Prior to Operation Cast Lead, the devastating Israeli attack on Gaza in 2008-09, there had been six months of a truce which both sides claimed the other did not maintain in good faith. Still, the truce endured.
When Israel escalated the tensions on November 4, 2008, killing six Hamas men in an operation Israel said was meant to thwart a tunnel Hamas was building to abduct more Israeli soldiers, some people felt that Israel was intentionally raising the stakes because the truce was holding and Hamas was fortifying its position in Gaza.
Destroyed buildings in the the Bau'lusha family's neighborhood. Picture: B'Tselem.
Therefore, the thinking went, Israel struck hard at Hamas with an excuse knowing that Hamas would feel it had no choice but to retaliate.
In my capacity as the Director of B’Tselem’s US Office, I’ve been asked frequently of late about the Israeli elections that are winding down as I write this. In general, B’Tselem stays away from matters of politics. Our credibility is dependent on our being focused on human rights, no matter what the shape of the Israeli, or any other, government may be.
An Israeli ballot box
But this time, I could answer honestly: It really doesn’t matter. Historically, Israel’s observance of international legal standards regarding the Palestinians, while having its peaks and valleys, has moved independently of the party or Prime Minister in power. And in this case, none of the candidates has offered any hint that they are different from the others.
The exception is not one of the contenders for Prime Minister, and that is Avigdor Lieberman. And all that signifies is how much of a threat Israeli democracy is really facing.
Settlement expansion, lack of law enforcement on the West Bank, ongoing house demolitions, the effects of the Separation Barrier, the massive proliferation of roadblocks…and many other issues, all of them get the silent treatment from all of the major candidates. Continue reading →
On Monday, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni recommended that Israel permit Egypt to double its force in the Sinai along the border with Israel. This is a response to Hamas’ breaching of the Gaza border which has allowed them to place operatives in the Sinai. The results of that repositioning were felt yesterday in Dimona as a Hamas suicide bomber killed a woman and wounded 11 other people.
The Egyptians, of course, have been requesting an increase in troop presence for a long time. Instead of granting what was a sensible request from Egypt (the Israel-Egypt peace treaty strictly limits the number of Egyptian troops that can be stationed near the border, so Egypt needs Israel’s consent to increase the presence), Israel refused until circumstances literally blew up in their face.
Israel is also considering building a new fence along the Egyptian border. This, of course, is Israel’s right, and it’s not an insensible decision. The Gaza/Egypt border is not likely to be hermetically sealed as it was before; Egypt is likely going to have to allow more movement in and out of Gaza than it had before. This means that Hamas, despite what is likely to be a concerted Egyptian effort to prevent it, has an avenue to access to Israeli civilians for murderous attacks like the one in Dimona. The barrier is thus a sensible precaution, albeit one that is merely a band-aid and not the solution to the problem at hand.
It should be noted that this proposed barrier is different from the wall/fence snaking through the West Bank. Had that barrier been built, like the one around Gaza, along the line of Israel’s internationally recognized border, the Green Line, it would not have been the target for condemnation that it was. Israel has every right to build walls along its border if it wishes; erecting a barrier whose course is through occupied (or, if you prefer, “disputed,” in this instance the point holds in either case) territory is not within its purview, though it is obviously well within its capabilities. Continue reading →