Sunday, July 17, 2005

Gaza violence

[This post from yesterday morning has been updated twice since, so I am moving it to the top of the page.]

In the fifites I was in elementary school. I was lucky enough to have a teacher whose mother had taught my father when he was in elementary school. I don't think many people can say that. Anyway, she was an old maid type who had an old-fashioned way of teaching that helps you remember what she said. I recall once she got after another kid with "If you don't sit down and straighten up, I'm gonna hit you on your Gaza Strip! You know what that is, don't you? It's a Very. Critical. Area..." That was half a century ago and what she said is still correct. Gaza is still a very critical area.

As Sharon presses on with a politically fragile withdrawal of Israel from Gaza, the resulting power vaccuum seems near imploding.

Mad Canuck comments...

Earlier today, a wave of violence rocked Gaza. First, Palestinian Hamas militants launched over a dozen rockets into Israel on Thursday night, killing a 22 year old Israeli woman named Dana Glakowitz who was just sitting on her porch when a volley of rockets came in. Then on Friday, the Israeli air force launched targeted attacks against Hamas, killing six of them. Then, Palestinian prime minister Mahmoud Abbas ordered the Palestinian police to use force to rein in Hamas, and Hamas retaliated by engaging Palestinian police in open gunfights on the street, and torching police stations, armored personnel carriers, and other police vehicles. Here are links to more details on this from CTV and Haaretz.

What a waste! And, what impeccably poor timing: with the Israeli/Palestinian ceasefire now in tatters, the upcoming Israeli withdrawal from Gaza is seeming less likely.

He holds both sides to account.
On the one hand...

Hamas seems to have no concept of how parliamentary democracy in Israel works. They do not realize that Ariel Sharon is trying to push through a plan to unilaterally withdraw Israeli settlers and troops from Gaza this summer, something that would benefit the Palestinians immensely. Sharon faces an uphill battle, including opposition for his plan from within his own party, and violent resistance from Israeli settlers. And, by launching rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza, Hamas is providing fuel to those arguing against Sharon's withdrawal plan.
Hamas also does not seem to realize how tenuous Sharon's position is. No matter how little they like Sharon, there are other Israeli leaders (Benjamin Netanyahu, etc.) who they would like even less, and with every terrorist attack, Hamas undermines Sharon and bolsters more extreme-minded Israeli leaders like Netanyahu.Launching a missile attack on Israel on a normal day is bad enough. But, launching it a few weeks before Israel's planned pullout from Gaza borders on insane. Why would Hamas want to hurt the Palestinian cause like this? Are they really that stupid?

On the other hand...

A very valid question for the Israeli army's leadership is this: are they serious about allowing and encouraging the Palestinians to provide security in their own territory? Are they serious about wanting peace? Because, if the answer is yes, they should not have been so quick to retaliate for the rocket attacks. Instead, they should have allowed the Palestinian security forces to handle the situation, and provided intelligence support as needed.
The fact that today the Palestinian security forces did stand up to Hamas is a positive sign that they are willing to take steps against those who violate ceasefire agreements. If they were given the opportunity, perhaps they would have moved against the Hamas missile-men themselves. But, they were not given that opportunity: Israel retaliated quickly, and in doing so undermined the Palestinian Authority.

His point is well-made. Even at the eleventh hour of Israel withdrawal there seems to be nothing in the way of mutual respect, much less trust. When the pullout first started, my own take was that by allowing Gaza to fall into chaos Israel would demonstrate that the Palistinians were too disorganized to be self-governing. Sadly this seems to be the case.

With obvious sadness, pain and disgust, M. Simon seems to have come to the same conclusion.

War today is what it has been since the invention of communications. Media war. As the media gets faster what happens on the battle field is less and less decisive. Vietnamese General Giap was forced to admit that the North never won a major battle against the Americans. However, he said that in the end it didn't matter. The center of gravity of American power was not its army but public opinion.That is where the war was won.
My belief is that Sharon is willing to sacrifice the lives of some Israelis for a strategic advantage in the field of battle that means the most in this war: world public opinion. To fight and strike a serious blow to the terrorists Israel must have public opinion on its side.Why? Because Israel, with very few natural resources, is a trading country. It needs at least somewhat favorable world public opinion to prosper.
I fully believe that in the short term the pull out from Gaza will be a disaster. The Palis will not be able to restrain themselves. Innocents will be killed. There will be at least two major gains from the withdrawal. First, militarily the gloves can come off. Second, the Pali civil war for control of Gaza will intensify.
Long term a Pali civil war would be most advantageous. It will weaken Pali offensive power and discredit them further in world public opinion.To gain this Sharon must risk the lives of thousands of Israelis. A sad day. A very sad day indeed. If Sharon has any heart it must be breaking. Mine is. And yet I belive thre General has made the right choice. It sucks.

