Yesterday, a 72-hour humanitarian truce between Hamas and Israel was agreed upon in New Delhi, and this morning, it was to be put into place.
That ceasefire has been shattered by the tragic events of the last few hours. An Israeli soldier has been captured by a Hamas military wing, and the violence has now escalated in both the West Bank and Gaza beyond previous proportions.
Things are breaking. Truly.
Today was to be a day of hope. It's become a day of suffering, of fracturing. A reckoning. Why? Not a question. An exhalation.
For those interested, I'm going to use this forum to share thoughts and relate what is occurring. (All times are EST.)
4:46 - The bombings in Gaza continue as the fate of a captured Israeli soldier, and that of millions of innocent people, remain uncertain.
I am going to sign off from this post for now. Before I do, I want to articulate that my thoughts are with the bereaved families in Israel of soldiers who have fallen, and with the family of the soldier whose whereabouts remain unknown.
I want to articulate my continuing sadness for the human catastrophe in Gaza, for the unspeakable suffering Israel has visited upon an imprisoned people ill served and callously considered by Hamas.
Most of all, I want to share this thought, which will remain after this all eventually ends:
"How can we ever believe in peace again?" — @Omar_Gaza
This question, aside from the human toll,— David Harris-Gershon (@David_EHG) August 1, 2014
is perhaps the greatest tragedy
3:15 - President Obama has just finished speaking about Gaza, and I'm not sure I've ever heard him echo Prime Minister Netanyahu's sentiments quite like this. On the one hand, that's remarkable given the wildly offensive way cabinet ministers have been speaking about Kerry (calling his efforts 'diplomatic terrorism'). On the other hand, it shows just how much this potential capture of a soldier by Hamas militants has united the two (at least publicly).
At one point, Obama said this: "I want to see everything possible done to make sure that Palestinian civilians are not being killed."
My first reaction: "Then you shouldn't have re-armed Israel days ago from the munitions the U.S. stores in Israel."
My second reaction: "That notwithstanding, I'm grateful for U.S. support of the Iron Dome."
My third reaction: "The U.S. is just as incapable as ever of helping this situation, and continues to only do damage."
In other words: I'm tired of listening to the Obama administration talk, and even more weary of its actions, and inaction.
2:43 - Over 40 rockets and mortars have been fired into Israel since this morning's incidents in Rafah which broke the hour-old ceasefire.
Important to note that nearly 90% of Israelis are in support of this current military engagement (and against a ceasefire). That number could rise even higher if indeed a soldier has been captured.
A striking thing to note from watching Israeli news: there is virtually no focus on what's transpiring in Gaza in terms of the humanitarian disaster, with most newscasters and commentators working under the assumption that the military operations are just and necessary.
2:07 - According to the health ministry in Gaza, 1600 people have died, 8760 have been injured, and 9245 homes have been partially or completely destroyed.
Those are the latest figures as the toll continues to climb in Rafah (now over 100 by some estimates).
There's really nothing more to say, or that can be said.
1:35 - The area around Rafah, where the Israeli soldier may have been captured, was pounded intensely to try and prevent him from being taken "at any cost." The cost: over 60 people were killed and 350 injured in those strikes, reports health officials.
Israeli army officials now think those bombings failed, and do not know his whereabouts. So long as this is true, there is little hope the U.S. will be able to avert an escalation, something it's trying desperately to achieve.
The abyss continues to get deeper.
1:15 - U.S. efforts are increasing to avert a catastrophic move by Israel and the escalation to "all out war" – meaning, an escalation that could become regional in nature. This is a real fear.
Chemi Shalev at Haaretz writes on the current fulcrum point we're now at:
The capture of [IDF officer Hadar] Goldin, if confirmed, touches one of the most sensitive spots in Israel’s collective psyche and enrages it more than many other incidents and costlier attacks that Hamas may have carried out. It is a uniquely Israeli idiosyncrasy that foreigners often find hart to fathom. It could thus tip the balance in favor of the all-out onslaught on Hamas leadership that some cabinet members have been advocating and Prime Minister Netanyahu has been so careful to avoid.
