As the rest of the world ushers in the New Year, heralded by the Christmas festivities, Gaza was reverberating with the return of the familiar fire from the skies. The unprovoked attack by Israel - at least there was no immediate incident(s) to justify an aerial bombing for several days - has been condemned by the rest of the world, with the near-exception of only the US and the UK. Even the US, while calling the Hamas, 'rogues', called for a ceasefire, after the UN asked Israel to stop attacking Gaza and its population.
The reasons for the current escalation are not difficult to fathom. First of all, there is no common definition for terrorism. The second is the inability and unwillingness of Israel, and the US, to accept the legitimate electoral victory of Hamas in the Palestinian territories a couple of years ago, and act accordingly. The calculations of the US and Israel on the Palestine front failed when the moderate forces led by a weakened PLO failed to muster popular support. Having not used to handling Hamas, they did not know how to react other than to boycott the organization.
It was against this background that a six-month Egyptian-brokered truce between Israel and Hamas, came to an end on Friday, December 19. Hamas charged Israel with violating the truce conditions, which included passage of humanitarian relief material to the Gaza population. Tel Aviv returned the compliment. It said that the phased enlargement of the truce was halted after Hamas violated the terms, which, among other conditions, called for an end to all rocket attacks targeting Israel.
Palestine history over the past decades is replete with instances where Israel would violate ceasefires with impunity — and without paying heed to suggestions from the rest of the world. Israel has failed to stop settlement buildings in occupied territories for the Palestinian people to feel confident about doing continued business with Tel Aviv. The maltreatment of the Palestine population in the occupied areas is legion.
Reports claim that as many as 300 bombs fell in the first three days of the Israeli attack on Gaza. So far more than 400 Palestinians have been killed and nearly 2000 injured, many of them grievously. In doing so, the Israeli Air Force deployed US-supplied F-16 fighters and Apache helicopters. The attackers are also believed to have dropped US-made GBU-39 smart bombs.
Clearly, no known military base of the Hamas was targeted. It raises questions about the motive of the attack. Some analysts referring to past instances of the kind, believe that Israel is targeting Palestine civilian population to force them out of their habitats - so that Israel could extend its boundary and expand settlements. Clearly, Israel is not looking at a battle-victory, or seeking to silence the Hamas guns, which were not known to have boomed in recent weeks at the very least.
This is not the first time such a massacre is taking place. Possibly, it would not be the last time, either. A similar attack took place in 2006, when Israel bombed southern Lebanon, then under the control of the Hezbollah, for 33 days in all. According to Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah , Hezbollah Secretary-General, the situation in the Gaza Strip was worse than the 2006 Israeli attack on Lebanon.
"Today the people of Gaza have made their choice -- the choice of blood. They are resisting with firmness. Nothing will prevent them, without even anybody's help, from continuing with their resistance, despite bloodshed and martyrdom," Nasrallah said in a video address.
A substantial section of the Palestinian population is on the side of the Hamas. This was reflected in the Hamas victory in the Palestinian parliamentary polls of 2006, when it won 76 of the total 132 seats. The Fatah, the party of the late Yasser Arafat and present Palestinian Authority President Mahmood Abbas, could win only 43 seats. An international team of monitors, including former US President Jimmy Carter, declared that the polls were free and fair. Yet, Israel refused to acknowledge the Hamas as the representative of the Palestine people. After dithering for a while, the US put its weight behind Israel, and not with the considered view of the rest of the international community.
It remains to be seen if the US 'Middle East Policy' would witness any major change under the Obama presidency.
The solution to the Palestinian crisis has been clear for long. Israel has to accept and respect the democratic rights of the Palestinian people as it is concerned about the life and liberty of its own population. It needs to acknowledge that the 'war on terror', as it keeps dubbing the Palestinian crisis, cannot have a military solution.
To be charitable, having got the Palestinians where it wanted, Tel Aviv should have moved on the peace front with greater sincerity and commitment.
As the victims in what is often dubbed a historic conflict dating back to centuries, the Palestinians are sure to feel dejected. Tel Aviv should have adopted a 'healing touch' policy towards the neighbour rather than gloat over military victory - and ask for more. Time is running out, yet it is not too late, as yet.
* The writer is a journalist based in Colombo. He can be reached at email@example.com.