The death toll in Gaza rose to at least 307 persons on Monday morning, as Israeli presssed its air attacks on Gaza, and mobilized reserve troops and tank units.
UPDATE: Casualties rose in Gaza throughout the day Monday, and stood at 370 dead by nightfall, as severely wounded people succombed to their injuries, and as Israeli attacks continued. At least 1400 Gazans have been wounded.
A second Israeli death from Palestinian reprisal rocket attacks from Gaza was also reported Monday morning, when “projectiles” landed near a cultural center in downtown Ashkelon, a coastal city of some 120,000 people. It is the first death from Palestinian attack in Ashkelon, and it is apparently considered somewhat significant in Israel that the person killed by Palestinian fire in Ashkelon today was an Israeli Arab [i.e., therefore, in this context, Palestinian] construction worker. Later, Haaretz reported that the victim was a Bedouin.
UPDATE: Two more Israelis were killed by Palestinian shelling on Monday night — A woman was killed Monday evening in a Grad (or Katyusha) missile attack on Ashdod, a major coastal city with an important port installation north of Ashkelon. And someone was killed by a Qassem rocket attack on Nahal Oz — presumably the Kibbutz which is right next to the major fuel transfer point into Gaza.
A short while later, Kassam rockets landed in the smaller, and more interior, town of Sderot, with preliminary reports of injuries.
The IDF has now reportedly declared Israel’s “Gaza borderline communities”, around the perimeter of the Gaza Strip, a closed military zone. On Monday evening, rockets and missiles rained down on Israeli areas north and northeast of the Gaza strip.
The Associated Press reported that “Israel’s air force obliterated symbols of Hamas power on the third day of its overwhelming assault on Gaza on Monday … Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak told Israel’s parliament in a special session that Israel was not fighting the residents of Gaza ‘but we have a war to the bitter end against Hamas and its branches’. This AP report can be viewed in full here.
Israel’s Foreign Minister and Vice Prime Minister Tzipi Livni told the Knesset that “Since this past Saturday morning, Israel has been fighting the terrorist rule of Hamas in the Gaza Strip in order to change the security situation in Israel”.
Reuters reported from London that “Oil prices rose above $40 a barrel on Monday, boosted by the weak dollar and violence between Israel and Hamas that served as a reminder of tensions that could threaten crude supplies from the Middle East”.
Israel has offered (without much explanation) to permit some of the people wounded in its IDF attacks to enter Israel for medical care in Israeli hospitals. It is not clear if any of the wounded have yet accepted this offer — but there are unconfirmed reports that a few small children, apparently unaccompanied and without even a change of clothing, have arrived from Gaza — or are about to arrive — at East Jerusalem’s Palestinian hospitals for urgent treatment. Others may be transferred to the West Bank.
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas issued his strongest condemnation yet of the operation, according to the AP, calling it a “sweeping Israeli aggression against Gaza”. AP also reported what appears to be a major turnaround: Abbas also said he would consult with Hamas in an effort to end the attacks. Until now, Abbas has refused to talk to Hamas, following the ouster of Fatah security forces in Gaza in mid-June 2007 , and has insisted that Hamas must reverse the situation and restore the status quo ante, first. However, it might not be so significant: Ma’an News Agency reported merely that Abbas, at a meeting of the PLO executive committee, “urged all factions, including Hamas, to take part in consultations about Gaza”. On Sunday, Abbas reportedly said that Hamas could have prevented Israel’s assault had it only agreed to extend the cease-fire, and he urged it to do so now.
Earlier Monday, the IDF announced it is allowing the shipment of some 80 truckloads of humanitarian supplies [n.b. these are not donations from Israel] into Gaza via the Kerem Shalom crossing where the borders of Israel, Gaza, and the Egyptian Sinai intersect.
The Erez crossing into Gaza remains closed, the Foreign Press Association advised its membership. The press group reported that its request, submitted on Sunday to Israel’s Supreme Court, for an interim order allowing immediate access to Gaza for foreign journalists “was refused on grounds of being granted the hearing on Wednesday morning, now set for 9.30 am”.
