Saturday, December 27, 2008

Carnage in Gaza

If you've seen any news at all today then you've probably seen the images coming out of Gaza, which is reeling from a large-scale assault by the Israeli Air Force (which dropped 100 tons of bombs today alone on the territory). As of this evening more than 225 Gazans are reported dead with perhaps 700 more injured. The death toll will surely climb since Gaza's hospitals suffer from chronic shortages of pretty much everything because of an Israeli blockade on shipments of goods into the territory. Israel said the attacks were necessary because of rocket attacks - sometimes several dozen a day - being launched from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel.

But rocket attacks from Gaza are a fairly common occurrence and have never provoked such a violent response from the Israelis before. The BBC is speculating that there might be other reasons for the large-scale assault. The ruling Kadima party has to stand for election in a month and they have been trailing in the polls to the right-wing (and more hawkish) Likud party, so the Beeb is suggesting that politics may have influenced the decision on the timing and scale of the strike. They also note that the opinion in Israel is that Barack Obama will be more sympathetic to the Palestinians than George Bush has been, so it was best to launch an operation in Gaza before Obama takes office.

Israel has said that it cannot allow Hamas to operate in Gaza (even though they were democratically elected) and that they can't negotiate with a group that has called for Israel's destruction. It's a good point, but if you go back 20 or so years you could find the British government making the same kind of statements about talking to the Irish Republican Army. The IRA engaged in a decades-long fight against the British for control of Northern Ireland, even conducting bombings and assassinations in England itself. But the two sides did eventually sit down and negotiate and today Northern Ireland is a (relatively) peaceful place.

Israeli statesman Yitzak Rabin made the observation that "you don't make peace with your friends, you make peace with your enemies." Yes, Hamas would like Israel to go away, but earlier in the year polls showed that a majority of Israelis supported the idea of negotiations with Hamas, and the terrorist group even indicated it was open to the idea of talks.

While the citizens in Gaza have said that today's air strikes were the worst they could ever remember, they are not the first time Israel has tried to use force in the Gaza Strip. Government after government in Israel has launched military actions against forces in Gaza, from air strikes, to artillery barrages to full-scale invasions - none have ever turned Gaza into a peaceful place that thinks kindly of Israel. It's a pretty safe bet that this latest round won't either. Instead more Gazans will look at the bombs falling from the sky, the blockade keeping the stuff of daily life out and decide that they might as well just join up with the terrorists since there’s not much to live for anyway.

Force hasn't helped Israel solve its problem with the Palestinians for the past 40 years; it won't help this time either.
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