Israel and Gaza: An Assessment
To understand what is happening today, it is important to review the 20th century history of the Gaza Strip, the narrow region on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, that borders Egypt on the southwest and Israel on the east and north. The Gaza Strip and its 1.7 million people have been through many changes of governance and occupation.
The Palestinians in Gaza were under British rule from 1923 to 1948. Immediately after Israel was formed by the United Nations in 1948 , the young country fought and won the War for Independence against five Arab armies. In 1948, an All-Palestine government was also established by the Arab League in the Gaza Strip, managed by the military authority of Egypt. The All-Palestine government was dissolved in 1959, followed by Egyptian military control and governance of the people in the Gaza Strip. When Israel fought the Six Day War against Egypt in 1967, they captured and kept the Gaza Strip. They withdrew from the large Sinai area which they had won. From l967 to 1994, all civil facilities and services in the Gaza Strip were under Israeli military administration. The Oslo Accords, signed in 1993, created the Palestinian Authority as the administrative body that governed Palestinian population centers, while Israel kept control of the airspace, territorial waters and border crossings with the exception of the land border with Egypt.
In 2004, the Israeli government after much debate approved acting on the “Land for Peace” principle in the Gaza Strip. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the former war hero, was in charge of putting the “Unilateral Disengagement” plan into effect . There were 9,000 Israelis at the time who had moved into the Gaza Strip after 1967. They had put down deep roots — building homes, irrigating the land for productive farms and sending their children to schools. The Israeli government offered monetary compensation and relocation options, but many settlers were bitterly opposed to the move. Sharon also faced harsh criticism from political opponents at home as well. The settlers fought the troops who came to drag them from their homes with widespread media coverage broadcast around the world. It was a very difficult time for Israel, but the entire plan was completed by September 15, 2005. The bitter postscript was that Palestinians burned many of the orchards and destroyed the irrigation systems and farms that they took over.
In 2007, The Palestinian Authority held elections and Hamas, the extremist wing won, taking over control of all areas of life in the Gaza Strip. With their adamant belief that “Israel does not have the right to exist“, the “Land for Peace” plan was dead. The statistical proof is the fact that since Hamas has been in control of the Gaza Strip, over 15,000 rockets have been launched into Israel. There is documentation as to the years and exact destinations of the rocket attacks. At the same time, a network of tunnels was built from Gaza to Egypt that accounted for smuggling parts of military materials and other supplies. After Mubarak was overthrown in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood came into power for a period of time, with Morsi elected President. They considered Hamas as an ally which led to skirmishes in the Sinai between extremists and the Egyptian military. Israeli forces were on constant alert along the entire Gaza Strip border.
Fast-forward to June, 2014. Three Israeli teenage boys were kidnapped in the West Bank and murdered by Palestinian men. A tape recorded phone call came from one of the boys in Hebrew: “I’ve been kidnapped!” Then, a man’s voice in Arabic, “Get down!” Finally a groan and a shot were heard. Silence…. After three weeks of hundreds of Israeli soldiers searching the West Bank area — with an entire nation alarmed and focused on “our boys” — the three boys’ bodies were found buried under rocks in a field. Their funerals were held within days according to the Jewish tradition. They were buried together, side by side with each body wrapped in Israel’s flag. The perpetrators were never found.
Within a week, a Palestinian boy was abducted in East Jerusalem, bludgeoned to death and his body burned in what was described by his community as a ‘revenge killing’. Protests erupted in East Jerusalem with boys and men throwing rocks at Israeli police who responded with tear gas. Three Israeli men were found and arrested for the murder. On July 7, a rain of rockets began from Gaza and escalated in numbers. Prime Minister Netanyahu ordered the Air Force to retaliate, targeting rocket launching sites and tunnels. In the past, Hamas had stored rockets in buildings used for civilian purposes like hospitals, mosques and schools. Israeli intelligence has tracked these tactics and activities over the years. Netanyahu declared that “Hamas sends their rockets into our cities and towns, aimed at civilian homes and meeting places. Yet, they use their civilians as human shields for their rockets.”
Over the years, Israel has developed the Iron Dome, a rocket and missile defense system that targets them in the air and destroys them. In addition, many rockets fall in the desert or uninhabited places. As a result, there have been very few Israeli fatalities. Hamas now has rockets they acquired from Syria and Iran that reach as far as Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa. They have specifically warned that Ben Gurion Airport is a prime target. The lives of Israelis are spent running to shelters when the warning sound is heard. In Gaza, Israeli planes drop leaflets in advance and dummy bombs that hit the roof but do not explode as warnings. However, nearly two hundred civilians had been killed in Gaza by July 15.
On July 14, Egypt proposed a cease-fire that would be followed by leaders from both sides meeting in Cairo with United Nations and American officials. The meeting was to be followed by negotiations between Israel and Hamas. Netanyahu convened his Security Cabinet who voted to accept the cease-fire offer on July 15. Hamas rejected the cease-fire plan and demanded a list of pre-conditions be accepted first. By July 16, after a brief lull, the rockets from Gaza and the Israeli bombings resumed. Hamas had fired about 1,000 rockets during the week preceding July 15. Egypt helped broker the last cease-fire after eight days of fierce violence in November 2012 . That respite lasted only 19 months. Within Israel, there is a growing call for an international disarmament of Hamas rockets — or for Israel’s military to move in and gain control of the entire Gaza strip once more.
On Thursday night, July l7, Israeli tanks and military invaded Gaza. The mission was to destroy the tunnels that store arsenals of rockets and give Hamas infiltrators a passage under the border into Israel. On Friday, July 18, President Obama said, “No nation should accept rockets being fired into its borders, or terrorists tunneling into its territory.”
I always thought I’d live to see this resolved, but I’m starting to wonder. Unfortunately recent events seem to have hardened attitudes on both sides. Ireland was a cake walk compared to the Middle East.