The IDF sent out a message on Monday morning, saying that “The Israeli Air Force attacked a number of Hamas targets during the night, including Hamas outposts, weapon manufacturing facilities and a center for weapon research and development. The center, located in the Rimel neighborhood of Gaza City, was targeted in a combined IDF and the ISA operation, [as] the IAF struck buildings that were used as meeting places for senior leaders of Hamas. One of the structures struck housed explosives laboratories that were an inseparable part of Hamas’ research and development program, as well as places that served as storage facilities for the organization. The development of these weapons took place under the auspices of senior lecturers who are activists in Hamas. Among the weapons that have been developed and manufactured at this site are Qassam rockets. Hamas has been working tirelessly to extend the range of the rockets, as has been shown during the past few days”.
This IDF announcement adds, tellingly, that “In February 2007 the Fatah Presidential Guard raided the facility and uncovered many weapons including approximately 100 Qassam rockets, 250 RPG launchers, hundreds of assault rifles, lathes, and materials used for rocket manufacturing”.
The Associated Press reported this morning that “Hamas leaders were forced into hiding, most of the dead were from the Hamas security forces, and Israel’s military intelligence chief said Hamas’ ability to fire rockets had been reduced by 50 percent. Indeed, Hamas rockets fire dropped off sharply, from more than 130 on Saturday to just over 20 on Sunday. Still, Hamas continues to command some 20,000 fighters. Israel’s intense bombings — some 300 air strikes since midday Saturday — wreaked unprecedented destruction in Gaza, reducing entire buildings to rubble. After nightfall, Israeli aircraft attacked a building in the Jebaliya refugee camp next to Gaza City, killing a 14-month-old baby, a man and two women, Gaza Health Ministry official Dr. Moaiya Hassanain said. In the southern town of Rafah, Palestinian residents said a toddler and his two teenage brothers were killed in an airstrike aimed at a Hamas commander. Israeli aircraft also bombed the Islamic University and government compound in Gaza City, centers of Hamas power, and the house next to the residence of Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh in a Gaza City refugee camp. Haniyeh, in hiding, was not home … Gaza’s nine hospitals were overwhelmed”.
This AP report added that “The [U.S.] White House was mum about the situation in Gaza on Sunday after speaking out expansively on Saturday, blaming Hamas for provoking Israel’s retaliatory strikes”.
Dore Gold, a former Israeli Ambassador to the UN (1997-99), is now President of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He has just written an article attempting to refute criticism of the Israeli attacks on Gaza as being “disproportionate” — a violation of international law. Gold writes that “Israel is currently benefiting from a limited degree of understanding in international diplomatic and media circles for launching a major military operation against Hamas on December 27. Yet there are significant international voices that are prepared to argue that Israel is using disproportionate force in its struggle against Hamas … The charge that Israel uses disproportionate force keeps resurfacing whenever it has to defend its citizens from non-state terrorist organizations and the rocket attacks they perpetuate. From a purely legal perspective, Israel ‘s current military actions in Gaza are on solid ground. According to international law, Israel is not required to calibrate its use of force precisely according to the size and range of the weaponry used against it. (Israel is not expected to make Kassam rockets and lob them back into Gaza.) When international legal experts use the term ‘disproportionate use of force’, they have a very precise meaning in mind. As the President of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague , Rosalyn Higgins, has noted, proportionality ‘cannot be in relation to any specific prior injury – it has to be in relation to the overall legitimate objective of ending the aggression’. (Her arguments were cited in ‘Responding to Hamas Attacks from Gaza – Issues of Proportionality Background Paper’, Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, March 2008.)
Gold’s argument continues: “In other words, if a state, like Israel , is facing aggression, then proportionality addresses whether force was specifically used by Israel to bring an end to the armed attack against it. By implication, force becomes excessive if it is employed for another purpose, like causing unnecessary harm to civilians. The pivotal factor determining whether force is excessive is the intent of the military commander. In particular, one has to assess what was the commander’s intent regarding collateral civilian damage … What was critical from the standpoint of international law was that if the attempt had been made ‘to minimize civilian damage, then even a strike that causes large amounts of damage – but is directed at a target with very large military value – would be lawful’. Numbers matter less than the purpose of the use of force. Israel has argued that it is specifically targeting facilities serving the Hamas regime and its determined effort to continue its rocket assault on Israel : headquarters, training bases, weapons depots, command and control networks, and weapons-smuggling tunnels. This way Israel is respecting the international legal concept of proportionality. Alternatively, disproportionality would occur if the military sought to attack even if the value of a target selected was minimal in comparison with the enormous risk of civilian collateral damage. This point was made by Luis Moreno-Orampo, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, on February 9, 2006, in analyzing the Iraq War. He explained that international humanitarian law and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court ‘permit belligerents to carry out proportionate attacks [emphasis added] against military objectives, even when it is known that some civilian deaths or injuries will occur’. The attack becomes a war crime when it is directed against civilians (which is precisely what Hamas does) or when ‘the incidental civilian injuries would be clearly excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage’. In fact, Israeli legal experts right up the chain of command within the IDF make this calculation before all military operations of this sort.