The forceful and condemnation of Hamas – the White House called it barbaric and Kerry outrageous – is thus not only a reflection of genuine outrage but is also meant to assure Israel of international sympathy and understanding and to prevent it from adopting a surly, go-it-alone approach to solving the problem. Hamas’ hasty retreat from assuming responsibility for the kidnapping may signal that the group is beginning to realize that it has bitten off more than they can chew. And one reason for such a retreat might very well be that an angry Qatar, which was instrumental in achieving the cease-fire, now finds itself in the embarrassing situation of explaining why it can’t control its client and deliver the goods.
The U.S. will now lean hard on Qatar to try to resolve the situation before Gaza descends once again into chaos. It is now a race now between Israel’s instinctive urge to lash out at Hamas and U.S. efforts to stop the escalation before it gets out of hand. For that it will need to clamp down on Hamas and compel it do the unthinkable: return Goldin, dead or alive.
12:54 - It's no secret that extremism is rearing its ugly head on both sides, and while extremist voices are upsetting, what's said is rarely surprising.
However, I admit to having been shocked by recent justifications among right-leaning Israelis (and politicos) for the killing of Palestinian civilians. But this? From a people, my people, still huddling in the Holocaust's wake? I don't know what to say:
12:10 - Protests in the West Bank are growing in several areas as many fear what tonight in Gaza is going to bring. Amos Harel in Haaretz is calling upon Israel's cabinet to act with a level head, fearing what tonight's reflexivity might mean for Israel (to say nothing of what it will mean for more innocent children and families in Gaza).
I've been asked to give more context for what is happening right now. I want to first say that both sides are equally culpable for what is occurring. Having said that, here is something I wrote recently regarding some of the underlying circumstances few talk about:
Netanyahu's narrative for how we've arrived at this conflict goes like this:
1) Hamas (who I find abhorrent) started firing rockets at Israel without incitement.
2) Israel restrained itself like no other country, until finally it had to act.
3) Israel wants to stop and sign a ceasefire, but Hamas won't do it.
The truth is much more complicated. See, what nobody talks about is how, minutes after Hamas and the Palestinian Authority signed a unity agreement on the evening of April 23, the initial phase of a long-sought reconciliation amongst Palestinians, Israel bombed Gaza, wounding 12 civilians. Israel claimed to have missed its target, a Hamas militant. However, most observers in Israel saw it for what it likely was: an effort to elicit rockets from Gaza and immediately imperil Palestinian reconciliation, which Netanyahu greatly fears.
From that moment, Netanyahu has made every effort to incite Hamas to violence. Tragically, he found such an opportunity when three Israeli teens were kidnapped in the West Bank on June 12. Despite denials by Hamas that it was involved and evidence it was perpetrated by rogue criminals, Netanyahu placed the blame squarely on Hamas, saying it would "pay a heavy price." For the next three weeks, despite evidence which now suggests Israeli authorities knew the teens had been killed immediately, Israel pummeled and ransacked West Bank communities, killing a number of Palestinians while arresting many more connected to Hamas. Israel's military was supposed to be looking for the teens. What it did, to nobody's surprise, was finally provoke Hamas to act, making Hamas equally culpable in the ongoing violence.
And now, here we are today, with Israel pummeling Gaza, killing innocent civilians while also destroying tunnels and weapons caches, claiming that the goal is to achieve quiet for Israel's citizens, who have been dodging Hamas rockets for weeks. Nevermind that this goal cannot be attained by the current military operation, something history has repeatedly shown over the last seven years. Stopping rockets from being fired on a civilian population is a legitimate reason to be engaged in military actions.
Such a goal I wouldn't question, and if Israel had no hand in sparking the current violence, I would be much more reticent to critique its actions, as I too want the rocket fire to end. However, the problem is that this entire Gaza operation has not been about restoring quiet so much as destroying Palestinian reconciliation and the potential for an elected government which includes Hamas officials.
