So the moment has come.
After a week of aerial bombing that has killed roughly 500 people and wounded around 2,500 (BBC estimate, exact figures unobtainable as international media are banned from Gaza), the ground invasion has begun. This is the moment that many of us hoped wouldn’t come, the moment that signals that this will last for months and not weeks, and will bring far more bloodshed. This then, is the time to make a stand.
At the start of this many felt that the Israeli Government had a decent case. As they rightly pointed out, Israelis have been suffering greatly from Hamas rocket attacks, which from 2001 to Dec 31 2008 have killed 10 Israelis (8 during 2008, and 4 of those during the current operation) and wounded 434 (figures from the Israeli Foreign Ministry). In addition to this it was pointed out that millions of Israelis were living in fear of potential and future attacks, causing psychological stress and trauma. So at the start of this campaign, many thought that the attacks would be brief and targeted, to quickly cut down Hamas’ rocket firing capacity.
But a week later, with the scale of the air strikes becoming apparent, and the beginning of a land invasion, it is clear that the IDF has bigger ambitions. Quoted in the New York Times, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said that “There is no doubt that as long as Hamas controls Gaza, it is a problem for Israel, a problem for the Palestinians and a problem for the entire region.” And Vice Prime Minister Haim Ramon has gone further: “What I think we need to do is to reach a situation in which we do not allow Hamas to govern”. So the goal is the total defeat of Hamas, a war of ‘regime change’, which will ultimately require Israel to fully recapture Gaza. This is hubristic, terrifying madness. Has nothing been learned from the wars in Lebanon? Does the Israeli government continue to believe in a ‘military solution, when events have consistently shown that there is none? Every attack by one side breeds a retaliation by the other, continuing the cycle of violence that stretches back to 1948 and beyond. While polemicists on both sides try to deny that such a cycle exists, to any less blinkered observers it is self evident. Every indication is that this operation will make Hamas more popular rather than less, and will further radicalise Gaza’s battered, besieged population.
We are told that one cannot reason with Hamas. In the words of the Wahington Post Neo-Con Charles Krauthammer “For Hamas, the only thing more prized than dead Jews are dead Palestinians. The religion of Jew-murder and self-martyrdom is ubiquitous” We are given the impression that the Hamas rockets came out of a vacuum, because Hamas is a fundamentalist organisation motivated by Islamism rather than rationality. But there is a context; the Gaza strip has been blockaded ever since the 2005 disengagement; in the last year and a half it has been under total siege, by air, land and sea. The rocket fire began in 2000 as a response to the occupation. It continued after 2005 because the occupation never ended; while Israel zealously controls all entry and exit to Gaza, it must still be considered occupied. The continued occupation of Gaza via the siege is the cause of the rocket fire; even the ever-moderate Jonathan Freedland admitted in Saturday’s Guardian that “a relaxation of the blockade would have granted Hamas its key objective – a chance to prove it can govern effectively – and it would not have jeopardised that with rocket fire. It would have had too much to lose”. On the question of who broke the ceasefire, it seems that there were violations on both side. For a more detailed analysis I turn to the ever perceptive and veteran Israeli Peace Campaigner, Uri Averny
As a matter of fact, the cease-fire did not collapse, because there was no real cease-fire to start with. The main requirement for any cease-fire in the Gaza Strip must be the opening of the border crossings. There can be no life in Gaza without a steady flow of supplies. The blockade on land, on sea and in the air against a million and a half human beings is an act of war, as much as any dropping of bombs or launching of rockets….. Those who decided to close the crossings – under whatever pretext – knew that there is no real cease-fire under these conditions.
That is the main thing. Then there came the small provocations which were designed to get Hamas to react. After several months, in which hardly any Qassam rockets were launched, an army unit was sent into the Strip “in order to destroy a tunnel that came close to the border fence”. From a purely military point of view, it would have made more sense to lay an ambush on our side of the fence. But the aim was to find a pretext for the termination of the cease-fire, in a way that made it plausible to put the blame on the Palestinians. And indeed, after several such small actions, in which Hamas fighters were killed, Hamas retaliated with a massive launch of rockets, and – lo and behold – the cease-fire was at an end. Everybody blamed Hamas.
The Israeli PR line is that Israel’s government had no choice, it had all agency removed from itself. What, they ask ad infinitim, would we have them do? This is a legitimate question, and we should be clear about the answer.
Back in 2000, when the institutions of Mayor and London Assembly were created (after the Conservatives abolished London Government in the late 80s) everyone assumed that they would be fairly irrelevant with few real powers, a glorified local authority. The fact that it has become mush more important than that, and therefore why the election matters, is entirely down to the candidate I am supporting, Ken Livingstone. He has been extraordinarily successful in raising the profile of the Mayor, gaining extensive extra powers, and cajoling central government into giving London a great deal of extra money. A lesser political operator could not have achieved this. With these extra powers and funds he has done enormous amount; here’s a brief and partial list.