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This pointless, unnecessary war

Articles from David Morrison and Noam Sheizaf. All photos taken during the 12 hour ceasefire on Saturday July 26 and first posted in a Huffington Post photo display of the destruction in Gaza discovered by Palestinians on a brief return home.

Palestinian emergency services during the brief ceasefire remove a body from the rubble of a building where at least 20 members of the Al Najar extended family were killed, including at least 10 children, by an Israeli strike in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, Saturday, July 26, 2014, according to Palestinian health official Ashraf al-Kidra. Photo by Eyad Baba / AP

Gaza: Nobody needed to die

By David Morrison, blog
July 26, 2014

Israel is currently engaged in its third military offensive on Gaza since 2008, ostensibly to bring a halt to rocket and mortar fire out of Gaza into Israel.

There was no need for this offensive – or for the previous two offensives – for Israel to achieve that objective. Nobody, neither Israeli nor Palestinian, needed to die in order to bring a halt to rocket and mortar fire out of Gaza. All Israel needed to do was to stick to agreements it made with Hamas. But it didn’t.

Hamas willing to do a deal

Since September 2005, when Israel withdrew its settlers and ground troops from Gaza, Hamas has been willing to abstain from rocket and mortar fire out of Gaza, and to exert pressure on other Palestinian groups to do likewise, providing Israel
(a) ceased its repeated military incursions into Gaza, and
(b) ended its economic blockade of Gaza.

The economic blockade is contrary to international law, specifically Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which forbids collective punishment of people under occupation, but the international community has stood idly by for years while Israel has callously maintained this blockade and brought untold misery to the people of Gaza.

Here’s what Chris Gunness of the UN Relief and Works Agency told the BBC Today programme on 17 July 2014 about its effects:

95% of the water is undrinkable. You turn on a tap in Gaza and salt water comes out of it. Millions of litres of raw sewage flow into the sea from Gaza every single day. We have a situation where the number of people coming to UNRWA for food assistance – it was 80,000 in 2000, it is now 800,000, that is, more than half of the people of Gaza have been made aid dependent as a result of man made policies.

Man made in Israel, he might have added, and implemented with cold deliberation. Remember, according to a Wikileaks cable from the US embassy in Tel Aviv on 20 October 2008, Israeli officials had made it clear to the US “on multiple occasions” that “as part of their overall embargo plan against Gaza” Israel intended “to keep the Gazan economy functioning at the lowest level possible consistent with avoiding a humanitarian crisis” [1].

Israel failed to honour obligations

There is no doubt that, if it had wished to do so, Israel could have achieved a peaceful modus vivendi with Hamas on the above basis at any time since September 2005.

The fact that such a modus vivendi was not arrived at and maintained is entirely Israel’s fault. Egypt brokered arrangements along these lines on two occasions but while Hamas honoured its obligations under them on each occasion, Israel did not:

(1) In June 2008, Egypt brokered a deal which provided for an immediate cessation of hostilities on both sides and Israeli steps towards ending its blockade. Hamas fulfilled its obligations under the deal and ceased firing out of Gaza for four and a half months. But Israel did not ease its blockade and, on the evening of 4 November 2008. it made a military incursion into Gaza, for the first time since the ceasefire began in June, and killed 7 members of Hamas. That was the end of the deal.

(2) Israel’s second military offensive against Gaza in November 2012 (Operation Pillar of Cloud) was ended with a deal in which Israel promised to cease military incursions into Gaza and end its blockade of Gaza. It did neither. By contrast, Hamas maintained a ceasefire for over 18 months.

2008 Israel-Hamas ceasefire

In June 2008, Egypt brokered a deal between Israel and Hamas along the above lines. The text of the deal is not in the public domain but, according to the International Crisis Group, it provided for

“immediate cessation of hostile activities; a limited increase in the amount of goods entering Gaza after three days; and, after ten days, the crossings to be open for all products except materials used in the manufacture of projectiles and explosives” (Briefing: Round Two in Gaza, 11 September 2008 [2])

Hamas fulfilled its obligations under this agreement to the letter and, as a result, southern Israel was almost entirely free from firing out of Gaza for four and a half months. As a “partner for peace”, Hamas could not be faulted – they made a deal with Israel and stuck to it.

It is true that the ceasefire was not perfect: despite being restrained by Hamas, there was occasional firing by other Palestinian groups, but this declined over time and in October only 1 rocket and 1 mortar was fired out of Gaza, compared with 153 rockets and 241 mortars in the first 18 days of June before the ceasefire.

