Meanwhile, Gaza's agony sharpens and deepens – UPDATED

What is the worth, the value, of assigning blame here? It doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t stop anything.

This weekend, Hamas went crazy, and Israel too.

There. Now, what?

It’s simply no longer possible to say who went crazy first, or who went crazy more. This discussion is sickening.

Israel attacked and killed people in Gaza on Friday. It announced on Sunday that one of the dead included a senior Hamas commander.

This is perhaps the explanation for why Hamas went crazy on Saturday morning — suddenly firing about 50 mortars into the Israeli perphery in about 15 minutes (is this possible?) — and taking responsibility for the act.

Then, it continued. There was more.

On Tuesday, the IDF announced that 7 rockets and mortars had been fired from Gaza into Israel that day — making a total of 60 projectiles fired from Gaza since the weekend, it said.

IDF attacks on Gaza — retaliation, prevention, whatever — killed some 10 Palestinians, including a number of what the IDF admitted were “uninvolved civilians”, mostly kids, and injured some 40 more. The IDF offered medical care to the wounded — a clear sign that something had gone badly wrong, and that Israel was recognizing some responsibility. And the IDF announced it was starting an investigation. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu expressed regret, “but”…

UPDATE: PA Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki has reportedly said Netanyahu should apologize for the Gaza deaths of those “uninvolved civilians, just as Netanyahu demanded that the Palestinian leadership must apologize for the murders of five members of an Israeli family living in the West Bank settlement of Itamar, near Nablus…

In its statement Tuesday evening, the IDF said its mortar fire on northern Gaza (which killed, according to first reports, 3 kids + an adult male, and wounded women and children) came AFTER — “a short while later” – Palestinian firing from site. The language used in the IDF statement, posted here, is very telling: “Initial reports indicate that terrorists [sic] were among the injured. Regrettably, uninvolved civilians were also present at the site and were injured. The Civil Administration offered medical assistance to those injured and the assistance is being coordinated with the Palestinian Authority in both Ramallah and Gaza”.

UPDATE: one of the injured, an 8-year-old boy, is reportedly being transferred to Israel for medical treatment on Wednesday.

While the IDF usually claims that its attacks on Gaza are “prevention”, this IDF mortar attack Tuesday afternoon on northern Gaza appears to have been retaliation.

The Los Angeles Times has a very poignant account from Gaza posted here Tuesday on its Babylon and Beyond blog. It reported that “Relatives of those killed said they prevented a group of Palestinian militants from firing mortars into Israel from an area that is adjacent to their houses just half an hour before Israeli tanks fired the shells”.

The LATimes account, written by Ahmed Aldabba from Gaza City, continues: “But militants waited until people went for prayers at the neighborhood’s mosque and sent a round of mortar shells beyond the Israel-Gaza borderline, which is a little less than half a mile away from the bombed area. ‘I was going out of the mosque when the shells hit the kids’, said Mohammed Helo 42, the children’s uncle, at the morgue of Shifa hospital in Gaza, where the bodies were taken. ‘I did not know what was going on. All I heard was thunderous explosions then the moans of people who were just walking by. Limbless bodies were scattered all around’.”

The New York Times reported Wednesday: “ ‘We heard the sound of four mortars being fired by militants from a grove just beyond our house’, said Hassan, the older brother of Mohammed Harrara [n.b. one of the young people killed in the IDF mortar attack — the NYTimes gives his age as 17] . ‘A few minutes later, the Israeli shells landed in the area’.”

UPDATE: On Wednesday, Haaretz reporters Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff had the Israeli version, here: “a small war has been going on for a week now along the Gaza border … The current tensions began exactly a week ago when Israel launched an air attack on a Hamas base in the ruins of the settlement of Netzarim, killing two Hamas men. That attack came in response to a Qassam fired from Gaza that landed in an open area. Hamas then responded with a barrage of 50 mortars [on Saturday morning] on communities south of the Gaza Strip. Israel delayed its response so as not to disrupt the Purim festivities in the Sderot area. But on Monday evening Israel launched a series of air attacks in which a number of Hamas militants were wounded. Things worsened yesterday afternoon. After a round of mortar fire on kibbutzim east of Gaza, the Israel Defense Forces fired its own mortars right back at the source of the firing – at the Sajaiyeh neighborhood east of Gaza City, killing four members of a family, including two children. Southern Command’s initial investigation indicates that the mortars’ launching point, an olive grove on the edge of a residential quarter, had been clearly identified. It seems that a number of the IDF’s mortars went off course and hit a house in Sajaiyeh, a few dozen meters from the grove. The IDF says armed Hamas men who had fired mortars at Israel were also hit in the strike, and has expressed regret about innocent casualties. The IDF says it fired to stop the firing in the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council. The commander of the sector used mortars of a type known as keshet for lack of more precise weapons, which were not available quickly enough due to the urgency of stopping the Palestinian mortar fire at the kibbutzim”…

The prevention argument …

Choose whatever reporting you prefer — each side did the best they could, with their sources. It doesn’t matter. It is all terrible.

