Events in recent days between Israel and the Hamas-led government in Gaza show, once again, the danger of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's refusal to work seriously toward the resolution of Palestinian grievances. It also shows that firing rockets into Israel will not lead to anything productive.
For some time, a shaky de-facto truce has existed between Israel and Hamas, though rockets were still sporadically being fired into Israel from Gaza. In the past week, however, this truce has broken down. Last week, the Israeli defense force killed two civilians in Gaza, an 11-year-old boy and a 20-year-old mentally handicapped man. A barrage of rockets was then fired into Israel from Gaza, wounding four Israeli soldiers.
But reportedly, a truce was already in the works when on Wednesday, November 14, Israel sharply escalated the conflict by assassinating Ahmed Ja'abari, the head of the Hamas military wing, with an air strike that also killed and injured a number of bystanders. This set off an angry reaction from Gaza, with another barrage of rockets into Israeli territory. Israeli bombing of targets in Gaza, called by Israel "Pillar of Cloud" or "Pillar of Defense," was also then sharply escalated and has continued up to now. More than 1300 Israeli air strikes have been carried out, doing great damage to infrastructure. Three Israeli civilians were killed by the rocket attacks, but at least 109 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed, including 26 children and entire families. Two young men in the West Bank were killed by Israeli troops in the course of protests against Israel's actions in Gaza.
Netanyahu has called up reserves and has massed troops on the border, strongly hinting at another land invasion like "Operation Cast Lead" in 2008, which was condemned by the world community because of the number of civilian casualties it caused in Gaza's crowded cities.
The United States and other Western powers have condemned the rocket attacks and emphasized Israel's right to defend itself. But most countries in the Arab and Muslim worlds, as well as many others, have condemned the Israeli attack as an act of brutal aggression.
The present escalation must be seen in the context of the intransigence of the Netanyahu government, which has stalled peace talks while it actively promotes the building of settlements on land promised to the Palestinian people, and has enforced a blockade of Gaza for years. This continues the imposition of another regime of violence on the Palestinians both in Gaza and the West Bank: The violence of poverty and the crushing of an entire people's aspirations.
While there is no progress toward a peaceful solution of the Israel-Palestine conflict, and while the mass of the Palestinian people, in Gaza, in the West Bank and in exile, suffer the consequences, as do Israeli people, the danger of war continues to be high. The bellicose rhetoric of the Netanyahu government, toward the Palestinians but also in the context of the dispute with Iran, increases the danger even more.
A case in point is the threatening stance that Netanyahu has taken toward the PLO led government in the West Bank should they try to push their claim to advanced observer status at the United Nations, a claim which they have every right to make. This attack on Gaza has everything to do with Israeli far-right attempts to take over the West Bank and incorporate it into a Greater Israel.
The rocket attacks against Israel by militants in Gaza are indefensible and must be stopped by the Gaza authorities. But it is also the case that the Palestinians are completely outgunned by the Israeli Defense force, and pose no existential threat to the Israeli state. Given the vast disproportion between civilian casualties in Israel on the one hand and Gaza on the other, the rocket attacks are no excuse for the Israeli actions.
The whole world knows that the Israeli government counts on automatic backing, both diplomatic and financial, of the United States. Nevertheless there are news stories suggesting friction between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government, whose actions have included crass interference in the recently completed general elections in the United States. Although news reports suggest that the Obama administration is not happy with the prospect of a land invasion of Gaza by the Israeli Defense Force, other voices in the United States - namely the American far-right Republicans - are stridently demanding unconditional support for Israeli actions no matter what the cost in human lives. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, for example, has called for a cutoff of U.S. aid to Egypt should President Morsi not support the Israeli position. This is despite the fact that Egypt, along with the United Nations, seems to be playing serious and positive roles in trying to broker a cease-fire.
U.S. peace and solidarity groups are proposing various demands. The American Friends Service Committee urged an end to violence by both sides, immediate efforts by the U.S. and international community for a cease-fire, an immediate end to the blockade, and an end to U.S. military aid to Israel.
The Communist Party USA called on the Israeli government to stop escalating the conflict and pull back from sending in ground troops. The CPUSA also urged the U.S. to press Israel to stop further attacks in Gaza and return to serious negotiations toward a two-state solution meeting the aspirations of the Palestinian people.
And J Street, which calls itself "the political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans," called on President Obama "to step forward ... with a bold new effort to resolve this conflict."
The attacks on Gaza must end now. The rockets fired into Israel must stop. An immediate cease-fire is necessary. It will take the world's people demanding a just peace, including Americans, Palestinians and Israelis, to make it so.
Photo: Israeli border policemen during a protest against the Israeli military operations in Gaza Strip near the West Bank city of Nablus, Nov. 19. Nasser Ishtayeh/AP