However, Israel did not fulfil its obligations under the agreement: it did not ease its economic blockade, let alone lift it, and on the evening of 4 November 2008 (when the world was watching the election of Barack Obama) it made a military incursion into Gaza, for the first time since the ceasefire began in June, and killed 7 members of Hamas.

That was a death blow to the ceasefire deal – Israel had now broken both of its obligations under it and in retaliation Hamas resumed rocket and mortar fire out of Gaza.

A few weeks later, on 27 December 2008, Israel launched its first offensive major offensive against Gaza, Operation Cast Lead, during which it killed 1400 Palestinians, including 400 women and children. 9 Israeli military personnel were killed during its ground invasion of Gaza. But that didn’t bring a permanent halt to firing out of Gaza.

Had Israel stuck to the ceasefire, there could have been peace across the border to this day without any of these, or any other, people dying.

(Israel embarked on Operation Cast Lead, even though it knew that Hamas was willing to reinstate the ceasefire. According to Ynet News [3], the head of Shin Bet, Yuval Diskin, told a meeting of Israeli ministers on 21 December 2008 that Hamas was “interested in maintaining the truce”. He continued: “It seeks to improve its conditions – a removal of the blockade, receiving a commitment from Israel that it won’t attack and extending the lull to the Judea and Samaria area.”

So, a week before Operation Cast Lead was launched, the opportunity still existed to restore the calm that existed before 4 November, but Israel didn’t pursue it. It preferred military action, which was predictably less effective than the earlier ceasefire in preventing firing out of Gaza.)

When Operation Cast Lead was launched, no resident of Israel had been killed by rocket and mortar fire out of Gaza for over six months. 4 were killed during it.

(For more information, see Sadaka Paper: The Israel-Hamas ceasefire of 19 June 2008 to 4 Nov 2008: The peaceful alternative to Operation Cast Lead that Israel rejected [4])

Operation Pillar of Cloud

On 14 November 2012, Israel broke an informal ceasefire to launch Operation Pillar of Cloud, its second major military offensive against Gaza, ostensibly to end rocket and mortar fire out of Gaza. The offensive began with the extrajudicial killing of Ahmed Jaabari, the commander of the military wing of Hamas, whom Israel knew to be a key player in ongoing negotiations to achieve long-term ceasefire arrangements like those of June 2008 [5]. During the offensive, Israel killed another 170 Palestinians in Gaza, including 50 women and children.

When Operation Pillar of Cloud was launched, no resident of Israel had been killed by rocket and mortar fire out of Gaza for over a year. 6 were killed during it.

The November 2012 deal

The offensive ended on 21 November 2012 with a deal brokered by Egypt (see Understanding Regarding Ceasefire in Gaza Strip [6]). This offered another opportunity for Israel to arrive at a modus vivendi with Hamas and establish and maintain peace across the border.

It specified that “Israel shall stop all hostilities on the Gaza Strip land, sea and air including incursions and targeting of individuals” and that “all Palestinian factions shall stop all hostilities from the Gaza Strip against Israel, including rocket attacks, and attacks along the border”.

In addition, the deal provided for the ending of Israel’s economic blockade of Gaza:
“opening the crossings and facilitating the movement of people and transfer of goods, and refraining from restricting residents free movement, and targeting residents in border areas”.

Israel fails to honour its obligations

On the basis of this, Palestinians had a right to expect that Israel would take steps to ease the economic blockade and would eventually lift it completely. Israel did not honour that commitment.

Nor did Israel honour its commitment to “stop all hostilities inside Gaza by land, sea and air”. For example, according to B’Tselem [7], from 21 November 2012 until end of March 2014, 20 Palestinians were killed by Israeli military action inside Gaza (and many more have been killed since then). Moreover, some of these were targeted assassinations and others were killed in the Israeli-defined buffer zone near the border. Both of these practices were forbidden in the deal.

The deal appeared to have the support of the US, since Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stood beside the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Mohamad Amr, when he announced it. But the US, and the EU, stood idly by while Israel ignored the agreement and the people of Gaza continued to live in misery, which has been made more acute following the change of regime in Egypt in July 2013, when the tunnels under the border between Egypt and Gaza were closed.

By contrast, Hamas honoured its commitment to stop all hostilities from the Gaza Strip against Israel and fired no rockets or mortars out of Gaza from 21 November 2012 to 1 July 2014 (see Israeli Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center report [8]). Despite being restrained by Hamas, other Palestinian groups did fire out of Gaza in that period, but at a low level apart from in March and June 2014 (ibid [9] and [10]). Generally speaking, these firings were in response to Israeli military incursions into Gaza in breach of the November 2012 agreement.

