The 2014 Israeli-Palestinian Conflict in Gaza: FAQs and the Conflict Explained
How did this recent conflict between Israel and Hamas begin? And what is it related to?
Like many of the questions, this depends on whom you ask. Israeli leaders argue that their attacks in Gaza (of which its leaders have labeled “Operation Protective Edge”) are a result of Hamas rocket fire into Israel. Furthermore, some have accused Hamas of being the ones responsible behind the June 12th kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers.
Others say that this goes back to early May when Israel went into the West Bank and arrested 17 Palestinian boys. However, in terms of the Israeli leaderships’ position (in this case Netanyahu and some of his supporters), Hamas’ actions regarding the killing of the teenagers, as well as their continued rocket fire into Israel are to blame for Israeli’s military response. In response, Hamas leaders have said that they did not carry out the taking of the three teenagers although according to Human Rights Watch, “Hamas had praised the kidnappings”.
However, despite Israeli leaders’ statements about Hamas’ role in their response at this point in time, many have been quite skeptical of this narrative portrayed by some Israeli leaders. For example, some have suggested that the reason Israel is attacking Gaza is because of attempts by Mahmoud Abbas (and Fatah) to set up a unity government with Hamas. Some, such as Mouin Rabbani even suggest that “… [Israel’s] primary goal is to ensure that the Palestinians remain divided and its current campaign should be seen above all as an attempt to sabotage the reconciliation agreement and initiatives to move it further forward.”
In addition, some have suggested that the Israeli government has continued to increase settlement building after announcements of the joint government between Hamas and Fatah (Cohn, 2014). In fact, Israel has continued to announce the construction of thousands of new settlement homes in East Jerusalem, an area that is viewed as Palestinian Occupied Territory (along with the Gaza Strip and the West Bank) since the 1967 War.
“As always, Israel tries to convince the world – which is watching with horror the savagery that Israel’s weaponry is exacting on Gaza’s civilians – that it is only responding to Hamas missiles firing on its towns and cities. Yet since the last truce was brokered under Egypt’s then president Mohamed Morsi, Hamas not only restrained itself but also tried to restrain other smaller factions from responding to Israel’s frequent assassinations or missile bombardments. Everyone’s priority was to end the siege rather than be drawn into a new war.”
How many have been killed in this conflict?
At the time of this writing (July 16th, 2014), 213 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli attacks, and one Israeli was killed by Hamas rocket fire. Of those Palestinians killed, according to an ABC report (at the time of their report 194 Palestinians an the one Israeli were killed) (using data from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs), 111 were civilian adults, and 38 of the deaths were children under the age of 18.
And on July 16th, there were reports that four Palestinian boys were killed while playing soccer on the beach. According to Abu Hassera, “When the first shell hit the land, they ran away but another shell hit them all”.
In terms of Hamas’ strikes, they did end up killing one Israeli, who was a noncombatant. While Hamas has shot thousands of rockets into Israel in recent days, Israel has been able to intercept a large percentage of Hamas’ rockets through its ‘Iron Dome’ Defense Systems.
Do Hamas and Israel give warnings before carrying out rocket attacks or military strikes?
Hamas does not seem to offer warnings to Israeli civilians for their strikes, and does not seem to state the exact targets of their attacks, Although the Israeli state does offer warnings to its citizens about where many of the rockets are projected to be moving. Again, Hamas’ indiscriminate firing of rockets is a serious issue that clearly violates the human rights of those living in Israel, and seems to clearly violate the Geneva Conventions.
As far as Israeli’s actions, the Israeli government and military argue that they give warning to Palestinians in Gaza before an attack occurs. They have done this by telelphone calls, as well as leaflets.
However, as some have pointed out, this has also been in the form of a small mortar fire hitting a rooftop building. Furthermore, others have criticized the fact that in at least some instances Israel has given only a few minutes of warning before carrying out their airstrikes. It has also been reported that Hamas has told citizens to not leave, claiming “psychological warfare” by the Israeli government.
Overall, at the time of this writing, according to the BBC, 1370 Palestinian homes have been hit, and over 18000 Palestinians displaced.
Are War Crimes Being Committed?
It seems to be the case. There are many that have criticized Israel’s actions in Gaza, as well as Hamas’ rocket fire, and rightly so. For example, according to a report from Human Rights Watch,
“Israeli air attacks in Gaza investigated by Human Rights Watch have been targeting apparent civilian structures and killing civilians in violation of the laws of war. Israel should end unlawful attacks that do not target military objectives and may be intended as collective punishment or broadly to destroy civilian property. Deliberate or reckless attacks violating the laws of war are war crimes”. Speaking on the Israel strikes, Sarah Leah Whitson—who is the Middle East Director for Human Rights Watch, stated that
“Israel’s rhetoric is all about precision attacks but attacks with no military target and many civilian deaths can hardly be considered precise…”. She went on to say that “[r]ecent documented cases in Gaza sadly fit Israel’s long record of unlawful airstrikes with high civilian casualties.”
And as Professor Marjorie Cohn of Thomas Jefferson Law School states in a piece in the Huffington Post,
“Israel attacked a center for the mentally and physically disabled in Beit Zahiya, killing three patients and a nurse. In addition, Israel has stepped up demolitions of Palestinian homes, and administrative detentions of Palestinians without charge or trial.”
