Behind Israel's cruel war on Gaza

Eric Ruder explains what the Israeli regime hopes to gain from its all-out war on the Palestinians in Gaza.

ISRAEL'S SIEGE of Gaza is not only intended to continue the policy of strangling the Palestinian will to fight back. The Israeli government also hopes to turn the residents of Gaza against Hamas, the Islamist party that won elections to the Palestinian Authority (PA) parliament in January 2006.

After a series of military clashes with the Fatah Party, which remained in control of the PA security apparatus, Hamas won undisputed control of Gaza in July of last year.

Israel's hard-right political leaders are perfectly open about their aim of overthrowing Hamas, despite its solid election victory two years ago, winning 75 of 120 legislative seats.

"Both myself and Kadima's Haim Ramon understand that we need to act decisively and firmly in order to topple Hamas," wrote Israeli member of parliament Effie Eitam, a member of the far right National Union coalition. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is a member of the Kadima Party.

What else to read

For two eyewitness accounts of life in Gaza under Israel's siege, read "Rafah Today," an Internet blog by Palestinian independent journalist Mohammed Omer, and "From Gaza With Love," a blog written by Dr. Mona El-Farra.

The Electronic Intifada Web site provides updates on the current situation in Gaza and the West Bank.

Between the Lines: Readings on Israel, the Palestinians and the U.S. "War on Terror," by Tikva Honig-Parnass and Toufic Haddad, documents the apartheid-like conditions that Palestinians live under today.

For background on Israel's war and the Palestinian struggle for freedom, read The Struggle for Palestine, a collection of essays edited by Lance Selfa on the history of the occupation and Palestinian resistance.

Israeli politicians claim that the firing of Qassam rockets by Palestinians at the Israeli town of Sderot just across the border from Gaza leaves them no choice but to continue the policy of siege.

But as Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery wrote in late January, "Several months ago, Hamas proposed a ceasefire. It repeated the offer this week. A ceasefire means, in the view of Hamas: the Palestinians will stop shooting Qassams and mortar shells, the Israelis will stop the incursions into Gaza, the 'targeted' assassinations and the blockade.

"Why doesn't our government jump at this proposal? Simple: in order to make such a deal, we must speak with Hamas, directly or indirectly. And this is precisely what the government refuses to do...The real purpose of the whole exercise is to overthrow the Hamas regime in Gaza and to prevent a Hamas takeover in the West Bank.

"In simple and blunt words: the government sacrifices the fate of the Sderot population on the altar of a hopeless principle. It is more important for the government to boycott Hamas--because it is now the spearhead of Palestinian resistance--than to put an end to the suffering of Sderot. All the media cooperate with this pretence."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

DESPITE ISRAEL'S hopes to the contrary, Gaza residents don't blame their wretched conditions on Hamas. After all, Hamas has consistently stood up for Palestinian national rights and opposed Fatah's disastrous strategy of making concessions in negotiations, while receiving nothing but broken promises from successive Israeli governments.

Instead, the people of Gaza rightly blame the humanitarian crisis on Israel and its siege, which is a clear violation of international law. They also blame Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak for collaborating with Israel to keep the Egyptian border closed to Palestinians despite their desperate circumstances--and PA President Mahmoud Abbas, for going along with the wishes of the Israeli establishment.

After Gaza residents breached the border with Egypt, Hamas renewed its offer to Fatah to form a unity government, but Abbas refused to consider the offer unless Hamas relinquished control over Gaza.

Instead, Abbas tried to maneuver around Hamas by striking an agreement directly with Egypt to take over administration of the Palestinian side of Gaza's border with Egypt--essentially bidding for the PA to become Gaza's jailer.

This is a role that Fatah has embraced since its former head, Yasser Arafat, signed the 1993 Oslo Accords, hoping that it could win the creation of a Palestinian state from Israel at the negotiating table. Fifteen years later, Israel has expanded its settlements and crushed the Palestinian economy, while continuing to string Fatah along with the idea that a final settlement is just around the corner.

The inability of Fatah to learn from more than a decade of mistakes has led to the slow but steady deterioration in its support--which culminated in Hamas' victory in 2006.

For a time after the vote, Hamas and Fatah entered into a national unity government in an attempt to force Western powers to end their economic embargo. By June 2006, however, skirmishes between Hamas and Fatah forces in Gaza intensified, and some 100 Palestinians died in the fighting. The fighting ended with Hamas' routing of Fatah forces in Gaza.

This should have demonstrated clearly to Abbas that a bold new direction was required. "No amount of collaboration, passivity and obedience to the other side has worked," writes Ghada Karmi in Egypt's Al-Ahram Weekly. "The Palestinian situation is far worse today than in 1993, and a different approach is needed.

"The Palestinians may be weak, but they have one major strength: the power to say 'No.' Imagine if they now refused to negotiate with Israel on current terms, dismantled the PA as the scapegoat and whipping boy for Israeli occupation it has become, and established a leadership of resistance that refused to cooperate while under occupation.

"Such a move would wreck the whole construct so carefully designed by Israel and its allies and whose pivot is Palestinian acquiescence. President Bush would have no trophy to save him from total ignominy; Israel would face a rebellious Palestinian population without leaders to do its dirty work; and Europe would have to confront its own ignoble complicity with the occupation by its funding of it.

"Above all, Palestinians would regain their self-respect and their right to resist, and their cause would once again unite the Arab world against its enemies. Fear of such an outcome, disastrous to Israel and its allies, is the Palestinian trump card, if they care to use it."

Essential to the success of such an approach would be a renewed effort by activists in the U.S. to call for an end to the massive financial and military support that the U.S. gives to Israel--to the tune of billions of dollars each year.