So, Israel failed to implement the deal it agreed to in November 2012. Had it done so, a peaceful modus vivendi could have been reached with Hamas. Instead, Israel has launched a third military offensive against Gaza since 2008 (Operation Protective Edge). At the time of writing, it has killed over 700 Palestinians, including at least 250 women and children.

When Operation Protective Edge was launched, no resident of Israel had been killed by rocket and mortar fire out of Gaza since the last major military offensive in November 2012. At the time of writing, 3 have been killed during Operation Protective Edge.

Palestinians return during the ceasefire on Saturday to see what’s left of their homes. Photo by Khalil Hamra / AP

Why has Israel always chosen military options?

Why has Israel persistently chosen the military options to prevent rocket and mortar out of Gaza when the indications are that this objective could have been more effectively achieved by an agreement with Hamas, without any blood being spilt?

The answer seems to be that Israel is opposed in principle to maintaining a long term agreement with Hamas, because that would be tantamount to recognising it as the legitimate ruler of Gaza.

Tzipi Livni stated this very clearly in December 2008, when she was Israel’s Foreign Minister and had recently been elected leader of Kadima. Speaking at Tel Aviv University, she said that an extended truce or long term calm with Hamas “harms the Israel strategic goal, empowers Hamas, and gives the impression that Israel recognizes the movement” [11]. This seems to be an attempt to justify Israel breaking its ceasefire agreement with Hamas a month earlier.

She returned to this theme at a press conference on 31 December 2008, a few days after Operation Cast Lead began, telling the world that attempts by Hamas to gain legitimacy must be resisted:

“But there is one thing that the world needs to understand: Hamas wants to gain legitimacy from the international community. Hamas wants to show that there is a place which is called the Gaza Strip, that this kind of an organization – an extremist Islamic organization that acts by terrorism and which is a designated terrorist organization – can rule. And to make it seem a legitimate regime.

“So they want the crossings to be opened, not only for the sake of the population, but because this symbolically is how they can show that the Gaza Strip has become a kind of a small state, which is controlled by them. This is something that nobody can afford, neither Israel, nor the pragmatic leadership, nor the legitimate Palestinian leadership or government, nor any part of the moderate Arab world.”

(A transcript of this press conference is still available on the website of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs [12]).

So, according to Tzipi Livni, making long term arrangements with Hamas about, for example, a long term ceasefire or the opening of border crossings, bolsters the legitimacy of Hamas as the ruler of Gaza – and Israel is opposed to that in principle, even though previous ceasefire arrangements greatly reduced the possibility of Israeli residents being killed by rocket and mortar fire out of Gaza.

International enforcement mechanism necessary

Clearly, an agreement to bring an end to Israel’s current murderous offensive must contain the same ingredients as the November 2012 agreement – an end to Israel’s military incursions into Gaza and the lifting of its blockade.

But without an international enforcement mechanism, past experience suggests that Israel will not implement any agreement along these lines but will carry on as it did after the November 2012 agreement, making military incursions into Gaza at will and maintaining its blockade.

During the ceasefire a Palestinian medic finds his clearly-marked ambulance destroyed

If an agreement is to be implemented, there needs to be an international force along the border to monitor the ceasefire and to investigate alleged breaches of it and some international body must be given the task of monitoring the lifting of the blockade.

Israel will, of course, resist international involvement of this kind, which will restrict its freedom of action in respect of Gaza. It remains to be seen whether the international community, in particular, the US and the EU, will insist that Israel implement any agreement that is reached.

The Agreement on Movement and Access

History does not give grounds for hope that the US/EU will insist.

In November 2005, Israel signed the Agreement on Movement and Access. This specified arrangements that were supposed to operate to maintain and develop the economic life of Gaza, in the wake of the Israeli “disengagement” in September 2005, and to pave the way for the creation of a viable Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.

The Agreement was drawn up by the US and sponsored by the Quartet (US, EU, Russia and the UN Secretary-General). Condoleezza Rice (US Secretary of State) and Javier Solana (EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy) launched the Agreement at a press conference in Jerusalem on 15 November 2005. At the launch, Condoleezza Rice declared:

“This agreement is intended to give the Palestinian people freedom to move, to trade, to live ordinary lives.

“First, for the first time since 1967, Palestinians will gain control over entry and exit from their territory. This will be through an international crossing at Rafah, whose target opening date is November 25th.

“Second, Israel and the Palestinians will upgrade and expand other crossings for people and cargo between Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. This is especially important now because Israel has committed itself to allow the urgent export of this season’s agricultural produce from Gaza.

