Operation Defensive Edge

Time-line of key events preceding and during Operation Brother’s Keeper and Operation Defensive Edge (July 2013 to August 2014)

29th July 2013 — Start of the Kerry Peace Talks

14th November — Palestinian team quit negotiations citing the fact that Israel was continuing settlement construction on land in the West Bank that was supposed to be designated for a Palestinian state.

30th December — Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erehat said that Israel had shown through its actions that it wanted to destroy the possibility of a Palestinian state, and that the Palestinians would be seeking recognition through international bodies (this was on the basis of Palestine being up-graded to non-member observer status by the General Assembly a year previously on 29th November 2012). Israel insisted that the Palestinians should continue the “peace talks” which they agreed to.

23rd April 2014 — Fatah and Hamas agreed to form a unity government and to hold fresh elections. Netanyahu said that Abbas would have to choose between peace with Hamas and Peace with Israel — a thinly veiled threat of violence. The EU and the US offered their support to the unity government. Netanyahu was furious and immediately withdrew Israel from the so-called peace negotiations.

15th May — During Nakba day celebrations Israeli soldiers opened fire on Palestinian youths in the West Bank city of Beitunia near to Ofer prison (a prison for political prisoners in the West Bank). Some of the boys were throwing stones but they were falling on the ground short of where the soldiers were. Two boys, one 16 and one 17, were killed, another was shot in the chest but survived, and eight others were shot in the arms or legs. The incident was caught by security camera, put on-line, and viewed by many Palestinians who were very angry and upset about it.

2nd June — The technocratic unity government of Fatah and Hamas was sworn in. The key positions within it were given to academics who were part of neither party and Abbas was in charge. Hamas held no cabinet posts and had agreed to accept the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah. They had effectively sacrificed their political power for the sake of Palestinian unity and the welfare of the Palestinian people.

12th June — Three Israeli students were kidnapped in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Benjamin Netanyahu announced “Hamas is responsible, Hamas will pay.” There was no reason to believe that Hamas were responsible. Given the vast catalogue of human rights abuses experienced by Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories from both the IDF and violent and fanatical illegal settlers there was no difficulty in finding a plausible motivation for such action. “This is the result of bringing a terrorist organisation into the government” Netanyahu told US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Hamas’s senior leadership in Gaza said that they were not behind the kidnapping, calling Netanyahu’s allegations that Hamas masterminded the kidnappings “stupid.” This was later confirmed by the Israeli police themselves when on 25th July Israeli police spokesperson Chief Inspector Mickey Rosenfeld informed BBC journalist Jon Donnison that the two men detained for killing the three Israeli teens were acting on their own initiative. Jon Donnison reported this via Twitter but BBC didn’t run a story on it. It was subsequently widely reported on that the two men were members of Hamas. However, although it is accepted that they were acting on their own initiative there has been very little comment or criticism of the fact that Netanyahu opportunistically used this to blame the whole of Hamas.

13th June — The very next morning the Israeli police knew that the three had been killed because one of them placed an emergency call, and there was an open recorded line as they were shot. The police soon found a burned-out Hyundai which contained a pair of tefillin (leather-bound texts that religious Jews strap on for prayer), DNA evidence that was quickly matched to the boys’ parents, and eight bullet holes.

The same day Israel launched Operation Brother’s Keeper in the West Bank and over the next ten days the Israeli Defence Force raided nearly 1,300 residential, commercial and public buildings. Its military operation targeted Hamas members previously released as part of the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange in 2011 — rearresting without any grounds at all the people it had released at that time. This was clearly an attack on Hamas and not an attempt to locate the missing teens. In the course of the raids 800 Palestinians were arrested without charge, personal property was destroyed, and eight civilians were killed. Israeli Defence Force spokesman Peter Lerner readily admitted that the operation was not exclusively concerned with resolving the kidnapping but was also designed to “debilitate Hamas’ terrorist capacities, its infrastructure and recruiting institutions.”

15th June — In a further statement Netanyahu said “Israel warned the international community about the dangers of endorsing the Fatah-Hamas unity pact. The dangers of that pact should now be abundantly clear to all. This will not advance peace, it will advance terror.”

