This brutality will never break our will to be free

For 18 months my people in Gaza have been under siege, incarcerated inside the world’s biggest prison, sealed off from land, air and sea, caged and starved, denied even medication for our sick. After the slow death policy came the bombardment. In this most densely populated of places, nothing has been spared Israel’s warplanes, from government buildings to homes, mosques, hospitals, schools and markets. More than 540 have been killed and thousands permanently maimed. A third are women and children. Whole families have been massacred, some while they slept.

This river of blood is being shed under lies and false pretexts. For six months we in Hamas observed the ceasefire. Israel broke it repeatedly from the start. Israel was required to open crossings to Gaza, and extend the truce to the West Bank. It proceeded to tighten its deadly siege of Gaza, repeatedly cutting electricity and water supplies. The collective punishment did not halt, but accelerated – as did the assassinations and killings. Thirty Gazans were killed by Israeli fire and hundreds of patients died as a direct effect of the siege during the so-called ceasefire. Israel enjoyed a period of calm. Our people did not.

When this broken truce neared its end, we expressed our readiness for a new comprehensive truce in return for lifting the blockade and opening all Gaza border crossings, including Rafah. Our calls fell on deaf ears. Yet still we would be willing to begin a new truce on these terms following the complete withdrawal of the invading forces from Gaza.

No rockets have ever been fired from the West Bank. But 50 died and hundreds more were injured there last year at Israel’s hands, while its expansionism proceeded relentlessly. We are meant to be content with shrinking scraps of territory, a handful of cantons at Israel’s mercy, enclosed by it from all sides.The truth is Israel seeks a one-sided ceasefire, observed by my people alone, in return for siege, starvation, bombardment, assassinations, incursions and colonial settlement. What Israel wants is a gratuitous ceasefire.

The logic of those who demand that we stop our resistance is absurd. They absolve the aggressor and occupier – armed with the deadliest weapons of death and destruction – of responsibility, while blaming the victim, prisoner and occupied. Our modest, home-made rockets are our cry of protest to the world. Israel and its American and European sponsors want us to be killed in silence. But die in silence we will not.

What is being visited on Gaza today was visited on Yasser Arafat before. When he refused to bow to Israel’s dictates, he was imprisoned in his Ramallah headquarters, surrounded by tanks for two years. When this failed to break his resolve, he was murdered by poisoning.

Gaza enters 2009 just as it did 2008: under Israeli fire. Between January and February of last year 140 Gazans died in air strikes. And just before it embarked on its failed military assault on Lebanon in July 2006, Israel rained thousands of shells on Gaza, killing 240. From Deir Yassin in 1948 to Gaza today, the list of Israel’s crimes is long. The justifications change, but the reality is the same: colonial occupation, oppression, and never-ending injustice. If this is the “free world” whose “values” Israel is defending, as its foreign minister Tzipi Livni alleges, then we want nothing to do with it.

Israel’s leaders remain in the grip of confusion, unable to set clear goals for the attacks – from ousting the legitimately elected Hamas government and destroying its infrastructure, to stopping the rockets. As they fail to break Gaza’s resistance the benchmark has been lowered. Now they speak of weakening Hamas and limiting the resistance. But they will achieve neither. Gaza’s people are more united than ever, determined not to be terrorised into submission. Our fighters, armed with the justice of their cause, have already caused many casualties among the occupation army and will fight on to defend their land and people. Nothing can defeat our will to be free.

Once again, Washington and Europe have opted to aid and abet the jailer, occupier and aggressor, and to condemn its victims. We hoped Barack Obama would break with George Bush’s disastrous legacy but his start is not encouraging. While he swiftly moved to denounce the Mumbai attacks, he remains tongue-tied after 10 days of slaughter in Gaza. But my people are not alone. Millions of freedom-loving men and women stand by its struggle for justice and liberation – witness daily protests against Israeli aggression, not only in the Arab and Islamic region, but worldwide.

Israel will no doubt wreak untold destruction, death and suffering in Gaza. But it will meet the same fate in Gaza as it did in Lebanon. We will not be broken by siege and bombardment, and will never surrender to occupation. [continued…]

Death toll mounts as Israel expands Gaza offensive

Inside Gaza City, windows are blown out, electricity is cut and drinking water scarce. While phones rang with the recorded threats against Hamas, leaflets dropped from airplanes littered the streets, saying: “Hamas is getting a taste of the power of the Israeli military after more than a week and we have other methods that are still harsher to deal with Hamas. They will prove very painful. For your safety, please evacuate your neighborhood.”

Israeli officials hope an eventual deal will be struck without engaging directly with Hamas, but Mark Regev, the spokesman for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, said Israel would not exclude a tacit understanding with Hamas.

