Religion Today

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Can This War End? The Battle over Gaza

United States Secretary of State John Kerry and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon are in the Middle East trying to bring about a cease-fire between Israel and the Gaza Strip. Perhaps by the time you read this, they will have succeeded. The real question is not whether they can end the present battle, but whether they can set up conditions for an end to the simmering war between the two. Otherwise, another conflict will occur in a year or two.
Since Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005 and Hamas won governing power in democratic elections in 2006, there have been six battles between the two sides. The ongoing state of war between them has led to a constant land and sea border blockade by Israel.
President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s government in Egypt has closed the Egypt-Gaza border as well. Gaza’s Palestinians have found food, milk and basic supplies difficult to come by. The government cannot even pay its 40,000 employees.
The present conflict began in June, when Hamas militants in Gaza started firing long-range missiles into Israel. As the number of rockets increased in early July, nearly half of Israel’s population found themselves running to bomb shelters at one time or another.
In response, Israel began bombing rocket launchers and other militant sites in Gaza July 8. Last week, Egypt proposed a cease-fire to which Israel’s government agreed. Hamas did not, but kept up its shelling of Israel. This week, Israel’s army invaded Gaza on the ground.
Casualties have mounted. Nearly 700 Palestinians have died; three-quarters were civilians. About 40 Israelis have been killed, mostly soldiers.
This lop-sided toll has inspired several nations to call for a cease-fire, blaming Israel for “disproportionate force.” Yet, the Hamas government refused to sign a cease-fire, and their militants continue to fire rockets into Israel each day. If the “losing” side will not stop fighting, how can the “winning” side?
This is the context in which Secretary of State Kerry and Secretary General Ban are trying to negotiate a cease-fire. 
A successful cease-fire will require two agreements: an end to hostilities and a long-term arrangement.
The first will not be easy, since the achievements of each side will position them for negotiations over the long-term agreement. Gaza’s Hamas government has accomplished what it considers some successes, including the effective closing of Israel’s international airport to planes from the USA and Europe. If it can discomfit Israel further, then it is in a better bargaining position.
It needs a better bargaining position because Gaza’s Palestinians have never been in a worse position. Not only has Israel imposed a strong blockade, but the Palestinians have lost supporters around the Muslim world. The Palestinian cause has been championed by Arab and Muslim governments since the 1950s, but few speak out now. The Arab Spring has effectively silenced them.
Egypt’s government dislikes the Gazans, despite its strong support for many decades. Hamas aligned itself with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood government under Mohammad Morsi and when General Sisi overthrew him, Sisi removed Egypt’s support of Gaza’s Palestinians. He closed Egypt’s border with Gaza and destroyed the smuggling tunnels, which has effectively prevented food from reaching Gaza. The army has turned back convoys carrying relief aid.
Syria and Iraq, also longtime supporters of the Palestinians, are fighting civil wars and cannot intervene on Gaza’s behalf. Hamas’s relations with Iran have deteriorated, and now Iran’s attentions are focused on protecting Shiites in Iraq. Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah-based Palestinian government in the West Bank is a rival of Hamas and does not wish to strengthen Hamas’s hand instead of his own.
Despite this, a cease-fire will be negotiated. But will it lead to the end of a state of war between Gaza and Israel? Gaza needs an opening of borders, the restoration of trade and the return of normal daily life. It needs to reduce its 50 percent unemployment (mostly among young men) and bring in a stable supply of food and other essential goods.
In exchange, Israel needs the demilitarization of Gaza and the absolute assurance that open trade does not lead to an increase in the number of missiles and other military hardware. Hamas might agree to this but, given its present refusal to a cease-fire, that seems unlikely. So, the battle will ultimately stop, but the war will probably continue.

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Israel and Gaza: How a War Starts

As I write this column, bombs and rockets fall in Tel Aviv and Gaza. Half the population of the nation of Israel has cowered in bomb shelters the past four days. The people of the Gaza territory have no bomb shelters. By the time you read this, a ground invasion may have begun.
Our instincts are to side with the weaker underdog against those with stronger power, but that would be too simple here. Both sides could have taken steps to ratchet down the tension but, instead, both continued actions that ramped up the tension.
The Palestinians in Gaza are stuck. Nearly 2 million people live in an area about twice the size of Washington, D.C. Less than 10 percent of the land can be farmed and, so, most of their food must be imported. Since both Israel and Egypt have closed their borders, Gazans are essentially trapped.
If only they would act that way!
Despite the pressing human needs in Gaza, its militants have been importing missiles. And now they have been firing them at Israel. These missiles have a longer range than before and can now reach about half the people living in Israel, which is more than 3 million.
Three weeks ago, the militants were firing just a few missiles each day -- too many for any nation that wants to live in peace. In the last 36 hours, more than 250 missiles have been launched at Israel. Despite the Israeli bombs, there is no sign the Hamas militants will stop.
On Israel’s side, their bombing did not really start until Monday, July 7. It has been intense and the death toll in Gaza has been mounting. The Israeli government accused the Palestinians of hiding their missiles behind “human shields.” Given the press of population in Gaza, there is no other place to put them.
This war does not stem from a grand strategy on either side. Instead, it results from an accidental meeting of two groups of individuals, about 10 people.
At 10 p.m. June 12, three Israeli teenagers decided to hitchhike home from their religious school at a high-security settlement in the West Bank, which is hostile Palestinian territory.
A “terrorist” just happened to drive by at that moment and offered a ride. They were kidnapped, killed and buried. No one knew they were dead because the kidnappers told no one.
The Israeli army mounted a search for the young men, believing they were still alive. This went on for three weeks as international condemnations of the kidnapping grew and the Israeli public followed the news of the search hourly.
The army’s manhunt grew increasingly aggressive. They searched West Bank homes; blocked off villages; arrested hundreds of known Hamas militants; used force against families and people who resisted; and ultimately killed six Palestinians who interfered.
Hamas was helpless to prevent these actions. So, instead, it began to fire rockets into Israel. These fell on houses and towns, caused widespread damage, and destroyed a factory in the southern city of Sderot.
After three weeks, the bodies of the three boys were found. There was a massive outpouring of grief and anger in Israel. Thousands attended the funeral and tens of thousands watched it on television.
In a revenge killing, a West Bank Palestinian teenager was kidnapped and killed. Despite anger and riots in areas around his neighborhood in the Jerusalem suburb of Shuafat, the Palestinian reaction was subdued elsewhere.
The killing was widely condemned around the world, and the Israeli prime minister promised to find the killers and bring them to justice. Earlier this week, the police arrested and charged six Israelis with the crime.
While the national and international press focused on these killings and funerals, the more serious matter was the increasing number of rockets being fired from Gaza into Israeli towns and cities, including Tel Aviv, Beer Sheva and, for the first time, Jerusalem.
When a few bombing raids from Israel did not cause Hamas to back down, the large scale attack began. Tens of thousands of reserve soldiers were called up, while tanks and troops have been massed on the borders of Gaza, ready for an invasion.
Whatever the outcome, this war will cost hundreds of lives and millions, perhaps billions, of dollars. It will solve nothing. The Gazans will remain stuck in their territory, but Israel cannot get away from them. The two peoples will remain locked together, despite their antagonism and hatred.
Was the war planned? No. No great strategists decided that now would be a great time for a battle. No military planners decided an invasion needs to take place. Instead, it results from the accidental meeting of three hitch-hiking teenage boys with terrorists in a car.

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