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Home > English > Website archives > Rainbow of Crisis > The Tipping Point in Gaza: Action Not Words Needed to Halt Israel Offensive (...)


The Tipping Point in Gaza: Action Not Words Needed to Halt Israel Offensive and Large-scale Disaster

Sunday 2 March 2008, by Bryan Atinsky

In heavily populated Palestinian areas, such as in the Gaza Strip, Israeli soldiers move from building to building by knocking holes through the walls of apartment complexes and offices. In the past months, Israeli government ministers have become increasingly belligerent in their threats to the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. What began with growing calls for the illegal collective punishment of Gazan residents by cutting fuel supplies down to a trickle—a threat now implemented by Israel—has shifted into direct threats of assassination, indiscriminate bombardment and the wiping out of entire Gaza neighborhoods. On Israeli radio last month, Eli Moyal, the Mayor of Sderot, whose city has carried the brunt of Palestinian Qassam rocket attacks, was asked by interviewer Razi Barkai what he would do if he was Defense Minister. Moyal replied:

"I would kidnap [Hamas leader Ismail] Haniyah, I would kidnap or kill the other leaders, I would bomb neighborhoods, etc."

Barkai: "And if you do all that and the next day are bombed with another 100 Qassams, what then?"

Moyal: "We did it in Lebanon in 2006; we wiped out a whole neighborhood, the Dachya, including tall buildings, sometimes with people in it, and—what can you do? It worked! We have had nearly two years of quiet from Lebanon since then."

Higher up the ladder in the Israeli government, Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit of the ruling Kadima Party stated explicitly that: "The heads of Hamas must pay the price. Hamas doesn’t understand any other language; the problem is we are talking to them in English instead of in Arabic. They only understand [the language of force]. The situation at present doesn’t make sense; every other country faced with rockets on its citizens would go in and destroy the area. We should warn the [Arabs in Gaza] in advance, give them a day’s notice, and then wipe out a neighborhood. We should also hit their leaders, regardless of who or what they are.”

Finally, on the last day of February, Israel’s Deputy Defense Minister, Matan Vilnai, let a threat of genocide slip when he warned that Israel was readying an offensive in which Palestinians would “bring upon themselves a bigger Shoah.” (Shoah being the Hebrew term for the Holocaust against the European Jews in World War II).

And this escalating intensity of verbal threats has been translated, directly or indirectly, into a widening of Israeli attacks into more populated areas of the Gaza Strip and a loosening of targeting constraints—both which raise the likelihood of civilian casualties. Israeli human rights organization, B’Tselem, reported that from 1 January – 28 February 2008, Israeli land and air attacks on the Gaza Strip and West Bank have caused the death of 146 Palestinians, of which “42 did not participate in the fighting when killed, and 11 were minors.” In the same period, two Israeli civilians were killed by Palestinians. In the week since the B’Tselem report was published, however, Israel has significantly increased its attacks in the Gaza Strip. Since Saturday Israeli incursions have resulted in over 70 Palestinians deaths, at least 29 of them civilians, including five children. This increase in civilian casualties is a small and early indication of what will occur if Israel does as planned and widens its attacks into a large-scale ground offensive, meant, as Defense Minister Ehud Barak states, to "weaken the Hamas rule, in the right circumstances even bring it down." While Israeli land incursions into the Gaza Strip have largely remained on the outskirts of densely populated areas, in the past few days, Israel has shifted its operations to more highly populated neighborhoods in the Gaza Strip, on Saturday hitting, according to Haaretz, “the outskirts of a built-up and crowded part of Gaza City, around Jabal Kasef, between Jabalya and Sa’ajiya.” Added to this volatile mix, Israel has a history of disproportionate retaliation when faced with increased Israeli military casualties—a near inevitability as Israeli soldiers begin to fight in cramped, densely populated Gaza neighborhoods. This, in fact is what occurred on 1 March after two Israeli soldiers were killed in Gaza. According to a Haaretz report: “As in many of these incidents, the minute the IDF suffered casualties, they used massive gunfire to gain access to the wounded and dead, and to avoid more Israeli casualties.”

On 1 March, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon gave a statement regarding the situation in the Gaza Strip. While also critical of Palestinian rocket fire from Gaza, Ban Ki-moon was emphatic in his condemnation of the Israeli military’s “excessive use of force that has killed and injured so many civilians, including children.” The Secretary-General added that he calls “on Israel to cease such attacks. Israel must fully comply with international humanitarian law and exercise the utmost restraint. Incidents in which civilians have been killed or injured must be investigated and accountability must be ensured.” The European Union today has joined the UN in condemning Israel for its "disproportionate use of force by the Israeli Defense Forces against Palestinian population in Gaza,” and urged Israel to end activities that endanger civilians stating they were "contrary to international law."

Yet, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has rejected all criticism coming from the international community and vowed to continue unabated, Israeli attacks against Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. “Let me be clear,” stated Olmert today, “Israel has no intention of stopping the fight against terror for even a second, and we will act according to the blueprint set by the government at a time and intensity of our choosing.” Defense Minister Barak added that Israeli military operations would be widened and that a major ground offensive was in the forecast. Speaking to Israeli Army Radio, Barak stated: "This is not the broad ground operation, but whoever says there will not be a big ground operation speaks on his own behalf."

Given these circumstances, while it is essential that the international community condemn Israel’s disproportionate use of force and collective punishment against the Palestinians, this is sorely insufficient. The Israeli government has demonstrated that it has no intention of heeding criticism from the international community or flinching at Palestinian Authority threats to suspend negotiations with Israel. Without strong maneuvers against it, the Israeli government has every intention of continuing with its plans for a large-scale ground offensive and the direct re-occupation of the Gaza Strip, and the likely humanitarian catastrophe it will leave in its wake.

It is likely that we have now reached the tipping point. If we have any chance to forestall this descent, the international community must do more than merely make statements. While it is only through a total end to the Israeli occupation, the mutual upholding of international law, and the defense of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people that there is the possibility for a long-term end to the conflict, at minimum the international community must enforce, through action, a demand for Israel to accept the Hamas offerings of a ceasefire and to abide by international law. It is time that the international community takes the issue of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions seriously, and to make clear that Israeli war crimes will not be tolerated, as it is only through a real threat to Israel’s economic and political position in the international community that the government will think twice about its plans. Yet, activists and citizens around the world—and in Israel—should not wait for their governments to act against Israel’s plans. Now is the time to demonstrate against Israel’s policies and to demand that your governments act before it is too late.

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