Coming up to the second anniversary of the ferocious launch of the IDF’s 22-day Operation Cast Lead against Hamas targets in Gaza on 27 December 2008, war is in the air again.

Those now stunned by the apparent death of the present peace process may be willing, at this point, to entertain another strike against Gaza as a way to help sort things out, and prepare the ground for a new start — by getting Hamas out of the way.

The recent escalation in military activity — reprisal upon reprisal — suggests a new scenario.

UPDATE: The BBC is now reporting that “A senior Israeli army officer has told the BBC that as long as Hamas remains in control of the Gaza Strip, another war is ‘a question of when, not if’.” This is publishd here.

We have heard this before — before Operation Cast Lead.

“Adding to the tension”, Joshua Mitnick wrote in an article published today in the Christian Science Monitor, “Israeli military officials say that Gaza militants have armed themselves with Kornet missiles that can penetrate the armor of tanks”. This was published here. [Haven’t we heard before that militants in Gaza had tank-piercing missiles?]

Haaretz is reporting today that the IDF already has an antidote: “Meanwhile, IDF officials have said that Israel will deploy tanks equipped with a miniature missile-defense system along the Gaza Strip border in the coming weeks now that Palestinian militants are using a sophisticated, tank-piercing missile … Violence has been escalating along the Gaza border in recent weeks, and IDF chief Gabi Ashkenazi disclosed on Tuesday that militants from the Palestinian coastal strip had for the first time fired a Kornet missile earlier this month and that it penetrated an Israeli tank. Gaza’s Hamas rulers have not confirmed or denied possessing the missiles. Israeli officials say the Iranian-backed Gaza militants who once relied on crude, locally made projectiles, have steadily acquired more powerful and accurate missiles produced overseas. The IDF officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss such matters publicly, alleged the laser-guided Kornet had come from Iran. They provided no proof and it was not clear how the missiles were delivered…”.

The very same Haaretz article, without an individual byline [attributed instead to “Haaretz Service”], carries this revelation [whose timing is, sorry to say, suspicious] that: “Palestinian security forces have uncovered in recent weeks a cache of rockets, missile launchers and mortar shells belonging to Hamas militants in the West Bank city of Ramallah, the authority’s security chief said on Wednesday. Adnan Damiri, who heads the Palestinian Preventative Security Forces, told reporters that the weapons were most likely intended against targets within the Palestinian Authority, not Israel”. This Haaretz story can be read in full here.

There is nothing that some (many) in Ramallah would like more than an end to the Hamas rule in Gaza, by any means possible, including another Israeli military operation. They believe this would sort out (for them) a number of large political problems, despite the suffering it would cause.

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad told journalists in Ramallah on Monday, as reported by Ma’an News Agency, that “We recruited public opinion to end the siege on Gaza completely [!] and continue national preparations for statehood. We urged the international community to stick to its responsibilities and bind Israel to end occupation and give our people the right to self-determination and to establishment of their state.”

Actually, it’s hard to think of what the PA has done to “end the siege on Gaza” other than repeating over and over a few rote phrases about over 50% of the PA budget going to Gaza… Much of that goes to salary support, as Fayyad himself revealed in his next words to journalists on Monday. Ma’an reported that “Fayyad enumerated the financial support the PA continued to contribute to the people of Gaza as well as infrastructure projects, saying former PA civil servants remained on the government payroll, receiving a total of $5 billion in salaries since 2007, talked of some 40 reconstruction and development projects being executed in the Gaza Strip through the UNDP, and another $150 million from USAID spent in Gaza since 2008, all secured by PA cooperation, he said”. This Ma’an article can be read in full here.

The PA in Ramallah has reportedly insisted that those PA staff who remain salaried in Ramallah must stay home from work and not cooperate with the Hamas government in Gaza… and if they go to work, they will be taken off the PA payroll.

Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations have been far more instrumental than the PA in “recruiting public opinion to end the siege on Gaza”.

Israeli lawyers Michael Sfard and Carmel Pomerantz have begun litigation this week with the Israeli Supreme Court — of a petition by the Gaza-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) on behalf of a number of Palestinians killed in Gaza during the IDF’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza that began two years ago, and lasted 22 days [27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009].

The petition asks for suspension of the two-year statute of limitations for civil claims — due to the immense difficulties and obstacles Gazans have faced in seeking to pursue justice. The PCHR notes, in a press relase, that “Under Israeli law, a complaint for civil damages must be brought within two years of the date of the incident, or the right to compensation is irrevocably lost … Prior to 1 August 2002, the statute of limitations was seven years”.

PCHR director Raji Sourani noted that “in the current climate, given the bias inherent in the Israeli judicial system, compensation is one of the only hopes for achieving some form of justice. Importantly, this compensation – although insignificant in comparison to the loss suffered – is essential for victims as they attempt to rebuild their lives and their homes”.

However, the lawyers say, the “barriers to justice created as a result of Israeli policy, including the illegal closure of the Gaza Strip” will continue “to comprehensively deny victims’ right to access justice …[as well as] perpetuate a climate of pervasive impunity, and effectively contribute to the establishment of an accountability-free zone in the Gaza Strip”.