Gold also wrote: “Moving beyond the question of international law, the charge that Israel is using a disproportionate amount of force in the Gaza Strip because of reports of Palestinian casualties has to be looked at critically. Israelis have often said among themselves over the last seven years that when a Hamas rocket makes a direct strike on a crowded school, killing many children, then Israel will finally act. This scenario raises the question of whether the doctrine of proportionality requires that Israel wait for this horror to occur, or whether Israel could act on the basis of the destructive capability of the arsenal Hamas already possesses, the hostile declarations of intent of its leaders, and its readiness to use its rocket forces already”.
Meanwhile, Israeli-American activist Jeff Halper, director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICADH), has also written on the massive and unprecedented Israeli attacks on Gaza that started Saturday — and on Israeli justification for those attacks — saying that “[T]he occupation, in which Israel controls Gaza under a violent siege that violates fundamental human rights and international law, is not even mentioned in Israel’s PR campaign. Speaking to the international community, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni insists that no country would tolerate its citizens being attacked, a seemingly reasonable statement were it not for Israeli sanctions on Gaza, supported by the US and Europe–sanctions that preceded the rocket fire on Israel–or the fact of the Israeli occupation, in general. Solely focusing on the rocket attacks conceals the political policy that led to them: ‘The Hamas government in Gaza must be toppled’, Livni has said repeatedly. ‘The means to do this must be military, economic and diplomatic’. The responsibility for the suffering both in Israel and Gaza rests squarely with successive Israeli governments; Labor, Likud and Kadima alike. Had there been a genuine political process (remember, the closure of Gaza began in 1989), Israelis and Palestinians could have been living together in peace and prosperity for 20 years. After all, already in 1988 the PLO accepted the two-state solution, in which a Palestinian state would arise on only 22 percent of historic Palestine, alongside the state of Israel on the other 78 percent. A truly generous offer. In Israel, however, the effort is to hide its preference for control over peace. Framing its attacks as a response to rockets from Gaza, exploiting an immediate trigger to effectively conceal deeper political intentions and policies, does that. It also conceals Israeli violations of the ceasefire. The fact that the rocket attacks could have been avoided altogether through a genuine political process means that the people of southern Israel are being held hostage by their government, as well. Their suffering, and the suffering of the people of Gaza and the rest of the occupied territories, must be placed squarely at the feet of the Israeli government”.
Halper also wrote: “We call on the Israeli government to end its aggression immediately and enter into genuine political negotiations with a united Palestinian leadership. We call on the international community to end its sanctions on Gaza immediately in accordance with international law, initiate an effective political process to end the Israeli occupation and bring about a just peace, which reflects the will of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples”.
Tom Segev — one of Israel’s most respected historians — wrote in Haaretz that “Israel is striking at the Palestinians to ‘teach them a lesson’. That is a basic assumption that has accompanied the Zionist enterprise since its inception: We are the representatives of progress and enlightenment, sophisticated rationality and morality, while the Arabs are a primitive, violent rabble, ignorant children who must be educated and taught wisdom – via, of course, the carrot-and-stick method, just as the drover does with his donkey. The bombing of Gaza is also supposed to ‘liquidate the Hamas regime’, in line with another assumption that has accompanied the Zionist movement since its inception: that it is possible to impose a ‘moderate’ leadership on the Palestinians, one that will abandon their national aspirations. As a corollary, Israel has also always believed that causing suffering to Palestinian civilians would make them rebel against their national leaders. This assumption has proven wrong over and over. All of Israel’s wars have been based on yet another assumption that has been with us from the start: that we are only defending ourselves. ‘Half a million Israelis are under fire’, screamed the banner headline of Sunday’s Yedioth Ahronoth – just as if the Gaza Strip had not been subjected to a lengthy siege that destroyed an entire generation’s chances of living lives worth living. It is admittedly impossible to live with daily missile fire, even if virtually no place in the world today enjoys a situation of zero terror. But Hamas is not a terrorist organization holding Gaza residents hostage: It is a religious nationalist movement, and a majority of Gaza residents believe in its path. One can certainly attack it, and with Knesset elections in the offing, this attack might even produce some kind of cease-fire. But there is another historical truth worth recalling in this context: Since the dawn of the Zionist presence in the Land of Israel, no military operation has ever advanced dialogue with the Palestinians”. Tom Segev’s article can be read in full in Haaretz here .