16th June — Militant groups in Gaza started firing rockets into Israel in retaliation for the raids, killings and mass arrests.

20th June — The bodies of the three teens were discovered by a team of soldiers and civilian volunteers.

29th June — The Israeli air force carried out strikes on 12 targets in Gaza killing a member of Hamas.

30th June — Further Israeli air strikes took place in Gaza killing one person and injuring three. Militant groups in Gaza fired sixteen rockets back which landed in the Eshkol region harming no one.

The bodies of the three teens were found under rocks close to the West Bank city of Hebron.

1st July — At the funeral for the three killed Israeli teens Benjamin Netanyahu’s statements included vengeful language, speaking of the “horrific darkness of those who seek our destruction — despicable kidnappers of children, heinous murderers whose brothers rejoice at the spilling of innocent blood.” Even the Jewish Forward, an American pro-Israeli newspaper expressed sharp objections to Netanyahu’s comments calling them incitement to violence.

During the day of the funeral there were violent protests in East Jerusalem in which Israelis were chanting ‘Death to Arabs.’ Palestinians were pulled from cars and beaten.

2nd July — Abu Khdeir, a sixteen year old Palestinian boy, was kidnapped by Israeli settlers and bludgeoned and burned to death in a revenge killing which received international media attention.

4th July — Funeral of Abu Khdeir.

6th July — Hamas launched rockets into Southern Israel. This was the first Hamas rocket fire into Israel since Operation Pillar of Defence in November 2012. Although there were some rockets being fired into Israel over 2013 [about 5 per month] these were fired by other groups and the Israeli security establishment had themselves testified to the aggressive anti-rocket efforts made by the new police force that Hamas established specifically for that purpose [as reported by the respected NGO International Crisis Group and the Times of Israel].

7th July — Israel launched ‘Operation Protective Edge’ against Gaza claiming that they were doing so in response to Hamas rocket fire.

8th July — White House spokesman Josh Earnest condemned Hamas rocket fire: “We strongly condemn rocket fire inside of Israel and the deliberate targeting of civilians by terrorist organisations in Gaza. No country can accept rocket fire aimed at civilians and we support Israel’s right to defend itself against these vicious attacks.” It bears pointing out that such statements are accepted at face value by many people in the US and elsewhere who are unaware that they are politically motivated and not based upon an objective and impartial consideration of the facts.

9th July — Within just 48 hours of the launch of Operation Protective Edge Israel had killed over 64 people in Gaza including at least 12 children.

11th July — During a Press Conference at the Defence Ministry at Tel Aviv speaking only in Hebrew, Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he would never, ever, allow a Palestinian state in the West Bank and that Israel would maintain full military control of all of historic Palestine indefinitely and should never have withdrawn from Gaza in 2005.

16th July — Hamas and Islamic Jihad released a list of demands for a ten year truce:

1) Withdrawal of Israeli tanks from the Gaza border.

2) Freeing all the prisoners arrested [for political reasons] after the killing of the three youths.

3) Lifting the siege and opening the border crossings to commerce and people.

4) Establishing an international seaport and airport, which would be under U.N. supervision.

5) Increasing the permitted fishing zone to ten kilometres.

6) Internationalizing the Rafah Crossing [administered by the Egyptian regime] and placing it under the supervision of the U.N. and some Arab nations.

7) Placement of international forces on the borders.

8) Easing conditions for permits to pray at the Al Aqsa Mosque [in East Jerusalem which has been annexed by Israel but is considered illegally occupied under international law and is regarded as part of the Palestinian territories by the international community].

9) Prohibition of Israeli interference in the reconciliation agreement [with Fatah].

10) Reestablishment of an industrial zone and improvements in further economic development in the Gaza strip.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry responded to the demands of Hamas by producing a document of his own demanding a temporary cessation of hostilities without any humanitarian concessions at all. Israel dismissed the Hamas demands.

