The Gaza Strip is a narrow piece of land in Palestine on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea that borders Egypt on the southwest for 6.8 miles and Israel on the east and north along a 32 mile border. Along with the West Bank, it makes up what are called the Palestinian territories belligerently occupied by the state of Israel since 1967.

Gaza
Prior to that, Gaza had been subject to military occupation by Egypt (1948–67), and earlier by Great Britain (1918–48) and Turkey when Gaza had been part of the Ottoman Empire. It was at one time the home of the Philistines.

In 1994, Israel granted the right of self-governance to Gaza through the Palestinian Authority, and in 2005 withdrew its armed forces and its civilian settlements (moving most of them to the West Bank).

The Hamas political party won the parliamentary election of 2006, but in 2007 the rival Fatah party took up arms against this government, and were expelled from Gaza by Hamas.

The ascension of Hamas to the political leadership of the Palestinians was not the reason for the serial conflict, but the response to Israel’s strategic termination of the peace process.

The purpose of Israel’s disengagement from Gaza was described by Dov Weissglas, close confidant of then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the Israeli official in charge of negotiating and implementing the November 2005 ceasefire agreement. As Weissglas explained to the Israeli press, the goal of the disengagement was “the freezing of the peace process” so as to “prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state” and to ensure that diplomacy “has been removed indefinitely from our agenda”.

From Strategic Asset to  Enemy

Though Israel had allowed or even encouraged Hamas to develop and thrive in the Palestinian territories when it was an Islamist counterbalance to the PLO, the religious, social and political movement has been redefined by Israel as Enemy #1 and the excuse for its continual repression of the legitimate self-determination goals of Palestine’s indigenous people.

Hamas has its origins in Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood movement, which had been active in the Gaza Strip since the 1950s and gained influence through a network of mosques and various charitable and social organizations. In the 1980s, the Brotherhood emerged as a powerful political factor, challenging the influence of the PLO; and in 1987, it adopted a more nationalist and activist role under the name of Hamas.

With its takeover of Gaza after the 1967 war with Egypt, Israel hunted down secular Palestinian Liberation Organization factions, but dropped the previous Egyptian rulers’ harsh restrictions against Islamic activists. In fact, Israel for many years tolerated and at times encouraged Islamic activists and groups as a counterweight to the secular nationalists of the PLO and its dominant faction, Fatah.

Among the activists who benefited was Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza, who had also formed the Islamic group Mujama al-Islamiya, a charity recognized by Israel in 1979. Israel allowed the organization to build mosques, clubs, schools, and a library in Gaza.

Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, a nearly-blind quadraplegic

Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, a nearly-blind quadraplegic

In 1984 the Israeli army received intelligence that Yassin’s followers were collecting arms in Gaza. Israeli troops raided mosques and found a cache of weapons. Yassin was arrested, but told his interrogators the weapons were meant to be used against secular Palestinians, not Israel. The cleric was released a year later and allowed to continue to develop his movement in Gaza.

In 1987, several Palestinians were killed in a traffic accident involving an Israeli Defense Force (IDF) truck, and the events that followed – a largely non-violent Palestinian uprising against Israel’s West Bank and Gaza occupation, later called the First Intifada, which continued until 1991 – led Yassin and six other Palestinians to found Hamas.

But close relations with Israeli leadership continued. Senior Hamas founder Mahmoud Zahar, met with Yitzhak Rabin as part of regular consultations between Israeli officials and Palestinians not linked to the PLO.

Hamas carried out its first attack against Israel in 1989, abducting and killing two soldiers. The IDF immediately arrested Yassin and sentenced him to life in prison, and deported 400 Hamas activists, including Zahar, to South Lebanon, which at the time was occupied by Israel. During this time Hamas built a relationship with Hezbollah.

Hamas’s military branch, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, was created in 1991. Although the Brigades are an integral part of Hamas, they operate independently, and at times contrary to Hamas policy. During the 1990s, the al-Qassam Brigades conducted numerous attacks against civilians and the Israeli military. From April 1993 these included suicide bombings, motivated by the February 1994 massacre by American-born Israeli physician and religious extremist Baruch Goldstein of Muslims in a Hebron mosque (Cave of the Patriarchs massacre, in which 29 Palestinian Muslim worshipers were killed and another 125 wounded).

In September 1997, Israeli agents in Jordan attempted but failed to kill Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, leading to chilled relations between the two countries and the reluctantly-negotiated release of Yassin, Hamas’s spiritual leader, from Israeli prison, in return for the two Mossad assassins.

Al-Qassam Brigades militants were among the armed groups that launched both military-style attacks and suicide bombings against Israeli civilian and military targets during the Second Intifada, which began in late September 2000 when Ariel Sharon made a visit to the Temple Mount, seen by Palestinians as highly provocative, and Palestinian demonstrators, throwing stones at police, were dispersed by the Israeli army, using tear gas and rubber bullets. At its end in early 2005, the military and civilian death toll was estimated at 5,500 Palestinians, more than 1,100 Israelis, and 64 foreigners.

In January 2004, Hamas leader Yassin said that the group would end armed resistance against Israel in exchange for a Palestinian state in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, and that restoring of Palestinians’ “historical rights” (relating to the 1948 Palestinian exodus) “would be left for future generations”. On January 25, 2004, senior Hamas official Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi offered a 10-year truce in return for the establishment of a Palestinian state and the complete withdrawal by Israel from the territories captured in the 1967 Six Day War.

