Behind the headlines of the Gaza attacks
Israel launched a devastating military campaign on the Gaza strip last weekend in what many have called one of the bloodiest since 1967.
After several days of aerial bombardment, the number of Palestinian killed has soared above 500 while there are more than 2200 men, women and children wounded according to [A1] local aid groups.
The Al Mezan [A2] Center for Human Rights reported from Gaza that the "vast majority" of those killed were "non-combatants and civilians," while the Palestinian Center for Human Rights [A3] said that "mostly" civilians (which included local police) were killed, including 75 children by Saturday.
"Every known police station" across the densely populated Gaza Strip was targeted, according to the Telegraph[A4] , which observed that Israel was not merely striking militants but deliberately targeting local security forces.
The Israeli attack has sparked protests worldwide [A6] in more than a dozen countries[A7] : from universities in Haifa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to the streets of Britain, Germany, Greece, Turkey, Ireland, Denmark, France, Italy and Spain, throughout the Muslim [A8] world, to hundreds [A9] of protests across the U.S., including more than 500 people demonstrating in Downtown Seattle on Saturday.
Dr. Assaf Oron, a former Israeli Defense Forces soldier, human-rights activist, and faculty at the University of Washington, whose family in Israel lives within range of Hamas rockets, spoke out against the attacks at the rally. While he condemned the militants'rocket attacks, he blasted the recent Israeli actions in Gaza as "cynical, idiotic, corrupt, deeply immoral and cowardly."
CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr believes [A10] that Israeli use of American bunker-buster bombs in Gaza neighborhoods "is becoming very problematic," stating that "[t]hat's not why the US sells weapons abroad -- for the killing of innocent civilians."
Five daughters, Tahrir, Ikram, Samer, Dina, and Jawahar, who was four-years-old, were killed in their beds located in the poor refugee camp of Jabalia when the camp's Imad Aqil mosque was bombed and destroyed, leveling their house and several other buildings.
Anwar, their father, said, "We are civilians. I don't belong to any faction, I don't support Fatah or Hamas, I'm just a Palestinian. They are punishing us all, civilians and militants. What is the guilt of the civilian[A11] ?"
US leaders have largely supported the strikes, with Bush administration blaming Hamas. President-elect Obama issued a "no comment" press release at first, with a spokesman later supporting them.
The US [A12] has also blocked [A13] a UN Security Council Resolution that called for "an immediate ceasefire and for its full respect by both sides," saying it was "unbalanced" and "one-sided," only to block another on Sunday, according to the Jeresulem Post and Deutche Welle[A14] .
Israeli leaders justified the attacks as a response for firing of homemade rockets by Hamas militants towards nearby Israeli towns.
Ha'aretz [A15] reported however, Defense Minister Ehud Barak ordered preparation for the strike over six months ago [A16] as Israel was negotiating a ceasefire with Hamas and involved "secret discussions, operational deception and the misleading of the public."
The six-month-old ceasefire between Israel and the Hamas government in Gaza was broken on the fourth of November with an Israeli military attack in the strip, which prompted retaliation with a barrage of rocket fire from Hamas, according to the Israeli press.
Back in August, Barak said that the truce had been a success and that an invasion of Gaza (now under way) would not stop rocket attacks and would only lead to a situation in which they "control another people against their will," according to an August 11 BBC[A17] report.
The day before the bombing, Barak eased the blockade and allowed humanitarian aid into the squalid strip - home to 1.5 million Palestinians - in order "to act as a deception against Hamas and give them the sense that the operation wasn't imminent," a senior Israeli official said to Agence France[A18] Press[A19] e.
That, and other moves led Hamas-affiliated policemen like chief of police, Tawfiq Jaber, a former Fatah (rival to Hamas) official who kept his post Hamas gained power, to return to back to their offices believing that Israel was indicating a future truce[A20] , Ha'aretz [A21] reported.
Jaber and scores of other policemen, including a group of 40 freshly graduated cadets were killed as "every known police station" across the Gaza Strip was targeted, according to the Telegraph[A22] , which also observed that Israel was not merel targeting militants but deliberately killing local security forces.
Russia Today [A24] reported that the bombs struck at precisely the time when children were leaving school, a sentiment echoed by Fikr Shallpoot, a health worker and resident in Gaza, who told the BBC [A25] the attacks against Hamas policeman and other targets struck in primarily civilian neighborhoods.
Sara Roy [A26] of Harvard's Center for Middle Eastern Studies cited "reports that some parents cannot find their dead children and are desperately roaming overflowing hospitals," likely hiding the true number of civilians killed.
"We left them in complete shock and awe," the Ma'ariv daily exclaimed. The decision to launch the attack on the Sabbath "was a stroke of brilliance," Yedioth Ahronoth boasted.
The day after the bombing, Ha'aretz [A28] reported that Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni gave orders to "take emergency measures to adapt Israel's international public relations to the ongoing escalation in the Gaza Strip."
Crippled by the Israeli embargo that severely limited medical supplies, the 13 hospitals in Gaza have been "overwhelmed" by the deluge of casualties and are in dire need of assistance, according to a report in Ha'aretz[A29] .
Physicians for Human Rights said that operations are already being performed without anesthesia and sterile equipment, gloves, gauze, and oxygen have run out. The report noted that pregnant women about to deliver are being turned away atShifa Hospital due to the number of casualties.
"There is no humanitarian crisis in the [Gaza] Strip, and therefore there is no need for a humanitarian truce," Foreign Minister Livni [A30] said after rejecting a French call for a humanitarian ceasefire, according to Ha'aretz.
