The Nation: Israel’s Gaza Offensive


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

Israel's Gaza Offensive
[posted online on July 5, 2006]

The Israeli government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has exploited the capture 
of Army Corporal Gilad Shalit to restore the country's diminished deterrence 
against militant Palestinian factions, to break the elected Hamas government and
to impose its unilateral territorial solution on the West Bank. But when the 
dust finally settles, Israel's offensive against the besieged territories will 
have left Palestine with more destruction and death and the Israeli government 
with the same strategic deadlock. That's why instead of lashing out against 
their neighbors, Israelis must end the vicious cycle of provocations and 
retaliations, and pursue meaningful negotiations to end the occupation.

The Olmert government bases its campaign against Palestinian civilian 
infrastructure on three fallacies: that Israel does not initiate violence but 
retaliates to protect its citizens--in this case a captured soldier; that its 
response is measured and not meant to harm the broader population; and that it 
does not negotiate with those it deems terrorists.

But Israel's offensive did not start last week. The three-month-old Israeli 
government is responsible for the killing eighty or more Palestinians, some of 
whom were children, in attacks aimed at carrying out illegal extrajudicial 
assassinations and other punishments. Hamas has maintained a one-sided 
cease-fire for the past sixteen months, but continued Israeli attacks made 
Palestinian retaliation only a question of time. (Palestinian factions not under
Hamas's control had been firing home-made rockets across the border off and on 
during this period--almost always with little or no damage or casualties--but 
these factions maintained that the attacks were in response to Israeli 

Since the beginning of the intifada in September 2000, repeated Israeli 
bombardments and targeted assassinations against Palestinians have aggravated 
the violence and led to Israeli deaths. In fact, according to the US academic 
Steve Niva, who has been documenting the intifada, many major Palestinian 
suicide bombings since 2001 have come in retaliation for Israeli assassinations,
many of which occurred when the Palestinians were mulling over or abiding by 
self-imposed restraint.

To give three examples: On July 31, 2001, Israel's assassination of the two 
leading Hamas militants in Nablus ended a nearly two-month Hamas cease-fire, 
leading to the terrible August 9 Hamas suicide bombing in a Jerusalem pizzeria. 
On July 22, 2002, an Israeli air attack on a crowded apartment block in Gaza 
City killed a senior Hamas leader, Salah Shehada, and fourteen civilians, nine 
of them children, hours before a widely reported unilateral cease-fire 
declaration. A suicide bombing followed on August 4. On June 10, 2003, Israel's 
attempted assassination of the senior Hamas political leader in Gaza, Abdel-Aziz
al-Rantisi, which wounded him and killed four Palestinian civilians, led to a 
bus bombing in Jerusalem on June 11 that killed sixteen Israelis.

Although Israel's provocations don't justify suicide bombings, they demonstrate 
how its deterrence has lost its effectiveness and why the source of terrorism 
lies first and foremost in its aggression and occupation. In this context, 
affected Palestinian civilians see themselves not as "collateral damage" but as 
victims of state terrorism.

As for the nature of its "retaliation," one could hardly refer to Israel's 
destruction of the civic infrastructure of 1.3 million Palestinians as 
"measured." The Israeli army began last week's offensive on the Gaza Strip by 
bombing bridges, roads and electric supplies, and by arresting nearly one-third 
of Hamas's West Bank-based parliamentarians and ministers (according to the 
Israeli press, the security services are holding the elected Palestinian 
officials as bargaining chips with Hamas).

The nature of the Israeli offensive is to punish, overwhelm and deter with 
disproportionate force, regardless of the suffering of the general public. 
Cutting off basic services of the Palestinians is not only unjustified, it is 
collective punishment of a civilian population--illegal under the Fourth Geneva 

The asymmetry between Israeli and Palestinian firepower mustn't be translated 
into asymmetry between the value of Israeli and Palestinian life. The 
Palestinians have captured one Israeli soldier, but Israel holds more than 9,000
Palestinian prisoners, about 900 of whom are under "administrative detention," 
i.e., without trial. It has held some of these prisoners for longer than three 
years. Those in the international community calling for the IDF soldier's 
release need to address, at minimum, the ordeal of Palestinian women and 
children in Israeli jails.

The Israeli government, like any other, has the right and indeed the duty to 
protect its people, but not at the high expense of the Palestinians, whose 
government's credibility also rests on defending its people. The use of military
force to scare and overawe a civilian population for political ends--in this 
case, to pressure the Palestinian Authority or undermine the Hamas 
government--is the very definition of state terrorism.

In its thirty-nine years of occupation, Israel's attempts to tame or intimidate 
the Palestinians have instead led to their incitement and radicalization. Isn't 
it time for Israel to change course? After all, in a minuscule territory where 
the longest distance separating an Israeli and Palestinian area is no more than 
nine kilometers, Israelis will never be secure if the Palestinians are utterly 

That's why Israel's harsh responses to Palestinian militancy have generally 
increased, not reduced, the threat to Israelis. While from 1978 to 1987 
eighty-two Israelis were killed in Palestinian attacks, that figure jumped to 
more than 400 the following decade. And in less than two years of the second 
intifada (September 29, 2000, to May 29, 2002), more than 450 Israelis and 1,250
Palestinians were slain, mostly civilians on both sides.

Lastly, regarding its refusal to bargain with "terrorists," Israel's previous 
dealings with Lebanon's Hezbollah paint a different picture. Israel's 
bombardment of Beirut's electric generators and its Operation "Grapes of Wrath" 
in 1996, which led to the Qana massacre, failed, like many other operations, to 
deter the Lebanese resistance, which eventually forced Israel to negotiate 
through a third party with those it deemed "Islamist terrorists" and release 
hundreds of Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners from its jails in exchange for 
the remains of dead Israeli soldiers.

The ongoing saga has once again demonstrated the absurdity of unilateralism as a
viable and secure solution. And yet, the Olmert government is using the 
kidnapping of the soldier to undermine the historic agreement Hamas has reached 
with PA President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah party over a unity government and de 
facto recognition of and negotiations with Israel, its sworn enemy.

Whether we like it or not, Hamas, like Hezbollah, is mostly a byproduct of an 
oppressive occupation, not the other way around. That's why refraining from 
excessive use of force and concentrating all efforts on a negotiated end to the 
occupation is paramount. Otherwise, Israel will only increase Hamas's popularity
and push it back to clandestinity and war.

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