“Third, Palestinians will be able to move between Gaza and the West Bank; specifically, bus convoys are to begin about a month from now and truck convoys are to start a month after that.

“Fourth, the parties will reduce obstacles to movement within the West Bank. It has been agreed that by the end of the year the United States and Israel will complete work to lift these obstacles and develop a plan to reduce them.

“Fifth, construction of a Palestinian seaport can begin. The Rafah model will provide a basis for planned operations.

“Sixth, the parties agree on the importance of the airport. Israel recognizes that the Palestinian Authority will want to resume construction on the airport. I am encouraging Israel to consider allowing construction to resume as this agreement is successfully implemented — construction that could, for instance, be limited to non-aviation elements.” [13].

This is what the US and the EU promised the people of Gaza in November 2005. Nearly, a decade later none of it has been delivered. For most of that time, Gaza has been subject to a brutal economic blockade by Israel and the US/EU, the sponsors of the agreement, have stood idly by and let it happen.

In that time, nearly 4,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli military action in Gaza and the figure is rising all remorselessly as Operation Protective Edge continues.

In the same period, 24 residents of Israel died as a result of rocket and mortar fire out of Gaza, 12 of them during the three major Israeli military assaults on Gaza.


David Morrison is the co-author, with Peter Oborne of A Dangerous Delusion: Why the West Is Wrong About Nuclear Iran, 2013 and of the pamphlets Iraq: Lies, half-truths and omissions, and Iraq: How regime change was dressed up as disarmament – on the deception perpetrated by the British government to induce the British publish to support military action against Iraq.

Palestinian men hug each other during the 12-hour ceasefire after seeing their homes destroyed, in Gaza City’s Shijaiyah neighbourhood, Saturday, July 26, 2014. Photo by Khalil Hamra / AP

Israel has alternatives to this war

This war can end and the next one can be avoided by lifting the siege, allowing for imports and exports in and out of Gaza, relieving the pressure on the civilian population, and then embarking on a genuine effort to reach a fair compromise with the Palestinians.

By Noam Sheizaf, +972
July 25, 2014

This war can end and the next one can be avoided by lifting the siege, allowing for imports and exports in and out of Gaza, relieving the pressure on the civilian population, and then embarking on a genuine effort to reach a fair compromise with the Palestinians.

This operation feels different from previous escalations. A ceasefire may come soon, but we could also be heading for a long period of violence and instability. Another escalation will not be limited to Gaza: the West Bank saw its largest protest since the Second Intifada last night, with two killed by army fire.

This round of violence should also be understood in the context of regional turmoil. The Palestinians were the only ones not to revolt during the Arab Spring, due to their unique circumstances under Israeli occupation. But one could see Gaza – especially if events spill over to the West Bank – as “the Palestinians’ turn” in the revolution. The Israeli-Egyptian alliance also points to the fact that Israel is no longer a bystander but party to the fighting taking place in the region.

Israel was, however, never a passive observer. It is the regional superpower and has the support of the world’s superpower. At any given moment, the Israeli leadership can choose from various policy options. This was the case following the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens, the escalation that preceded the military campaign, and this is also the case now.

I would like to discuss a realistic alternative, along with its cost and risks.

A new policy must begin with a different strategic goal. The current Israeli goal is “peace for peace,” meaning a return to the status quo in exchange for an end to the military campaign. For Gaza, this means continued siege. As I wrote here before, Israel treats Gaza and the West Bank as a couple of open air prisons that occasionally get out of control; the goal of the military operations is to restore order. This is a policy that is supported by the Israeli opposition, which is sometimes still referred to as “the peace camp” but nevertheless supports all the wars.

An alternative strategic goal should include lifting the siege in the short term and reaching a fair and stable compromise with the Palestinian people in the medium to long term. I use the word “compromise” here because there won’t be a “solution” in Israel/Palestine that will end politics and history. Jews and Palestinians will continue to compete and cooperate on this land for the foreseeable future. But as long as maintaining the status quo remains the Israeli goal, the violent military campaigns, with all their horrors and losses on both sides, are an inevitable consequence.

There is no way around this. The “peace for peace” formula doesn’t work because the occupation is not peace. So what the Palestinians are getting is “a little less war for peace.” For this reason, the current war with Hamas is not an effort to “strengthen the moderates” and to “facilitate peace,” as some claim, but rather an alternative to peace.

