The on-going tragedy in Gaza commands the attention of the world. Both the genesis of the current war and the possible path to an eventual resolution defy simple definition. This article is not an attempt to point to a solution, but only a description of differing positions and some pointers to resources for further information and analysis from a variety of points of view.
Near-universal calls for an end to Israeli air strikes focus on the civilian death toll and the continuing immiseration of the population of Gaza. Democracy Now reports:
Four Israeli citizens, including two Arab Israelis, have been killed by rockets from the Gaza Strip since Israel began its offensive on Saturday. Nearly 400 Palestinians have been killed and at least 1,600 injured. Latest reports indicate Israeli bombs have hit the network of tunnels under the Egypt-Gaza border that many have described as a “lifeline for the Palestinian people,” because it’s been a major channel for smuggling in basic supplies from Egypt. Israel maintains the tunnels are used to smuggle weapons in.
Gaza is a small strip of land, thirty miles long and ten miles wide at its widest point. Hamas won elections in Gaza in 2006. Israel responded with economic sanctions and blockades, and military conflicts escalated throughout the year, culminating in an Israeli ground invasion in northern Gaza in November 2006. A ceasefire followed the Israeli withdrawal, but did not last. According to the Guardian:
After Hamas seized full control of Gaza in late June 2007, following a near civil war with its rival Fatah, Israel stepped up its air raids. On a single day in June, 12 Palestinians were killed in what an Israeli minister called “preventive measures” against rocket attacks from Gaza.
At the same time, Israel tightened its economic blockade, reducing the flow of goods into Gaza to a bare minimum, stopping all exports and placing severe limits on those Palestinians it allowed to leave Gaza through Israel. By September it had declared Gaza a “hostile territory” as militant rocket attacks and Israeli military raids continued.
A new round of US-sponsored peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians began at a summit in Annapolis, in the US, in November 2007 – but the conflict in Gaza continued.
A ceasefire was reached in June 2008, but broke down in November.
Israel condemns Hamas, which has been shooting more and more powerful missiles deeper inside Israel as the months go by.
Moshe Arens writes in Ha’aretz that there are seven ways to stop the rockets, but only one way that is effective:
Why has it been so difficult for our leaders – civilian and military – to understand this? The prospect of ground forces entering the Gaza Strip is not particularly attractive, especially after we have been told that “we have left the Gaza Strip forever.” But nobody has yet found a way of defeating an enemy without invading their territory. Call it occupation or whatever else you like, but that is how wars have always been won, and if we are going to defeat Hamas and stop the rockets from raining on Israeli civilians that is what we will have to do.
Seth Freedman, writing in the Guardian, defends Israel’s attack:
As Israeli spokesmen have reiterated time and again in the media, there is not a country in the world which would allow such assaults to take place on a daily basis without taking action to defend their citizens. Hamas knew this, and that their barrage of rockets would inevitably bring retaliation on the people of Gaza. Despite the ever-louder sabre-rattling by Israeli politicians during the last week, Hamas continued to use heavily-populated civilian centres as launching pads for their daily attacks on Israel.
On the other side, most of the world condemns the current Israeli war on Gaza, which has killed hundreds, wounded hundreds more, and wreaked death and havoc on the civilian population.
Gideon Levy, writing in HaAretz, eloquently describes the consequences of the bombing:
In four days they killed 375 people. They did not, and could not, distinguish between a Hamas official and his children, between a traffic cop and a Qassam launch operator, between a weapons cache and a health clinic, between the first and second floors of a densely populated apartment building with dozens of children inside. According to reports, about half of the people killed were innocent civilians. …
Do the pilots think about them, the children of refugees whose parents and grandparents have already been driven from their lives? Do they think about the thousands of people they have left permanently disabled in a place without a single hospital worthy of the name and no rehabilitation centers at all? Do they think about the burning hatred they are planting not only in Gaza but in other corners of the world amid the horrific images on television?
After its severe strike on Gaza, Israel would do well to stop, turn to Hamas’ leaders and say: Until Saturday Israel held its fire in the face of thousands of Qassams from the Gaza Strip. Now you know how harsh its response can be. So as not to add to the death and destruction we will now hold our fire unilaterally and completely for the next 48 hours. Even if you fire at Israel, we will not respond with renewed fighting. We will grit our teeth, as we did all through the recent period, and we will not be dragged into replying with force.
Moreover, we invite interested countries, neighbors near and far, to mediate between us and you to bring back the cease-fire. …
That is what Israel should do now. Is it possible, or are we too imprisoned in the familiar ceremony of war?
On the last day of 2008, however, neither Israel nor Hamas showed any interest in a cease-fire. Instead, Israel appeared poised for a ground invasion.
Facts on the ground–number of air strikes in Gaza, number of rockets landing in Israel, number of people killed, mosques, schools and jails destroyed–these are not in dispute. The disputes come in assigning meaning and blame, and in the intractable problem of finding a way to peace. Ezra Klein, writing in The American Prospect, describes the depth of the differences:
One important disconnect in Israel/Palestine debate is that Israel’s supporters tend to focus on what the Palestinians want while Palestine’s supporters tend to focus on what the Israelis do. Israel’s defenders, for instance, make a lot of Hamas’s willingness to kill large numbers of civilians. Palestine’s defenders make a lot of the fact that Israel actually kills large numbers of Palestinian civilians.
The Israelis see themselves as threatened innocents, not oppressors. They point to the public statements of Hamas, and they are right. The Palestinians see themselves as an occupied people, not aggressors. They point to their death toll and the settlements, and they are right.
The disaster in Gaza goes beyond the immediate devastation of the current war. In an editorial, Lebanon’s Daily Star points to the longer-term problem:
The international community’s reaction to the crisis in Gaza betrays an ugly truth about the world’s attitude toward the decades-long plight of a dispossessed people: No one cares about the Palestinians unless they are being murdered in their hundreds, and their unjustifiable suffering will in all likelihood be forgotten again whenever the guns fall silent. …
[The] Gaza Strip, where nearly half the population is under the age of 14, has been strangled by various forms of Israeli blockade for nearly three years. During this time, countless reports have emerged detailing horrors such as malnourished children, hospitals lacking electricity and basic medical supplies, and human beings being forced to rummage through garbage bins like animals in search of food. Where was the international outrage then? And where will the scores of flag-waving demonstrators be when the current slaughter comes to an end? …
Nothing of substance will change until the Palestinians have a state to call their own. And neither spontaneous demonstrations nor barrages of rockets will help the Palestinians to reach this objective. What is required is an intelligent, sustained and proactive effort aimed at reaching a peace deal that will result in Palestinian statehood.