Amira Hass wrote today in Haaretz that “In this testosterone-rich competition, there will always be more checkmarks on the Israeli side. But Israel is clever enough to act like the threatened party and to hide its deadly performances. Who cares that the ‘appropriate Zionist response’ to 50 mortar shells, which sowed fear but did not kill, was the killing of two 16-year-olds? Imad Faraj Allah and Qassam Abu Uteiwi, from the Nuseirat refugee camp, were the people killed by Israel’s retaliatory bombing later that evening – not ‘two terrorists’, as our media obediently said, parroting the commanders’ dictation”. This is published here.

A Grad missile was fired from Gaza into Ashdod later on Tuesday night. On Wednesday morning, the IDF spokesperson announced, “An Israeli Air Force (IAF) aircraft targeted a terrorist in the northern Gaza Strip, in the same location from which the Grad missile was fired towards Ashdod. A hit was confirmed”.

A short while later, a Grad missile was fired from Gaza into Beersheva. Then, several hours later, a second Grad missile landed in the middle of Beersheva.  Seven Nine other projectiles were fired elsewhere in the meantime.  Upping the ante is the only strategy being pursued by any side…

Reports came in, shortly before 10am, of a missile hitting the Israeli town of Kiryat Gat — possible the farthest range reached yet from Gaza… Then, by 10:15, IDF helicopters had fired at a group of Palestinian men it said were preparing to fire projectiles at Israel; these men were reportedly east of the Erez crossing in the northern Gaza Strip.

Ashdod is north of Gaza, Beersheva is to the east — and the range is greater than ususal: it is the maximum range reached by projectiles fired from Gaza in response to Israeli attacks during the IDF’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza from 27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009 (which was announced as a response to months, years, of attacks from Gaza onto Israel…

What next?

Now, Israeli Vice President Silvan Shalom has echoed on Wednesday morning the call made by former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni last Friday — for a launch of Operation Cast Lead Two…

Meanwhile, three Palestinian human rights organizations — The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, based in Gaza, and Al-Haq and ADDameer, headquartered in Ramallah — have just issued a joint statement saying that “As Palestinian human rights organizations with longstanding experience pursuing accountability and representing the victims of serious human rights and humanitarian law violations, we have unequivocally concluded that accountability is impossible at the domestic level”.

The wording is vague — but it seems to refer as much, if not more, to Palestinian violations as to Israeli violations.

The joint statement continues: “Without the intervention of the international community there will be no justice. Those suspected of committing international crimes will be granted impunity, while their victims will be denied their rights to an effective remedy. The interests of justiceBut the neighbor/occupier to the east is crazy. It’s wrong to provide it with pretexts that would enable it to once again put Gaza’s children and old people through an ordeal like Cast Lead, or even one half as bad. demand that the (UN) Security Council, acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, refer the situation in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court”…

Like Libya…

Meanwhile, Amira Hass wrote in her article today in Haaretz that “The Goldstone report – so widely reviled by Israelis, but endorsed by the Palestinians – actually did force Palestinian human rights organizations to accept the application of the term “crime” to Palestinian rocket launches at Israel’s civilian population, both before and during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2009. In other words, it forced them to distinguish between the Palestinians’ right to defend themselves (albeit unsuccessfully ) by force of arms against Israeli military assaults and their lack of right to put on an act of being an army, one that targets civilians, and thus provide Israel with more ammunition for its victim show. But this distinction is not in use for whatever doesn’t appear in Goldstone’s report. Though they didn’t denounce those 50 mortars, Palestinians who are not Hamas supporters did give them a political interpretation. This wasn’t ‘the attacked party’s right to respond’ (or, more accurately, the fly’s right to play Ping-Pong with the elephant ), but a clear message to young Palestinians, reinforced by the brutal suppression of their demonstrations: You aren’t in Cairo or Tunis, so stop pestering us with theories about a smart popular struggle in our emirate. But the neighbor/occupier to the east is crazy. It’s wrong to provide it with pretexts that would enable it to once again put Gaza’s children and old people through an ordeal like Cast Lead, or even one half as bad. So for all those who demonstrated in support of the Gazans when they were trapped under Israeli fire, all those planners of past and future flotillas, this is your moment to raise your voices and say clearly: The Qassams merely feed Israel’s madness. It is not the Qassams that will ensure the Palestinians, both in and out of Gaza, a life of dignity. It is not the Qassams that will topple the Israeli walls around the world’s largest prison camp”.


