Saturday, December 27, 2008

Gaza: What's Behind Israel's New Attack

Yesterday Israel launched a massive attack against Palestinians in Gaza resulting so far in over 300 dead and over 700 wounded. The major North American media presented the news along three points:

  1. Hamas is launching rocket attacks onto Israel
  2. "Tension is increasing" and the situation is becoming untenable for Israel
  3. Israel launches a proportional attack in response
A simple straight forward story. Or is it? Let's consider some of the troubling questions not raised by the main stream media.

Why would Hamas continue launching rockets at Israel when they had signed six months ago a truce? Why now? Who benefits from such actions?

Gaza has been under a real siege since the "withdrawal" of Israeli forces from it in 2005. Israel still controls Gaza's air, land, and sea borders and has severely hampered movement of goods and people across these borders. The only other borders are with Egypt, who is witnessing a rise in opposition movements against President's Mubarak government, is distracted with the president's succession planning, and paranoid about organized Islamist opposition similar to Hamas spreading across the country and gaining broad mass support.

Many international and humanitarian organizations have decried this siege including the International Red Cross, UN organizations, NGOs and even Israeli civic groups. The truce was supposed to end the siege of Gaza in return for cessation of rockets firing against Israel's southern settlements bordering the Gaza strip.

For a while the truce seemed to be working. The long years under direct Israeli occupation (1967-2005), had produced numerous Palestinian factions and armed resistance groups in Gaza, some of which are more radical and less pragmatic than Fatah or Hamas. The Hamas government, which won a majority in internationally monitored fair elections, used its security forces to pressure the different factions into respecting the truce. The military operations decreased in intensity and number on both sides, but never subsided completely, a result hailed as a success setting the grounds for more steps towards a resolution of the issues.

The siege, however, was never lifted. Slightly more goods were allowed into Gaza, but not enough to make a difference in the daily lives of the over 1.5 Million people trapped in the few square kilometers of the strip. Even young Palestinians, who had received prestigious
U.S. Fulbright fellowships were not allowed to leave Gaza to join their universities. Grumbling among the population grew and dissent among the other factions and groups started to manifest itself despite Hamas efforts. Israel claimed that the text of the truce agreement did not promise such siege lifting.

As the six-month truce neared it's end, a number of elements converged to spell its demise. In Gaza people's patience was running low with the daily deprivation of power, water, food, medicine and the continuing lack of security from Israeli raids. Hamas was running the risk of loosing its support to other groups and factions proclaiming simplistic solutions, mostly violent ones. It had to show that it is doing something to change this situation. It articulated non-ambiguous terms for a new truce that would guarantee lifting the siege and made them condition for renewing the truce.

In Israel, the general elections were nearing. The Kadima party still struggling with the legacy of the failed Lebanon war and allegations of corruptions against Olmert, and facing polls indicating that Likhud's and Natanyahu's combative campaign was getting some traction, was also under pressure to compete. Conditions seemed conducive for attempting a bold solution: The U.S. was in the paralyzing transition phase with the sympathetic Bush administration still in office; all major powers were busy with the global financial crisis; and the Arab regimes were as divided and impotent as they would ever be. If the current Israeli administration managed a successful military operation yielding one of those blitzkrieg victories that it delivered a couple of decades ago, a victory in the upcoming elections for Kadima would be secured.

So suddenly, statements are made by Israeli officials that they are committed to the removal of Hamas. A poll commissioned by the Ma'ariv newspaper on December 26th, 2008, has Kadima winning 33 seats against 29 by the Likhud. With such encouraging signs, the military operation was all go and the bombing started on December 27th.

Interestingly enough, the first attacks targeted Hamas security forces, the only regular forces capable of maintaining public order and constraining the militants of smaller factions. This guarantees that some of those factions will still be able to sporadically shoot something at Israel, justifying its "retaliatory" actions.

The "proportional" Israeli response included dropping 90 tons of bombs in the first day alone on densely populated areas. Women, children and innocent civilians were killed as "collateral damage" on the road to political gains. The lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan, that there is no military solution to broad based insurgency, went unheeded in the arrogance of militarists. The hearts of thousands of Palestinians, who lost family members, homes, and more importantly hope, was refueled with hate against their oppressors, cultivating the next generation of revenge seeking "militants", "extremists", and suicide bombers, and adding another round to the vicious circle of violence.

It is time that this vicious circle is broken. This is not a conflict between Jews and Arabs, nor a war against terror. There are many Jewish voices, both from within and outside Israel that have risen against the undeniable injustice done to the Palestinians. It is basically a conflict between the fundamental rights of self determination and human dignity of the Palestinian people and the ethnic and religious monolithic ideology of Zionist nationalism. No real peace will ever be achieved as long as Palestinians are denied these fundamental rights.

There are enough international frameworks and tools to implement a solution, if the international community's will is there. But as long as the Palestinian question remains the subject of domestic
or regional political tactics and election strategies, innocent people will continue to suffer and die. Taking the easy way out of blaming both side and sitting back will not absolve us from our human and moral responsibility for what is happening in Gaza.

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