Israel’s Bombardment of Gaza: What Is Different This Time?

The current Israeli onslaught on Gaza which so far resulted in 120 dead and counting, as Israel is attempting to deliver a final blow to Hamas after many failed attempts, appears to have been planned in advance, regardless of developments on the ground. Following the abduction of three Israeli youth and their subsequent murder several weeks ago, Israel laid the blame on Hamas, although the latter denied responsibility and said it wants calm with Israel.

After assigning culpability, Israel conducted a major crackdown on the movement in the West Bank and arrested over 500 people. Israel is now launching a massive aerial bombing campaign on Gaza, claiming its goal is to eradicate Hamas. Hamas was a convenient target for the Israeli government that has been fretting over the fact that it joined a unity government with the PLO, which received international recognition. By framing Hamas as the culprit initially, Israel probably sought to disrupt the government and chose escalation at a time when it was faced by increased international criticism as peace talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas collapsed.

In a way, the current Israeli onslaught on Gaza is not much different than the earlier aerial bombing campaigns that took place in 2009 and in 2012. Then, as now, the Israeli government claimed it was doing so to protect its civilians from rocket fire while failing to acknowledge the fact that the illegal blockade of Gaza, in which 1.8 million people are confined to a tiny strip and in which anyone who approaches a buffer zone next to the border is automatically shot. Under those conditions Palestinian are compelled to practice resistance with limited, available means.

While Israel systematically attempts to gain international solidarity by asking the world what would they do if they were attacked by rockets, it does not ask the question of what would one do if confined to a blockaded area from which there is no escape. (Similarly, while Egypt has also closed its border with Gaza, Israel remains the occupying power in the strip due to the siege it imposes. It was also Israel, and not Egypt, that occupied the area in 1967). Then, as now, Israel claimed it was not targeting civilians intentionally although it was doing just that. Then, as now, the international community turned a blind eye to what a former Israeli pilot described as war-crimes, until the number of the dead became‘unbearably’ high beyond what the international community can accept. Then, as now, Israel continuously violated the ceasefire it had with Hamas and at the same time ignored its own violations. Then, as now, Israel refused to negotiate directly with Hamas, although a rabbi of a West Bank settlement who has done so managed to achieve an agreeable cease-fire.

What is different this time, however, is that even some in the US mainstream media that traditionally tend to unquestionably adopt Israel’s narrative, have started to depict life in Gaza. The Washington Post, for example, posted a video of Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip from the ground level, a perspective not often seen in the American press. It also issued a list of children killed.

What is also different, this time, is that Israeli politicians have openly declared the entire Palestinian people to be the enemy, and radical right-wing Israelis have staged demonstrations calling for “death to the Arabs.” Indeed, the brutal burning to death of a Palestinian child, carried out by Israeli radicals, has indicated the degree to which the anti-Arab incitement has been that severe that the Israeli government may be losing control of the situation.

Additionally, this time, unlike in earlier events, Hamas leader Khaled Masha’al issued a statement directly to Israelis arguing they should blame Netanyahu for their current predicament.

This time too, unlike in previous attempts, an Israeli ground invasion in Gaza, and even a recapturing of the entire strip, is a realistic possibility. While it is hard to say whether Israel has escalated the situation because of its desire to get rid of Hamas or due to its interest in gas reserves found near the Gaza coast, Israeli citizens, who are rightfully fearful due to the constant rocket attacks, are for the most part still united behind the Israeli government’s “Protective Edge” operation, just as they supported “Pillar of Cloud” and “Cast Lead,” even though none of the previous operations provided them with security or lasting peace. To what degree the international community will continue to support Israel’s actions in Gaza remains to be seen.