by Gerry Foley
“We know that the Gaza Strip is a small area. It is open for Israel—they can kill most of the Palestinian people and destroy everything. The job of the international community is to stop the Israeli crimes in the Gaza Strip.”
This was the response of Ghazi Hamad, a Hamas representative in Gaza, to questions from a reporter for al-Jazeera, the main Arab nationalist TV station and news website, to threats of a “holocaust” from the Israeli deputy secretary of defense Matan Vilnai The Israeli minister had used the word “shoah,” which is a Hebrew term used for the Nazi genocide of Jews in the 1940s. Sami Abu Zuhri, another Hamas representative, said, “We are facing new Nazis who want to kill and burn the Palestinian people” (cf. the Al Jazeera English website for Feb. 29).
The Israeli government is threatening a military reoccupation of the Gaza Strip. Such an operation would likely mean a major war and possibly drive a large part of the Gaza population across the border into Egypt. In any case, it would certainly involve an attempt to destroy Hamas’ organization and base in Gaza, as well as those of other Palestinian resistance groups. That would mean mass repression and a slaughter of Palestinian fighters and many bystanders.
These threats come in the wake of a series of Israeli strikes and raids that cost the lives of 32 Palestinians in two days (Feb. 27 and 28), nine of whom, according to al-Jazeera, were children. In the last year, Israeli forces have killed 300 Palestinians in Gaza.
The Israeli saber rattling, which has been accompanied by diplomatic and apparently military preparations for a large-scale ground operation in Gaza, were ostensibly a response to the continuing barrage of small home-made missiles on the Israeli border town of Sderot and the beginning of firing larger and longer-range missiles at the southern Israeli port of Ashkelon.
In recent days, the Qassams have caused a few Israeli casualties. (The missiles are not aimed at any specific target and mostly explode harmlessly.) The Israeli army has been staging air-to-ground missile strikes and raids into Gaza for a long time, supposedly to stop the firing of missiles. However, although it has killed many Palestinian fighters, it has had no demonstrable success in stopping or even reducing the barrages.
For some time, key Israeli military analysts have been arguing that the only way to stop the Qassams is to reoccupy the Gaza Strip. Recently, in fact, the leading Israeli daily, Haaretz, carried an article maintaining that the U.S. was dissatisfied with Israel because it was delaying the launch of such an operation. In fact, polls show that the great majority of Israelis prefer negotiations with Hamas to an inevitably costly military assault. Even the government and the military command are divided over the advisability of such a war, according to rumors reported in Haaretz.
The Hamas political leadership has repeatedly said that it is prepared to accept an indefinite truce with Israel, even though it is not prepared to accept in principle the legitimacy of the Zionist state.
It seems that Israel has come to a crossroads. Its policy of trying to break the Hamas government by an economic siege of Gaza and killings of fighters by pinpoint strikes and raids has been failing. And the international outcry against the collective punishments inflicted on the Gaza people has been growing.
In late February, for example, the European Union adopted a resolution condemning the Israeli siege of Gaza: “The European Parliament calls on Israel to cease military actions killing and endangering civilians, and extra-judicial targeted killings” (quoted in Haaretz of Feb. 22).
The danger now is that the Zionist rulers may try to escape their dilemma by greatly raising the stakes. It is urgent that all possible pressure be brought to bear on Israel and its allies to forestall major attacks on Gaza.
An attempt to reoccupy the territory would not in fact stop the Qassams or the firing of missiles at Askelon. Such attacks could be launched even under Israeli military occupation. But an all-out assault on Gaza could lead to a regional war, including a possible confrontation with Syria and Iran. This would cause heavy losses of life and infrastructure for the peoples of the Middle East.