As Israel’s invasion of the Gaza Strip enters its third week, prospects for a ceasefire look as remote as ever. The UN Security Council passed a resolution calling on all parties to cease hostilities immediately and for Israel to end its blockade, but the resolution has had no immediate effect on the violence.
This is largely due to the lack of political will to restrain Israel in concrete terms, such as through an economic embargo or a refusal by Security Council members to export weapons to the Jewish state.
Indeed, in the case of the US, there is strong evidence that it is sending extra shipments of ammunition to help Israel’s war effort. Last Saturday Reuters reported that the US had hired a private merchant ship to send a large cache of ammunition to Israel. The US claims the shipment is not related to Israel’s invasion of Gaza. But it seems improbable that the "325 standard 20-foot containers" of ammunition will not wind up wreaking death and destruction on Gaza’s terrorised population. Press TV, the international news agency of the Iranian Government, reported that the US had already shipped 2.6 million kilograms of weapons to Israel in early December.
These reports are far from surprising. During Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 2006, the United States also hurried weapons shipments to Israel whose supplies had been depleted, so thoroughly had it bombed its northern neighbour.
Hamas and other Palestinian resistance groups continue to fire rockets and mortars into Israel, although at a far reduced rate than before the invasion. In contrast, Israel has escalated its attacks. Its land forces continue to penetrate deep into the densely populated coastal territory as the air force and navy maintain their relentless bombardment.
The Israel Defense Forces have effectively cut Gaza in two, sowing chaos and inducing pandemonium among the population. According to the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, Israel’s invasion of Gaza "has violently forced an estimated 80,000-90,000 people from their homes."
"I don’t know how I’ve survived the last few days," Anees Mansour (who I wrote about for newmatilda.com two years ago) told me by phone from Gaza. His family of 13 has been forced to leave their house which is right on the border between Gaza and Egypt. The region is littered with smuggling tunnels which Israel is now trying to destroy. The Mansour family fear they would face certain death were they to remain at home.
The Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire also called for an end to the smuggling of weapons into Gaza, effectively disarming Hamas and other Palestinian groups at a time when the Israel’s state-of-the-art military is being replenished by the US.
Israeli forces have now killed nearly 1000 people and injured over 4000 more. Mortars and rockets from Gaza have killed four Israelis since the hostilities commenced just over two weeks ago, although as at 13 January no Israelis have been killed since 29 December.
Gaza’s overworked and undersupplied hospitals are now a scene of grisly, tortured humanity. "Many come in with multiple stomach and head wounds," said Red Cross nurse Alice Nielsen. "In many cases, we are forced to amputate limbs."
Israel has now agreed to halt hostilities for three hours every day, but precious little is getting in. Even those supplies that do enter cannot be properly distributed as large parts of Gaza have been cordoned off and much civilian infrastructure, such as schools, roads and hospitals, have been totally destroyed.
The International Committee of the Red Cross took the rare step of publicly condemning Israeli forces for preventing ambulances from reaching a site with several dead or dying children for four days. It was a rare step because the Red Cross has a general policy of making its complaints in private to governments, thereby ensuring greater cooperation. It only goes public in the most severe cases.
It is difficult to see what lies ahead for Hamas from here. They argue that Mahmoud Abbas is no longer the lawful President of the Palestinian Authority. His term officially ended on 9 January. The organisation believes there should be a caretaker President until elections are held for a new President. The most senior possible candidate, Ahmed Bahar, is a member of Hamas. Abbas has stubbornly refused to leave the President’s office, although his stewardship has continued to prove largely incapable of challenging Israeli power. That, perhaps, is something out of his hands.
Abbas argues the Basic Law of the Palestinian Authority allows him to stay on for at least another year. His Government, based in the West Bank, has vocally blamed Hamas for the current carnage, a move that may please Washington and Jerusalem. But with elections inevitable sometime in the near future, his words are likely to backfire among most Palestinians.
Hamas may not have endeared itself to much of the world community by targeting Israeli civilians. But behind the bluster the rockets are the last, pathetic expression of armed Palestinian resistance. They are an admission that Hamas and other Palestinian resistance movements do not have the capacity to damage Israel’s military or its infrastructure.
Ironically, because Israel has invaded Gaza on the ostensible grounds of seeking to stop the rocket attacks, Hamas and other resistance groups are compelled to continue firing them. The rockets serve as a potent symbol of Israel’s failure to meet its one key military objective. Hezbollah claimed victory against Israel in 2006 along the same reasoning because it continued to fire rockets into Israel, even though it was Lebanon, and not Israel, that was devastated by the war.
Since it won free and fair elections in 2006, Hamas has transformed itself into a genuine political player. Foreign governments have increasingly opened communication channels with the movement, although only a few governments, like Syria and Iran, have publicly recognised it. Only last week the Guardian ran a story claiming that the Obama administration will open informal lines of communication with Hamas. If true, this would represent a minor shift in US policy on the conflict. However, future secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, has ruled out negotiations with Hamas "until it renounces violence, recognises Israel and agrees to abide by past agreements".
Hamas, along with Hezbollah, is the only popular Arab political movement to openly challenge Israel and the West’s status quo in the Middle East. Coinciding as it has with an increasing weariness of Israel’s experiment in government in the Gaza Strip, the invasion has undoubtedly increased Hamas’ political stocks among Palestinians.
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