As the Israeli blitz entered its sixth day, Hamas again indicated that it would accept a ceasefire so long as the illegal blockade is lifted. Israel responded by killing a senior Hamas official along with his wife and children, continuing its attacks on the governing infrastructure in Gaza and bombing a school, killing 10.
At least 417 Palestinians have been killed over the past six days, with more than 2,000 injured. At least 32 children [.pdf] were killed in the first 48 hours alone. Most of the casualties were non-combatants and the "vast majority" of the targets bombed by Israeli jets – mosques, residential homes, police stations and at least one ambulance – were civilian. Thousands of people in the south have fled their homes due to Israeli attacks on the network of tunnels that have kept Gazans alive during the months of siege. Although Israel allowed aid trucks in today, a proposal for a 48-hour ‘pause’ in the bombing to permit the delivery of humanitarian supplies was rejected.
B’Tselem noted yesterday that statements from Israeli officials suggest that Israel is deliberately targeting non-combatants and civilian infrastructure on the pretext that they are in some way connected to Hamas. As IDF spokeswoman Maj. Avital Liebowitz, cited by B’Tselem, declared,
"There are many aspects to Hamas, and we are trying to hit the whole spectrum, because everything is connected and everything supports terrorism against Israel ... Anything affiliated with Hamas is a legitimate target".
B’Tselem raises two examples of what "appear to be clear civilian objects attacked by the army" – the bombing of the main police building in Gaza, which killed 42 people, and bombing of government buildings, such as the offices of the Interior, Education, Transport and Foreign Affairs ministries. Many apologists for Israel have tried to claim in recent days that civil and traffic policemen employed by the Hamas government constitute legitimate military targets. In fact, as B’Tselem points out,
"Participants in the course [i.e. the policemen who were killed] study first-aid, handling of public disturbances, human rights, public-safety exercises, and so forth. Following the course, the police officers are assigned to various arms of the police force in Gaza responsible for maintaining public order."
Human Rights Watch similarly notes:
"Under the laws of war, police and police stations are presumptively civilian unless the police are Hamas fighters or taking a direct part in the hostilities, or police stations are being used for military purposes."
In the same way, B’Tselem continues, even if Hamas is a "hostile entity" it does not follow that every government ministry is a legitimate target. Israel’s argument to the contrary "contravenes the principle of distinction that lies at the foundation of international humanitarian law".
"An intentional attack on a civilian target", B’Tselem concludes, "is a war crime".
Ten Israeli human rights organisations [.pdf] yesterday warned that Gaza’s electrical system is "on the verge of collapse", with residents and hospitals suffering power outages of up to 20 hours a day (even more in some areas). With the pumps not working, 60% of Gazans receive clean water only once every 5-7 days, while some people have been without water supply for 10 days. They called for an immediate end to the siege and concluded with the observation that the power shortage "was well known to Israeli security officials, because Israeli security officials caused the shortage, deliberately".
Describing the conditions in Gaza as "nothing short of terrifying", the UN Secretary-General yesterday "underline[d] in the strongest possible terms the world’s call for an immediate ceasefire". In Israel, however, a majority of the population supports continued attacks. The military build-up on the Gaza border is continuing, with the IDF recommending a ‘major’ ground assault.
Hamas, as Israeli officials fully recognise, is more than willing to accept a new ceasefire whereby the terms of the old one are actually implemented. As Zvi Barel writes, "Hamas has clear conditions for its extension: The opening of the border crossings for goods and cessation of IDF attacks in Gaza, as outlined in the original agreement."
This, however, is something Israel refuses to do, and not because of the Qassams. According to the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s own data, between the beginning of the ceasefire in June and Israel’s violation of it on November 4 Palestinians fired an average of only three rockets per month (via) into Israel:
As even the hawkish, right-wing Israeli Intelligence and Terrorism Information Centre concedes [.pdf], before November 4 Hamas "was careful to maintain the ceasefire". This despite the fact that the blockade remained intact and thus, as Amnesty International observes, "Gaza residents experienced little or no improvement to their lives".
Rather, Israel refuses to end the siege because it remains bent on reversing the results of the 2006 elections, punishing Palestinians for voting the 'wrong' way and thwarting a dreaded Hamas ‘peace offensive’. As Tzipi Livni explained yesterday,
"But there is one thing that the world needs to understand: Hamas wants to gain legitimacy from the international community. Hamas wants to show that there is a place which is called the Gaza Strip, that this kind of an organization - an extremist Islamic organization that acts by terrorism and which is a designated terrorist organization - can rule. And to make it seem a legitimate regime. So they want the crossings to be opened, not only for the sake of the population, but because this symbolically is how they can show that the Gaza Strip has become a kind of a small state, which is controlled by them. This is something that nobody can afford, neither Israel, nor the pragmatic leadership, nor the legitimate Palestinian leadership or government, nor any part of the moderate the Arab world...
"It is also important to keep Hamas from becoming a legitimate organization because, unfortunately, there are those who are now putting Israel and Hamas in the same category, asking both sides to stop, and this is something which is part of my frustration and the frustration of the average Israeli because there is no comparison whatsoever between Israel and Hamas."
Or, as Israeli journalist and historian Tom Segev puts it,
"Israel is striking at the Palestinians to "teach them a lesson." That is a basic assumption that has accompanied the Zionist enterprise since its inception: We are the representatives of progress and enlightenment, sophisticated rationality and morality, while the Arabs are a primitive, violent rabble, ignorant children who must be educated and taught wisdom - via, of course, the carrot-and-stick method, just as the drover does with his donkey. The bombing of Gaza is also supposed to "liquidate the Hamas regime," in line with another assumption that has accompanied the Zionist movement since its inception: that it is possible to impose a "moderate" leadership on the Palestinians, one that will abandon their national aspirations.
As a corollary, Israel has also always believed that causing suffering to Palestinian civilians would make them rebel against their national leaders. This assumption has proven wrong over and over."
This is a political war, a war of choice, conducted in order to undermine and ultimately overthrow the Hamas government. In waging it Israel has violated not one but two ceasefires and has consistently rejected Hamas’s calls for a third in favour of a massive escalation of violence, the complete destruction of all institutions of government in the Gaza Strip, the deliberate impoverishment and malnourishment of a defenceless civilian population and the murder of hundreds of people (equivalent to over 16,000 people killed in Britain -- in four days). It’s not a "disproportionate response" or an "excessive use of force". It’s a straightforward aggression and, despite the recent calls for a truce, we are heavily complicit in it.
A national demonstration has been called in London against the attacks on Saturday 3 at 12.30. Other protests are scheduled around the country. There are hundreds of protests planned across the US. Try to make one if you can.
Cross-posted at The Heathlander