Israeli leaders have suggested that the reason for such high civilian casualties is not because of their direct actions as much as it is Hamas hiding in civilian areas. Furthermore, some have suggested that even in areas where civilians were killed, there were military targets in their presence. However, Human Rights Watch, speaking on their investigation of four specific Israeli attacks, states that
“Human Rights Watch investigated four Israeli strikes during the July military offensive in Gaza that resulted in civilian casualties and either did not attack a legitimate military target or attacked despite the likelihood of civilian casualties being disproportionate to the military gain. Such attacks committed deliberately or recklessly constitute war crimes under the laws of war applicable to all parties. In these cases, the Israeli military has presented no information to show that it was attacking lawful military objectives or acted to minimize civilian casualties.”
They went on to say that
“Israel has wrongly claimed as a matter of policy that civilian members of Hamas or other political groups who do not have a military role are “terrorists” and therefore valid military targets, and has previously carried out hundreds of unlawful attacks on this basis. Israel has also targeted family homes of alleged members of armed groups without showing that the structure was being used for military purposes.” They found that in the strikes, municipal workers were killed, where “[t]he men were driving home in a marked municipal vehicle after clearing rubble from a road damaged in an airstrike.” They went on to say that “[t]he explosion blew the roof off the vehicle and partly disemboweled a 9-year-old girl and wounded her sister, 8, who were sitting in front of their home nearby. Human Rights Watch found no evidence of a military objective in the vehicle or in the area at the time.”
And for Hamas, they seem to be indiscriminately shooting rockets in Israel, not making a distinction between civilian non-combatants and combatants. This of course also clearly violates international law and ‘just war’. Human Rights Watch has also called for them to end these launches.
Thus, both sides must be held responsible for any and all war crimes. Furthermore, this accountability should not be just from this conflict, but also from prior fighting such as the 2008-2009 Gaza Invasion, where 1474 citizens were killed by Israeli military and Hamas rocket fire (38 civilians died from these rockets).
How has Israel responded to these criticisms levied by many in the international community?
Israeli leaders do not seem to be veering from the rhetoric that they are the ones under constant threat, and that this has left them little choice but to respond in the fashion that they have. However, this is quite concerning given the point that it seems very likely that Israeli leadership could have refrained from these sorts of strikes and killings in heavily populated areas in Gaza.
Furthermore, as Cohn explains, “[h]eadlines in the mainstream media falsely portray an equivalence of firepower between Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza. But Israel’s use of force greatly exceeds that of the Palestinians, and the asymmetric warfare continues to escalate.” This conflict is in no way symmetrical, and Palestinian civilians are disproportionately suffering because of it. Again, anytime any noncombatant is targeted, anytime their human rights, and freedoms to life are jeopardized is a horrific tragedy.
Yet to Cohn, Israel’s response falls under the category of “collective punishment” for Hamas’ actions, something that she says is a war crime, since the civilian Palestinian population is the one that seems to be paying with their lives.
Have there been legitimate attempts at a cease-fire?
According to Israel, they were willing to accept a cease-fire brokered by Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt that would at least temporarily stop the fighting in Gaza. In fact, many Israeli leaders have blamed Hamas for their unwillingness to accept this cease-fire.
However, others have argued that this is a clear political move by Israeli leaders (and possibly Egyt)to set conditions that Hamas would not agree too, which could then not only allow Israel to keep striking Gaza, but also to frame the discourse as if they are the only ones willing to stop fighting.
When looking at the buildup to the ceasefire proposal, it seems that Hamas, or any Palestinian leadership, were not consulted in the initial cease-fire proposal discussions. Scholars have stated many reasons as to why Hamas did not seem to accept the ceasefire. In an excellent piece by the Institute for Middle East Understanding, scholars and Palestinian rights activists give numerous reasons were given as to why Hamas did not seem to want to accept the ceasefire conditions. For example, Professor Rashid Khalidi of Columbia University stated that he believed Hamas did not accept the ceasefire because
“Hamas has insisted that there be a lasting resolution of the basic problem of Israel’s siege of Gaza, as was promised as part of the 2012 cease-fire, but never implemented in spite of Israel’s recognition that Hamas scrupulously maintained the cease-fire until quite recently. The Egyptian proposal makes lifting of the siege conditional on Israel’s approval, which means never.”
In the same piece, Mouin Rabbani explains that Hamas leaders argue they were never included in the ceasefire discussions during their formation. He goes on to say that
“In terms of the proposal’s contents, what these organizations and many Palestinians object to is that it simply restores a 2012 ceasefire agreement that Israel has systematically violated and does not provide any guarantees such violations would cease. These violations consist not only of periodic armed Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip, but also Israel’s refusal to respect clauses on the rights of fishermen in Gaza’s territorial waters and farmers in land close to the Gaza/Israel boundary.”
And Professor Noura Erakat of George Mason University explains that Hamas has stated numerous points for a ceasefire that include
“1) stop the airstrikes; 2) observe terms of 2012 ceasefire; 3) release the Palestinians released during the Shalit prisoner exchange who were recently re-arrested; 4) lift the siege; and 5) don’t interfere with Palestinian unity government. What little is known about the proposed ceasefire agreement is that it demands a cessation of violence with no conditions thus reverting to conditions that are even worse than the status quo ante.”
On July 17th, 2014, it was reported in Haaretz that Hamas has offered its terms for a cease fire, which, according to the report
‘includes five central points: An opening of all crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip; opening of the Rafah crossing with Egypt for 24 hours, with international guarantee it will not be closed; naval access in Gaza; permission for Gaza residents to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem; release of the prisoners freed in the Shalit swap and then rearrested; improved conditions for Palestinian imprisoned in Israel.”
At the same time, Israeli representatives were in Egypt meeting with Egyptian officials regarding a cease fire. And the day before, Tony Blair and Mahmoud Abbas also had a meeting with el-Sisi in Egypt. And Abbas also had a meeting with Hamas’ representative in Egypt, with el-Sisi also there.
(This page will continue to be updated as further developments take place.)