Gaza: Nobody needed to die
Israel is currently engaged in its third military
offensive on Gaza since 2008, ostensibly to
bring a halt to rocket and mortar fire out of Gaza
There was no need for this offensive – or for the previous
two offensives – for Israel
to achieve that objective. Nobody,
neither Israeli nor Palestinian, needed to die in order to bring a halt to
rocket and mortar fire out of Gaza. All Israel needed to do was to stick to
agreements it made with Hamas. But it
Hamas willing to do a deal
Since September 2005, when Israel
withdrew its settlers and ground troops from Gaza,
Hamas has been willing to abstain from rocket and mortar fire out of Gaza, and to exert pressure on other Palestinian groups to
do likewise, providing Israel
its repeated military incursions into Gaza,
its economic blockade of Gaza.
The economic blockade is contrary to international law,
specifically Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which forbids
collective punishment of people under occupation, but the international
community has stood idly by for years while Israel
has callously maintained this blockade and brought untold misery to the people
Here’s what Chris Gunness of the UN Relief and Works Agency
told the BBC Today programme on 17 July 2014 about its effects:
“95% of the water is
undrinkable. You turn on a tap in Gaza and salt water comes
out of it. Millions of litres of raw
sewage flow into the sea from Gaza
every single day. We have a situation where
the number of people coming to UNRWA for food assistance – it was 80,000 in
2000, it is now 800,000, that is, more than half of the people of Gaza have
been made aid dependent as a result of man made policies.”
Man made in Israel,
he might have added, and implemented with cold deliberation. Remember, according to a Wikileaks cable from
the US embassy in Tel Aviv on 20 October 2008, Israeli officials had made it
clear to the US “on multiple occasions” that “as part of their overall embargo
plan against Gaza” Israel intended “to
keep the Gazan economy functioning at the lowest level possible consistent with
avoiding a humanitarian crisis” .
Israel failed to honour obligations
There is no doubt that, if it had wished to do so, Israel could
have achieved a peaceful modus vivendi with Hamas on the above basis at any
time since September 2005.
The fact that such a modus vivendi was not arrived at and
maintained is entirely Israel’s
brokered arrangements along these lines on two occasions but while Hamas honoured
its obligations under them on each occasion, Israel did not:
(1) In June 2008, Egypt brokered a deal which
provided for an immediate cessation of hostilities on both sides and Israeli
steps towards ending its blockade. Hamas
fulfilled its obligations under the deal and ceased firing out of Gaza for four and a half
months. But Israel did not ease its blockade and,
on the evening of 4 November 2008. it made a military incursion into Gaza, for the first time
since the ceasefire began in June, and killed 7 members of Hamas. That was the
end of the deal.
second military offensive against Gaza in
November 2012 (Operation Pillar of Cloud) was ended with a deal in which Israel promised to cease military incursions
into Gaza and end its blockade of Gaza. It did neither. By contrast, Hamas maintained a ceasefire for
over 18 months.
2008 Israel-Hamas ceasefire
In June 2008, Egypt
brokered a deal between Israel
and Hamas along the above lines. The
text of the deal is not in the public domain but, according to the
International Crisis Group, it provided for
“immediate cessation of hostile
activities; a limited increase in the amount of goods entering Gaza after three
days; and, after ten days, the crossings to be open for all products except
materials used in the manufacture of projectiles and explosives” (Briefing: Round Two in Gaza, 11 September 2008 )
Hamas fulfilled its obligations under this agreement to the
letter and, as a result, southern Israel
was almost entirely free from firing out of Gaza for four and a half months. As a “partner for peace”, Hamas could not be
faulted – they made a deal with Israel
and stuck to it.
It is true that the ceasefire was not perfect: despite being
restrained by Hamas, there was occasional firing by other Palestinian groups,
but this declined over time and in October only 1 rocket and 1 mortar was fired
out of Gaza, compared with 153 rockets and 241 mortars in the first 18 days of
June before the ceasefire.
However, Israel did not fulfil its obligations under the
agreement: it did not ease its economic blockade, let alone lift it, and on the
evening of 4 November 2008 (when the world was watching the election of Barack
Obama) it made a military incursion into Gaza, for the first time since the
ceasefire began in June, and killed 7 members of Hamas.
That was a death blow to the ceasefire deal – Israel had now broken both of its obligations under
it and in retaliation Hamas resumed rocket and mortar fire out of Gaza.
A few weeks later, on 27 December 2008, Israel launched its first offensive major
offensive against Gaza,
Operation Cast Lead, during which it killed 1400 Palestinians, including 400
women and children. 9 Israeli military
personnel were killed during its ground invasion of Gaza.
But that didn’t bring a permanent halt to firing out of Gaza.
