get over the the theological paradox presented by a Jewish state existing in a former Islamic waqf. Why doesn’t anybody every talk about that?

  6. jaime said on March 7th, 2008 at 1:42pm #

    Since this butchering of children in that Jewish seminary in Jerusalem, the Palestinian Arabs further away from any kind of deal than they ever were.

    It demonstrates two important facts.

    – The Arabs are obviously violent savages and don’t want peace.

    – It would be unthinkable to permit a Judenrein West Bank to come into being.

    The only reasonable solution from Israel’s point of view now is to take whatever land and resources they feel they require, and neutralize more terrorists than the terrorists can easily replace.

    I think that this would be a perfect time for as many DV readers as possible to present themselves to the gov’t of Iran and insist upon receiving training to become shahids on behalf of the Palestinian cause.

  7. Kim Petersen said on March 7th, 2008 at 4:03pm #

    This article is soft Zionism — liberal-sounding pap that demonizes the Palestinians and mollycoddles the Zionists. For example, the first question talks about an agent-less upsurge in violence in Gaza. Why not honestly and straightforwardly state that Jewish Israelis are wreaking violence on Palestinians? The writer does admit that the violence is predominantly one-sided, so maybe this one can slide by.

    The writer states that Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel are illegal. He then explains leadingly that the rocket attacks were provoked by assassinations of Hamas “militants” (as Wikipedia notes: “Popular usage sometimes sees ‘militants’ as synonymous with terrorists.”). One can’t help but realize that if such rocket attacks were carried out by Hamas resistance fighters against Israeli officials, it would have been called “terrorism.” Under international law, the Palestinians have the right to self-defense; also under international law, the Palestinians have the right to resist occupation and territorial theft.

    The writer contradictorily refers to Hamas as a “violent organization” seeking a cease fire. Perhaps the writer is playing the devil’s advocate in the questions. The tendentiousness of the question is belied by not acknowledging that Israel is a “violent organization” as demonstrated by its ongoing slaughter of Palestinians.

    The writer never acknowledges that Hamas is the elected government of Palestine. He merely refers to Hamas.

    Finally: “8. What should American policy be regarding the situation in Gaza?”

    The writer calls for a permanent cease fire and “for negotiations that will lead to full political rights for Palestinians according to international law and peace for Israel.”

    More negotiations!? Palestinians have been waiting over half-a-century for their “political rights.” Why not full “human” rights? Why limit it to “political” rights? The writer is, in essence, recognizing the theft of the former Palestine by Israel in exchange for the “political” rights of Palestinians.

  8. jaime said on March 7th, 2008 at 4:42pm #

    You’re both wrong. Now the best hope for the Palestinians will be for Jordan to annex the West Bank and Egypt to take over Gaza.

    Despite all kinds of foreign money, good will, and attempts at negotiations, the Palestinian Arabs refuse to organize themselves to the point where they can be accepted as a nation.

    Savagery alone is not enough.

  9. maryb said on March 8th, 2008 at 11:10am #

    Thanks are due to Neturei Karta for making this statement.

    P.O.Box 5053 Jerusalem
    E-mail: ten.tniqezeb.otennull@pkn

    Mar. 01/08


    We Orthodox Jews cry out to the world to stop the wild beast of the Zionist State from destroying the Palestinian People!

    We Orthodox Jews condemn the murderous terrorism and gangsterism of the Zionist murder machine!

    For sixty years the Zionist butchers have been expelling, occupying, ghettoizing, terrorizing and killing Palestinians who simply want their rights restored in their homeland of historic Palestine!

    How long will the World Powers stand silent at Zionist terrorism and barbarism? Will the world wait until millions of Palestinians are finally starved to death to mourn the extinction of the Palestinian People, G-d forbid?

    We also condemn the current onslaught of the Zionist military machine in its wicked and cannibalistic campaign on the suffering and innocent occupied people of Gaza in violation of all international concepts of law, justice and peace!

    We call on all peace-loving nations to take every measure to stop the madness unleashed by the Zionists and to restore the rights of the Palestinians, thereby ending all suffering and bloodshed of all people in historic Palestine!

    The Zionist terrorist machine and its regime in occupied Jerusalem do not represent the Jewish People and religion. They may call themselves Jews, but they are not following the Jewish religion. They are barbarians and butchers! They defile and desecrate the holiness of our religion, of our Torah!

