Rockets landed near Jerusalem for the first time on Friday in the third day of escalated violence in Israel and Gaza. The move to attack the holy city by rocket fire and Israel’s largest city, Tel Aviv, appears to be a blatant attempt by Hamas to provoke Israel into declaring all-out war. What started the most recent escalation of violence and why would Hamas want to provoke Israel into this conflict? PolicyMic addresses these questions, provides the latest information on the conflict, and shares the human side of the violence.
What started the most recent escalation of violence?
For the past four years, Israel and Gaza have avoided a ground war, but tensions and attacks have persisted. Since the start of 2012, more than 750 rockets fired from Gaza have landed in southern Israel, hitting homes and terrorizing civilians. Israel has strategically targeted supply tunnels between Egypt and Gaza this year through air strikes — killing at least 36 Palestinians — and has maintained a military blockade in Gaza since 2007 that has exacerbated a humanitarian crisis facing 70% of Gaza’s 1.6 million residents.
The most recent wave of fighting began after Gaza militants fired an antitank missile at an Israeli Defense Force jeep on Saturday, injuring four soldiers. Israel responded with air raids that killed six Palestinians and injured 32, the most aggressive Israeli attack since Israel’s 22-day operation in Gaza in early 2009.
Hamas vowed retaliation for Israel’s air strikes, and responded with significantly increased rocket fire into Israel this week, including 245 rockets fired in a 24 hour span between Wednesday and Thursday. Israel increased its air offensive on Wednesday, killing Hamas military chief Ahmed Jabari and targeting weapons warehouses and long-range rocket launchers.
Palestinians in Gaza have reported that 28 Palestinians have died since the air strikes began, including 16 civilians — seven of whom were children. Three Israelis died on Thursday from a Hamas rocket attack.
Why would Hamas want to provoke Israel?
Attacks today by Hamas upon the holy city of Jerusalem and Israel’s largest city, Tel Aviv, dare Israel to escalate the conflict into an all-out war, and the latest reports from Israel indicate that Israel is preparing for a ground offensive. But why would Hamas want war?
Hamas’ militant approach toward Israel underlines the ongoing strategic divergence between Palestinian political factions in the struggle for statehood and international recognition. While the Palestinian president and leader of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, has favored peaceful resistance to Israel and pushed for international diplomatic recognition of Palestine through the UN, Palestinian military factions — especially in Gaza — continue to see peaceful measures as inefficient means of addressing Palestinian grievances to Israeli occupation and reported human rights violations. With no peace negotiations taking place between Israel and the Palestinians in recent years, escalated violence may force the two parties back to the negotiation table.
Hamas may also have political motivation in its use of violence. While Abbas still claims Gaza as part of Palestinian territory, the Palestinian Authority lost control of the region to Hamas in 2007. If the most recent rocket fire is successful at pressuring Israel into negotiations, Hamas may gain greater power in the West Bank, and overtake the PA as the most prominent Palestinian party.
The Israeli Defense Forces point to still a third reason for the latest attacks by Hamas: the organization’s goal of eliminating a Jewish state. While the PA has acknowledged Israel’s right to exist, Hamas has persistently taken a harder line, saying in its official covenant: "Israel will exist, and will continue to exist, until Islam abolishes it, as it abolished that which was before it.”
On the Israeli side, the goal of the latest operation, called Operation Pillar of Defense, appears to be the suppression of Hamas militants and security for Israelis from rocket attacks.
"Quiet for the south (of Israel), that is the objective of the operation," Yossi Peled, a recently retired cabinet minister for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party said.
Operation Pillar of Defense has sparked protests because of its decisiveness and deadliness. Air strikes peaked on Thursday at a rate of one every five minutes.
The Human Side of the Violence
Powerful images of the violence continue to surface across the web, showing the human toll of warfare. While Prime Minister Netanyahu and the IDF are tweeting the conflict, one blog has taken the approach of sharing voices from the ground, “The Human Side: Stories of Israel-Palestine.”
In a recent post, the author, a part of Project Harmony-Israel, asks an Israeli living in Jerusalem, “Are you worried about the Gaza situation escalating?”
“Worried a bit,” said the anonymous respondent. “It’s pre-election war. The story of this place is about fighting and then starting to talk. I wish they could talk before. Anyway- it’s not the first time. Very aggressive place.”
Sadly, this is not the first time.
PolicyMic will continue to provide live coverage of the Israel-Gaza conflict here.