Gaza appears sporadically as front-page news in the context of violence and terrorism, as it has with the murder on Friday, 1 June, of Razan Ashraf al-Najjar, a 21-year-old paramedic who was fatally shot by Israeli snipers as she was treating wounded protesters along the fence that separates Gaza from Israel. After a day or two of attention, usually marked by the disproportionate deaths of Palestinians, Gaza recedes from view until the next assault. Israel is part of the story but all too often cast as responding to Hamas aggression, acting in self-defence. Without excusing Hamas for its misdeeds, Gaza's misery, isolation and hopelessness are primarily a product of Israeli policy. The form of occupation may have changed since Israel’s ‘disengagement’ in 2005, but the fact of occupation has not. One result is the dehumanisation of the men, women and children who live in Gaza, the denial of their innocence and the resultant loss of their rights.
Unlawful and Deadly, Amnesty International's recent report on 'rocket and mortar attacks by Palestinian armed groups during the 2014 Gaza/Israel conflict', accuses Hamas and others of carrying out 'indiscriminate attacks' on Israel: 'When indiscriminate attacks kill or injure civilians, they constitute war crimes.' The report reiterates a formal symmetry between Israelis and Palestinians (previous reports have accused Israel of war crimes during Operation Protective Edge), asking both parties to take all precautions to respect civilian lives, and reminding them to 'choose appropriate means and methods of attack'.
The latest round of fighting in Gaza should be understood not as an interruption of an imaginary calm, but as the compounding of one kind of violence with another. The status quo that the people of Gaza have now returned to – the state of occupation, domination, isolation and siege – is violence by other means. Indeed, the structural violence of the occupation is physical and real and no less deadly than the bombs and guided rockets; it is only much harder to identify and represent in images and thus also to rally against.
The morning after the ceasefire came into force in Gaza, a number of young Palestinian friends – all of them more interested in iPhones and football than kneeling down in the mosque – told me that for the first time in their lives, they feel proud. Since yesterday I have been nervous, happy, and very confused. The thought that Hamas – with the help of the ‘Arab Awakening’ – might have ended the blockade is troubling. The group has cordoned off public space in Gaza, restricting both freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. I was raised in the West, brought up on the slippery words and subtleties of diplomacy: ‘non-violence’, ‘conflict resolution’ – these were the notions that I was taught growing up; these, I was assured, were the tools for ending oppression. At times many of us in the community said to Hamas: you need to be moderate, you need to stop the rockets, you need to trust Obama (we really said that).
Why is Israel calling up 75,000 reserve soldiers, when during the last ground invasion of Gaza it called up only 10,000? Such a massive mobilisation is no minor matter, not least because its cost to the Israeli economy is enormous. There are four possible motivations: 1. The call-up of reservists is meant to deter the Palestinians. 2. Israel intends to invade Gaza; however, it needs to take into account the change of government in Egypt and deter its southern neighbour from joining the fray. 3. Israel is worried about developments in Jordan and will consider deploying forces to help King Abdullah if the protests there gain momentum. 4.
Despite his deserved reputation as an extremist and rejectionist of the first order, Binyamin Netanyahu, unlike most of his predecessors, had until this week never initiated a war. He appears not to have planned one this time either. Bibi’s template for the current assault on the Gaza Strip may well have been the events of September 1996, when 17 Israeli soldiers and 70 Palestinians were killed in the clashes that followed Israel’s festive opening of the Western Wall Tunnel in the heart of occupied East Jerusalem. It happened during Netanyahu’s previous term in office, and consists of three simple steps. 1. Launch an outrageous provocation guaranteed to elicit an armed response. 2. Use overwhelming firepower to kill Arabs and remind them who is boss. 3. Mobilise foreign parties to quickly restore calm on improved conditions.
In response to a recent upsurge in tit for tat strikes between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza, Israel decided to ratchet up the violence even further by assassinating Hamas’s military chief, Ahmad Jabari. Hamas, which had been playing a minor role in these exchanges and even appears to have been interested in working out a long-term ceasefire, predictably responded by launching hundreds of rockets into Israel, a few even landing near Tel Aviv. Not surprisingly, the Israelis have threatened a wider conflict, to include a possible invasion of Gaza to topple Hamas and eliminate the rocket threat. There is some chance that Operation ‘Pillar of Defence’, as the Israelis are calling their current campaign, might become a full-scale war. But even if it does, it will not put an end to Israel’s troubles in Gaza.
On Sunday night, Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak called a cabinet meeting to argue against going to war in Gaza. The meeting lasted four hours, as these unlikely doves made the case for 'restraint'. They were, in a sense, arguing against themselves. After the attack in Eilat last Thursday, in which eight Israelis, five of them civilians, were killed, Netanyahu and Barak had immediately blamed the Popular Resistance Committee in Gaza, an armed movement of militants from different factions. If they had any evidence of PRC involvement, they didn't share it: the best an IDF spokeswoman interviewed on the Real News could manage was that the attackers used Kalashnikovs. The PRC denied responsibility; Hamas was even more sheepish: the last thing it needed was another Operation Cast Lead. A more likely story was that the attacks were carried out by Islamic militants in the Sinai,