Seventy-five thousand reservists in Israel have been called up for whatever Israel has planned for Gaza. It already has been bombarding it for three days and has asserted to the world that it must continue to respond to rocket attacks from Hamas because Israel cannot tolerate such terrorism. Yet, when one examines the collective punishment imposed upon the people of Gaza, it is clear that there is no equivalency between the power of Hamas to terrorize Israeli civilians and the power of Israel to terrorize Palestinian civilians.
Hamas has committed crimes and abuses. Its rocket attacks are mostly inaccurate and, because they lack precision, they are widely considered to be war crimes. Since Hamas was elected and gained control of Gaza, according to Amnesty International, the “Hamas de facto administration” has “been responsible for executing people after unfair trials, failing to prevent Palestinian armed groups from launching indiscriminate rockets into southern Israel, which constitutes a war crime, and failing to ensure the humane treatment of captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit (who was released in October 2011).”
Today, Hamas “summarily executed” a man suspected of “collaborating” with Israel. The execution was extrajudicial and a violation of human rights. It has fired hundreds of rockets in the past days and killed at least three Israelis.
By comparison, Israel has in the past weeks escalated violence in Gaza. On November 8, Israeli forces killed a Palestinian child. According to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), they killed four Palestinian civilians, including two children, on November 10, after firing “a number of artillery shells at al-Shoja’iya neighborhood in the east of Gaza City.” This shelling wounded 38 Palestinians (9 of which were children). That same day, Israeli forces that fired “two artillery shells at Khuza’a village, east of Khan Yunis” and 11 Palestinian civilians, including 5 women and two children, were wounded. And, in the northern Gaza Strip, an Israeli drone fired a missile at the al-Quds Brigades and killed one of them.
The recent attacks on Gaza by Israel have left 30 killed, including 8 children, with 270 wounded. Civilian infrastructure has been damaged in some instances and Israeli forces have used excessive force on peaceful demonstrations by Palestinians and Israeli and international human rights advocates. PCHR reported 6 Palestinian civilians, including 3 children and a woman, were wounded and “dozens” have bruises. Multiple people also were affected by “tear gas inhalation.”
For over five years, Israel has maintained a siege or blockade of the Gaza Strip, which United Nations agencies have urged Israel to end. “More than 1.6 million people have been under blockade in violation of international law,” fifty organizations and agencies declared in June of this year. “More than half of these people are children.” It has had a devastating impact. Over “80 percent of families in Gaza are dependent on humanitarian aid,” according to the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos.
In 2011, Human Rights Watch reported, Israeli forces “conducted attacks on Gaza, including against smuggling tunnels and in response to rocket attacks, that killed 32 Palestinian civilians as of October.”
…The cases included civilians killed during aerial and artillery attacks, as well as IDF shootings of Palestinian civilians in the “no-go” zone along Gaza’s northern and eastern borders. In April one Israeli aerial attack apparently targeted a Palestinian ambulance, while another aerial attack killed a mother and daughter in an area where no members of armed groups were present. In August an Israeli aerial attack on a sports club that witnesses said was not used for military purposes killed two civilians…
As detailed in the UN report on the Gaza conflict that occurred four years ago, Israel has adopted a concept of “Hamas terrorist infrastructure” or “supporting infrastructure.” This concept was particularly worrisome for those investigating war crimes and other abuses committed during the conflict:
…[T]he concept of Hamas’ “supporting infrastructure” is particularly worrying as it appears to transform civilians and civilian objects into legitimate targets. Statements by Israeli political and military leaders prior to and during the military operations in Gaza indicate that the Israeli military conception of what was necessary in a war with Hamas viewed disproportionate destruction and creating maximum disruption in the lives of many people as a legitimate means to achieve not only military but also political goals…
Over fourteen hundred Palestinians were killed in that conflict. The majority killed were civilians.
