Bearing out the betrayal
Hassan Karim, 34, has been making the rounds of real estate offices in the hope of finding an apartment to rent in the western part of Gaza city. He is doing all in his power to move out of the Shajaiya neighbourhood in the eastern part of the city where he and his family currently live. It has become too risky to stay there now that the Israelis have reverted to attacking border areas of Gaza adjacent to Israel. “It took a full year for my daughters to recover from the trauma they experienced from the quaking of our house during the last wave of Israeli bombardments,” he told Al-Ahram Weekly, adding that one of his daughters feared that if they remained where they lived under those conditions she would suffer a nervous breakdown.
The staff in the real estate office said that hundreds of people living in the eastern part of the city have been making inquiries into the availability of apartments in the western districts, which are regarded as somewhat safer. The rise in cross-border assaults by Israeli death squads targeting Palestinian militants guarding the roads leading to residential quarters has triggered growing alarm among people in Gaza. An eerie suspense prevails as pilotless Israeli reconnaissance planes constantly patrol the skies, relaying back to IDF headquarters images of the damage caused by the strikes and gathering intelligence on the movements of Palestinian resistance forces.
The Palestinian factions have condemned the sudden resurgence of military activity after more than four months of almost total calm along the Gaza-Israeli border. In response to what they claim as an Israeli breach of the ceasefire, they have resumed missile bombardments of the Jewish settlements on the other side of the border. According to Yediot Aharonot, one missile struck what the newspaper described as a highly sensitive security installation causing major damage.
Israeli officials claim that the purpose of the latest military operations in Gaza is to prevent Hamas from conducting kidnapping operations across the border using tunnels dug by Hamas operatives. Tsvi Barel believes that this was only a pretext for launching a military offensive aimed at accomplishing other objectives. In an analysis appearing on the Haaretz Hebrew website on Sunday, the Israeli writer and journalist argues that Israel deliberately broke the ceasefire in order to keep Hamas from bringing the ceasefire to the West Bank.
The historic ceasefire obliges Israel to suspend its campaign of raids and detentions against Palestinians in those occupied territories. It had been scheduled to end in about a month, after which it was to have been renewed by agreement to include the West Bank. Israel was keen to forestall this development at all costs, Barel wrote. Palestinians would see Hamas, instead of the PA president, as the agency capable of halting Israeli aggression and effectively fusing the West Bank and Gaza back together again. This would constitute an enormous political victory for Hamas and debilitating blow to PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s credibility. People would ask more loudly why Abbas’s term should be extended when his political approach did nothing to restore the Palestinians’ sense of security whereas Hamas’s did.
Israel has absolutely no intention of allowing Hamas to gain a foothold in the West Bank, Barel stressed, which is why it decided to breach the ceasefire. The true purpose was to extricate Abu Mazen from his current predicament and bolster his deteriorating position. Barel writes, “the question is whether the Israeli army is more prepared to invade the Gaza Strip today than it was last year. If the answer to this is yes, then another question comes to mind: might a major operation in Gaza at this time appear more like an electoral gambit than a practical step to put an end to Palestinian terrorism? Won’t it seem that Israel is taking advantage of the period of the handover of power in the US to impose new realities on the ground? And there is another disturbing question: is the IDF now prepared to create a situation that will endanger the possibility of the release of the long-forgotten [sic] Gilad Shalit?”
Israeli officials appear to be gearing up domestic and world opinion for an intensification of military operations in Gaza. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced that he has instructed security officials to prepare a plan for ending Hamas rule in Gaza. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Communications General Shaul Mofaz has called for the immediate elimination of the Hamas leadership, urging the return to targeted assassinations, a policy Israel practised when he was military chief-of-staff and minister of defence.
In Mofaz’s opinion, Israel made a huge mistake when it entered into indirect talks with Hamas. At the same time, he feels that economic pressures and collective sanctions against the Palestinians have not proven effective and that this policy towards Gaza has to be subjected to a complete review. Minister of Industry and Trade Eli Yashay was even more hawkish. “Anyone who thinks that a truce is the right direction is burying his head in the sand. The only thing the ceasefire accomplished was to help Hamas arm itself and get more powerful.” Yashay, who is also the leader of the ultra- conservative Shas Party, further holds that Israel should cut off all water and electricity to Gaza as long as missiles are being fired from there into Israel. It should be simultaneously borne in mind that much of this vehemence is posturing for the upcoming elections in Israel. Most of the officials who criticise the truce with Hamas are political opponents of Minister of Defence Ehud Barak, whom they accuse of feeding the “erosion of the Israeli deterrent power against Hamas”.
Meanwhile, Hamas leader Ayman Taha charges that Israel has “overstepped all red lines” with these operations which he believes are “trial balloons meant to gauge the readiness and ability of the resistance to retaliate”. He also suspects that they are a bid on the part of the ruling Kadima Party, whose credibility was severely damaged by the last defeat in Lebanon, to prove its security credentials to the Israeli electorate in advance of the parliamentary elections. At the same time, he vowed that if Israel is determined to end the truce completely, “we will not be sorry and we will engage it in a new and honourable battle.”
In an interview with the Weekly, Taha said that Hamas never pledged that it would maintain its halt to missile fire in the event of renewed Israeli aggression against Gaza. Responding to an article in Yediot Aharonot which claimed that Egypt had informed Israel that Hamas would abide by its pledge not to fire missiles, he said that his movement promised only one thing, which was “to retaliate powerfully against any Israeli assault or aggression against our people”.
“It is Israel that breached the truce and its ongoing aggression against Gaza belies its claim that it is committed to the truce and intent on sustaining it,” he said with passion. “The occupation destroyed the ceasefire. It did not abide by a single article of the truce. Therefore, it is our right and the right of all the resistance factions to respond with all possible force in order to protect our people and our Palestinian land. No Israeli soldier or settler on this land should have the right to safety and security as long as our people are being subjected to aggression and siege. They should be made to live among their own crippled and wounded so as to experience what the people of Gaza feel.”
Israel continues to keep the border crossings for commercial goods closed, and the blockade remains tight. The fuel needed to operate the sole power plant has run out and essential goods and necessities are nearly depleted. According to Palestinian National Economy Minister Ziad Al-Zaza, essential foodstuffs will run out in a matter of days. Gaza does not have strategic reserves of food and vital materials. In a statement to the Weekly, Al-Zaza warned that Gaza is on the verge of a major humanitarian crisis due to the depletion of fuel used for cooking and other types of fuel and combustibles. He appealed to Egypt to break the blockade and allow essential goods to pass through the Rafah crossing, and to Arab countries to support the call to reopen the Rafah crossing, which was one of the points of the truce that had not been honoured.
According to UN sources, it would take some 900 truckloads per week — 150 truckloads a day — of food and other essentials to meet the minimal primary needs of the Palestinians in Gaza, where around three-quarters of the inhabitants are without the electricity and the fuel needed to operate refrigerators and cooking equipment. The complete closure that Israel has imposed on Gaza has also led to a severe shortage in medicines. The human rights organisation, Addameer (Conscience), has warned that the lives of dozens of patients in intensive care units in Gaza and other patients who require oxygen tanks are at serious risk.