Yet in March, 8 UK-based aid organizations including Oxfam, Amnesty International UK and CARE International UK, Oxfam, Save the Children UK, issued a report [A31] that called the situation in Gaza the worst in 40 years, according to Der Spiegel. [A32]
Many have questioned the rationale for the scale and timing of Saturday's attempt to "topple" Hamas, especially considering the predictable consequences it will have in enraging the Palestinian population who are already suffering from the siege, as well as emboldening extremists and marginalizing moderates.
Days before the attack, Justin Alexander[A34] , the Palestine analyst for the Economist Intelligence Unit ominously warned that because of "the heightened political competition between Israel's main parties in the run-up to the general election" there could be a "major conflict in Gaza."
"[T]he ferocity of Israel's assault on the crowded Gaza Strip is partly to be explained by the imminence of the vote" for Prime Minister in Israel, said the Financial Times [A35] editorial board. Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak are both candidates that "fear being labeled weak and seem to be trying to out-hawk the irredentist Likud, led by Benjamin Netanyahu."
The idea of attacking to shed the image of a Hezbollah defeat from the 2006 Lebanon War was echoed by Mark Heller of Tel Aviv University in the New York Times[A36] : "There has been a nagging sense of uncertainty in the last couple years of whether anyone is really afraid of Israel anymore."
"Israel had to act in order to not look weak," McClatchy [A37] news paraphrased an unnamed Israeli diplomat as saying, "particularly in the face of a threat from Lebanon-based Hezbollah on its northern border and an election looming in February."
Based on Israeli officials' comments, ret. Middle East intelligence officer Col. Pat Lang [A38] argued that "Israel's goals in Gaza are essentially psychological in that they seek to demonstrate to all the Israeli capability and willingness to inflict great damage and numerous casualties in pursuit of a position of dominance in the ME region."
Those sentiments were echoed by Mustafa Barghouthi[A39] , Secretary General of the Palestinian National Initiative, Jerusalem-based journalist Jonathan Cook[A40] , professor Neve Gordon, [A41] chair of the Department of Politics and Government of Ben-Gurion University in Israel, and former presidential candidate, conservative Pat Buchanan[A42] , all of whom pointed to the influence the upcoming elections likely had on the decision to attack.
Jerusalem Post columnist Herb Keinon [A43] argued that another of the Gaza attack's "unstated goals" is for "pure anarchy" to "sweep Hamas from power." "Jerusalem wants to hit Hamas's ability to rule, it wants to encourage anarchy that would threaten the organization," Keinon said.
By that measure, the strikes which have targeted much of the infrastructure responsible for order like police compounds and fire stations[A44] , as well as "symbols of power" like a[A45] University [A46] that serves 20,000 students, 9 mosques[A47] , and a radio station, have been a success.
Yuval Diskin, head of Shin Bet, Israel's domestic security agency, briefed the cabinet a week before the attacks, saying that Hamas was "interested in continuing the truce, but wants to improve its terms... [Hamas] wants [Israel] to lift the siege [of Gaza], stop attacks, and extend the truce to include [the West Bank]," the BBC [A48] reported on Monday the 22nd.
"The cabinet - high with election fever and eager to appear tough - rejected these terms," Johann Hari said in the Independent[A49] . Livni promised that if elected, "government under me, will make it a strategic objective to topple the Hamas regime in Gaza."
Israel's primary mistake during the truce period was failing to better the economic condition in Gaza, the former commander of the IDF in Gaza Brigadier General Shmuel Zakai, was quoted as saying in Ha'aretz[A50] .
"We could have eased the siege over the Gaza Strip, in such a way that the Palestinians, Hamas, would understand that holding their fire served their interests," Zakai said in an Israeli Army Radio program days before the attack. But by continuing the siege during the relative calm of the truce, "it's obvious that Hamas will try to reach an improved [truce], and that their way to achieve this, is resumed Qassam fire."
Israel must acknowledge that "Hamas rule in Gaza is a fact," and that it is a pragmatic organization that can be reasoned with, Zakai said.
"You cannot just land blows, leave the Palestinians in Gaza in the economic distress they're in, and to expect that Hamas will just sit around and do nothing," Zakai said, "that's something that's simply unrealistic...we can't impose regimes on the Palestinians. We can't cause the Palestinians [to decide] who will rule over them... I do not believe that the state of Israel should cause another ruler to come to power in Gaza borne on the bayonets of the IDF. "
Ephraim Halevy, the former head of Mossad, voiced [A51] similar sentiments when he said that, despite their radical core beliefs, Hamas militants "are ready and willing to see the establishment of a Palestinian state in the temporary borders of 1967."
Halvey's comments seemed accurate as a November 9 Ha'aretz [A52] report stated that Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas leader in Gaza, said "his government was willing to accept a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders."
Hamas has a long and largely unknown history with Israel.
A June 2002 UPI report [A53] by Richard Sale revealed that beginning in the late 1970s Israel gave both direct and indirect financial assistance to Hamas in an effort to offset the secular nationalist Palestinian Liberation Organization.
Tel Aviv funded Hamas in "a direct attempt to divide and dilute support for a strong, secular PLO by using a competing religious alternative," a former senior CIA official said to UPI.
One US official said that the right-wing of the Israeli establishment thought that if a group like Hamas, which denied the legitimacy of the Israeli state, were to gain power, then it would reject any peace process and therefore "Israel would still be the only democracy in the region for the United States to deal with."
Some warn of even greater "blowback" by recent Israeli actions.
Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery [A54] warned that with the images of "heaps of mutilated bodies, tearful relatives looking for their dear ones among the dozens of corpses spread out on the ground, a woman pulling her young daughter from under the rubble, [and] doctors without medicines trying to save the lives of the wounded," Israel's attacks may lead to "Hamas multiplied by a thousand."
[A40]http://www.thenational.ae/article/20081230/FOREIGN/746211292 "Mr Netanyahu, has been silenced. His main platform had been insisting on a tougher approach in Gaza."