Israel’s response was to kill Yassin on March 22, 2004 by an Israeli air strike, and kill al-Rantisi by a similar air strike on April 18, 2004.

War on Hamas – War against Peace

The territory of Gaza is 25 miles long and from 3.7 to 7.5 miles wide, with a total area of 141 square miles. As of 2014, the population of the Gaza Strip numbered around 1.82 million people, making it among the most densely populated areas of the world.

Since Hamas took control of Gaza, Israel has waged three wars on the tightly contained enclave because of Hamas resistance to occupation. On November 14, 2008, Israel blockaded its border with Gaza, putting the enclave on a “diet” just short of starvation.

In April of 2014, following reconciliation talks, Hamas and Fatah formed a Palestinian Unity Government, which was immediately denounced by Israel.

Israel’s latest assault on Gaza, as pointed out by analyst Nathan Thrall in the New York Times, was not triggered by Hamas’ rockets directed at Israel but by Israel’s determination to bring down the Palestinian unity government, even though that government was committed to honoring all of the conditions imposed by the international community for recognition of its legitimacy.

This is not the first time Israel has violated its cease-fire agreements in such a way as to make the next war inevitable. Shmuel Zakai, a retired brigadier general and former commander of the IDF’s Gaza Division, said about the 2009 Gaza war that during the six-month period of truce, Israel made a central error “by failing to take advantage of the calm to improve, rather than markedly worsen, the economic plight of the Palestinians in the [Gaza] Strip… You cannot just land blows, leave the Palestinians in Gaza in the economic distress they are in and expect Hamas just to sit around and do nothing.”

This is true of the latest cease-fire as well. According to Thrall, Hamas is now seeking through violence what it should have obtained through a peaceful handover of responsibilities. “Israel is pursuing a return to the status quo ante, when Gaza had electricity for barely eight hours a day, water was undrinkable, sewage was dumped in the sea, fuel shortages caused sanitation plants to shut down and waste sometimes floated in the streets.”

While President Barack Obama offers as a simplistic defense of Israel’s actions that all governments have the right and obligation to protect their civilian populations from assaults from across their borders, no one is willing to state that it is the refusal of Israel to recognize its legal borders which is the root of the conflict.

Obama Borders For Israel

According to Henry Siegman, president of the U.S./Middle East Project and former national director of the American Jewish Congress, “it is precisely Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s refusal to identify those borders that placed Israel’s population at risk. And the reason he has refused to do that is because he did not want the world to know that he had no intention of honoring the pledge he made in 2009 to reach a two-state agreement with the Palestinians. The Road Map for Middle East peace that was signed by Israel, the PLO and the United States explicitly ruled out any unilateral alterations in the pre-1967 armistice lines that served as a border between the parties. This provision was consistently and blatantly violated by successive Israeli governments with their illegal settlement project. And Netanyahu refused to recognize that border as the starting point for territorial negotiations in the terms of reference proposed by Secretary of State John Kerry.”

On July 12, as noted in The Times of Israel by its editor, David Horovitz, Netanyahu made clear that he has no interest in a genuine two-state solution. As Horovitz puts it, Netanyahu “made it explicitly clear that he could never, ever, countenance a fully sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank”. Various enclaves will comprise a new Palestinian entity, which Palestinians will be free to call a state. But sovereignty, the one element that defines self-determination and statehood, will never be allowed by Israel, he said.

The reasons that Netanyahu has put his own citizens at risk and provoked yet another war on Gaza, as suggested by Yitzhak Laor in Haaretz, is that he and his government are engaged in a frenzied effort to eliminate Palestinians as a political entity. Israel’s government is “intent on inheriting it all” by turning the Palestinian people into “a fragmented, marginalized people”. It is what the Israeli scholar Baruch Kimmerling described as “politicide” in a book by that name he wrote in 2006.

Operation Cast Lead – 12/27/2008 – 1/18/2009 (23 days)

White Phosphorus During Operation Cast Lead

White Phosphorus During Operation Cast Lead

Operation Cast Lead was a three-week armed conflict in the Gaza Strip between Palestinian militants and Israel that began on December 27, 2008 and ended on January 18, 2009 in a unilateral ceasefire. At the time, it was also referred to in the Arab world as the Gaza Massacre and by Hamas as the Battle of al-Furqan. An Israeli ground invasion began on January 3rd.

The conflict resulted in 1,417 Palestinian (83% civilian) and 13 Israeli deaths (10 soldiers, including 4 from friendly fire). In September 2009, a UN special mission, headed by the South African Justice Richard Goldstone, produced a report accusing both Palestinian militants and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity, and recommended bringing those responsible to justice. In January 2010, the Israeli government released a response criticizing the Goldstone Report and disputing its findings. In 2011, Goldstone wrote that he no longer believed that Israel intentionally targeted civilians in Gaza. The other authors of the report, Hina Jilani, Christine Chinkin, and Desmond Travers, rejected Goldstone’s re-assessment. The United Nations Human Rights Council ordered Israel to conduct various repairs of the damages. On September 21, 2012, the United Nations Human Rights Council reported that 75% of the civilian homes destroyed in the attack were not rebuilt.

From the end of Operation Cast Lead in 2009 to the 2012 war, 271 Palestinians were assassinated by Israeli forces, with no Israelis killed by Hamas.

Operation Pillar of Defense – 11/14/2012 – 11/21/2012 (8 days)

Israeli Air Strikes on Gaza

Israeli Air Strikes on Gaza in 2012

Operation Pillar of Defense was an eight-day IDF operation in the Hamas-governed Gaza Strip, officially launched on November 14, 2012 with the killing of Ahmed Jabari, chief of the Gaza military wing of Hamas.

