Israel is pursuing a dual policy towards Hamas. On the the hand, it hopes diplomatic gains will bolster Hamas’ political wing against more threatening newcomers like ISIS. On the other, it wishes to weaken Hamas’ military wing to prevent it from developing the capacity to threaten Israel’s control over the enclave. As ever, Israel is keen to sow divisions where possible.
Israelis soldiers have conducted prominent relief operations following recent natural disasters – not only in Nepal but in Haiti, Japan and the Philippines. There has to be at least a suspicion that Israel is exploiting these catastrophes to win itself new international friends, try to refute global opinion surveys that regularly identify Israel as a major threat to world peace, and reassure a public back home that Israel really does have the “most moral army in the world”.
Palestinian solidarity groups have taken to social media to step up the pressure on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to include Israel for the first time on a “shame list” of serious violators of children’s rights. Although indications are that Israel is exerting enormous pressure to avoid being named, a senior UN source said Ban’s chief advisers had recommended that the Israeli army be identified alongside the Islamic State and Taliban.
It is astonishing that the reconstruction of Gaza, bombed into the Stone Age according to the explicit goals of Israeli military doctrine, has tentatively only just begun. Where else apart from the Palestinian territories would the international community stand by idly as so many people suffer? The reason for the hold-up is, as ever, Israel’s “security needs”. Gaza can be rebuilt but only to the specifications laid down by Israel.
Mahmoud Abbas’s use of the term “genocide” to describe Israel’s attack on Gaza made him an easy target for critics. But not only do international law experts like Richard Falk and John Dugard view Israel’s actions in genocide-like terms, notable Israeli scholars have done so too. Despite that, Israel has successfully ring-fenced itself from the critical lexicon applied to comparable situations around the globe.
This month Israeli media reported claims that Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, had offered the Palestinian leadership the chance to annex to Gaza an area of 1,600 sq km in Sinai. The donated territory would expand Gaza fivefold, and provide the basis for a Palestinian state outside historic Palestine. What should we make of such reports?
Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups are agreed that the Israeli army is incapable of investigating itself fairly, and that, based on past form, it will at best convict a few individuals for relatively minor offences. They accuse Israel of “going through the motions” to fend off efforts by outside bodies, especially the International Criminal Court in the Hague, to probe events in Gaza.
In casting a popular resistance movement like Hamas as ISIS, Netanyahu has tarred all Palestinians as bloodthirsty Islamic extremists. Israeli fear-mongering is designed both to further undermine the Palestinian unity government between Hamas and Fatah, and to sanction Israel’s behaviour by painting a picture, as after 9/11, of an Israel on the front line of a war against global terror.
Despite hailing as a victory the seven weeks of fighting that killed more than 2,100 Palestinians and destroyed large swathes of Gaza’s infrastructure, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, appears to have emerged as the main political casualty of Operation Protective Edge. In late July, Netanyahu’s approval ratings stood at 82 per cent. Last week, as the ceasefire began, his popularity had plummeted to 32 per cent.
In Gaza, human rights organisations proved once again that they did not lead the opposition to Israel’s war crimes, as they should. They merely provided the excuse to seek a way out, but only after nearly everyone was agreed that it was time to bring things to an end. In short, human rights groups are not the voice of a global moral conscience; like the media, they are organisations keen to keep their access to, and credibility with, policy elites.
A single incident at the weekend – the reported capture by Hamas of an Israeli soldier through a tunnel – illustrated in stark fashion the layers of deception Israel has successfully cast over its attack on Gaza. Israeli officials and media did not view the Hamas operation dispassionately. Hadar Goldin was not “captured” but “kidnapped” – as though he was an innocent seized by opportunistic criminals.
Israel’s effective loss of its only international airport for a couple of days last week—and the cloud of uncertainty that continues to hang over its operation in the future—has deeply unsettled Israelis. It was a warning to Israelis that, now Palestinian factions in Gaza have longer-range rockets, there is a potentially more serious, collective price to be paid for Israel’s repeated military assaults on the tiny enclave.
Two investigations by the Israeli media illustrate the profoundly unhelpful role played by the US. They suggest that, whatever its public statements, the US is assisting Israel not only in what Barack Obama called its right to “self-defence” but in actively damaging Palestinian interests. And it seems not to matter whether the Palestinians in question are Hamas or the preferred negotiating partner, Mahmoud Abbas.
For the first time Israel’s Supreme Court is set to consider evidence that senior Israeli political and military officials committed war crimes in relation to major military operations in Gaza and Lebanon. Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Minister Tzipi Livni, the current justice minister, are among the high-level figures accused of breaking the laws.
Although Israel is suspected of recruiting tens of thousands of Palestinians as collaborators since its creation in 1948, the practice has rarely attracted more than superficial attention. Palestinians are ashamed that cooperation with the Israeli security services is widespread, while Israel is loath to draw attention to its systematic violations of international law. But the issue of collaboration is finally emerging from the shadows.
For Palestinians in Gaza the anxiety-inducing soundtrack to their lives is the constant buzz of the remotely piloted aircraft – better known as “drones” – that hover in the skies above. Confined by Israel to one of the most densely populated areas in the world, Gazans are subject to near continual surveillance and intermittent death raining down from the sky. They call the drone’s noise “zenana” – an Arabic word referring to a wife’s relentless nagging that describes the drone’s oppressive noise and their feelings about it.
The furore over the recent chemical weapons attack in Syria has overshadowed disturbing events to the south, as Egypt’s generals wage a quiet war of attrition against the Hamas leadership in Gaza. A recent cartoon in a Hamas newspaper showed Gaza squeezed between pincers – one arm Israel, the other Egypt. A Hamas spokesperson was recently quoted saying Egypt was “trying to outmatch the Israelis in tormenting and starving our people”.
The inciting cause of the latest confrontation between Israel and Hamas has little to do with the firing of rockets, whether by Hamas or the other Palestinian factions. The conflict predates the rockets – and even the creation of Hamas – by decades. It is the legacy of Israel’s dispossession of Palestinians in 1948, forcing many of them from their homes in what is now Israel into the tiny Gaza Strip. That original injustice has been compounded by the occupation Israel has not only failed to end but has actually intensified in recent years with its relentless siege of the small strip of territory.
Six and a half years go, shortly after Hamas won the Palestinian national elections and took charge of Gaza, a senior Israeli official described Israel’s planned response: “The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.” Few observers treated the comment as more than hyperbole, a supposedly droll characterisation of the blockade Israel was about to impose on the tiny enclave. Last week, however, the evidence finally emerged to prove that this did indeed become Israeli policy.