17th July — Israel launched a ground invasion of Gaza on the pretext of destroying tunnels leading from Gaza into Israel. It was entirely possible for them to block such tunnels from the Israeli side of the border, as the Egyptian military had already done with respect to the smuggling tunnels leading from Gaza into Egypt, and hence no invasion was actually required for that purpose. Nonetheless, the media dutifully reported their claimed justification for invading Gaza as a matter of fact without subjecting it to even the most superficial scrutiny.

26th August — Israel and Hamas accepted a ceasefire agreement.

Over the course of Operation Protective Edge at least 2131 Palestinians were killed of which 1473 were civilians and 501 children (according to UN figures). 11,100 Palestinians were wounded including 3,374 children. The UN estimate that approximately 1,000 children will experience lifelong disability as a result of their injuries, as well as many of the adults. The intense bombing and artillery fire was profoundly traumatising for the entire population especially children. The UN estimate at the time was that 373,000 children would require direct and specialised psychosocial support. During the same period 71 Israelis were killed of whom 66 were soldiers.

The operation targeted Gaza’s agricultural and industrial sectors as previous operations such as Operation Cast Lead had also done. Extensive damage was caused to the poultry sector causing $10 million in losses and killing two million chicken. Substantial damage was caused to Gaza’s 17,000 hectares of croplands as well as much of its agricultural infrastructure including greenhouses, irrigation systems, animal farms, fodder stocks and fishing boats. 128 businesses were completely destroyed and 419 businesses and workshops were damaged.

Gaza’s only power plant was bombed on July 29th which also led to the shutdown of water treatment plants; and Israeli tank fire put Gaza’s largest sewage treatment plant out of commission. Other Israeli attacks, damaging wells, pipelines, and reservoirs, caused the further contamination of already contaminated fresh water supplies and also caused the leaking of 15,000 tons of solid waste into the streets of Gaza.

24 hospitals and other medical facilities were damaged. 22 schools were destroyed and 118 damaged. On at least seven separate occasions the Israeli military attacked UN schools sheltering displaced civilians killing 43 people and wounding hundreds more (during three of the seven incidents). According to the UN 18,000 homes (houses or apartments) were destroyed or severely damaged making 108,000 people homeless.

On 29th September, a month after the ceasefire agreement, Benjamin Netanyahu gave a speech at the United Nations General Assembly in which he spoke out about the dangers of “militant Islam” and repeatedly tried to conflate ISIS with Hamas, even making the absurd statement that “when it comes to their ultimate goals, Hamas is ISIS and ISIS is Hamas.” The speech was nothing more than a cynical attempt to denigrate Hamas and Iran by any means possible and to exonerate Israeli actions and contained innumerable falsehoods and distortions. He also used the opportunity to make a further dig at President Abbas and the national unity government: “And I say to President Abbas, these are the war crimes committed by your Hamas partners in the national unity government which you head and you are responsible for. And these are the real war crimes you should have investigated, or spoken out against from this podium last week.” He also decried and ridiculed Abbas’ use of the word “genocide in describing Israel’s actions.”

It is true that the Israeli government are not trying to physically kill the Palestinian people en masse. What they are doing is trying to render them politically and socially powerless — trying to destroy them as a community of people, through an on-going and relentless campaign of what the late Israeli sociologist Baruch Kimmerling has referred to as political genocide or politicide. This is achieved through a broad combination of means including the theft or destruction of Palestinian land and water resources, partial ethnic cleansing, localised massacres, the assassination of Palestinian leaders, the elimination of public infrastructure such as power-plants, road, and so on, and of public institutions such as schools, hospitals, university’s, mosques, as well as private commercial enterprises such as factories and farms, and on-going efforts to create disharmony and distrust between different Palestinian groups such as between Palestinian Christians and Muslims and to prevent political collaboration between the main Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas. How much credit does the Israeli government deserve for not engaging in a campaign of physical genocide against the Palestinian people, but merely undertaking a campaign of political genocide or politicide against them? I would argue not very much, in view of the fact that many of the victims of this campaign of politicide, including many of the children in Gaza, have said that they would rather have been killed by the Israeli military than forced to continue to live in the conditions in which they are now living.