While the current phase of the Israeli onslaught against Gaza began in 2006 after Hamas won Palestinian legislative council elections, and was strengthened in 2007 with a crippling siege implemented by Israel and Egypt on Gaza, the current assault began mid-June with the disappearance of three settlers in the West Bank. Although the Israeli government knew the three were already dead, they kept this from the public and, instead, used the kidnappings as a pretext to launch a massive crackdown in the West Bank. Eight Palestinians were killed; 700, mostly Hamas members, were arrested, including fifty-two that had been released as part of a prisoner exchange in 2011; houses and offices were raided; and the homes of those suspected of the kidnappings were demolished. Illegal under international law, Israel often conducts such instances of collective punishment.
From the outset, the main objective of the Israeli operation was: 1) to deal a forceful blow against Hamas – particularly in the West Bank, and 2) to generate tension between Hamas and Fatah, and thus force a dissolution of the unity government formed weeks earlier.
Early Monday, 7 July, Israel launched a strike on Gaza, killing seven. Responding to that strike, and to the West Bank repression, Hamas and other groups in Gaza launched a series of rockets into Israel. On 8 July, Israel announced ‘Operation Protective Edge’ against Gaza, with the objective of destroying the weapons stocks of resistance groups. More than 260 Gazans have been killed, ninety per cent of them civilians; scores of homes had been razed; schools, mosques and hospitals bombed; and more than 100 000 people displaced, giving a lie to Israeli claims that it is striking ‘terror’ targets. These attacks against civilian infrastructure and homes are illegal under international law.
Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and other groups continued firing rockets into Israel, resulting in one Israeli casualty. With the humanitarian situation getting dire, the Palestinian groups announced their willingness for a mediated ceasefire, but emphasised certain conditions. These included a lifting of the siege, the release of Palestinians who had previously been released from Israeli prisons in 2011 and were rearrested in the past month, Israel’s honouring the terms of the 2012 ceasefire agreement – which is has violated scores of times, and that Israel not interfere with the Palestinian unity government.
Then, suddenly, Egypt announced a ceasefire proposal which it insisted that Hamas must accept, and stressed that the terms of the agreement were not open to negotiation. The agreement had been drafted by former British prime minister, Tony Tony Blair, in consultation with Israel, the UK and the USA. Egypt hoped to impose it on Hamas, which said it had first heard about the proposal through the media. Considering that Gazans had not been consulted, that the draft ignored all Hamas’s conditions, and that the terms were worse for Gaza than the terms of the 2012 ceasefire deal, resistance groups in Gaza rejected the proposal. In general, civil society groups supported the rejection, arguing that if the siege were not lifted, there was no point to a ceasefire.
On Wednesday, 16 July, Hamas issued a revised list of ten demands. These included Israel’s freeing Palestinian prisoners detained in the past month; an end to the siege on Gaza; extension of the Gaza fishing zone; international monitoring of the Rafah border with Egypt; Israel’s commitment to a ten-year ceasefire; and Israel not intervening in internal Palestinian affairs.
Talks yesterday between Egypt, Israel, and Hamas, ended with no deal being concluded. Hamas is unlikely to accept any proposal that does not accede to at least some of its demands, and that establishes a process for lifting the siege. An additional problem for Hamas in the ceasefire discourse is the role of Egypt, which, since the Egyptian coup in July 2013, has persecuted the Palestinian movement, and wants Hamas liquidated.
Israel’s ground invasion of Gaza, which began last night, seeks to destroy most of weapons in Gaza, substantially weaken Hamas, and force the resistance movements to accept a ceasefire dictated by Israel, the USA and the UK, and presided over by Egypt. Despite the escalation of the Israeli attack, Gazans will attempt to withstand the onslaught and maintain their demand for a lifting of the siege. The alternative, they believe, would be capitulation and condemning themselves to the possibility of a long-term siege and periodic onslaughts similar to the current one, what Israelis call ‘mowing the lawn’.