11:28 - The fate of a captured Israeli soldier is currently unknown, including whether he indeed remains captured. Israel's Army Radio is reporting that a Hamas official in Lebanon claims Hamas does not have an Israeli soldier.
Regardless, Palestinians in Gaza are bracing for the worst this evening. Many are Tweeting, not bombastically, fears that these may be their final words.
The civilian toll is just unspeakable. As is the callousness of leaders of both Israel and Hamas. Scenes of destruction from the past hours are truly devastating, and journalists in Gaza right now are having a hard time keeping themselves together.
I admit that I am as well.
To those messaging me right now, asking how I can stand opposed to this Gaza offensive, suggesting that to do so is to stand against Israel and to stand for Hamas, I say this: I am standing against a violence that is not just creating intense suffering for both sides, but is harming Israel's long-term interests.
I also say this: my empathy for Palestinians in Gaza and for bereaved parents in Israel is not naive. Nor is it ill-informed. On the contrary, it comes from an understanding of how we've arrived at this place, and how history has told us that what is currently occurring will have only one outcome: a continuation of conflict and bloodshed.
10:50 - Outlets are reporting that Israel is threatening to "level" Gaza if the captured soldier is not released, and even some Israeli commentators fear the Israeli cabinet may make decisions today which may harm Israel's interests.
Setting aside for a moment the humanitarian disaster that has been, and continues to take place in Gaza, this entire operation has harmed Israel's national interests.
Instead of championing the PA-Hamas unity agreement in April, as the U.S. begged Israel to do, we have descended into this madness. Israel's national interests, if Netanyahu truly wanted peace, would have been served by trying to see what negotiations with a unity government would have yielded.
Instead, we have this. Bereaved Israeli parents and a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza which is getting worse by the moment.
10:33 - I didn't think that the past weeks could get worse. I was wrong. Reports are coming in that Shifa Hospital, housing (reportedly) thousands of patients, many critically injured, is being told to evacuate in advance of an Israeli strike. Doctors there don't know what to do, and fear the worst as they try to scramble and move patients.
Here is the building:
Israel declared a Gaza ceasefire over on Friday, saying Hamas militants breached the truce soon after it came in effect and apparently captured an Israeli officer while killing two other soldiers.
Renewed Israeli shelling killed more than 50 Palestinians and wounded some 220, hospital officials said. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called his security cabinet into special session and publicly warned Hamas and other militant groups they would "bear the consequences of their actions".
10:21 - It is difficult to receive information from Gaza, with most of the population without power. A Palestinian journalist, Mohammad Omer, currently has a charged phone and is reporting as best as he can on Twitter. His feed may be useful for some.
10:10 - There has been no "official" statement by Hamas on the capture of an Israeli soldier. This is potentially significant, and could portend many things, all of them tragic:
1) This capture, as Hamas' leadership negotiated a ceasefire, may have been carried
out by fractured members, and certainly doesn't seem to have been something the
2) The silence from Hamas may mean that the soldier (along with many Palestinians) are now dead. As Chemi Shalev reported, Israel heavily bombed the area where the soldier was taken in accordance with its Hannibal Directive, attempting to stop him from being taken "at any cost."
This really is just too much to bear.
9:50 - There are conflicting reports about who shot first, and who is responsible for breaking the humanitarian ceasefire just hours after it was instituted at 8 am this morning. Was it Israeli troops advancing too far and firing? Was it militants who killed two soldiers (in an apparent suicide bombing) and then captured an Israeli soldier?
I don't have answers, and right now, I'm not sure those answers matter. What many feared has now come to pass: a ceasefire which allowed Israel to leave troops in Gaza, looking for and destroying tunnels, was a powder keg waiting to explode.
It was a condition set by Egypt and John Kerry. At the time, many questioned whether it was smart to include such a provision, requested by Israel, given the potential for disaster.
Those questions are now proving to be prophetic. Tragically so.
David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, recently published by Oneworld Publications.