“The endgame for us is threefold: that Hamas’s military machine would be substantially destroyed; two, Hamas understands that shooting rockets means paying a price they don’t want to pay; and three, there are mechanisms in place to prevent Hamas from rearming,” Mr. Regev said.

But as the offensive unfolds, so, too, evidence is mounting of a severe humanitarian crisis.

Maxwell Gaylard, United Nations humanitarian affairs coordinator, said at a Jerusalem news briefing on Monday that because of the attacks, people could not reach available food.

Children are hungry, cold, without electricity and running water, he said, “and above all, they’re terrified. That by any measure is a humanitarian crisis.” [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — Are you paying attention Mr President-elect? Still “monitoring the situation” closely? Still calm? Or is that calm merely a cloak, hiding cowardice and calousness? Who would want to ruffle any feathers over a little spilt blood?

And here’s a question for all Israel apologists: Where is the much trumpeted Iranian threat? If the frequently and breathlessly repeated warnings were to be believed, by the time Israel relinquished its position of great restraint, Gaza was brissling with a massive arsenal of Iranian-supplied Katyusha and Grad rockets. For the past two years, right under the noses of Egypt’s Iran-hostile security forces, a steady flow of weaponry has been pouring through tunnels that run under the Egyptian border. But if that’s really true, how is that we now witness a mere 20 rockets a day being fired at Israel, mostly home-made Qassams and during ten days of war a mere handful of Grad rockets? Is Hamas keeping the bulk of its arsenal in reserve? Or is it possible that the whole “Iran-proxy”, “Iranian-armed Hamas” argument has been vastly overstated? Is it possible that the primary function of the so-called weapons pipeline, was instead a pipeline for everyday commodities that now fetch a premium in a siege-crippled economy?

Israel blocks the media from the catastrophe unfolding in Gaza

“I keep the children away from the windows because the F-16s are in the air; I forbid them to play below because it’s dangerous. They’re bombing us from the sea and from the east, they’re bombing us from the air. When the telephone works, people tell us about relatives or friends who were killed. My wife cries all the time. At night she hugs the children and cries. It’s cold and the windows are open; there’s fire and smoke in open areas; at home there’s no water, no electricity, no heating gas. And you [the Israelis] say there’s no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Tell me, are you normal?”

The question came from a resident of Gaza speaking by phone to the Israeli journalist Amira Hass. Like most of the foreign media she has been barred from entering Gaza by Israeli authorities in spite of the fact that Israeli Supreme Court ruled last week that eight foreign correspondents, from among the hundreds now struggling to report on this war, should be allowed to enter the Palestinian territory. [continued…]

Israel rejects Palestinian self determination

While Americans may believe that the current violence in Gaza began Dec. 27, in fact Palestinians have been dying from bombardments for many weeks. On Nov. 4, when the Israeli-Palestinian truce was still in effect but global attention was turned to the U.S. elections, Israel launched a “preemptive” airstrike on Gaza, alleging intelligence about an imminent operation to capture Israeli soldiers; more assaults took place throughout the month.

The truce thus shattered, any incentive by Palestinian leaders to enforce the moratorium on rocket fire was gone. Any extension of the agreement or improvement of its implementation at that point would have required Israel to engage Hamas, to agree to additional trust-building measures and negotiation with our movement — a political impossibility for Israel, with its own elections only weeks away.

Not that the truce had been easy on Palestinians. In the six-month period preceding this week’s bombardment, one Israeli was killed, while dozens of Palestinians lost their lives to Israeli military and police actions, and numerous others died for want of medical care.

The war on Gaza should not be mistaken for an Israeli triumph. Rather, Israel’s failure to make the truce work, and its inevitable resort to bloodshed, demonstrate again that it cannot permit a future built on Palestinian political self-determination. The truce failed because Israel will not open Gaza’s borders, because Israel would rather be a jailer than a neighbor, and because its intransigent leadership forestalls Palestinian destiny and will not make peace with history. [continued…]

The unspoken goal of bringing down Hamas in Gaza

The IDF now faces two main military alternatives. The first is to step up the confrontation with Hamas in Gaza City and its environs. That will entail greater casualties among our soldiers, increase the hardships of the Palestinian population and lead to more calls from the international community to stop the fighting.

The second option is to expand the theater of operations and strive for a target that has not yet been set, which has been concealed or even denied: to bring down the Hamas government. Southern Command is capable of achieving this goal but is not enthusiastic about it, lest the Jabalya refugee camp turn into Somalia. In this context the IDF is afraid of being too successful.

In both cases it will take days before the cabinet that sent in the IDF is able to claim a lasting victory.

