Israel’s justifications for its assault on Gaza have shifted more than once since Operation ‘Brother’s Keeper’ was launched on 12 June, supposedly in response to the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers. The rockets ‘raining down terror’ on Israel (they have so far killed three people, giving them a kill rate of 0.1 per cent) were the reason given for the launch of operation ‘Protective Edge’ on 8 July; the ground invasion of Gaza on 17 July was said to be aimed at destroying a series of tunnels leading into Israel.
The BBC, ever mindful of the approved Israeli lexicon, refers to them as ‘attack tunnels’. They are, we are told, designed to penetrate Israel and kidnap Israelis. In 2006 Gilad Shalit, a soldier, was captured and held as a prisoner of war. He was released in exchange for 1027 Palestinian prisoners, many of whom were rounded up again during Operation ‘Brother’s Keeper’. No civilian has ever been abducted through the tunnels.
Their primary purpose is economic, a response to Israel’s seven-year siege of Gaza. The tunnels along the Egyptian border weren’t built by Hamas: it merely taxes the goods being moved through by the entrepreneurs that dig and run them. Israel talks of a ‘terrorist organisation’ that ‘deliberately embeds its terrorist infrastructure inside civilian neighbourhoods’. In fact a system of loosely regulated capitalism governs the tunnel industry. If you live near the border you are likely to go into the tunnelling business because there’s nothing else to do.
Since the invasion, the tunnels have been used to attack Israel. Still, no civilian has been killed. Of the 59 Israelis killed in total, 56 have been soldiers, most of them in Gaza. More than 1800 Palestinians have been killed so far, 80 per cent of them civilians.
If the purpose of Israel’s operation is to destroy the tunnels, why has it cost more than 1800 Palestinian lives? There were thought to be at least 1000 tunnels between Egypt and Gaza, which the Egyptian regime – not known for its regard for human life – destroyed without killing anyone. There seem to have been no more than forty tunnels leading into Israel and the operation to destroy them has already taken two weeks.
The operation is not about the tunnels, and never has been. Just as it was not about the kidnapped boys or the ineffectual rockets. The tunnel operation will wrap up soon, so a new reason to continue the bloodshed will be needed. The frontrunner at the moment is ‘disarmament’.