Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni claims “Hamas controls Gaza and is responsible for everything that happens” there (1), (2). YetYuval Diskin, head of Shin Bet, briefed Israel’s cabinet on January 6th, saying Israeli military strikes on Hamas’ leaders and infrastructure have made it increasingly difficult for it to govern (3).
There is very probably some truth in that since Israeli strikes have killed everyone from police and police cadets to ambulance crews and targeted everything from police stations to government buildings and factories including food processing plants. So how can the Israeli government demand Hamas control what’s going on in Gaza while simultaneously destroying it’s ability to do so? (4), (5), (6).
During the last ceasefire in 2008 Hamas did arrest members of the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, Fatah’s armed wing, who it accused of firing rockets out of Gaza (7). How can the Israeli government demand Hamas do what it’s deliberately stopping them doing?
The roadside bombing attack which “broke the ceasefire” on 27th January 2009 by killing an IDF soldier was not carried out by Hamas according to the Israeli government.Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak acknowledged that it was ‘not Hamas’, but a “breakway splinter group”, Al Qa’ida Affiliated Global Jihad (perhaps an attempt to link the Israeli campaign to the US ‘war on terror’). He then said that “We will continue with our response to the attack even though it was carried out by a group that is not Hamas…We hold Hamas responsible for everything that happens in Gaza.”. So they attacked Hamas (8), (9).
More recently rockets were fired out of Gaza into Israel by members of the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades – the armed wing of Fatah. The Israeli government again acknowledged this, but attacked Hamas in “retaliation” anyway (10).
If Israel’s aim is to prevent rocket fire why is it giving Hamas’ rivals a green light to fire at Israelis, knowing any counter-attack will hit Hamas?
Probably for the same reason that Israeli artillery repeatedly shelled the main UN aid depot in Gaza when, as UNWRA head Chris Ging said, there was no fighting in the area (11).
Claims that reducing rocket attacks is the priority are just electioneering. The aims of the blockade and attacks on Gaza are electioneering, overthrowing the elected Hamas government and dividing and conquering Palestinians to making annexing the West Bank easier.
The event that triggered the end of the previous ceasefire is also supposedly Hamas’ ‘crazy’ decision to “unilaterally” end the ceasefire by firing rockets into Israel in December 2008. It’s not so clear that that’s the case. On 5th November 2008 Israeli forces launched a raid into Gaza, killing several members of Hamas’ armed wing – the Al Qassam Brigades. They claimed this was necessary to destroy a tunnel which Hamas were digging to capture more Israeli soldiers, like Corporal Gilad Shalit, who was captured or kidnapped by Hamas and other groups in 2006. They didn’t explain why, if this was the case, it was necessary to attack a tunnel into Israel by attacking it on the Gaza side of the border? This was the event that triggered Hamas’ armed wing beginning rocket attacks again (12), (13).
Buying votes and a sense of perfect goodness with Palestinian and Israeli deaths
Perhaps the upcoming elections in Israel, the fact the government were trailing the opposition in the polls and the claims by the Israel opposition that the government parties were “weak” and “soft on terrorism” were a factor in the “election war”. As with so many attempts to pander to the worst beliefs in order to try to get votes it’s backfired. The right wing Likud party has increased it’s lead in the polls, though Palestinians in Gaza could be forgiven for wondering whether all this “vibrant democracy” made any difference to them when the “center” and “left” parties bomb and starve them just as much.
How can anyone seriously believe that a campaign killing 1,000 Palestinians in three weeks, including 250children, was a response to one Israeli civilian killed by rocket fire from Gaza in the previous six months (on Israeli foreign ministry figures)? – and that one death resulting from the Israeli raid on Gaza on 5th November 2008 which, along with Israel’s refusal to lift the blockade on Gaza, led to the breakdown of the ceasefire (14).
There have certainly been thousands of rockets and mortars fired from Gaza, but although rocket attacks on Israeli civilians are certainly wrong they have killed very few people, unlike the thousands of Israeli shells, bombs and missiles fired into Gaza.
Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak himself said in the past that “The Palestinians are the weakest of our enemies. As a military threat they are ludicrous.”(15)
If Israel’s government really wanted peace and to end the pointless cycle of deaths on both sides it didn’t need to do anything except accept offers of negotiation from the elected Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas.
