Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Flickr Photo by AslanMedia)

In the aftermath of the assassination of Hamas military chief Ahmad Jabiri, Israel has escalated its attacks on the Gaza Strip. At least 19 people in Gaza have been killed.

The Associated Press reported Israeli forces are advancing and closing in on the Gaza border, where they are likely to begin a “ground offensive.” Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has “authorized the call-up of 30,000 army reservists,” according to BBC News.

Three Israelis have been killed by rockets fired Gaza while two hundred people have been injured in Gaza. Many of the wounded in Gaza are children and the number of wounded have placed a significant strain on hospitals, according to Al Jazeera’s Nadim Baba.

Egyptian authorities permanently opened the Rafah Crossing, which lies on the border of Israel and Egypt, to receive injured Palestinians. The move was indicative of how the policy toward Israel and Palestinians has changed since the uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak. The Rafah Crossing was closed throughout the Gaza attacks Israel mounted in 2008 and 2009 and, on January 22, 2008, Egyptian police used gunfire to defend the Rafah Crossing from Hamas demonstrators. The same night Hamas blew up a section of border wall and many thousands of Palestinians entered to purchase goods.

Not surprisingly, the US State Department has defended Israel’s escalating military action. “We strongly condemn the barrage of rocket fire from Gaza into southern Israel,” stated spokesperson Mark Toner. “And we regret the death and injury of innocent Israeli and Palestinian civilians caused by the ensuing violence.” Spokesperson for President Barack Obama’s administration, Jay Carney, said, “Hamas claims to have the best interest of the Palestinian people at heart, yet it continues to engage in violence that is counterproductive to the Palestinian cause…Attacking Israel on a near daily basis does nothing to help Palestinians in Gaza or to move the Palestinian people any closer to achieving self-determination.”

The ensuing conflict is steeped in religious fanaticism. As the Ma’an News Agency reported, Hamas’ al-Qassam Brigades are “calling the escalation the ‘Battle of Sijjil,’ a Quranic reference to divine intervention on behalf of Muslims in battle” while “Israel’s military has termed the operation launched Wednesday “Pillar of Cloud,” a reference to the Israelites’ divine sign of deliverance in the Bible.”

Two writers have highlighted how the escalating military action by Israel is tied to the upcoming election in Israel. Hani Almadhoun of Mondoweiss argued the military action by Israel is a result of Netanyahu’s “inexorable political pandering to his right-wing coalition.” The logic of “might makes right”—Palestinians have to die—is what one accept if they are prime minister of Israel. It is a “logic of extremes, devoid of dignity, signaling little respect for human rights and the autonomy of democracies” yet it has so much power in Israeli society and government (and also one could add in the United States and other allied countries as well).

Yousef Munayyer for The Daily Beast wrote,“Israel has tried assassinating Palestinian leaders for decades but the resistance persists. Israel launched a devastating and brutal war on Gaza from 2008 to 2009 killing 1,400 people, mostly civilians, but the resistance persists.” Why rely on a “failed strategy”? “Because it is far easier for politicians to lie to voters, vilify their adversaries, and tell them ‘we will hit them hard’ than to come clean and say instead, ‘we’ve failed and there is no military solution to this problem.’”

Irrespective of the Obama administration and the wider US government’s enthrallment with Israel, Israel and Hamas had a truce, which Israel broke.

Violence had been mounting for days, but Reuters reported on November 13, “Israel and the Palestinians stepped back from the brink of a new war in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, sending signals to each other via Egypt that they would hold their fire unless attacked.” The prime minister of Gaza’s Hamas government, Ismail Haniyeh, “praised the main armed factions in the enclave for agreeing on Monday night to a truce.” Haniyeh said, “They showed a high sense of responsibility by saying they would respect calm should the Israeli occupation also abide by it.”

A day later, Israel extrajudicially killed Jabari.

Munayyer reacted:

…Israel’s assassination today will only lead to further escalation and put civilians on both sides at great risk while doing little to change the dynamics on the ground. Israel’s horrendous war on Gaza in 2008-9, which left more than 1,400 Palestinians dead, most of them civilians, and massive destruction in its wake did little to change the situation except to create more anger amongst Palestinians towards the policies of Israel. Truces and diplomacy however, brokered by third parties, have been more successful. Given this reality, it is hard to explain Israeli behavior as being dictated by anything other than the personal political interests of Israeli leaders seeking re-election in the coming months. It is certain than an unacceptable number of casualties will be created and little will change in terms of the dynamics of fire when the smoke finally clears…

In the attacks on Gaza that took place four years ago, Israel committed multiple war crimes, many more than Hamas. It also violated a truce or “cease-fire.”

In July 2008, Israel created a “special security zone” and told Hamas it would fire “warning shots” at Palestinians seen entering an “area west of the Gaza Strip border fence.” There were a number of shooting incidents, but at no point was there any significant retaliation against Israel by Hamas.

On November 4, the New York Times reported, “An Israeli security force had entered Gaza to destroy a tunnel and fought with Hamas gunmen, killing one and wounding at least three.” The Qassam Brigades fired mortar shells at Israeli forces and some of them landed in “Israeli territory.” Israel then mounted an airstrike that killed four militants and was the first since the negotiated “cease-fire.”

The strike on November 4 precipitated increased rocket attacks from Hamas, which Israel then pointed to when justifying its bombardment of Gaza in late December 2008 and January 2009.

Finally, the focus in media coverage of the violence will be how Hamas is fuelling the conflict. Hamas is a designated terrorist organization in the United States. It also is not limited to its military arm and has a political arm that won the election in the Palestinian territories in 2006. In fact, President George W. Bush acknowledged the victory of Hamas before getting behind the efforts of Fatah to destabilize the territories and take control the US-designated terrorist organization.

It is also important to note, as Jeremy R. Hammond highlighted before Israel assaulted Gaza four years ago:

The Gaza Strip is one of the most densely populated pieces of property in the world. The presence of militants within a civilian population does not, under international law, deprive that population of their protected status, and hence any assault upon that population under the guise of targeting militants is, in fact, a war crime.

Moreover, the people Israel claims are legitimate targets are members of Hamas, which Israel says is a terrorist organization. Hamas has been responsible for firing rockets into Israel. These rockets are extremely inaccurate and thus, even if Hamas intended to hit military targets within Israel, are indiscriminate by nature. When rockets from Gaza kill Israeli civilians, it is a war crime.

Both Israel and Hamas will be committing war crimes in the days ahead. One side will be held responsible for committing violence more than the other. One side will be pointed to as being more justified in responding to attacks than the other. However, only one side has adopted policies, which former President Jimmy Carter has called apartheid. Only one side can be accused of treating humans worse than the government of South Africa treated black South Africans when it supported policies of apartheid.