The Israeli peace activist, Gershon Baskin, who helped mediate talks between Israel and Hamas in the deal to release Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, has revealed that Jabari was assassinated just hours after he received the draft of a permanent truce agreement with Israel.

166 Palestinians (including 34 children) and six Israeli’s (4 civilians & 2 soldiers) died in the exchange.

Operation Protective Edge – 7/7/2014 – 8/26/2014 (50 days)

An air strike in Rafah in the southern of Gaza strip

An Air Strike in Rafah in Southern Gaza

Operation Protective Edge followed the kidnapping and assassination of three Israeli settler youths in the West Bank, apparently by a rogue faction of Hamas which had a history of undermining the leadership. Even though Israeli intelligence knew that the three were killed, the kidnapping was used by Israel as the pretext for Operation Brother’s Keeper, launched ostensibly to locate the missing boys. During that operation, Israeli forces and settlers killed 11 Palestinians and wounded 51 during 369 incursions into the West Bank, more than 1,200 homes were searched in violation of the Oslo Accords, and about 700 Palestinians were arrested, including members of Parliament and 54 of those previously released in exchange for Gilad Shalit.

This led to an escalation on both sides, which seemed intended by Israel to undermine the Unity Government, which had the ability to speak for Palestinians with one voice.

The Long-Term Timeline to War:

1947 – The United Nations stakes out the border (“the green line”) between Palestine and Israel.

1948 – Israel unilaterally declares statehood after forced expulsion of 700,000 indigenous Arab Palestinians through terror and execution (as ordered by Ben-Gurion).

1967 – After the Six Days War, Israeli officials begin thinking of building a wall that follows “the green line”, which is warmly received by Yitzhak Rabin, but fails to concretize. Years afterward, the idea is taken up again by various governments, yet work is never initiated.

June 1967 – Gaza is occupied by Israel during a war which Menachem Begin later admitted was initiated by Israel.

1987 – The First Intifada occurs, and is largely peaceful, with boys and girls throwing stones at well-armed Israeli soldiers.

1996 – The first Palestinian parliamentary elections are held; more than 80,000 Palestinian workers go to Israel every day to work; “PEACE NOW” banners are commonly displayed, and making peace with the Palestinians appears to be a priority for the Israeli public – even as Israeli settlements in Gaza, the Golan and the West Bank were already making a Palestinian state impossible.

Israeli Settlements West Bank (1996)

Israeli Settlements West Bank (1996)

September 28, 2000 – Ariel Sharon visits the “Leveling of Mosques” in Jerusalem. The Second Intifada begins.

April 2002 – The increase in terrorist activities by Palestinian suicide bombers sparks Israeli officials to renew its Wall proposal, and work commences for a “defensive barrier”.

Oct. 2003 – The security wall around and through the West Bank reaches 110 miles in length, and includes reinforced concrete, barbed wire fence, valleys and landfills with electronic security protection systems. The wall cuts through many Palestinian towns, isolating Palestinians from one another and from their fields.

October 14, 2003 – Arab nations ask the UN Security Council to declare the barrier between Israel and Palestine illegal, but the US representative to the Council vetoes the proposal, as the resolution lacks a specific condemnation of terrorist acts against Israel.

October 21, 2003 – The European Union presents a new resolution to the UN General Assembly in which it affirms that construction of the wall violates international law, and Palestinians are asked to put an end to terrorist activity. Israel and Palestinian authorities are invited to respect the “Road Map to Peace” solution and to concentrate efforts for the constitution of a Palestinian state by 2005. Votes: 144 in favor, 4 against (Israel, USA, Marshall Islands, Micronesia), 12 abstentions.

November 8, 2003 – The UN Office for the Coordinating of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) releases data which shows that the Wall follows only 11%  of the green line’s path, repossesses 14% of the West Bank and will cause suffering to some 680,000 Palestinians.

West Bank Apartheid Wall (click to enlarge)

West Bank Apartheid Wall (click to enlarge)

September 12, 2005 – All Israeli settlements and troops are withdrawn from Gaza, while its borders, air space and sea beyond 3 miles are strictly controlled by Israel.

2005 – The International Committee of the Red Cross sends the Israeli government a confidential position paper making clear that the removal of the Israeli troops and settlers from Gaza will not end the occupation. The paper stated: “Israel will retain significant control over the Gaza Strip, which will enable it to exercise key elements of authority. Thus … it seems at this stage the Gaza Strip will remain occupied for the purposes of international humanitarian law.”

The Harvard Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research wrote a legal brief which stated: “The partial redeployment of Israel’s military presence in and around the territory is not the controlling factor in international law to determine the end of occupation… The end of occupation rests essentially on the termination of the military control of the Occupying Power over the Government affairs of the occupied population that limits the people’s right to self determination.”

2006 – Hamas wins the parliamentary election. Though its original charter called for the destruction of the state of Israel, its 2006 election manifesto said recognition of the Jewish state was a matter for the “Palestinian people”.

June 2007 – Hamas takes control of Gaza from Fatah forcibly, prompting Israel to blockade the Gaza Strip, which creates humanitarians crises and turns Gaza into an open-air concentration camp.

2008, 2012 & 2014 – Israel declares war against Gaza because of ongoing Hamas resistance to the illegal occupation and denial of Palestinian self-determination.