In these circumstances, with the IDF attempting to maneuver between two prohibitions − against bringing down Hamas on the one hand, and reaching an agreement with it on the other − Israel is dependent on the mercy of Hamas to allow it to declare victory. [continued…]

Israel looks to drive out Hamas

Israeli intelligence and military officials are increasingly pushing for the assault on Gaza to continue until it assures the eventual downfall of Hamas amid assertions that the 10 days of military bombardment have crippled the Islamist party’s ability to govern.

As the onslaught progresses, officials are more confident of “changing the equation” in Gaza and are predicting the collapse of the Hamas administration.

Last night, Israeli forces bombed the centre of Gaza, and there were reports of intense clashes with Hamas fighters on the edge of the city. But the fighting and the occupation of parts of the north and centre of the Gaza Strip did not stop Hamas from firing more than 40 rockets into Israel.

The death toll from 10 days of fighting has risen above 550. Those killed yesterday included 13 members of the same family killed in their house by Israeli tank fire east of Gaza city. [continued…]

Begetting violence

Many analogies are being made between the ongoing Israeli attack against Hamas in Gaza and the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Here are the most important ones, in my view.

The first is about provenance: Hamas and Hezbollah did not exist before around 1982. They are the ideological step-children of the Likud Party and especially Ariel Sharon, whose embrace of violence, racism and colonization as the primary means of dealing with occupied Arab populations ultimately generated a will to resist. The trio currently carrying on Sharon’s legacy – Ehud Olmert, Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni – seem blind to the fact that the more force and brutality Israel uses against Arabs, the greater is the response in the form of more effective resistance movements that have wider public support.

The second analogy is about technical proficiency. Hezbollah and Hamas have both consistently increased their determination and ability to use assorted rockets and missiles to harass and attack Israel. More importantly, they are better able to protect their rocket launchers from Israeli attacks.

The number of Israeli dead in recent years is in the low hundreds, compared to the thousands of Palestinians that Israel has killed. But destruction and dead body counts are not the most useful criteria to use in this analysis. The real measures of what matters politically are the nagging Israeli sense of vulnerability and the Palestinian sense of empowerment, defiance and capacity to fight back. [continued…]

Why Israelis support the Gaza offensive

If there is one issue separating Israel from its role models in the West, it is the perceived legitimacy of using force. In Europe, and in many parts of American public opinion, military power is seen as an option of last resort; a primitive, old-fashioned and often counterproductive tool of policy. To us, hitting our enemies once in a while feels like a necessary behavior in a tough neighborhood. It may backfire, as it often does, but still, most Israelis believe it’s impossible to survive in the Middle East without resorting to occasional aggression.

That is why in Washington, London or Paris, governments must sweat to build political consensus for going to war, while in Jerusalem, war resolutions enjoy wide parliamentary support. Israeli governments find it hard to pass peace treaties through the Knesset. That’s where political difficulty lies.

Israel’s military operation against Hamas in Gaza, now in its 10th day, is an excellent example of this rule. The war enjoys strong public support among Israel’s Jewish majority. Only Israel’s Arabs, identifying with their Palestinian brothers, and the far political left, which is all but pacifist, have protested against it. All the rest have united behind the government, including the more established left. The novelist Amos Oz, a moral compass for Israel’s peace camp (and an eventual critic of the 2006 war in Lebanon), gave his blessing to the war. [continued…]

Ending the war in Gaza

A war neither Israel nor Hamas truly wanted turned into a war both are willing to wage. The six-month ceasefire that expired on 19 December was far from ideal. Israel suffered through periodic rocket fire and the knowledge that its foe was amassing lethal firepower. Hamas endured a punishing economic blockade, undermining its hopes of ruling Gaza. A sensible compromise, entailing an end to rocket launches and an opening of the crossings should have been available. But without bilateral engagement, effective third party mediation or mutual trust, it inexorably came to this: a brutal military operation in which both feel they have something to gain.

As each day goes by, Israel hopes to further degrade Hamas’s military capacity and reduce the rocket risk; Hamas banks on boosting its domestic and regional prestige. Only urgent international action by parties viewed as credible and trustworthy by both sides can end this before the human and political toll escalates or before Israel’s land incursion – which was launched as this briefing went to press – turns into a venture of uncertain scope, undetermined consequence and all-too-familiar human cost.

From Hamas’s perspective, prolonging the ceasefire was appealing but only if that arrangement was modified. Relative calm had enabled it to consolidate power and cripple potential foes. But the siege never was lifted. Increasingly, Hamas leaders were in the uncomfortable position of appearing to want the truce for personal safety at the price of collective hardship. As the expiration date approached, rocket fire intensified, an unsubtle message that Hamas would use violence to force Israel to open the crossings. In the first days, Israel’s retaliatory air campaign shook Hamas’s Qassam fighters by its timing, intensity and scale. But it did not catch them unprepared. [continued…]

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