Expendable Lives

Mohammed Abed / AFP / Getty Images

Last week, after a period of relatively negligible rocket fire from Gaza, Israel struck Gaza in response to attacks from Sinai (that’s Egypt). Provoked, militants in Gaza responded with rockets.Why, you might be asking, does Israel strike Gaza in response to attacks from Sinai? This is a question we will return to, but first, we need to review some recent episodes.

In August 2011, attackers from Sinai pulled off a highly coordinated multi-stage attack north of Eilat; they killed eight Israelis, including two soldiers. The Israeli government immediately blamed the Gaza-based Popular Resistance Committee (PRC), which denied responsibility. Nevertheless, the Israeli army extrajudicially assassinated of one of the PRC’s leaders. In the ensuing Israel air force assault on Gaza, 26 Palestinians, including three children, were killed, 89 others were injured, and rockets were launched in response.

The Israeli explanation of the Eilat attack seemed fishy from the get-go. The precision and training necessary to carry out such an operation was well beyond anything the PRC had demonstrated in the past. After the attack, Haaretz’s Amira Hass noted that in Gaza there was “no sign of the traditional mourners' tents for the relatives of militants killed by the Israel Defense Forces, or indeed any reports of Gazan families who are grieving as a result of IDF actions near the Egyptian border.” But, for Israel, of course, Palestinians are guilty until proven guilty, so whether the PRC was behind the attack or not, Gaza was going to get hit.

The attacks on Gaza in response to an attack on Israel from Sinai generated a surge of rockets. In fact, approximately 40 percent of all rockets from Gaza in 2011 came during the days following the August 18 events in Eilat and Gaza.

If you were paying close attention, you would find out later that through quietly released news that the PRC was not involved in the Eilat attack, and that all the attackers were from outside of Gaza.

A similar episode took place in March this year, when Israel carried out the extrajudicial assassination of another PRC leader, Zuhair al-Qaisi, who they alleged was “planning an attack.” The escalation set off by this unprovoked Israeli attack left 25 Palestinians, including a woman and a child, dead and 74 others injured. And, as with the previous episode, this Israeli attack provoked significant rocket fire after a period of almost no rockets.

Last week, we saw this play out again. After Israelis were killed in an attack that originated from Sinai, Gaza was targeted for retribution. Despite Israeli government sources saying that Islamic Jihad was behind the attack, a previously unheard of, Al-Qaeda linked group claimed responsibility and issued a video featuring the two non-Palestinian attackers. Yet, in response, the Israeli military assassinated two Islamic Jihad members anyway who, though the IDF claims otherwise, were not involved in the Sinai attack. Two days later another strike targeted two other men who the military claimed were involved. This provoked Hamas, along with other groups in Gaza, to respond with rocket fire.

It should be noted here, and in any discussion of cross-border violence, that the imbalance of arsenals between the combined militant forces in Gaza and the Israelis are immense. In 2011, for example, the Israeli military was responsible for the death of 108 Palestinians, of which 15 were women or children, and the injury of 468 Palestinians, of which 143 were women or children. The methods by which these causalities were inflicted breaks down as follows: 57 percent (310 casualties) were caused by Israeli Aircraft Missile fire; 28 percent (150) were from Israeli live ammunition; 11 percent (59) were from Israeli tank shells; while another 3 percent (18) were from Israeli mortar fire. Palestinians in Gaza are largely limited to ineffective and imprecise rockets with insignificant payloads: theses rockets killed three Israelis in 2011.

So, why does Israel attack Gaza in response to attacks from Sinai? Events in Egypt in 2011 have led to a vacuum of authority in Sinai, making it prime territory for violence, crime, and all forms of illicit trade (some of which IDF soldiers have been involved in). But Egypt’s border with Israel is the responsibility of both Egypt and Israel. Why should the people of Gaza be held accountable for events outside their control? Is it reasonable to expect the besieged Hamas government in Gaza to prevent attacks from outside of its territory if even major state powers like Israel and Egypt are unable to? Of course not. But Gaza gets hit anyway, and Palestinians pay the price.

Every attack on Israel, regardless of where it comes from, is egg on the face of its leadership and military. Still, Israel’s options for dealing with Sinai are limited by the fluid and developing situation in Egypt. Thus the leadership must choose between looking powerless in the face of attacks, or attacking Palestinians who had nothing to do with it. Since the international community is silent in the face of Israeli aggression in Gaza, the domestic costs to the Israeli leadership of not doing anything are obviously greater than the non-existent consequences they’d face for killing Palestinians. In turn, their attacks on Gaza will inevitably provoke rockets which Israeli leaders can then point to as justification for “defense.”

Israeli leaders play a perverted game to save face; in the process, they kill scores of uninvolved Palestinians and provoke rocket attacks from Gaza. By and large, rocket fire in Gaza in the past 18 months has been in response to Israeli attacks on Gaza. Hamas has clearly shifted away from rocket fire unless provoked and is limiting other groups as well. This means it is Israel that really dictates escalation in rocket fire.

It is simply criminal to let such an Israeli policy continue and yet it persists. Why?

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The only answer the people of Gaza are left with is that Israel, and the rest of the world, feel that Palestinian lives are expendable.