But, Israel had the choice, and it chose to up the ante at this time.

This was a rational, though brutal and wholly unadmirable, decision.

It was Hamas who lost its cool. Firing from Gaza into Israel periphery as revenge is crazy, futile, and also crime of war. Fear is not policy [as Israeli former Mossad Chief Efraim Halevy recently told journalists in Jerusalem]. Nor is revenge.

Halevy, who served three terms as Mossad Chief, also added, spontaneously, “If there is something that is not sustainable in the region, it is the situation in Gaza. To keep 1.5 million people in Gaza in the state they are in, is not sustainable. You have to accept that this “non-state actor” [i.e., Hamas] is an actor. A few weeks ago, after a missile attack, I heard on the radio that Israel lodged a complaint with the UN, and I thought, against whom did they lodge a complaint?. But, of course, if you say that Hamas is responsible, that means you recognize they are there”.

Halevy has — certainly since leaving government — urged talks with Hamas, because they are in effective power in Gaza — and not at all because he cared about eventual Palestinian unity, or any other Palestinian aspiration for freedom, dignity or self-determination / independence.

The non-recognition of Hamas at Israeli (backed by American) insistence, after Hamas — to general surprise, including its own — won the majority of seats in January 2006 elections for the Palestinian Authority’s Legislative Council (PLC) is the root of the present situation. For over a year, there was a major campaign led by the major international donors to boycott Hamas until it met a set of Israeli pre-conditions (including recognition of the State of Israel), which led to a major crisis in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) that was managed only because some 160,000 PA employees were able to get bank loans (though they had to pay the interest charges) to meet their household expenses. Perhaps nearly a million Palestinian family members are, and were, dependent on the payment of PA salaries.

Bitter at losing the elections, the main PA (Fatah members) boycotted Hamas.

One “National Unity” government collapsed and was reconstituted after Saudi mediation in Mecca. But, there were constant rumors of preparation for a military move to oust Hamas. Then, in mid-June 2007, Hamas moved against Fatah/PA Preventive Security Forces in Gaza. It was a rout. Abu Mazen declared it a military coup, then made his own political coup, dissolving the National Unity government and forming an “Emergency” government headed by newly-appointed PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad (who continued as Finance Minister).

While Hamas might recognize the legitimacy of some of Abu Mazen’s sources of authority, it has no similar attitude to Salam Fayyad.

Negotiations conducted by Egypt dragged on. Discussions about fulfilling the 2005 Cairo Agreement (2005! In May, if memory serves, more than three months before Ariel Sharon’s unilateral “disengagement” that pulled 8,000 Israeli settlers and the IDF soldiers protecting them, out of Gaza — which Israel billed as Gaza’s big chance to prove the viability of a Palestinian state etc…) calling for Hamas to join the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) dragged on, and got nowhere (the sticking point was the percentage of Hamas’ representation in the PLO’s Palestine National Council, which Fatah could not imagine would exceed 25 percent maximum, while Hamas said it should be equivalent to the percentage of PLC seats they had won at the ballot box, which was something over 60 percent, depending on how it was calculated.

Was Israel — by upping the ante now — trying to block the proposed Abbas visit to Gaza? [Netanyahu told the Knesset on Tuesday what he told CNN’s Piers Morgan in an interview last week: The Palestinians can’t have it both ways — they must choose between reconciliation with Hamas or peace with Israel]…

In an editorial today, Israel’s most popular newspaper, Yediot Ahronot wrote: the ” ‘IDF Southern Command made errors in judgment yesterday, both in deciding to use inexact weapons such as mortars in populated areas and in the way the mortars were employed. Similar mistakes were made in the past when use has been made of artillery fire, as a response, in proximity to civilians – and all the lessons are in Southern Command’s manuals. Now, after we apologized, we must prepare for the possibility that in the next stage Hamas will respond not with a mortar barrage on the area adjacent to the Gaza Strip, but with volleys of Grad rockets into Israel, which will oblige the IDF to ratchet up its response. They are bastards and we are playing into their hands’. The author notes that we have been out of the headlines and says, ‘Apparently, the IDF has decided – ahead of the party, that international organizations are preparing for us over Gaza on the anniversary of the Mavi Marmara – to donate several more unnecessary pictures to those seeking to delegitimize Israel’. The paper points out that, ‘Last night, the IDF carried out a targeted elimination’, and suggests that this was pursuant to an apparent Southern Command decision, ‘that this is the right time to deal with Hamas’s failure to control the other organizations that are firing at Israel’. The author asserts that, ‘This was not another stage in an out-of-control deterioration, but clear testimony of a planned escalation. Since the IDF insists on being right at any price, the political leadership must be the smart one’.” [This summary translation into English was provided by the Israeli Government Press Office, GPO]

