History has a weird way of repeating itself. Almost exactly four years ago, on November 4th, 2008, the very day Barack Obama was elected president, Israel broke the ceasefire it held with Hamas, killing six Hamas gunmen. The resulting violence ultimately led to the Israeli incursion into Gaza from December 27, 2008, to January 18, 2009, known as Operation Cast Lead, and resulted in 1,417 Palestinian and 13 Israeli deaths (four by friendly fire). Although the purported reason for the military offensive was to stop Hamas rocket fire, Israeli officials agree that the 20 rockets that landed in Israel during the ceasefire from June through November 2008 (and which resulted in no casualties) were not fired by Hamas.
On Wednesday, merely nine days after Obama's re-election, Israel broke another ceasefire with Hamas, this time waiting only two days after it was implemented. The target was Hamas Military Chief Ahmed Jabari. This most recent flair up began last Thursday when Israeli forces crossed the Gaza border and exchanged fire with Hamas gunmen. Since the 14th, the casualties stand at 15 Palestinians dead (including seven children) and 150 injured, and three Israelis dead. The chance that this will end up in a serious escalation of violence is very real, as Israel has already called up some 30,000 army reservists. The parallels in timing with the lead up to Operation Cast Lead vis-à-vis U.S. politics also cannot be denied, which leads me to suspect another massacre may be in the making.
But let us examine for a minute the history behind all this violence. It would be the height of folly for me to attempt to give a historical account going back to the beginning of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, so instead I will focus on the Siege of Gaza, which started in 2007 and continues to this day.
In 2006, Hamas won a majority in the Palestinian Legislative Council in what is widely regarded the most free and fair elections in the history of the Arab world. A unity government was formed with Fatah, but after a failed U.S.-instigated coup against Hamas in March 2007, Fatah was kicked out of Gaza, and Israel imposed the siege (despite originally being offered a one-year truce). Egypt also closed its border with Gaza at the Rafah Crossing.
Israel, citing security and the need to keep weapons out of Gaza, claims the siege is legal. However, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the UN Human Rights Council head Navi Pillay, the Red Cross, and many other international law experts consider the blockade to be in direct violation of international law. And many of its restrictions seem truly arbitrary.
The humanitarian situation in the Gaza strip consistently deteriorated, until, in June 2008, the aforementioned ceasefire was agreed upon between Israel and Hamas. In exchange for Hamas stopping rocket attacks, Israel agreed to lift the blockade. However, Israel failed to significantly lift any restrictions, and the collective punishment of Gazans climaxed with Operation Cast Lead. In the aftermath, Israel again said it would ease restrictions, but was still only allowing a quarter of the pre-blockade flow, continuing the massive economic and humanitarian trauma.
The siege came into the media spotlight again in May 2010, following the Israeli raid of the Mavi Marmara. Despite Israel's responding to international pressure to allow all non-military or dual-use items into Gaza, The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs found in February 2011 no significant improvement in people's livelihoods due to the remaining restrictions.
Throughout this five year period, in which 2,505 Palestinians have been killed compared to 76 Israelis, Israel has a clear record of belligerent violations of basic human rights. The collective punishment imposed on Gazans is in clear violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, but this type of punishment has become Israeli policy. In the coming weeks, we on the sidelines will only be able to observe to what degree Israel continues to abuse the Gazans' basic rights. And record everything in notebooks.