Israel briefly paused its military operations in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday and said it planned to do so for three hours each day to allow for deliveries of humanitarian aid, as the Israeli cabinet met to consider how to respond to an Egyptian proposal for a more lasting ceasefire.
Military officials said operations would stop for three hours, between 1 pm and 4 pm local time each day, to give besieged Gaza residents an opportunity to emerge from their homes to seek food, fuel and other emergency supplies. Israel has allowed some aid deliveries since it began airstrikes Dec. 27 but relief workers said they have been unable to reach much of the population because of heavy fighting.
The opening of “humanitarian corridors” each day is meant to relieve a situation that international aid agencies say has reached crisis proportions.
The militant group Hamas, which is in charge of the Gaza Strip, said it would not launch any missiles during the three-hour pause. [continued…]
Editor’s Comment — Let’s be absolutely clear: this is not about providing relief; it’s about prolonging the agony. As Neve Gordon pointed out, Israeli television reporters have been quite explicit in explaining to their viewers that the purpose of providing humanitarian assistance is to provide a counterbalance to international pressure for an immediate ceasefire. “Not unlike raising animals for slaughter on a farm, the Israeli government maintains that it is providing Palestinians with assistance so that it can have a free hand in attacking them,” the Ben-Gurion University professor wrote.
So once again, Israel has opened the gates of hell to the Palestinians. Forty civilian refugees dead in a United Nations school, three more in another. Not bad for a night’s work in Gaza by the army that believes in “purity of arms”. But why should we be surprised?
Have we forgotten the 17,500 dead – almost all civilians, most of them children and women – in Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon; the 1,700 Palestinian civilian dead in the Sabra-Chatila massacre; the 1996 Qana massacre of 106 Lebanese civilian refugees, more than half of them children, at a UN base; the massacre of the Marwahin refugees who were ordered from their homes by the Israelis in 2006 then slaughtered by an Israeli helicopter crew; the 1,000 dead of that same 2006 bombardment and Lebanese invasion, almost all of them civilians?
What is amazing is that so many Western leaders, so many presidents and prime ministers and, I fear, so many editors and journalists, bought the old lie; that Israelis take such great care to avoid civilian casualties. “Israel makes every possible effort to avoid civilian casualties,” yet another Israeli ambassador said only hours before the Gaza massacre. And every president and prime minister who repeated this mendacity as an excuse to avoid a ceasefire has the blood of last night’s butchery on their hands. Had George Bush had the courage to demand an immediate ceasefire 48 hours earlier, those 40 civilians, the old and the women and children, would be alive. [continued…]
I often visited Nizar Rayan, who was killed Thursday in a targeted assassination by Israel, at his house in the Jabaliya refugee camp when I was in Gaza. The house is now rubble. It was hit by two missiles fired by Israeli F-16 fighter jets. Rayan, who would meet me in his book-lined study, was decapitated in the blast. His body was thrown into the street by the explosions. His four wives and 11 children also were killed.
Rayan supported tactics, including suicide bombings, which are morally repugnant. His hatred of Israel ran deep. His fundamentalist brand of Islam was distasteful. But as he and I were students of theology our discussions frequently veered off into the nature of belief, Islam, the Koran, the Bible and the religious life. He was a serious, thoughtful man who had suffered deeply under the occupation and dedicated his life to resistance. He could have fled his home and gone underground with other Hamas leaders. Knowing him, I suspect he could not leave his children. Like him or not, he had tremendous courage.
Hamas, he constantly reminded me, began to target Israeli civilians in 1994 only after Palestinian worshipers were gunned down in a Hebron mosque by a Jewish settler, Baruch Goldstein. Goldstein was a resident of the nearby Kiryat Arba settlement. He entered the mosque dressed in his army uniform, carrying an IMI Galil assault rifle and four magazines of ammunition. He opened fire on those in prayer, killing 29 people and injuring 125. He was rushed and beaten to death by the survivors.
“Before the massacre we targeted only the Israeli military,” Rayan said. “We can’t sit by and watch Palestinian civilians killed year after year and do nothing. When Israel stops killing our civilians we will stop killing their civilians.” [continued…]
I srael’s defiance of international opinion in refusing to countenance a ceasefire in Gaza contrasts sharply with its growing need for international assistance to extricate itself. Even if the Israeli forces break Hamas’s grip on power, officials admit any such “victory” may be temporary and will bring more difficulties in its wake. Behind the bombs and bitter-end bluster, Israel’s private message is: help wanted.
Previous Israeli governments resisted “internationalisation” of the country’s disputes but that stance is changing. The current prime minister, Ehud Olmert, was glad to accept a strengthened UN force in southern Lebanon after his punitive expedition against Hezbollah in 2006 ran into the sand.
Israeli diplomats argue endlessly that the Iranian leadership’s threats, weapons programmes, and spreading regional influence are an international, not solely an Israeli problem. Foreign minister Tzipi Livni pressed home the point, face to face with Arab leaders, at a Qatar conference in April.
Now Israeli officials are pressing for an “international presence” along the Egyptian-Gaza border to ensure supply tunnels used by Hamas are not reopened. In short, they require foreign help to reduce the chances that Islamists will politically regroup and militarily re-arm. They cannot do it alone. [continued…]