50 days of terror: Israel’s onslaught on Gaza

 PFLP mass march and military rally in Gaza

On 26 August, after 50 days of bombarding Gaza by land, sea and air, Israel agreed a permanent ceasefire with Hamas and the Palestinian resistance. The onslaught on Gaza had become a massacre, leaving over 2,100 Palestinians dead and over 11,000 injured. Despite the carnage, the Zionists had failed to achieve their shifting war aims. They had not been able to stop the rocket attacks, there is no evidence that they had located or destroyed the network of defensive tunnels which, according to Prime Minister Netanyahu, spread like a spider’s web under Israel itself, and they had certainly not been able to destroy the military infrastructure of the resistance in Gaza. Most importantly, the Zionists had been unable to shift the balance of Palestinian power away from Hamas and the resistance towards Mahmoud Abbas and his pliant pro-imperialist Palestinian Authority (PA).

Among the 2,143 Palestinian dead were 581 children; of those injured 3,400 were children, 1,000 of who will be left with permanent disabilities. The onslaught has created around 1,500 orphans; 94 families were completely destroyed. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) around 18,000 homes have been destroyed or severely damaged leaving more than 108,000 people homeless. At the height of the blitzkrieg over 500,000 people were forced to flee their homes and move into UN shelters or other accommodation where tens of thousands remain. Shelter Cluster, an NGO associated with the UN, predicted it would take twenty years to rebuild Gaza even if there was no blockade.

Gaza’s power plant was bombed and put out of action on 29 July leaving Gaza with a mere six hours’ electricity a day. Water and sewage networks were targeted so that only 10% of the population has a daily water supply and then only for six hours a day. 50% of Gaza’s population can only get water once every four days and a further 25% once every five days, including the population of Gaza City. According to the Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights, 161 mosques were destroyed or damaged, as were eight hospitals, six of which were put out of action, 46 NGO offices and 50 fishing boats. The Ministry of Education has reported 26 schools destroyed and 122 damaged. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation calculates that about 42,000 acres of Gaza farmland has been contaminated with explosive remnants, and half of Gaza's poultry stock had been lost.

In the days leading up to the ceasefire Israel began to target high rise blocks in Gaza City, destroying the 16 storey complex known as Little Italy and the 15 storey Basha Tower; these were home to many middle class families and contained many shops and offices. In Rafah, a major shopping centre built in 1998 with Norwegian and Dutch backing was destroyed just days before the truce.

The Zionists targeted UNRWA centres to which they had instructed Palestinians to flee; direct hits were recorded on six UNRWA-administered schools. Its Secretary General issued a statement after the shelling of its Jabalia School on 29 July which killed 15 people condemning that act and describing it as ‘a serious violation of international law’. The statement read: ‘Last night children were killed as they slept next to their parents on the floor of a classroom in a designated UN shelter in Gaza’, and continued:

’We have visited the site and gathered evidence…Our initial assessment is that it was Israeli artillery that hit our school, in which 3,300 people had sought refuge. We believe there were at least three impacts… The precise location of the Jabalia Elementary Girls School and the fact that it was housing thousands of internally displaced people was communicated to the Israeli army 17 times,  to ensure its protection; the last being at  ten to nine last night, just hours before the fatal shelling’.

Among the hospitals and clinical facilities which were targeted included rehabilitation centres for the disabled. Sawsan Al Khalili, the secretary of the General Federation for the Disabled said, ‘The occupation targeted nine institutions concerned with the affairs of the disabled in the Gaza Strip and some of them are completely destroyed now, including Al Wafa Hospital for Rehabilitation.’

Both the US and British governments supported Israel in its onslaught on Gaza with any minor criticism of Israel’s actions couched in terms of defending Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas rocket attacks. This was also the position taken by Labour Party leader Ed Miliband who said:

‘We are all shocked and horrified by the escalation of violence following the horrific abduction and killing of three Israeli teenagers and subsequently a Palestinian. I have seen for myself the fear in Israel from the unjustified and appalling rocket attacks launched by Hamas from Gaza. I defend Israel’s right to defend itself against rocket attacks.

