With Operation Protective Edge underway yet again, it’s important to understand how Israel’s assault on Gaza began 1 month ago. Israel has offered a number of pretexts for the invasion since the Operation began; nowadays, states are required to form pretexts before declaring war. That’s the only way to get a majority of your population to support aggression. Israel’s been successful in this regard, as 90% of Israelis back the assault on Gaza.
The US has been a world leader in forming believable pretexts. Over one decade ago, the US offered numerous pretexts for the invasion of Iraq: Saddam Hussein is a tyrant; Iraq has WMDs; Iraq wants to attack the US; Saddam has ties to Al-Qaeda. Like the Iraq pretexts, Israel’s pretexts for invading Gaza crumble in the face of basic facts.
Pretext 1: The Tunnels
The IDF used this one in a tweet. Two questions immediately come to mind: If these tunnels were so dangerous, and Hamas had been using them to infiltrate Israel and attack civilians, why have there been just 4 Israeli civilian deaths (compared to over 2,000 Palestinian deaths)?
Second, why couldn’t Israel, one of the world leaders in military technology, simply close off the 40 or so tunnels on its side of the border with Gaza? Egypt’s dictator, Al-Sisi, recently destroyed thousands of underground supply tunnels to Gaza, without killing 2,000 Palestinians and leveling Gazan infrastructure. Egypt’s regime isn’t known for its observance of human rights, so it’s not like I’m holding Israel to unreasonably high standards.
Pretext 2: The Rockets
This is Israel’s defenders’ most preferred pretext. As I’ve said before, the rockets are indefensible. But the implication of this pretext is that Israel must invade Gaza to stop rocket fire. Empirical evidence from the past 10 years shows that Gazan rocket fire accelerates during Israeli military actions, and dies down after diplomacy. Indeed, before Operation Brother’s Keeper, when Israel raided the West Bank in retaliation for the killing of 3 Jewish teenagers, there were almost no rockets fired from Gaza. Israeli aggression provoked rocket fire, and it’s likely that this trend will continue.
If we take Israeli claims at face value, another implication is that a halt to rocket fire would lead to peace. Well, after Israel’s last assault on Gaza, Operation Pillar of Defense (2012), yielded a ceasefire, there were zero rockets fired for 3 months, yet Israel repeatedly violated the truce. Israeli ceasefire violations continued to radically outpace the number of rockets fired from Gaza throughout 2013. There’s always been much more to the conflict than rockets; during the First Intifada in 1987, when Palestinians resisted Israeli occupation with stones, over 1,000 were killed and 120,000 arrested.
Pretext 3: Hamas
Everyone’s heard about Hamas’ charter, how it seeks to destroy Israel, and how Israel can’t negotiate with Hamas. It’s almost as if Gazans would be free if it weren’t for Hamas’ intransigence. But if that’s the issue, then why didn’t Israel accept the 10-year truce offered by Hamas when it first came to power? Instead, Israel (along with the US) tried to overthrow Hamas in Gaza, and then imposed a brutal blockade. Why did Israel block the unity government between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, which would’ve recognized Israel? Israel evidently isn’t interested in real peace.
The other big question that should easily put away this nonsense is: If Hamas is the problem, why is the West Bank, ruled by the more compliant PA, still under occupation? Why have Israeli settlements in the West Bank only expanded? If Hamas’ violent methods are the issue, then why did Israel crack down on non-violent Gaza solidarity protests in Israel and the West Bank this year?
The Real Motivation
Israeli analysts openly speak of “mowing the grass” or “mowing the lawn” in reference to repeated military operations in Gaza. Aside from the inherent callousness of such remarks, this line of thinking presumes there’s no way forward for lasting peace. It reasons that since Israel cannot make peace with Palestinians, it must periodically invade Gaza to reduce Hamas’ military capabilities.
It’s time to drop the war pretexts and work toward a sustainable solution that addresses the grievances of Gaza’s residents, which underpin violent resistance. If we see Gazans as something more than blades of grass, i.e. people who deserve basic human rights, Israel must accept the internationally agreed-upon 2-state solution (which it hasn’t) and end the blockade. Unfortunately, it’s more likely that Israel will simply create another ridiculous pretext for continuing its Gaza assault.