Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Israel Over-Reaches: Column by Nadia Hijab

This column was syndicated by Agence Global on 30 December 2008.

What a New Year dawns for the Palestinians of Gaza. More Gazans have been killed in just three days than the entire year of 1988, during the first Palestinian uprising.

Death and destruction cloud history and context. Fact: Israel’s punishment of Gaza predates the Hamas take-over in June 2007. It even predates the existence of Hamas.

Israel’s siege policies began to take shape back in 1988 when it imposed a "permit system" in Gaza. It introduced closures in 1991 and institutionalized them in 1993. It sealed Gaza off by an electronic wall in 1994. Israel’s punishment before and since has included mass home demolitions, air raids, and “targeted assassinations”-- all illegal under international law.

None of Israel’s measures have made its people safer. On the contrary, they have bred counter-violations of international law. It was in 2002 -- after 35 years of occupation -- that the first Qassam rocket was launched into Israeli territory.

Hamas now stands accused of refusing to renew the ceasefire by Israel, the Bush Administration, and even Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas.

This ignores the facts. Although the ceasefire largely held for five months, Israel actually tightened its blockade throughout this period. UN supplies were restricted and the UN was unable to maintain its usual reserves. With the complete sealing of the Strip in November, the UN, unprecedentedly, ran out of food.

Hamas is far from perfect but it is not stupid. It could not have agreed to another ceasefire that would maintain a starvation status quo. It wanted one that would lift the siege.

Israel chose instead to go for a coup de grace to bring Hamas to its knees when 1.5 million people lack food, fuel and medicines, and the world is busy with two big holidays.

But Israel may have seriously over-reached and, in the process, damaged its ability to achieve a final settlement of the conflict on its terms, presumably the main point of the assault given that a comprehensive ceasefire would have stopped the rockets.

Nadia Hijab is a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Palestine Studies in Washington D.C. The opinions in this piece are her own.

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