On Monday, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told a delegation of European foreign ministers that “Before the military operation, the equation was that Hamas targets Israelis whenever it likes, and Israel shows restraint… This is not going to be [any] longer the equation in this region. When Israel is targeted, Israel is going to retaliate.” This would come as a surprise to many in experts in the region who have criticized Israel’s long military occupation of the Palestinian territories.
On Saturday, January 3, 2009, Israel launched its ground offensive into Gaza. There had been talks of establishing a truce: Hamas wants the 18-month blockade lifted; Israel wants the rocket firings to stop.The failure of Hamas militants and Israeli leaders to halt the violence has precluded any such progress in that direction. In the meantime, tanks and ground forces entered Gaza, quickly taking Gaza City. Suspected militant sites have been shelled and most of Gaza’s infrastructure is in shambles. Israeli military officials have also claimed to be striking tunnels (used by Hamas for smuggling weapons), and weapon caches. Hamas has fought back by launching rockets into southern Israel. Three Israeli civilians have been killed, and many buildings, including schools, have been destroyed by Hamas rockets. Since the Israeli ground invasion, two Israeli soldiers have been killed.
Despite Israel’s claim that they are not targeting civilians, the Palestinians in Gaza have suffered tremendously. Since the begining of the Israeli onslaught in Gaza, over 530 Palestinians have been killed– 82 since Saturday. Of that, over 100 deaths have been women and children. In addition to the deaths, over 2,600 people have been injured, and thousands more have fled their homes in order to escape the violence. Humanitarian agencies, such as the UNRWA and UN’s World Food Program, have had difficulty trying to bring food and water to civilians caught up in the violence. Many civilians are stuck in their homes without running water, without electricity, and a dwindling food supply, which they are unable to replenish. In all of the Gaza Strip, there are only two bakeries still open, and there are long lines of people trying to get what little food they can for their families. Hospitals are being overwhelmed and the few medical supplies that they have are being diminished. Some doctors on the ground insist that the body count is much higher, but they cannot get an accurate count because the conflict presents grave danger to ambulances and rescue crews. One ambulance, reportedly, was shelled by an Israeli tank as it was evacuating victims. One paramedic was killed while the other lost his foot.
So, what’s their aim? Well, according to Israeli officials, they want all rocket firings into Israel to stop. But Israel also wants to topple the Hamas regime, which does not recognize Israel’s right to exist. They are attempting to dismantle their weapons supplies, while at the same time castrate their political power. Also, remember that Israel has elections in February. They certainly aren’t forgetting. This is not the whole story, however: right-wing extremists, who have been in control of Israel’s government since its inception, belive that Gaza (and the West Bank) is rightfully theirs, according to God’s promise. Little by little, there is the hope that they will leave the region altogether, assimilate into neighboring Arab countries, and leave all of Palestine to Israel. Settlers continue to build on Palestinian land, homes are demolished, and Palestinian land continues to be taken. What Israel needs to remember is that the more violence it spreads, the more deaths that are caused, the longer the suffering occurs, the more they are pushing the population of Gaza into the Hamas corner.
The violence of the last ten days, or so, stems from the failure of both sides to adhere to the terms of the Egyptian brokered truce, which expired December 19, 2008. However, one must recall that Hamas abided by the terms of the cease-fire until Israel’s November 4, 2008 air strike into Gaza that killed five people and wounded many more. As always happens in this region, tensions and violence escalated through a series of retaliatory strikes.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has been pressuring both sides to accept a truce, is now in the middle-east. He made stops in Egypt, the West Bank, and Israel today. He met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, where he gave a press conference condemning both Hamas and Israel. Meanwhile, U.S. UN Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad has been instructed by State Department Officials (probably including Condoleeza Rice) to torpedo any efforts by the Arabs to request assistance from the UN Security Council. While French President Sarkozy has been even-handed in his criticism, President George W. Bush has continued his unflinching support for Israel: “I understand Israel’s desire to protect itself. The situation now taking place in Gaza was caused by Hamas.” President-elect Obama has been silent on the issue of Gaza. He has continued his mantra: “There is one President at a time.” True, but, like Representative Barney Frank, I think he “seriously overestimates the number of Presidents we have.” I think that since he is going to be President in… 15 days, it matters what he thinks. Since the Bush camp has decided to sit on their hands, he should at least voice an opinion. Perhaps he does not want to express an opinion that is at odds with the current President, thus undermining anything Bush says, but I think that the violence is such that it requires a response.