The Israeli military raid into the Gaza Strip on 15 January, in which 19 Palestinians were killed and dozens wounded, was the bloodiest single day of violence since the August 2005 disengagement. This brings the year’s toll in the number of Palestinian deaths caused by Israel—and it should be emphasized that we are only two weeks into 2008—up to nearly 60.
In retaliation for the Israeli raid into Gaza, a Palestinian sniper shot and killed an Ecuadorian volunteer at Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha on the border of the Gaza Strip, and a barrage of at least 70 Kassam rockets, mortar rounds, and a Katyusha rocket hit in the vicinity of Sderot and Ashkelon in the following days.
In a hallucinatory attempt to reverse the flow of time and logic, Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Carmon, wrote a letter of complaint to the UN, calling on the United Nations to condemn the sniper attack and Kassam rocket barrage, while framing Israel’s actions as purely defensive. The Israeli ambassador has been submitting complaints such as these in the recent past each time that there is any form of strike into Israel, to lay the justificatory grounds for the possibility of a wide-scale Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip.
This pattern repeated itself on 16 January, when the Israeli Air Force killed an additional three civilians in Gaza, including 14-year-old Amir Yazji, during an assassination attempt on a nearby vehicle. Israeli warplanes killed an additional two Palestinians in a missile attack on 17 January. And once more, defending Israeli civilians was used as a pretext for an offensive against Palestinian targets, resulting in the death and wounding of Palestinian civilians.
Israeli military Chief of Staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, stated on 15 January that these Israeli attacks will continue and could potentially be enlarged in the near future.
In order to get a good gauge of where this situation is leading we must be clear about a few factors.
First we must get an accurate picture of Israel’s existing political and military policies against the Palestinians and not fall into the trap of focusing on these “small scale incursions” as individual events. Instead, we must widen the lens and see them as merely individuations of a large-scale campaign of increasing division amongst the Palestinians as a whole and the collective punishment of 1.5 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip specifically. The victims don’t only include those directly hit during Israeli military operations, but must include all the detrimental results of the ongoing economic strangulation of the Gaza Strip. Business in Gaza has come to a halt, with hundreds of businesses going bankrupt, thousands have lost their jobs and hundreds of millions worth of projects have been frozen. A survey conducted in May 2007 found that 70% of households in the Gaza Strip live under the international poverty line, 42% of households lived in extreme poverty.[i] And things have only gotten worse since May.
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Special Focus report on Gaza, published in December 2007, the humanitarian situation in Gaza is reaching critical levels. Dependency on food assistance is at an all-time peak, fuel shortage has resulted in problems with the water supply and with essential services, and hospitals are short on life-saving medicines.[ii]
While those in power in Israel may be more interested in an attritional strategy against the Palestinians—which safeguards the soldiers from getting bogged down in house to house and alleyway fighting, and limits the per-incident Palestinian body count to media acceptable levels—and be attempting to limit a severe escalation from occurring, the situation cannot hold forever. There is a growing level of hubris among the military and political echelon in Israel and the fact that this increase in military actions occurs so soon after the visit of US President Bush implies that they received approval for their strategy from the US administration. Touting a lower number of Israeli casualties in the past year and professing that this is a success of their ongoing military and security policies, the Israeli authorities now believe that what was effective at one dose will even be more effective at a higher dose. This is an untenable supposition, stemming from a willful blindness to the volatile dynamics of the situation on the ground: An increasingly minority government in Israel with a very low level of popular support; a vacuous negotiations process with a self-imposed Palestinian government that has even less popular support than it’s Israeli counterpart; and a divided Palestinian population under dire economic, social, and economic straits.
Though it is difficult to predict when we will have reached a point of no return, it is safe to say that we are rushing headlong towards the tipping point.