So, was Israel making the choice to Hamas perfectly clear? Was Israel making a blunt and brutal test of whether Hamas is ready to be the “address” Israel says it needs, ready to be responsible for stopping all attacks on Israel from the Gaza Strip? Was it an Israeli counter-offer, in stark contrast to other uncertainties?

For, this comes in the midst of piously-announced but wary preparations for a possible proposed visit by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) to Gaza for reconciliation or unity purposes.

This meeting was suggested by Hamas leader in Gaza Ismail Haniyeh on 15 March in response to youth protests in the West Bank and Gaza demanding an end to the Palestinian division. Abbas has since claimed credit, saying it was really his initiative.

Meanwhile, on Saturday, when Hamas claimed credit for the first time in a long time for firing nearly 50 mortars into Gaza, it also attacked youth demonstrators who had apparently been given a permit for their protests, then attacked journalists’ offices looking for photos and videos of the attacks. (Hamas later apologized for the attack on the journalists offices.)

The proposed Abu Mazen visit — which did raise Palestinian hopes and expectations — would really have been a lot of hard, difficult and embarassing work. So, it is, in a way, easier for everybody like this.

No way this proposed visit is going to happen now… Unless, of course, Abu Mazen is escorted back in by a conquering army, a scenario which was not far removed from consideration in the past four years.

Ma’an News Agency reported today here that Abbas told reporters in Moscow — either blithely obviously or with prescience — that “there has always been an Israeli escalation in Gaza, West Bank, and Jerusalem” and that the latest escalation “should not be a reason not to achieve national unity”.

The Jerusalem Post, citing a report in Ma’an (probably in Arabic, because it wasn’t posted in English) reported that Abu Mazen said, during a visit to Moscow from 22-24 March, that: “Israel has no right to object to Palestinian conciliation, it has no stake in Palestinian national unity … Netanyahu has always wept to the Americans, saying that the Palestinians are divided and he can’t negotiate with them like this”. This is posted here.

Netanyahu convened his Security Cabinet to meet on the situation in Gaza on Wednesday — before he leaves for a visit to Moscow. He is not scheduled to meet Abu Mazen, according to the JPost.

Meanwhile, more people are dying, suffering, grieving, raging — and the already ready-to-blow situation is getting worse.

Tuesday night, the UN’s Robert Serry issued a statement after the IDF mortar reprisal in N Gaza: “firing into densely populated areas is extremely dangerous” + raises serious questions.

Later, UNSG BAN Ki-Moon issued a statement, though his spokesman, which “strongly condemns the killing of three Palestinian children and their uncle and the wounding of 13 other civilians by an Israeli tank shell in the Gaza Strip earlier today. He is very concerned at an escalating situation in Gaza and southern Israel. He reiterates as well his condemnation of rocket fire by Palestinian militant groups in Gaza, including from populated areas, against civilian targets in southern Israel. He calls on all to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law and human rights law”. This is posted on the UN website here.

And, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA,

So, now what?

What is the policy, now?

And, meanwhile, how does this factor into the equation? Israel has just a few days ago admitted it’s holding the Deputy Director of the Gaza Power Plant, Dirar Abu Sisi, who was seized on board a train in Ukraine on 18-19 February, where he went on 18 January to join his Ukrainian wife and file for citizenship — apparently because they have concluded that life in Gaza is no longer the best choice for them or their six children. The Gazan engineer was forcibly removed from the train he was on, hooded and handcuffed and driven by car to Kiev (where he was headed by train), then taken to an apartment where he was questioned by men who introduced themselves as Mossad, and in short order flown to…Israel, where he has been in jail for over a month. A judge has just partially removed a gag order on the case, but permitted continued Israeli media restrictions on reporting for another 30 days… Abu Sisi has not been charged, he will be held in Israel for at least another day, most of the gag order will continue for a month, and there is no reasonable explanation for this strange and startling development.

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