The nature of this compromise should also be understood in a different way. This is much more important than the one state/two states debate. If the compromise must include the current assumptions of Israeli policy – that Israel should have veto power over Palestinian politics, over candidates and winners; that Israeli citizens should enjoy 100 percent security throughout the process and beyond; that Palestinians should accept the Zionist narrative and give up their own; that Israel will be able to dictate certain assets that it would retain for itself, from religious sites to strategic territories – if all this is to continue, then there is no solution, nor will there be one. Again, it’s worth mentioning that most of the Israeli “peace camp” never relinquished those demands, therefore its support for peaceful compromise cannot be taken very seriously.

If the strategic goal is indeed a compromise or a solution, Israelis must realize that they won’t be able to control Palestinian politics or the Palestinian economy, and that one should be prepared for the possibility of some casualties along the way. On the other hand, it’s not that we don’t have casualties now. The status quo offers endless rounds of violent escalation. Some of them will be cheaper for Israel in terms of human lives, and some more expensive. A compromise, on the other hand, will not guarantee complete security, but it does present a certain opportunity for a much better future.

Israel can end the fighting now. For that, it can agree to lift the siege on Gaza. Egypt could, in theory, do that by opening the Rafah crossing, but ultimately it will not replace Israel. The siege is an Israeli policy, and Gaza is a Palestinian issue linked to historic Palestine.

Lifting the siege can take place in stages. Israel can open the ground crossings for people and goods immediately, since it supervises them anyway and could prevent the import of weapons. There should be no problem in allowing exports from the Strip and the movement of people in and out – two things Israel banned, save for unique cases. Naturally, Israel should also allow Gaza’s civil servants to be paid. Preventing the transfer of funds for their salaries is something that contributed to the current escalation.

Israel should also recognize the Palestinian unity government and encourage the strengthening of its authority all over the occupied Palestinian territories. This is in Israel’s interest too, and I never quite figured out why the government opposes it.

Once a ceasefire has been reached, the Palestinian Authority and Israel should quickly agree on a mechanism for allowing sea and air travel to and from Gaza. This is where Israel can demand international guarantees or the presence of some third-party monitors. It can also ask for international forces to be present along and around the border of Gaza. This could help deal with the tunnels issue that Israel is concerned about.

This is in the short term. Hamas already signaled that such measures would lead to a long-term ceasefire. More than anything, these terms would ease the suffering of the Gazan population, which should be on everyone’s mind. Naturally, such measures would not provide complete security guarantees for Israel; such guarantees do not exist. This is where we return to my previous point: If one is not ready for the risks involved in the potential collapse or violation of agreements, no agreement will be possible at all. The de facto meaning of such a position is support for the status quo.

At the same time, it is worth remembering that agreements are not always bound to collapse, and history is full of examples of diplomatic measures that succeeded. Some violations are inevitable, but the conflict can gradually take on a non-violent form.

For such a ceasefire agreement not to lead to another round of war, it must be accompanied by an immediate effort to reach a full-scale compromise; one that would end the occupation and touch all core issues, including Jerusalem and the refugees. As we learned in Oslo, interim agreements that are turned into permanent arrangements are a problem in and of themselves, and can, in fact, lead to further violence.

Palestinian Manal Keferna, 30, right, cries with her sister-in-law Najwa Keferna upon their return to the family house destroyed by Israeli strikes in Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza Strip, Saturday, July 26, 2014. Photo by Lefteris Pitarakis / AP

I will not go into the one state/two states/confederacy debate here. It should, however, be remembered that all these options include certain security risks and, more importantly, the Jewish public would need to give up considerable assets. In the two-state solution these are territorial assets. In the case of the one-state solution it means sharing state institutions and symbols, and the redistribution of land.

The alternative to those arrangements is not only the status quo, but perhaps a return to full Israeli control of the West Bank and Gaza. Even if Hamas is defeated and the previous order of things is restored, the Palestinians will return to fighting for their independence once they recover. The Palestinian Authority will not be able to do Israel’s police work for much longer – the Palestinians will topple it or they will force it to support the uprising, and then Israel will destroy it.

This is the choice we face as Israelis. The price of a compromise is undeniable, there are certainly risks involved, but it’s not an impossible challenge. Israel is wealthy and powerful, and has the support of the West; those challenging it are divided and isolated. It remains unclear how many of these circumstances will exist in the future.

Every living thing under Israeli fire is killed or injured. Donkeys are a principle means of transport and carrying loads in fuel-less Gaza. Pets are also precious. Visiting home in Beit Hanoun during the ceasefire Palestinians pour water to try to save the family birds after finding them alive at the family house destroyed by Israeli strikes, Saturday, July 26, 2014. Photos by Lefteris Pitarakis / AP

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