Israel and Gaza have once again been engaged in violent hostilities over the past week or so. Thankfully a ceasefire, brokered by Egypt, was announced on Wednesday 21st November which, so far, appears to be holding.
Occasional rocket fire persists from Gaza, and reports on Friday 23rd November indicated a Palestinian man had been shot dead by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) close to the Israel-Gaza border, although the IDF refused to entirely confirm this. In a situation described as “utterly tragic” by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, now International Envoy to the Middle East, we can but hope such events do not detriment the overall ceasefire.
Summary of the most recent crisis (thus far):
Israel renewed its policy of targeted assassinations, launching an air strike on Gaza which killed Ahmed Jabari, the commander of the military wing of Hamas – the governing party in Gaza – on 14th November; this amid days of escalated tension on the Israel-Gaza border. According to the Israeli Government, Jabari was responsible for “all terrorist activities against Israel from Gaza”. Hamas declared the murder of its commander had “opened the gates of hell”.
The Israeli Government subsequently announced the start of ‘Operation Pillar of Defence’, principally to protect Israeli citizens from “the terror of rockets [launched from Gaza]”, but with the secondary (and some would argue primary) goal of crippling Hamas’ ability to carry out such attacks.
There ensued days of relentless air strikes and shelling by Israeli forces on Gaza, with retaliatory rocket fire from Gaza into Israel – a classic David and Goliath situation, but one in which David does not emerge with a miraculous victory.
Following the announcement of the ceasefire, thousands of Gaza residents poured onto its streets to celebrate, waving flags and setting off fireworks. This proves, at least in part, the message Impact heard regularly at demonstrations to display solidarity with Gaza held in Nottingham over the last 10-12 days: “we’re hungry for peace, both Israelis and Palestinians” was the belief of one particular UoN student from the West Bank. Meanwhile, life in southern Israel is beginning to return to normal.
The murder of a Palestinian near to the Israel-Gaza border on Friday, while widely covered in the media, was in fact a regular occurrence before this most recent crisis: the victim, by all accounts, was one of a group of farmers looking to access their land, but, due to the unilaterally declared ‘exclusion zone’ – an area stretching 300 metres from the border into Gaza territory – that Israel maintains for ‘security reasons’, any person within or often near this region is expose to warning shots, some of which, it would seem, might accidentally lead to death.
Long term causes:
While the latest hostilities were ostensibly caused by rocket fire, this is not a new fight: as one Nottingham demonstrator with family from Gaza said, “this started 64 years back”.
More recently, in 2007-8, Israel launched a full ground assault on Gaza which resulted in widespread death and destruction. Almost concurrently and to this day, Israel has attempted to secure a tight grip on Hamas via its blockade: under the pretext of restricting imports into Gaza with which Hamas could create rockets or other weapons to be used against Israel, (although some reports claim even pine nuts, for example, are prohibited items), Gaza is subjected to conditions known as ‘economic warfare’, maintaining the Gaza economy at just above breaking point, condemning many of those within to a life of hardship, insecurity and poverty. Whilst no-one can condone rocket fire, particularly when directed at habitation, militant resistance is commonplace in situations of desperation.
Take the election of Hamas itself – historical studies and sociology tests combined show that people under extreme pressure from external or internal factors vote, willingly, with a heavy heart, or, indeed, with a sense of foreboding, for what they see as their only hope of an escape from their circumstances: a strong leadership, and hope … even if that comes at a price.
One could claim Gaza is still paying the price for that decision today.