Had Israel stuck to
the ceasefire, there could have been peace across the border to this day
without any of these, or any other, people dying.
on Operation Cast Lead, even though it knew that Hamas was willing to reinstate
the ceasefire. According to
Ynet News ,
the head of Shin
Bet, Yuval Diskin, told
a meeting of Israeli ministers on 21 December 2008 that Hamas
was “interested in maintaining the truce”.
He continued: “It
seeks to improve its conditions – a removal of the blockade, receiving a
commitment from Israel that
it won't attack and extending the lull to the Judea and Samaria area.”
So, a week
before Operation Cast Lead was launched, the opportunity still existed to
restore the calm that existed before 4 November, but Israel didn’t pursue it. It preferred military action, which was
predictably less effective than the earlier ceasefire in preventing firing out
When Operation Cast
Lead was launched, no resident of Israel
had been killed by rocket and mortar fire out of Gaza for over six months. 4 were killed during it.
(For more information, see Sadaka Paper: The Israel-Hamas ceasefire
of 19 June 2008 to 4 Nov 2008: The peaceful alternative to Operation Cast Lead that
Operation Pillar of
On 14 November 2012, Israel
broke an informal ceasefire to launch Operation Pillar of Cloud, its second
major military offensive against Gaza,
ostensibly to end rocket and mortar fire out of Gaza.
The offensive began with the extrajudicial killing of Ahmed Jaabari, the
commander of the military wing of Hamas, whom Israel knew to be a key player in ongoing
negotiations to achieve long-term ceasefire arrangements like those of June
2008 . During the offensive, Israel killed another 170 Palestinians in Gaza, including 50 women
When Operation Pillar
of Cloud was launched, no resident of Israel
had been killed by rocket and mortar fire out of Gaza for over a year. 6 were killed during it.
The November 2012 deal
The offensive ended on 21 November 2012 with a deal brokered
(see Understanding Regarding Ceasefire in
Gaza Strip ). This offered another opportunity for Israel to arrive
at a modus vivendi with Hamas and establish and maintain peace across the
It specified that “Israel shall stop all hostilities on the
Gaza Strip land, sea and air including incursions and targeting of individuals”
and that “all Palestinian factions shall stop all hostilities from the Gaza
Strip against Israel, including rocket attacks, and attacks along the border”.
In addition, the deal provided for the ending of Israel’s economic blockade of Gaza:
“opening the crossings and facilitating the movement of
people and transfer of goods, and refraining from restricting residents free
movement, and targeting residents in border areas”.
Israel fails to honour its obligations
On the basis of this, Palestinians had a right to expect
would take steps to ease the economic blockade and would eventually lift it
completely. Israel did not honour that
Nor did Israel
honour its commitment to “stop all hostilities inside Gaza by land, sea and air”. For example, according to B’Tselem ,
from 21 November 2012 until end of March 2014, 20 Palestinians were killed by
Israeli military action inside Gaza
(and many more have been killed since then).
Moreover, some of these were targeted assassinations and others were
killed in the Israeli-defined buffer zone near the border. Both of these practices were forbidden in the
The deal appeared to have the support of the US, since
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stood beside the Egyptian Foreign Minister,
Mohamad Amr, when he announced it. But the
US, and the EU, stood idly
by while Israel ignored the
agreement and the people of Gaza continued to
live in misery, which has been made more acute following the change of regime
in Egypt in July 2013, when
the tunnels under the border between Egypt
and Gaza were
By contrast, Hamas honoured its commitment to stop all
hostilities from the Gaza Strip against Israel
and fired no rockets or mortars out of Gaza from
21 November 2012 to 1 July 2014 (see Israeli Intelligence and Terrorism Information
Center report ). Despite being restrained by Hamas, other
Palestinian groups did fire out of Gaza in that period, but at a low level
apart from in March and June 2014 (ibid  and ). Generally speaking, these firings were in
response to Israeli military incursions into Gaza in breach of the November 2012 agreement.
failed to implement the deal it agreed to in November 2012. Had it done so, a peaceful modus vivendi could
have been reached with Hamas. Instead, Israel has launched a third military offensive
against Gaza since
2008 (Operation Protective Edge). At the
time of writing, it has killed over 700 Palestinians, including at least 250
women and children.
When Operation Protective
Edge was launched, no resident of Israel had been killed by rocket and mortar
fire out of Gaza since the last major military offensive in November 2012. At the time of writing, 3 have been killed
during Operation Protective Edge.
Why has Israel always chosen military
Why has Israel
persistently chosen the military options to prevent rocket and mortar out of Gaza when the indications
are that this objective could have been more effectively achieved by an agreement
with Hamas, without any blood being spilt?
The answer seems to be that Israel is opposed in principle
to maintaining a long term agreement with Hamas, because that would be
tantamount to recognising it as the legitimate ruler of Gaza.
