The recent ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militants presents an opportunity to reflect on the six weeks of calvary to which the Palestinian people have been subjected.
Over the course of the assault on Gaza, more than 2100 perished, including nearly 500 children and youth. Eighty-nine entire families were obliterated. Around half a million people have been displaced from their homes, and whole neighbourhoods (like Shujayea) have been reduced to rubble. The Gaza Strip’s solitary power plant lies in ruins, along with several hospitals, mosques, and other vital components of the coastal enclave’s civilian infrastructure.
In much of the Western news media, blame for this conflagration has been placed squarely on Hamas. Of course, projectile fire from Gaza represents a threat to the security of Israeli civilians, as confirmed by the tragic deaths of a handful of non-combatants, including a 4-year-old child, over the course of the military engagement. However, one would be remiss in failing to acknowledge the role of Israel and its allies in both provoking and prolonging the conflict.
When confronted with crucial decisions over the past few months vis-à-vis the Palestinians, the Israeli government consistently chose hostility over diplomacy. The Hamas administration in Gaza, insolvent and in dire straits due to the strangulation imposed by Israel and Egypt, responded in kind.
The Netanyahu regime could have recognized the technocratic Palestinian unity government (which featured no Hamas members in executive positions) and awaited parliamentary elections in the occupied territories. Instead, it strove to undermine the interim administration at every turn. It could have left to police an investigation into the abduction and murder of three Jewish settler teens in June. Instead, Israel’s military clamped down viciously on communities in the West Bank; the rampage included hundreds of arrests, dozens of warrantless raids of homes, offices, and universities, and six Palestinian fatalities.
Non-Hamas factions in Gaza responded by launching projectiles toward Israel for the first time in over 18 months, and the Israel Defense Forces retaliated with a series of air strikes against Hamas leaders. Hamas began to claim responsibility for rocket fire shortly thereafter, supplying the IDF with a pretext for launching Operation Protective Edge. When Hamas rejected a unilateral “ceasefire” agreement propounded the following week by the Egyptian dictatorship, the Netanyahu regime had all the political cover it needed to intensify its offensive, whilst inculpating its prime adversary for the consequences.
Operation Protective Edge monumentally failed to achieve its stated goals. More than 30 tunnels from Gaza into Israel were destroyed, but Palestinians will surely bore new passageways through the desert sands, as long as Israel prohibits the entry of key supplies. The lives of more than sixty Israeli soldiers were sacrificed in a ground invasion of little apparent strategic value—Israel could have sealed the tunnels from its own side of the border with relative ease, as Egypt did. Projectile fire into Israel continued throughout the period of hostilities. As has consistently been the case in the past, it was a truce—and not an IDF attack—which finally mitigated that threat.
The implicit intent of the operation was to teach the people of Gaza a lesson: that they would pay a hefty price for supporting not only Hamas, but militant resistance to the occupation in general. On the contrary, the lesson the Palestinian resistance gleaned is that projectile attacks can compel Israel to make limited concessions—including an extension of the distance Palestinian fishing boats may venture from the shore, and a partial opening of the Israeli-controlled border crossings. The pressure on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to seek membership in the International Criminal Court is mounting as well, over the objections of Israel and its prime patron, the U.S.
In the eyes of many Palestinians, armed struggle is the sole recourse that Israel has left them—particularly if the alternative is to countenance an indefinite occupation, a crippling siege of Gaza, and the resuscitation of a peace process that had proven bankrupt at the best of times. The deaths of Palestinian protesters and hundreds of arrests in the West Bank during Operation Protective Edge only serve to reinforce the perception that naught will come of non-violence. From the perspective of an Israeli civilian, who might reasonably prefer safety to hegemony, this turn of events must be worrisome.
The response of Canada’s most prominent politicians to the violence in Gaza has been lamentable. Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his cabinet have reduced themselves to uncritical cheerleaders of Israel. Liberal leader Justin Trudeau and his colleagues have largely toed the Harper government’s line. NDP chief Thomas Mulcair has offered support for Israel’s claimed right of self-defence while assuming a vapid tough-on-Hamas posture. Elizabeth May of the Greens finds the IDF’s retaliation disproportionate, but has still framed the projectile fire from Gaza as a cause, rather than a consequence, of Israel’s behaviour.
Now that Gaza has been rendered even less hospitable than before, it is the task of international donors, including Canada, to rebuild and ameliorate the humanitarian crisis. But by endorsing Israel’s periodic rampages in Gaza, and then dutifully committing resources to defray the cost of reconstruction, Canadian and other Western leaders engender a sort of moral hazard: Israel has less incentive to exercise restraint, knowing that she can count on her allies to help clean up.
However, humanitarian aid for Gaza is not the only avenue of Canadian subsidy for the occupation. Since 2005, Canada has provided funding and training to an international security force in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem. Under the aegis of the U.S., Canada supports PA security personnel, whose activities include manning checkpoints, quelling protests and civil unrest, and suppressing political dissenters (especially Hamas); members of the security corps have even been accused of torture.
All tallied, Canadian foreign aid to Palestine typically measures in the tens of millions annually. Some Canadian politicians, including Trudeau, have called on the Harper government to increase its assistance to Gaza in response to the devastation there. Such help is vital at a moment when so much of that conurbation lies in ruins. But until Canadian officials acknowledge the role of Israel’s occupation and periodic military assaults in creating the need for Gaza reconstruction and a stifling West Bank security apparatus in the first place, our generosity will continue to serve as an enabling tool for Israel’s colonial project.