May 2011 – Influenced by the Arab Spring, the four-year divide between Fatah and Hamas is bridged, Palestinian Authority President Abbas is on his way to Gaza to sign an accord, and Benjamin Netanyahu declares that the reconciliation talks were calls for Israel’s destruction and strongly opposes the idea of a Palestine Unity Government.

2012 – In the first three months after the IDF Operation Pillar of Defense, according to British journalist Ben White, two mortar shells struck Israeli territory, while four Gazans were shot dead and 91 wounded by Israeli forces. The Israelis, White wrote, fired inside Gazan territory on 63 occasions, made 13 incursions into the Strip, and attacked the Gazan fishing fleet 30 times.

April 9, 2014 – Israel undermines peace talks with the Palestinian Authority by refusing to fulfill its promise to release Palestinian prisoners and then announces the construction of 700 new illegal settlement units in East Jerusalem.

April 23, 2014 – Fatah and Hamas leaders shake hands in Gaza to announce a new Unity Government which would not include any Hamas members and would abide by the three conditions for Western aid: nonviolence, adherence to past agreements and recognition of Israel. Netanyahu immediately condemns the pact and uses it as an excuse to terminate US-brokered peace talks.

Hamas maintains the 2012 cease-fire agreement for 19 months and polices other Islamic groups to prevent their use of force, according to the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center (ITIC) [even though Israel reneged on their 2012 cease-fire agreement to lift the blockade of Gaza]. The ITIC is a private Israeli think tank with close ties to the country’s military leadership and whose weekly reports regarding rocket fire are frequently quoted on the Israeli government’s web site.

The Jerusalem Post reports in May 2013 that Hamas is policing other groups to prevent rocket fire.

Hamas rocket fire is re-started on July 7, 2014 after nearly a month of Israeli military operations in the West Bank and Gaza starting on June 12, and the IDF killing of 6 Hamas members in Gaza by bombardment from Israeli warplanes and tanks.

2014 Proximate Events:

May 15 – Israeli forces shoot and kill two young Palestinian boys, aged 15 and 17, during a demonstration in the West Bank to commemorate the Nakba of 1948, and three other youths are injured by live fire.

June 12 – After the kidnapping of three Israeli settler teens (blamed on Hamas, though the IDF had identified as its prime suspects a rogue faction with a history of defying Hamas’ leadership and sabotaging the group’s peace-building efforts), Israeli forces attack 60 targets in Gaza over three weeks in June. (ITIC)

June 17 – Israel re-arrests 54 Palestinian prisoners set free in 2011 as part of the Gilad Shalit prisoner swap with Hamas, in violation of its armistice agreement.

June 12 to July 2 – Israel engages in Operation Brother’s Keeper, the most extensive military operation in the West Bank for more than a decade. The Palestine Center for Human Rights reports that Israeli forces and settlers killed 11 Palestinians and wounded 51 during 369 incursions into the West Bank. More than 1,200 homes were searched, in violation of the Oslo Accord which requires collaboration with the Palestine Authority.

Mid-June – The IDF moves Iron Dome batteries into southern Israeli cities in anticipation of war, and Netanyahu calls on Palestinian Authority President Abbas to dissolve the Unity Government with Hamas.

June 30 – Several jihadist groups, including one linked to al Qaida, claim responsibility for the three murders, but Netanyahu maintains that “Hamas is responsible and Hamas will pay”.

June 30 – The Times of Israel reports that Hamas had fired missiles for the first time since the November 2012 cease-fire “in revenge for an Israeli airstrike several hours earlier”. Previous rocket fire came from other groups in Gaza which, the article notes, Hamas had tried to stop.

July 2 – Palestinian teen Muhammad Abu Khdeir, 16, is found burned alive in a Jerusalem forest, the day after the burial of the three Israeli teens.

July 3 – Human Rights Watch reports that “Israel’s military operations in the West Bank following the abduction and killing of three Israeli teenagers have amounted to collective punishment. The military operations included unlawful use of force, arbitrary arrests, and illegal home demolitions” and that “Israeli forces have arrested about 700 Palestinians since June 12, 2014, and are currently detaining at least 450, some during the large-scale military incursions.”

July 3 – Tareq Abu Khdeir, the 15-year-old American cousin of Muhammad Abu Khdeir, is brutally beaten to unconsciousness by masked Israeli police in occupied East Jerusalem, denied medical care and held without charge. On July 18, hours after the boy was released to fly home under international pressure, his Palestinian family’s home was raided, and his uncle and two other cousins arrested without charge.

The face of Tariq Khdeir

The face of Tariq Khdeir

July 7 – IDF kills 6 Hamas members in Gaza with Israeli warplane and tank bombardment, and the Israeli Air Force attacks approximately 50 more “terrorist targets” in the Gaza Strip. (ITIC)

July 7 – Hamas begins retaliatory rocketing of Israel.

July 8 – The Israeli government agrees to call up to 40,000 reservists.

July 14 – Egypt’s anti-Islamist military government offers a cease-fire agreement without consulting Hamas or including any of its conditions, and Israel accepts it, knowing that Hamas will not, as a justification for expanding the conflict.

July 16 – Hamas offers a 10-year truce (see addendum below) in return for ending the blockade of Gaza and interference in Palestinian internal politics, which Israel ignores, and an Israeli gunboat kills four Palestinian children playing on the beach as international journalists watch.

July 17 – Israel accepts a 5-hour UN-brokered humanitarian cease-fire, during which time the IDF repositions its assets to launch its ground invasion, which was begun at 10:30 PM that day.