Tzipi Livni stated this very clearly in December 2008, when
she was Israel’s
Foreign Minister and had recently been elected leader of Kadima. Speaking at Tel
she said that an extended truce or long term calm with Hamas “harms the Israel strategic goal, empowers Hamas, and gives
the impression that Israel
recognizes the movement” . This seems to be an attempt to justify Israel breaking
its ceasefire agreement with Hamas a month earlier.
She returned to this theme at a press conference on 31
December 2008, a few days after Operation Cast Lead began, telling the world
that attempts by Hamas to gain legitimacy must be resisted:
“But there is one thing that the
world needs to understand: Hamas wants to gain legitimacy from the
international community. Hamas wants to show that there is a place which is
called the Gaza Strip, that this kind of an organization - an extremist Islamic
organization that acts by terrorism and which is a designated terrorist
organization - can rule. And to make it seem a legitimate regime.
“So they want the crossings to be
opened, not only for the sake of the population, but because this symbolically
is how they can show that the Gaza Strip has become a kind of a small state,
which is controlled by them. This is something that nobody can afford, neither Israel,
nor the pragmatic leadership, nor the legitimate Palestinian leadership or
government, nor any part of the moderate Arab world.”
(A transcript of this press conference is still available on
the website of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs ).
So, according to Tzipi Livni, making long term arrangements
with Hamas about, for example, a long term ceasefire or the opening of border
crossings, bolsters the legitimacy of Hamas as the ruler of Gaza – and Israel
is opposed to that in principle, even though previous ceasefire arrangements
greatly reduced the possibility of Israeli residents being killed by rocket and
mortar fire out of Gaza.
International enforcement mechanism
Clearly, an agreement to bring an end to Israel’s current murderous offensive must
contain the same ingredients as the November 2012 agreement – an end to Israel’s military incursions into Gaza and the lifting of
But without an international enforcement mechanism, past
experience suggests that Israel
will not implement any agreement along these lines but will carry on as it did
after the November 2012 agreement, making military incursions into Gaza at will and maintaining
If an agreement is to be implemented, there needs to be an
international force along the border to monitor the ceasefire and to investigate
alleged breaches of it and some international body must be given the task of
monitoring the lifting of the blockade.
Israel will, of course, resist
international involvement of this kind, which will restrict its freedom of
action in respect of Gaza. It remains to be seen whether the
international community, in particular, the US
and the EU, will insist that Israel
implement any agreement that is reached.
The Agreement on Movement and Access
History does not give grounds for hope that the US/EU will
In November 2005, Israel signed the Agreement on Movement and Access.
This specified arrangements that were supposed to operate to maintain
and develop the economic life of Gaza, in the
wake of the Israeli “disengagement” in September 2005, and to pave the way for
the creation of a viable Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.
The Agreement was drawn up by the US
and sponsored by the Quartet (US, EU, Russia and the UN
Secretary-General). Condoleezza Rice (US Secretary of State) and Javier Solana (EU
High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy) launched the
Agreement at a press conference in Jerusalem
on 15 November 2005. At the launch, Condoleezza
“This agreement is intended to give
the Palestinian people freedom to move, to trade, to live ordinary lives.
“First, for the first
time since 1967, Palestinians will gain control over entry and exit from their
territory. This will be through an international crossing at Rafah, whose
target opening date is November 25th.
and the Palestinians will upgrade and expand other crossings for people and
cargo between Israel, Gaza and the West Bank.
This is especially important now because Israel
has committed itself to allow the urgent export of this season’s agricultural
produce from Gaza.
“Third, Palestinians will be able to move between Gaza and the West Bank;
specifically, bus convoys are to begin about a month from now and truck convoys
are to start a month after that.
“Fourth, the parties will reduce obstacles to movement
within the West Bank. It has been agreed that
by the end of the year the United States
will complete work to lift these obstacles and develop a plan to reduce them.
“Fifth, construction of a Palestinian seaport can begin. The
Rafah model will provide a basis for planned operations.
“Sixth, the parties agree on the importance of the airport. Israel
recognizes that the Palestinian Authority will want to resume construction on
the airport. I am encouraging Israel
to consider allowing construction to resume as this agreement is successfully
implemented -- construction that could, for instance, be limited to
non-aviation elements.” .
This is what the US
and the EU promised the people of Gaza
in November 2005. Nearly, a decade later
none of it has been delivered. For most
of that time, Gaza has been subject to a brutal
economic blockade by Israel
and the US/EU, the sponsors of the agreement, have stood idly by and let it
In that time, nearly
4,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli military action in Gaza and the figure is
rising all remorselessly as Operation Protective Edge continues.
In the same period, 24
residents of Israel died as
a result of rocket and mortar fire out of Gaza,
12 of them during the three major Israeli military assaults on Gaza.
26 July 2014