We are well into the fifth day of the Israeli assault, named by them as “Pillar of Defense.” Until now, no ceasefire agreement has been reached, failing to bring calm to the Strip, which has been bombed continuously since the breakout of the Israeli campaign. Parallel, the Hamas, and some fringe groups, have been able to continue to shoot rockets into Israel, with their range reaching as far as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
For the Israelis, in a historical perspective, they have had it out for Hamas for years. This one-time branch of the (once radical, now mainstream) Muslim Brotherhood for years sat quietly, being used by Israel as a tool to balance out the Palestinian Liberation Organization. However, in 1988, following the first Intifada, which took place in the Palestinian territories, occupied by Israel in 1967, Hamas started to take the lead in its opposition to the “Zionist occupiers.” Following the 1993 Oslo Accords, which immediately showed signs of failure, the Hamas became the main voice of the Palestinian opposition, which quickly radicalized opting for suicide bombers to fulfill their mission in the streets of Israel, killing hundreds of innocent citizens.
As ties between the PLO and Hamas worsened, the Palestinians, themselves were thrown into civil conflict. Growing tensions reached a boiling point after the Palestinians elections in 2006, when Hamas received the majority vote, eventually joining together with the PLO in a National Unity government. From this point on, events have spiraled out of control. First, Israel, the US, and the European Union, refused to recognize the democratic outcome, freezing all funding and suspending relations. Then, the PLO and Hamas were thrown into months of armed conflict, with the Hamas taking over the Gaza strip in summer 2007, and setting up a mini-state. While Israel is not occupying the Gaza Strip, through their blockade, they have turned Gaza into what some call the largest open air prison.
Gaza, at the reins of the Hamas, quickly turned into a challenge for Israel, and as tensions arose, the Hamas adopted a new strategy, the shooting of homemade rockets over the border. These rockets over the years have turned from homemade ones to more sophisticated rockets, such as Grads, and more recently, the Iranian made Fajr 5, which were smuggled via Egypt to tunnels linked to the Strip. After less than a year-and-a-half of Hamas rule in Gaza, in late December 2008, Israel embarked on Operation Cast Lead, at an attempt to cleanse Gaza of Hamas control, which came after a three-week Israeli campaign launched in June 2006, when the Hamas was able to kidnap the Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, who was returned in healthy condition only last year.
Operation Cast Lead in some senses was a watershed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; with Gaza battered by massive bombardment, killing over 1500, it seemed that the Palestinians had reached the lowest point since the 1948 Nakbah. For the Israelis, it will be remembered as another war of theirs, that once the dust settled, left people questioning what they achieved, and at what cost. Clearly, within months, the beaten down Hamas, collected itself together and once again proved its ability to challenge Israel.
My memory of Operation Cast Lead was one of an overly obsessed Israel, which became more entrenched once they saw the Hamas, even under mass bombardment, would not cave in. The numerous pictures of the dead were haunting, similar to ones we are seeing once again. As I write, the death toll in Gaza, which includes children, has almost reached a hundred. The flip-side is that over the five years, most Israeli children living in the south have become accustomed to the fact that they cannot play out in the open; as children in the world watch weather reports to see if rain is expected, Israeli children before playing outdoors check the forecast for rockets. And, in the event there is a direct hit, the rockets also kill, as we saw last week, when three members of an Israeli family were killed.
The question of why the Israelis decided now to set on a campaign is mind boggling (see links to related articles below). It is hard to imagine that they will be able to declare a decisive victory against Hamas, and in the end, they will sign a ceasefire not giving them any real advantage. For now, a massive ground operation seems unlikely, especially since the Israeli government, just before elections, cannot afford to have soldiers returning home in coffins. Moreover, in terms of humanity (if that is not enough, diplomatically) how can they justify a campaign, which causes massive terror over a civilian population; are the children of Gaza less entitled to life than that of Israelis?
For Hamas, I think too it is high time that they rethink their strategy. Is all the pain and conflict inflicted by the Israeli strikes worth it, when in the end we all know a ceasefire is in the waiting? After weeks of shooting rockets at Israelis, were you surprised that they seized the moment? Clearly, Hamas must know that they have little to gain from this short term conflict, and a long term conflict which even be worse. With Egypt electing a Muslim brotherhood backed President, could Hamas not have found better ways to promote their agenda?
Let us hope that the two sides will come to their senses and work for an immediate halt in violence. I will address in an upcoming blog what will come after a ceasefire, but what is clear is that both Israelis and Palestinians have some serious questions to ask their leaders. This might come tomorrow, or perhaps a decade from now, but clearly both sides have failed radically to promise a better future for the young generation.
I hope I have been able to make a little sense out of this sheer madness.
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