The Battle Ground

The Battle Ground

July 26 – A UN-brokered humanitarian 12-hour cease-fire allows the IDF to continue its search & destroy mission for cross-border tunnels.

July 30 – Israel continues to target UN refugee shelters, mosques, hospitals, journalists, homes and public markets, in their usual calculus of “proportionality” which results in hundreds of Palestinian civilian deaths, including women and children, for each Israeli civilian death (only 3 to date).

August 1 – Israel breaks a 72-hour UN-brokered cease-fire when an IDF soldier is allegedly captured in Gaza and Israel retaliates with heavy bombardment of Rafah, killing another 50 Palestinian civilians and wounding 200 more. It is later revealed that the soldier had been killed, probably by IDF bombardment.

August 4 – Israel announces a humanitarian ceasefire from 10 AM to 5 PM, which would apply everywhere but areas of the southern town of Rafah where ground forces have intensified retaliatory assaults.

August 5 – A 72-hour truce, brokered by Egypt, and agreed to by both Hamas and Israel, begins at 8 AM, with Israel promising to remove all its troops from Gaza, but continuing “to maintain defensive positions from the air, from the coast and from the ground, but outside the Gaza Strip”.

August 8 – Palestinians renew rocket fire from the besieged strip after the 72-hour truce ended at 8 AM.

August 10 – Palestinian negotiators say they had accepted an Egyptian proposal for a new 72-hour truce with Israel, clearing the way for a possible resumption of talks on a long-term truce, though Israel had walked away from cease-fire talks, with Netanyahu saying he won’t negotiate under fire.

August 12 – Britain announces the cessation of arms export licenses to Israel.

August 14 – Obama holds up shipment of Hellfire missiles to Israel. The Israeli army strikes targets in the Gaza Strip shortly after Palestinian officials announce that the temporary cease-fire in the enclave has been extended by five days.

August 18 – Israel and Palestinian militants agree to extend their five-day truce for 24 hours for negotiations on a long-term accord.

August 19 – Israel suspends talks with Palestinian factions in Cairo after three rockets from Gaza land in southern Israel, though there are no reports of damage or injuries. Within minutes of the rocket fire, the IDF retaliates with air strikes.

August 20 – IDF air strikes kill the wife and infant son of Hamas military leader, Mohammed Deif, in an attempt to assassinate him.

August 21 – Israeli air strikes kill three senior commanders of the armed wing of Hamas in Rafah.

August 23 – Israel bombs an apartment tower in downtown Gaza City, collapsing the 12-story building, and shifting its tactics to destroying residential and commercial high-rise buildings instead of narrowly-targeted strikes. This escalation continues through August 26.

Apartment Block Leveled

12-Storey Apartment Block Leveled

Netanyahu’s approval among Israelis, which was at 82% in mid-July when Israeli troops invaded Gaza, plummets to 38%, according to Haaretz.

August 26 – Palestinian and Israeli representatives agree to an Egypt-brokered indefinite cease-fire in return for the lifting of the Gaza blockade and future negotiations on core issues.

The agreement calls for an indefinite halt to hostilities, the immediate opening of Gaza’s blockaded crossings with Israel and Egypt, and a widening of the enclave’s fishing zone in the Mediterranean. Under a second stage that would begin a month later, Israel and the Palestinians would discuss the construction of a Gaza sea port and an Israeli release of Hamas prisoners in the occupied West Bank.

Calculus of Proportionality

The Gaza war has killed at least 2,133 Palestinians, including 570 children (more than a third of the civilian death toll), and wounded more than 11,000, according to Palestinian health officials. The UN estimates more than 17,000 homes have been destroyed and another 30,000 damaged, leaving 100,000 people homeless. In addition, 120 Mosques, 167 schools, 6 universities, 26 medical facilities and 108 UN refugee stations were damaged.

On the Israeli side, 70 people were killed, all but six of them soldiers. Most of the damage inflicted on the Israeli side of the border was due to IDF tanks destroying farm fields and roads.

The civilian death ratio during the 50 days of Operation Protective Edge is more than 250 Palestinians to each Israeli.

This was no accidental or collateral damage, but part of the IDF strategy articulated in the Dahiya Doctrine.

The Dahiya Doctrine

Dahiya, Beirut, Lebanon

Dahiya, Beirut, Lebanon

In the 2006 Lebanon War, IDF Northern Commander Gadi Eisenkot, now the Deputy Chief of General Staff, recommended and had approved the application of a military strategy that would target and destroy an entire civilian area rather than fight to overtake fortified positions one by one. This was in an effort to minimize IDF casualties while at the same time holding the entire civilian populace accountable for the actions of a few, as a form of collective punishment. The doctrine did away with the effort to distinguish between militant and civilian, using an overwhelming display of force through airstrikes to destroy the entire Dahiya quarter of Beirut.

The strategy calls for the deliberate targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure in order to induce suffering and severe distress throughout the targeted population. By targeting indiscriminately, the IDF hopes to deter further military attacks against Israel, destroy its enemies, as well as influence the population to oust the militants seen as the primary target. After the 2008-09 Gaza War, the Goldstone Report addressed IDF strategy, determining that the “disproportionate destruction and violence against civilians were part of a deliberate policy”.

The IDF followed the same strategy in the 2014 Gaza War, and the result has been that nearly 75% of Palestinian deaths have been identified as innocent civilians, including hundreds of women, children and elderly. The Dahiya Doctrine amounts to an official policy of state terrorism.