    We pray for the rapid restoration of the rights of the Palestinians throughout historic Palestine, and for the establishment of a free Palestine throughout historic Palestine, and for the Zionist regime to be dismantled and expelled from the entire Holy Land.

    We offer our deepest condolences and sympathy to the entire Palestinian People who must constantly face the effects of Zionist terrorism, and specifically to the families of all those who have been wounded and killed due to the Zionist war machine, may it soon be obliterated.

    May we all see the revelation of G-d in the entire world and serve him in truth and peace. Amen. INSHALLAH!

    Neturei Karta
    Jerusalem, Palestine

  10. dan e said on March 8th, 2008 at 2:17pm #

    Well, Kim, I’ve been subbing to CounterPunch since about Yr 2K, but next Renewal time I’m going to let it lapse & send the$45 to DV. Thanks for nailing Niva right on the head. “Pap” is right. Or how about Pablum, feelgood pablum for the dogooders to feel good about putting bandaids on the bloody stumps that once were Palestine, while refusing to investigate the US Izrael Lobby/Power Configuration without which this crap would come to a screeching halt.

    Thanks again,

    Dan E

  11. Bill Williams said on March 8th, 2008 at 2:49pm #

    Jaime is an idiot. Perhaps she needs a hobby.

  12. Max Shields said on March 8th, 2008 at 5:58pm #


    While I will not belittle what seems to be a sincere and heartfelt plea, until American Jews come out in numbers on US city streets they way they are collectively pulled into the dubious cause of Darfur, we will continue to have the terror reigned on the Palestinian people. There is no better example of genocide than what is happening in Gaza. We all know it is a vicious crime against humanity.

    It is not enough to have a small human rights group in Israel speak out, it is time for the American Jewry to, in unison, demand the end to this zionist regime and its horrid acts. Rabbi Michael Lerner must make this the Jewish cause bar none. Until then it is all talk, talk, talk, talk.

  13. Hue Longer said on March 8th, 2008 at 9:24pm #

    good point Kim, I stopped reading it after “militants”

  14. sk said on March 9th, 2008 at 12:27am #

    FYI, an interesting audio interview of Helena Cobban in which she speaks her mind over what’s been called “Darfurism” by Keith Harmon Snow.

  15. Max Shields said on March 9th, 2008 at 5:07am #

    2. How did this start?

    In 1948 when armed zionist terrorist drove the indigenous Palestinian people out of their home land, killing and destroying their farms and making them refugees in the prison known as Gaza.

    The genocide against these people has increases daily. Occasionally a few strike out but the Zionist military torches their camps and kills their children by the hundreds and adult civilians by the thousands in retaliation.

    Such is “life” in Gaza.

  16. Ekosmo said on March 9th, 2008 at 2:57pm #

    it will also be noted Max, that contrary to mendacious Zionist myth-fable, some 300,000 Arabs were uprooted BEFORE
    the Arab states intervened…

    following the combined atrocities perpetrated at Deir Yassin [May], Lydda, Ramle etc. [July] and the ensuing blood-soaked aftermath,

    — including the assassination of the UN mediator for having the audacity to recommend that these Arab refugees should return to their homes
    — the proto-Palestinian state was finally strangled in the womb…

    but that, as we now know, was the entire intention…

  17. Alex said on March 9th, 2008 at 10:31pm #

    “Jewish seminary in Jerusalem” was the training nerve center for the settler movement of the settler movement Gush Emunim (Yeshiva in Jeurselem), whose ideology is the extermination of Palestinians. This training center is no different than Madrases and other radical camps – the people attending these radical training centers KNOW they are not going to be handing out candy to children in the West Bank.

    Not understand the Orwellian double-think involved that of calling a “peaceful Jerusalem seminary” while it breeds Palestinian killers will not bring about peace for either side any quicker.

  18. moshe orman said on March 10th, 2008 at 9:11pm #

    How can Israel make peace with a group who has a goal to destroy all Jews? Even if we were to stop for several months or even years, do you really think a group with such a ambitious goal will stop its life long plan ….. they imbed in their children hatred and the ideology of the demise of Israel. Even their education system is set up around hate and death to jews they will never stop!!!!!!!!!!! think logically ….

  19. hp said on March 11th, 2008 at 9:28am #

    And just what is it they learning at that so-called seminary?
    Peace and love?