Miliband opposed Israel’s land invasion, not through any sympathy for the position of the Palestinian people, but because it might only add fuel to the resistance:

‘…as a party we oppose the further escalation of violence we have seen with Israel’s invasion of Gaza… we know what happens next. More loss of life, more Palestinian suffering, more hatred and more recruits to the ranks of terrorist groups like Hamas.’

Israel remains an important asset for imperialism in the Middle East, which is why at the end of July it emerged that the Israeli military had been replenished with ammunition from a US arms dump situated in Israel itself. However, with the US and Britain trying to assemble a coalition of countries to oppose Islamic State forces in Iraq and Syria, imperialism needed to bring its attack dog under control. Unless the invasion was brought to a halt, it would be impossible to get any Arab state on side. Furthermore the carnage had triggered world-wide condemnation and massive protests, with Latin American countries including Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador and Venezuela in the lead.

The ceasefire agreement and the Palestinian Authority

The ceasefire agreement was brokered by the Egyptian military dictatorship of General Al Sisi which has become a trusted ally of imperialism. The agreement was that Israel would open its border and allow reconstruction material, food, medical aid and other humanitarian supplies to cross into Gaza. It also agreed to increase fishing limits imposed on Gazan fishermen from three miles to six. The issues of rebuilding the airport and a seaport in Gaza together with the release of prisoners were deferred for a further conference at the end of September, although Netanyahu is already saying Israel will not attend it. Unsurprisingly Israel has already begun to renege on the agreement. As yet, no building material has been allowed into Gaza and Zionist naval forces have fired on fishing boats attempting to fish six miles off the coast.

Although Egypt allows foreign passport holders and some selected individuals to pass through the Rafah crossing, it refuses to open it fully unless PA security forces take control of the Gaza side. This is an attempt to promote the influence and control of the collaborationists and undermine the position of Hamas. The unity agreement between Hamas and the PA which saw the formation of a new Palestinian National Unity Government on 3 June is now theoretically in charge of both the West Bank and Gaza, and the Egyptians seek to exploit this on behalf of imperialism. In the early days of the onslaught, PA security forces were clamping down on demonstrations in the West Bank. It was only in August with massive displays of support across the world for Gaza that the PA allowed the large demonstrations to take place in the West Bank; these were attacked by Zionist troops and dozens killed.

So far the attempt to isolate and defeat the Palestinian resistance forces has failed, while the status of Abbas and the PA has fallen to new lows. The fact that the Zionists could not achieve their aims, combined with its significant military losses – 66 soldiers killed and over 500 injured – is seen by many Palestinians as justifying the continuation of resistance rather than accepting capitulation. As Jamil Mizher, member of the Political Bureau of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and leader of its branch in Gaza states,

One of the most important achievements of our people in the recent Zionist aggression is the failure of the occupation to achieve any of its stated goals, such as ending the firing of rockets – resistance factions launched missiles until the last minute; failing to disarm the resistance; failing to destroy the tunnels; failing to undermine Palestinian national unity. This comes in addition to the popular embrace of the resistance and the cohesion of the internal front that they could not disrupt…the legendary steadfastness of our people confirmed once again that the path of negotiations over 20 years brought nothing to our people…it is resistance, unity and steadfastness of our people that can achieve victory over this criminal enemy…The path of Oslo, negotiations and security coordination must be left forever’.

Repression and settlement expansion in the West Bank

Five days after the ceasefire began Israel announced the confiscation of the single largest bundle of Palestinian land for over thirty years in the West Bank. Around 1,000 acres of privately-owned Palestinian land south of Bethlehem has been stolen for settlement expansion. This is in addition to announcement since mid-June of plans for the construction of over 1,470 new settler homes across the West Bank. At the same time Israel is continuing with house demolitions: according to the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions, Israel has demolished 359 Palestinian buildings in the West Bank this year.

The aim of the Zionists is clear, to send a message to the Palestinians that Israel will continue to do as it wishes, that it will build where it wants in the West Bank and continue to repress Palestinian rights. The difference now though is that the determination of the resistance in Gaza is pointing out a new path for the youth in the West Bank. As a spokesperson for the prisoners rights group Adameer said, referring to the ongoing repression in East Jerusalem, ‘Israel thinks they will be able to suppress resistance but it has the opposite effect. It will encourage Palestinians to continue protesting’.

Victory to the Palestinian People!

Bob Shepherd

Manchester - defend the right to protest for Palestine


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