“Kill Anything”: Gaza Atrocities Came from Orders for Indiscriminate Fire

A new report based on testimonies of Israeli soldiers concludes the massive civilian death toll from the 2014 Israeli assault on Gaza resulted from a policy of indiscriminate fire. The Israeli veterans group Breaking the Silence released testimonies of more than 60 Israeli officers and soldiers which illustrate a “broad ethical failure” that “comes from the top of the chain of command”.

IDF FIRST SERGEANT: The commander announced, “Folks, tomorrow we enter. I want you to be determined, task-oriented and confident. The entire nation is behind you” – the usual speeches. And then he spoke about the rules of engagement. And I quote: “The rules of engagement are: Any person at a distance that could put you at risk, you kill him with no need for clearance.” For me, it was just spine-tingling. I said to him, “Let me get this straight. Any person I see in the neighborhood where we’re headed, I spot him and kill him?” He said, “Yes. Any sane person who sees a tank battalion in his neighborhood will run away. If he sticks around, then he’s up to something. And if he’s up to something, it’s against you. So shoot him.” So I tried to dig a little deeper and asked, “What if it’s an innocent civilian?” He said, “There are no innocent civilians. Your presumption should be that anyone within the area of battle, 200, 300, 400 meters from you, is your enemy.”

IDF SOLDIER: I remember that one time our post was overlooking a valley, and we knew we were about to have our ammunition reloaded, so we didn’t really care how much we use up on the way. We felt that we were supposed to waste as much ammo as possible. So we just started firing the machine gun’s entire magazine, which is thousands of bullets’ worth of ammo. And we just kept shooting and shooting, almost nonstop, until the barrel was overheated. When it does, it’s called a “barrel melt”. It changes shape, and it’s no longer usable. But we didn’t really care, because we knew that no one would ask questions.

IDF FIRST SERGEANT: When we had some time to kill, meaning that we didn’t need to cover for an infantry unit or raid a house, when there was really nothing to do, that from time to time a tank must adopt a position – meaning, to drive up to where we can see the area ahead and “make our presence felt,” so to speak – to shoot a shell or fire a machine gun to remind the Gazans that we’re there and that they must behave. “Tank 1A, assume the position and fire a shell.” Tank 1A would then drive up on some ramp that the bulldozer had created. Then we’d look around and think, “Which house do we want to take down? Let’s go with this one.” “Can we shoot it?” “Yes.” Boom. The person to say yes wasn’t a company commander or a battalion commander, not even an officer. It was a tank commander, a sergeant. So that’s what we’d do to kill time. We would even take turns with our tanks and just drive up there to shoot. There was no supervision. Nobody cared. And that’s that. Those were our rules of engagement during Operation Protective Edge.

IDF SOLDIER: But when we spotted someone, we couldn’t tell if he was a lookout or just someone we saw near a window, because he lifted his head or was out smoking a cigarette. And sometimes he’s far away. You can see him two kilometers away through your sights, but he doesn’t even know you’re there, so he doesn’t hide. You just see him near a window, and he could be a lookout, but you never really know. And our orders were: “You see anyone standing near a window, you shoot.”

IDF FIRST SERGEANT: My feeling after Operation Protective Edge wasn’t so good. I felt that we shot at houses just because, without even knowing if anyone’s there. We shot at cars, at ambulances, doing things I was raised not to do – not to kill the innocent, not to shoot at an ambulance. It’s like the Wild West out there, and it was all approved by the commanders.

 

Israeli Genocide and Violations of International Law

"What other way then is there to deal with an enemy of this nature other than obliterate them completely?"

“What other way then is there to deal with an enemy of this nature other than obliterate them completely?”

Israeli historian Ilan Pappe defines the Israeli policy towards the Gaza Strip as an “incremental genocide”. “Israel’s present assault on Gaza,” he says, “indicates that this policy continues unabated. The term is important since it appropriately locates Israel’s barbaric action – then and now – within a wider historical context.”

According to world-renowned linguist and humanitarian scholar Noam Chomsky, “Israel uses sophisticated attack jets and naval vessels to bomb densely-crowded refugee camps, schools, apartment blocks, mosques, and slums to attack a population that has no air force, no air defense, no navy, no heavy weapons, no artillery units, no mechanized armor, no command in control, no army and calls it a war. It is not war. It is murder.”

The lopsided nature of casualties reflects the conditions of asymmetric warfare in this region, differences in weaponry, defensive technologies, operating terrain and local attitudes: the Gaza Strip has high habitation density whereas the contiguous area of southern Israel where most rockets fall, is the sparsely populated Negev. The forces in the conflict are Gaza-based militants, who have stocks of long-range rockets, such as Grad missiles but use mainly home- or factory-made missiles, which have inaccurate trajectories, especially Qassam rockets, many of which hit open fields, versus Israel’s combined military forces, naval gunboats to the east, tanks positioned on the land borders, and IAF aircraft, including F-15 fighter jets and AH-64 Apache helicopters, Delilah missiles, IAI Heron-1 drones and Jericho II missiles. Israel’s civilian population, in addition, has access to shelters and early-warning sirens and is defended by the Iron Dome missile defense system.

International law requires that an occupying power protect the civilian lives under occupation, and that any response to violence be proportionate and discriminate between combatants and civilians.

Israel has fulfilled the conditions of an aggressor state as defined by Article 51 of the UN Charter. If Israel insists on using the weapons of industrial warfare against a helpless civilian population, then that population has an inherent right to self-defense under that article.

