Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

How did the latest Gaza War start? Despite the claims of some, it is no mystery

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Or Avi-Guy

Ruth Pollard ("No balm in sight for the broken land of Gaza"), while reporting on operation "Protective Edge" and the escalation between Gaza and Israel, claimed that "Any attempt to mark a starting point in the latest hostilities is a fraught process."

Pollard's apparent inability to pin-point the causes for the escalation is especially perplexing considering that she indeed mentioned it in her report, when she described how:

"From Gaza, militants have been launching a relentless barrage of rockets, with at least 470 fired into Israel in the last three days... For Israelis, particularly those living in the country's southern centres of Ashkelon, Ashdod, Beersheba and Sderot, life has been punctuated by the wail of warning sirens, sending hundreds of thousands of people running terrified to bomb shelters or into stairwells seeking safety."

The violence from Gaza and the continuous shelling, which targets millions of Israeli civilians, are the cause of the escalation. This is amply demonstrated by the sequence of events. Since the abduction, and murder, of the three Israeli teens in the West Bank on June 12 and the Israeli attempts to locate them - Operation "Brother's Keeper" - rocket launches from the Gaza Strip were on the increase. April and May saw only 9 and 2 rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza. During the second week of the searches, daily barrages of at least one or two dozen rockets targeting the south of Israel began to be fired. These were met with limited, targeted and calculated responses by Israel, such as direct targeting of terrorists involved in rocket launching and rocket storage facilities. At this stage, Israeli officials sent public messages to Hamas, saying that calm will be met with calm. But Hamas, evidently, was uninterested in calm.

Then, the first week of July saw 230 rocket attacks on Israel culminating in 80 rockets on July 7. The period also saw Hamas begin to take credit for rocket launches, most of which had previously been blamed on other terror groups, though frequently tolerated or even encouraged by Hamas. All and all, between 12 June and 7 July, Hamas and other terrorist organisations in the Gaza Strip fired 300 rockets at Israeli civilians, with numbers escalating throughout the period. That's when operation "Protective Edge" began, with the stated purpose of defending Israeli civilians and restoring calm by stopping rocket fire towards Israeli towns and cities. According to official sources, the operation is aimed at degrading Hamas' missile capabilities and the terrorist infrastructures, which allow for ongoing attacks that endanger and debilitate the lives of millions of Israelis.

In other words, the cause of the war was a decision by Hamas to cease abiding by the ceasefire agreed to in late 2012 and again start firing rockets in large numbers at Israel. The fact that Hamas has just refused to accept a proposed Egyptian ceasefire that Israel agreed to abide by only re-emphasises this reality. Hamas apparently wanted a conflict - perhaps because it is in a desperate financial situation and increasingly marginalised regionally, perhaps because it wants to increase its regional profile, perhaps because it believes that a war will give it an advantage in it competition with Fatah for the support of the Palestinian public, as numerous commentators , including for instance Daniel Pipes and Elliot Abrams, have suggested

Gershon Baskin, a well-known Israeli peace activist who helped mediate the Shalit prisoner exchange deal with Hamas, has explained what happened based on his own contacts within Hamas. He tried to use those contacts to mediate a ceasefire in rocket launching to prevent further escalation and civilian casualties on both sides:

"The Hamas leadership decided to ignore the possibility of a ceasefire and instead challenged Israel to "bring on" the battle. These irresponsible leaders are criminals to their own people. I can honestly say that Benjamin Netanyahu did not want to escalate this war. It is so unfortunate that Hamas leaders, some sitting in hotels abroad and others safely hiding underground in Gaza, put the innocent people of Gaza in the direct line of fire. "


He also justified Israel's lanuch of Operation Protective Edge in response, stating that "Israel had to respond with force," and asked "To all of my Palestinian friends and others on the left: Instead of empty words, how about explaining what you would do if you were Israeli prime minister facing hundreds of rockets falling down on your citizens? Would you surrender to Hamas and say, please shoot us, it's ok, we understand your anger? Is that what you would do? "

Yet Pollard is not sure what was the starting point of the hostilities. She offers plenty of hypotheses: "The collapse in April of the latest round of US-brokered peace talks between Israel and Palestine" and "Israel and its program of settlement expansion", Fatah's unity deal with Hamas and Netanyahu's clearly justified criticism of it, the kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli teenagers and the following operation, and the murder of 16-year-old Palestinian Mohammed Abu Khedair. Yet while she mentions the rockets, they are nowhere on her list of causes for the conflict. The link between rocket fire from Gaza and an operation against rocket launching, also from Gaza, might be too straightforward for her, so she went in another direction:

"But when asked where the conflict begins, Palestinians have an answer that is both simple and extremely complicated. They say it is Israel's decades-long military occupation ... that has lead us [sic] to this point."


Yet Israel pulled out of Gaza back in 2005, and evacuated all of the settlements there. In 2007 Hamas took over the strip in a bloody coup. Rocket fire from Gaza toward Israel, which started a few years before the disengagement, has only intensified since then. Therefore the argument that terrorism from Gaza is only about the "occupation" is illogical on its face - because rocket attacks on Israel increased astronomically after the Israeli "occupation" of Gaza ended.

But apparently the obvious idea that this war was caused by the decision of Hamas - a listed terrorist organisation around the world and in Australia - to start shooting rockets at Israel in vastly greater numbers is one that some reporters and commentators are simply unwilling to consider. The obvious question is - why not?

 

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