Israel is one of the most powerful militaries in the world. As of April 2012, according to Al Jazeera English, “Israel has 176,500 personnel on active service, made up of 133,000 in the army, which includes 107,000 conscripts. The navy has 9,500 sailors on active duty and there are 34,000 in the air force, as well as a total reserve force of 565,000.
…The Israeli army has more than 3,000 tanks, reported to include 441 Merkava MkI, 455 Merkava MkII, 454 Merkava MkIII, 175 Merkava MkIV and 206 Centurion models.
The Israeli military also has, according to Reuters, some 10,484 armored personnel carriers (APCs) and 5,432 artillery pieces, including 620 motorized and 456 towed pieces…
Israel has an air force that consists of “460 combat-capable aircraft, with 168 fighters, including 27 Boeing F15A Eagle, seven F15B and 90 F16A Fighting Falcons.” It also, as of April, included “227 ground attack fighters and 65 attack aircraft, in addition to nine tanker/transport aircraft and 77 other transport aircraft,” along with “81 attack helicopters, including 30 Bell AH-1E/AH-1F Cobra and 30 Boeing AH-64A Apache gunships, as well as 200 transport helicopters.” And the country possessed air defense capabilities that include “48 towed surface-to-air missile launchers (SAM) and 920 guns.”
Both Israel and Hamas have had drone programs. In 2011, since the capture of Gilad Shalit, 825 people in Gaza had been killed by drones (most of them civilians). Comparatively, rocket fire from Palestinians had killed 16 Israelis. Medea Benjamin wrote in her book, Drone Warfare, Israel exports drones that are “combat proven” so it prides itself on its drones. Recently, however, Haaretz reported Israeli forces disrupted Hamas’ drone production capabilities and struck “technological development centers” working on developing drones.
Israel receives hundreds of millions of dollars of military aid from the United States each year. On July 27, it was reported that President Barack Obama had announced the US would be giving Israel $70 million more in military aid. It was for speeding the production of the Iron Dome missile defense system designed to intercept rockets or projectiles. And, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) written by Jeremy M. Sharp, “Beginning in 2007, the US has increased military aid by $150 million each year. Beginning 2012, we will be sending Israel $3.1 billion a year (or an average of $8.5 million a day) and will continue to provide military aid at that level through 2018. U.S. tax dollars are subsidizing one of the most powerful foreign militaries. According to the CRS report, “[current US military aid] grants to Israel represent 18.2% of the overall Israeli defense budget.” This aid can be used to carry out whatever military operations that are guaranteed to result in human rights abuses or war crimes.
Israel has the monopoly of force, not Hamas. Hamas can fire all the rockets it wants, but it lacks the power to isolate Israel and force it to comply with any demands. It has to rely on Egypt and other countries to diplomatically put Israel in a position to end its occupation of areas of the Palestinian territories and withdraw to the borders of 1967, as Khaled Meshaal, leader of Hamas’ political bureau, has requested of Israel.
It is hard to see how it would be in Hamas’ interest to have a brutal military conflict with Israel. This is not what Palestinians want. As Khalil Shikaki wrote for Newsweek International on February 6, 2006, after Palestinian elections:
…[T]he most interesting aspect of the rise of Hamas is that its own voters, as demonstrated in exit polls, do not share its views on the peace process. Three quarters of all Palestinians, including more than 60 percent of Hamas supporters, are willing to support reconciliation between Palestinians and Israelis based on a two-state solution. During the last 10 years, the trend among the Palestinians has been to move away from hard-line attitudes and to embrace moderate ones. Indeed, more than 60 percent of Hamas voters support an immediate return to negotiations with Israel. Had the issue of peace been the most important consideration in these elections, Fatah would certainly have won. But the peace process was the least important issue for the voters…
As Yousef Munayyer of the Jerusalem Fund and Palestine Center said on MSNBC this afternoon, “There is no military solution to this.” Yet, Israel has broken a truce ahead of elections in the country and with the unwavering and complicit support of the United States, it is headed toward a full-scale military offensive on Gaza that will lead to a situation that produces far more bloodshed and destruction than the world has already seen over the past days.