The failure of the international community to respond has left the Palestinians with no choice. The United States, since Israel’s establishment in 1948, has vetoed more than 40 UN Security Council resolutions that sought to curb Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands and violence against the Palestinians, and it has ignored the few successful resolutions aimed at safeguarding Palestinian rights, such as Security Council Resolution 465, passed in 1980.

Resolution 465 stated that the “Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War is applicable to the Arab territories occupied by Israel since 1967, including Jerusalem.”  The resolution went on to warn Israel that “all measures taken by Israel to change the physical character, demographic composition, institutional structure or status of the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem, or any part thereof, have no legal validity and that Israel’s policy and practices of settling parts of its population and new immigrants in those territories constitute a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War and also constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.”

Israel, as an occupying power, is in direct violation of Article III of the Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. This convention lays out the minimum standards for the protection of civilians in a conflict that is not international in scope. Article 3(1) states that those who take no active role in hostilities must be treated humanely, without discrimination, regardless of racial, social, religious or economic distinctions, and protects them against murder, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture. It prohibits the taking of hostages as well as sentences given without adequate due process of law, and mandates care for the sick and wounded.

“The objective of this war for Israel is political revenge against Mahmoud Abbas [for agreeing to a Unity Government with Hamas],” said Husam Zomlot, a top foreign policy official in Abbas’s secular Fatah party. “Israel wants to pull all of us into the military arena, because that’s where they have the advantage.”

However, after 50 days, a 20-day ground invasion and 5,000 Israeli strikes into Gaza, Israel has gained little but the destruction of 32 tunnels (only 14 of which were cross-border) perhaps 3,000 rockets destroyed on the ground, and the disapprobation of much of the world.

Hamas, and the Palestinians in Gaza, on the other hand, seem to have won an easing, if not lifting, of the seven-year blockade, a promise of reconstruction, and an opportunity for further real concessions from Israel.

At the same time, PA president Abbas is preparing a unilateral plan to appeal to the international community to set a deadline for Israel to end its occupation of lands captured in the 1967 War to make way for an independent Palestinian state. He has received agreement from Hamas to sign the Rome Statutes and ask the International Criminal Court to initiate a war crime investigation which Israel (and their US patron) desperately opposes.

ICC

Addendum:

On July 16, the day before the Israeli ground invasion of Gaza, Hamas offered a comprehensive cease-fire agreement, as follows:

  1. An immediate ceasefire of both sides.
  2. The halt to military and security attacks of all kinds from both sides.
  3. Israel will commit itself to completely lift the land and sea blockade of the Gaza Strip:
  • Israel will open all border crossing, as well as the Gaza Port, in order to allow the entrance of all goods, electricity, gas and any other Palestinian necessities.
  • 12 miles will be added to the Gaza fishing zone.
  • Palestinians will be allowed to move freely in the Gaza border area and there will be no buffer zone.
  1. A plan to rehabilitate Gaza will be put into motion.
  2. Undoing Operation Brother’s Keeper:
  • Israel will complete its obligations from the Shalit deal, including the release of Palestinian prisoners who were freed as a part of the deal and re-arrested during the West Bank operation.
  • Israel will end all collective punishments and actions against the Palestinians in the West Bank that were put in place since the kidnapping and murder of the three Israel teenagers.
  • Israel will release all of the suspects arrested during the operation, among them the Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council Aziz Duwaik.
  • Israel will allow Hamas institutes in the West Bank that were shut down during the operation to reopen.
  • Israel will return all public property it confiscated during the operation.
  1. Israel will stop its administrative detentions policy and end punishments to Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

The ceasefire will be put into effect in the following manner:

  • A time will be set for the understandings to come into effect.
  • The United States will act as guarantor to ensure the agreement is implemented according to a defined timetable, to safeguard the truce and to ensure there are no failures in the implementation of the agreement. If either side has reservations, it will turn to the United States.
  • Both sides will halt fire within six hours from the time the agreement is accepted.

***

Hamas also offered a 10-year truce based on conditions in line with what many international experts as well as the United Nations have asked for years, with some elements that Israel had considered as feasible requests in the past.

The Hamas 10-point 10-year Truce:

  1. The withdrawal of Israeli military tanks from the border fence area to a distance that enables Gaza farmers to access their fields and tend them freely.
  2. The freeing of all Palestinian prisoners detained after the abduction and killing of three Israeli teenagers in the southern West Bank including those who were freed as part of Gilad Shalit prisoner swap, and softening procedures against all prisoners in Israeli custody.
  3. Israel must end the siege of Gaza, which means reopening all border crossings and allowing the entry of construction materials and all requirements needed to run the Gaza Strip’s power station.
  4. The opening of an international seaport and international airport in the Gaza Strip to be run and monitored by the United Nations.
  5. Increase the Gaza fishing zone to 10 nautical miles and allow Gaza fishermen to use large fishing ships.
  6. The Rafah crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip should be monitored by international crews from friendly and Arab countries.
  7. Israel must commit to a ceasefire for 10 years which includes closing Gaza airspace to Israeli aircraft.
  8. Israel must give Gaza residents permission to visit Jerusalem and pray in the al-Aqsa Mosque.
  9. Israel must abstain from any intervention in Palestinian internal affairs including political arrangements and the reconciliation agreement and all its consequences.
  10. The Gaza industrial zone must be re-established.