To prove the point, Haaretz reported in another story that the Palestinian chief negotiator Ahmed Qureia said to journalists at a press conference in Abu Dis that “There are no negotiations and there is no way there could be negotiations [with Israel] while there are attacks against us”.
Amira Hass reported in Haaretz that “At noon Sunday, the Israel Air Force bombed a compound belonging to Gaza’s National Security Service. It houses Gaza City’s main prison. Three prisoners were killed. Two were apparently Fatah members; the third was convicted of collaborating with Israel. Hamas had evacuated most of the Gaza Strip’s other prisons, but thought this jail would be safe. At 12 A.M. on Sunday, a phone call roused S. ‘I wasn’t sleeping anyway’, he said. ‘I picked up the receiver and heard a recorded announcement in Arabic: “This is to warn you that we will bomb the house of anyone who has arms or ammunition at home” ‘… S. saw the results of some of Saturday’s bombings when he visited a friend whose office is located near Gaza City’s police headquarters. One person killed in that attack was Hassan Abu Shnab, the eldest son of former senior Hamas official Ismail Abu Shnab. The elder Abu Shnab, whom Israel assassinated five years ago, was one of the first Hamas politicians to speak in favor of a two-state solution. Hassan worked as a clerk at the local university and played in the police band for fun. He was performing at a police graduation ceremony on Saturday when the bomb struck. ‘”Seventy policemen were killed there, not all Hamas members’, said S., who opposes Hamas. ‘And even those who supported Hamas were young men looking for a job, a salary. They wanted to live. And therefore, they died. Seventy in one blow. This assault is not against Hamas. It’s against all of us, the entire nation. And no Palestinian will consent to having his people and his homeland destroyed in this way’.” Amira Hass’ article can be read in full here .
Nir Rosen wrote in the Comment is Free section of The Guardian newspaper in London that “The democratically elected Hamas government was targeted for destruction from the day it won the elections in 2006. The world told the Palestinians that they cannot have democracy, as if the goal was to radicalise them further and as if that would not have a consequence. Israel claims it is targeting Hamas’s military forces. This is not true. It is targeting Palestinian police forces and killing them, including some such as the chief of police, Tawfiq Jaber, who was actually a former Fatah official who stayed on in his post after Hamas took control of Gaza. What will happen to a society with no security forces?” Nir Rosen’s article can be read in full here .
There was a colorful and vigorous standoff between two groups of students at rival demonstrations just outside the main gate to Jerusalem’s Hebrew University Mount Scopus Campus at mid-day on Monday. On the sidewalk next to the university was the pro-Israel-attack group of demonstrators, waving white and blue Israeli flags in the bright sunshine. They were shouting, chanting, beating drums and blowing whistles, trying to drown out the equally vigorous and noisy pro-Palestinian demonstrators on the opposite sidewalk, who waved a few green, red, black and white Palestinian flags. Most of the pro-Palestinian demonstrators were Israeli Arabs or Palestinians, but they were joined by some blond Israelis as well. They were shouting and chanting in both Arabic and Hebrew. Some of the pro-Palestinian group carried posters with hastily-attached color photos of scenes of the dead and wounded in Gaza, and one carried a poster with the words “Who wants another holocaust” scrawled in English in black marker, while other signs were written in Hebrew. Despite the animation and the energy being expended, there was no hostility. The two groups were separated by police and border police and special forces personnel, standing in the road, looking relaxed and somewhat bemused — despite the tensions in other areas of Jerusalem.