The lawyers note that the physical barriers are formidable: “Under Israeli law, in order testimony to be valid, the victim or witness must be present in court to undergo cross-examination. However, since June 2007, despite a letter from the court requesting their presence, the Israeli military authorities have not allowed a single individual to leave Gaza to appear in court. As a result, their cases are dismissed and closed. Further, PCHR’s lawyers – although qualified – cannot enter Israel to represent their clients before the courts. As a result, PCHR is forced to work with and hire lawyers in Israel (at extra cost). However, clients are not allowed to enter Israel to meet with their lawyer, and all requests made by lawyers to enter Gaza – to meet with clients, visit the crime scene, and so on – have been denied”.

Other monetary costs also present serious obstacles to justice, the lawyers note, including high “court insurance fees” that petitioners must post with the court before a case proceeds — to cover the court costs in case the petitioners lose. “This insurance fee constitutes an insurmountable obstacle to justice. Simply put, claimants from Gaza – crippled by the economic devastation wrought by the occupation and the illegal closure – cannot afford this fee and their cases are being dismissed and closed”.

The press release from PCHR explains that “The approximately 490 cases prepared by PCHR, on behalf of 1,046 victims [using PCHR numbers] of Operation Cast Lead (OCL), constitute the overwhelming majority of cases prepared in the aftermath of the offensive. They cover virtually the entire spectrum of international humanitarian law violations, and among them are the most infamous cases of the offensive, including those of the Samouni, Abu Halima, and Al-Dia families”.

Raji Sourani noted, however, that “Since March 2009, when the last notice to the Ministry of Defence was submitted, we have been systematically ignored. Despite repeated requests, PCHR has only received interlocutory responses – with no information – with respect to 23 cases”.

A PCHR press release reports that “As a result of the physical, financial, and legal obstacles imposed by Israel , Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip – including the thousands of victims of Operation Cast Lead – are effectively prevented from seeking redress before Israeli courts. This situation results in the systematic denial of fundamental human rights”.

The lawyers note that their petition “develops a letter previously submitted by Adalah [the Haifa-based Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel] to the Israeli Attorney General”.

Meanwhile, the situation inside Gaza is not getting any better.

An executive summary of a new report on the closure of Gaza, just published by PCHR, entitled “Illegal Closure of the Gaza Strip: Collective Punishment of the Civilian Population”, says that “In June 2007, following the Hamas takeover, Israel imposed an absolute closure on the Gaza Strip. For more than three years, this most extreme form of closure has been continuously applied to the so-called ‘hostile entity’ that is the Gaza Strip, cutting off 1.7 million individuals from the outside world”.

The report summary adds that “The effects of the current absolute closure of Gaza have been exacerbated by Israel’s 27 December 2008-18 January 2009 military operation (codenamed ‘operation Cast Lead’ by the Israeli military). The offensive caused the death of 1,419 Palestinians, 1,167 of whom (82%) were civilians not taking part in hostilities [n.b., it is not immediately clear why these casualty figures are different than those given in the PCHR press releases about the petition to the Supreme Court] and the injury of a further 5,300 and resulted in the extensive destruction of houses and civilian infrastructure, including schools, hospitals, and industry”.

The full report notes that “Significantly, despite heavy fighting, the closure of the Gaza Strip remained firmly in place during Operation Cast Lead”. [The full PCHR report is posted here]

The summary states that “Since the offensive, in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1860 (2009), Israel has failed to open the borders of Gaza, thus impeding the passage of goods necessary for recovery and reconstruction. By imposing this draconian closure policy – and not lifting it in the aftermath of the military operation – Israel has manufactured a chronic and profound humanitarian crisis”.

The full report says: “Ultimately the policy of closures imposed on the occupied Palestinian territory by Israel, and especially the absolute closure of the Gaza Strip, causes hardship not only at the economic-social-humanitarian level but also at the political level. PCHR believes that the illegal closure policy imposed by Israel, rather than aiming at protecting the national security of the country from concrete security threats, has two main objectives. By increasing fragmentation and isolation, and generating economic dependence the policy aims to:
1. Disrupt the emergence of a Palestinian State, preventing Palestinians’ from achieving self-determination;
2. Deprive the Palestinian population of their human dignity, also by manufacturing a humanitarian crisis.
In this regard it can be said that the Israeli government’s illegal policy has been successful”.

In a decision anded down in late 2008 — in response to a petition filed by a group of ten Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations, led by GISHA — the Israeli Supreme Court actually allowed the mililtary-administered closure policy, and an additional policy of militarily-tightened [without oversight or supervision] sanctions, to proceed — on condition that the Israeli military not allow a “humanitarian crisis” to develop.

What constitutes a “humanitarian crisis” was not defined.

Ma’an News Agency has just reported, here, that an Islamic trust foundation (Waqf) in Gaza is preparing to plow and plant 500 dunams east of Gaza City with wheat, because a shortage is looming due to the closure policy. The plan is to have the first crop ready by next May.

However, it suddenly seems, in the wake of the announced death of U.S.-led negotiating efforts, that some are actually thinking now is a time when all this misery can be ended in one big bang, with a new Israeli military operation in Gaza that will remove Hamas from power and restore the Ramallah-based leadership’s control in the Gaza Strip… Where does it come from, all this enthusiasm for war?

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