None of these demands were new. The United Nations has repeatedly demanded the lifting of the siege, which is illegal under international law, as a necessary condition to end the dire humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip. The facilitation of movement of goods and people between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as well as the construction of a port and the possibility of an airport in Gaza had already been stipulated in the Agreement on Movement and Access (AMA) signed between the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority in 2005.

The requested increase of the permitted fishing zone is less than what was envisaged in the 1994 Oslo Agreements and it was already part of the 2012 ceasefire understanding. The revitalization of the Gaza industrial zone  was considered a crucial Palestinian interest at the time of the 2005 Disengagement.

Yet the offer was ignored by the international community, and Netanyahu made it perfectly clear that the truce was off the table. Such an agreement between Israel and Hamas would strengthen the legitimacy of Hamas in the newly achieved Palestinian Unity Government, which creates the single Palestinian voice that the international community has deemed necessary in order to negotiate a lasting peace.

Which Side Desires Peace and Which is Intent on Perpetual Conflict?

As noted by Ze’ev Maoz, professor of Political Science and Director of the Correlates of War Project at the University of California, Davis, as well as Distinguished Fellow at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya, Israel, and former head of the Graduate School of Government and Policy at Tel-Aviv University, and Academic Director of the M.A. program of the National Defense College of the IDF (1990–1994):

Defending the Holy Land“… most of the wars in which Israel was involved were the result of deliberate Israeli aggressive design… None of these wars – with the possible exception of the 1948 War of independence – was what Israel refers to as Milhemet Ein Berah (” war of necessity”). They were all wars of choice.”

“I review a number of peace-related opportunities ranging from the Zionist-Hashemite collusion in 1947 through the collapse of the Oslo Process in 2000. In all those cases I find that Israeli decision makers – who had been willing to embark upon bold and daring military adventures – were extremely reluctant to make even the smallest concessions for peace… I also find in many cases Israel was engaged in systematic violations of agreements and tacit understandings between itself and its neighbors.”

Uri Avnery

Uri Avnery

Uri Avnery was born in Germany in 1923, and his family fled the Nazis and moved to what was then Palestine. As a youth, he joined the Irgun Zionist paramilitary group, which he later quit to become a leading peace activist in Israel. In 1950, he founded the news magazine, HaOlam HaZeh (This World). Fifteen years later, he was elected to the Knesset on a peace platform. In 1982, he made headlines when he crossed the lines during the Siege of Beirut to meet Yasser Arafat, head of the then-banned Palestine Liberation Organization. In 1993, he started the Gush Shalom (Peace Coalition) peace movement. He is the author of many books, including 1948: A Soldier’s Tale – The Bloody Road to Jerusalem, Israel’s Vicious Circle and My Friend, the Enemy. He will soon turn 91 and still writes a weekly column.

The following is excerpted from an interview aired on Democracy Now! on 8/8/2014:

“The root of the problem is that Israel is occupying the Palestinian territories – the territory of the West Bank and the territory of the Gaza Strip. As long as the occupation lasts, there will be no peace. In order to achieve peace with the Palestinian people, Israel must end the occupation, withdraw from the Occupied Territories and enable the Palestinians to set up their own independent nation and state, the state of Palestine. That’s what it’s all about. Everything else flows from this basic problem.”

“I was a member of a terrorist organization when I was 15 years old. I believe I understand the psychology of young people who join organizations which are called terrorists by their enemies, but which think of themselves as freedom fighters. Hamas thinks it’s fighting for the freedom of Palestine. They are deeply convinced of this.”

“One of the basic problems at this moment is that Israelis and Hamas do not talk to each other… there’s a very simple solution to this… Israel and Hamas must talk to each other.”

“Hamas cannot and will not agree to a long-lasting ceasefire if there is a blockade on the Gaza Strip. You have 1.8 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. It’s a tiny, tiny, little territory. It’s suffering from a blockade for at least eight years. A blockade means that all the borders are closed, including the sea border, and you cannot get in anything except by the permission of Israel, and you cannot get anything out at all.”

“Hamas is not a militia. Hamas is not a military organization. Hamas is a Palestinian political party, which in the last Palestinian elections, supervised by ex-President Carter, had a majority of the Palestinian people. When a Palestinian government was set up by Hamas, it was destroyed by Israel and the United States and Europe. It was brought down. It was then that Hamas took over power in the Gaza Strip by force.”

“You cannot wish Hamas away. You can do to Hamas whatever you want. You can kill all the 10,000 fighters of Hamas, but Hamas will remain, because Hamas is an ideology, and Hamas is a political party accepted by the Palestinian people. So, whatever we do, in the end, after all the killing and after all this terrible destruction, we’ll have to talk with Hamas.”

“This government of Israel, which represents the extreme right in Israel, with some openly fascist elements in it, but supported by a majority of the Israeli people, does not want to give up the occupied territories of the West Bank and the indirectly occupied territories of Gaza. If we are ready to give up this territory and allow the Palestinians to set up their own nation and state of Palestine, then the problem is solved and we shall have peace. If you put up settlements in the West Bank, you cannot have a Palestinian state.”

“One must realize, the West Bank and Gaza together, the Occupied Territories, constitute 22% of the historic land of Palestine in which the Palestinians desire and are ready to set up their own nation and state of Palestine. The question is: Do we agree to live side by side with an independent, sovereign state of Palestine? If not, then every further discussion is superfluous. We shall have war, and again and again and again and again, until the end of time.”

 

by Robert Riversong: may be reproduced only with attribution for non-commercial purposes
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