The Israeli government routinely accuses Hamas of cynically risking civilians’ lives to gain support. In fact Israel’s government and main opposition parties are responsible for exactly the same on a much larger scale. Palestinians make a useful enemy and external ‘threat’ for Israeli governments to rally the public behind in nationalistic wars. Since in reality “as a military threat they are ludicrous” they can be repeatedly defeated with ease, allowing the government to point to “victories”. The opposition Likud party, whose leader Benjamin Netanyahu has called in the past for all Israeli Arabs and Palestinians to be expelled by force or ‘transfer’ can also deride the government for being weak in the face of the Arab threat. Israeli civilians and soldiers and a hundred times as many Palestinians may die each time, but that’s considered cheap in terms of votes gained.
Many Israelis have motives to buy the “Arab threat” propaganda too. Some of them are getting cheap houses and land in the West Bank from it. Others have been brought up to think of themselves as “proud Israelis” and Israel as an inherently morally good country.
For those who identify too closely with their government or don’t attempt to stay informed from multiple sources this leads them to see any criticism of their country as a personal attack on them. They can also see themselves as perfectly good and their enemies as inherently evil. This avoids having to face any uncomfortable doubts about whether they or their country are doing anything wrong. This is not unique to Israel. It’s true in every country, but also causes pointless deaths and wars in many – and Israel even more than most.
Palestinians are now seen not as people who vary and each of whom may be right or wrong in certain beliefs or actions but as inherently evil enemies who cannot be negotiated with. That was true of Arafat and Abbas of Fatah when they won Palestinian elections and its true now of Hamas and Haniyeh.
(1) = Independent 28 Jan 2009 ‘Gaza ceasefire strained as Mitchell flies in’,
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/gaza-ceasefire-strained-as-mitchell-flies-in-1517852.html (5th paragraph)
(2) = Jerusalem Post 27 Jan 2009 ‘Barak cancels US trip due to Gaza border attack’,
“"We will continue with our response to the attack even though it was carried out by a group that is not Hamas," Barak said in a speech before students at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center. "We hold Hamas responsible for everything that happens in Gaza.”
(3) = Guardian 06 Jan 2009 ‘Israel looks to drive out Hamas’,
(4) = Telegraph 27 Dec 2008 ‘Israel attack on Gaza: Fragile peace shattered again’,
(5) = AFP 01 Feb 2009 ‘Israel bombs Gaza after new rocket fire’,
(6) = Guardian 26 Jan 2009 ‘Hamas offers $52m handouts to help hardest-hit Gazans’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jan/26/hamas-payout-gaza-infrastructure
(7) = Haaretz 10 July 2008 ‘Hamas arrests Gaza rocket squad after two Qassams hit Negev’, http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1000881.html
(8) = Jerusalem Post 27 Jan 2009 ‘Barak cancels US trip due to Gaza border attack’,
(9) = Haaretz 29 Jan 2009 ‘IAF bombs Gaza weapons manufacturing site after rocket strikes Negev’, http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1059457.html
(10) = AFP 01 Feb 2009 ‘Israel bombs Gaza after new rocket fire’,
(11) = CNN 15 Jan 2009 ‘Third-ranking Hamas leader in Gaza killed’,
(13th paragraph reads ‘UNRWA Director John Ging denied there were any militants at the compound, and also said that at the time there was no fighting in the area.’)
(12) = Reuters 05 Nov 2008 ‘Israel-Hamas violence disrupts Gaza truce’,
(13) = Guardian 05 Nov 2008 ‘Gaza truce broken as Israeli raid kills six Hamas gunmen’,
(14) = Israel Foreign Ministry ‘Victims of Palestinian Violence and Terrorism since September 2000’, http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Terrorism-+Obstacle+to+Peace/Palestinian+terror+since+2000/Victims+of+Palestinian+Violence+and+Terrorism+sinc.htm
(15) = Ehud Barak in an interview published in Haaretz newspaper 18 June 1999 Cited by Avi Shlaim (2000) ‘The Iron Wall :Israel and the Arab World’ , Penguin paperback , London, 2001 , page xii