This report from Jerusalem Post is not encouraging.

On Friday, Palestinian security forces and Hamas members exchanged fire in a crowded Gaza City neighborhood, leaving a 17-year-old boy and a 13-year-old dead and wounding 25 people - including six policemen.
It was not clear whether Hamas gunmen were also hurt in the clash. Hamas members were not expected to take their activists to hospitals, for fear of arrest.
Friday's clashes erupted in Gaza City's Zeitoun neighborhood, after security forces searched for militants suspected of firing rockets at Israeli targets. Hamas members torched a police station, and set a police armored personnel carrier and three jeeps on fire.
Thick black smoke from burning tires rose from the neighborhood, as masked Hamas gunmen stood guard outside the police station.
Etc., etc., etc.
This is not a good picture.
I checked with Rafah Pundit which I have not followed for a while. Like so many places in the blogosphere the writers, being very close to their subject, have the most timely information and best insights and analysis, but the situation seems frozen in some kind of stasis -- some might call it "balance" or "stability" because it is not exploding with revolutionary change -- that makes their accounts seem like replays of the same story.

Yesterday alone there is this string of posts...

The Palestinian Authority declared a state of emergency in the Gaza Strip last night, hours after an Israeli woman was killed when a Qassam rocket slammed into her home on Moshav Netiv Ha’asara north of the Strip.
Hamas has claimed responsibility for the rocket fire that killed Dana Glakowitz, 22.
The state of emergency was declared on the backdrop of fierce clashes between PA police and armed Hamas men in the northern part of the Strip.
Via Reuters
Israeli helicopters fired missiles in four separate air raids in the Gaza Strip in the space of an hour early on Friday, witnesses said.
It was the most intense Israeli air raid in the occupied territory in months.
The first strike destroyed a pro-Hamas Islamic charity in Gaza City and a minute later, the helicopters fired at a cemetery in Khan Younis militants used as a launching pad to fire mortars at an adjacent Jewish settlement, witnesses said.
Crowds gathered at the site of the Gaza City blast and shouted as some sifted through the debris and ambulances raced to the scene.
[MORE] [AP via Canadian Press]
News from Anees
by Anees
Hi guys
The situation is getting bad, yesterday there was attacking of some Palestinianplaces by an Israeli F16 in Gaza and there was 7 Palestinians killed from Hamas, also there is problem betwen Hamas and Palestinian authourity and there was 3 Palestiniana who died, yesterday after the Israeli attacks the Palestinian resistance started attacking the settelments in Gaza especial Gush Kateef Settelment, whats more also there was many shooting this night in Rafah. Is the hudna going to be dostroyed as I told you? I am not sure at the moment what is going on.
About Rafah crossing: The israeli occupation in Rafah crossing they mind the people from 16 to 35 to travel ot to leave Gaza. Tell us what we should do?
Anees, with my love
And finally, this link is the most recent, and perhaps the most heart-breaking...

It was all-out chaos in Gaza city yesterday, as factional infighting claimed the lives of three teenage boys after drawn out battles between security forces and Hamas activists in northern Gaza spread to the city (just a street down from my house), keeping most residents indoors on Friday, and Israeli helicopter gunships left 6 Hamas men dead.

Within the span of 24 hours, it seemed like all hell had broken loose here, and things reverted back to the way they were 5 months ago: the Strip has been split into three, dividing families all over; Rafah crossing, an official just told me, has been once again sealed off to Palestinian men and boys between the ages of 16-35; and tanks are massing near Jabaliya preparing for an offensive.

In the midst of all this, my family and I went out to visit and congratulate a cousin of mine who passed his Tawjihi exams, and Yousuf got a chance to play with the ducks and geese they keep in their backyard ( Their house is located a block over from the site yesterday's assassination. The streets were eerily empty, save for Palestinian police officers attempting to "keep the peace", corondoning off certain streets and directing traffic. Smoke from burning tires, which is said to "blind" the all-seeing eye of the unmanned Israeli drone, filled the air, a practice usually reserved for refugee camps, and the site of Israeli offensives, like Jabaliya and Rafah.

Today, in scenes reminiscent of of a few months ago, funeral processions for yesterday's victims were held. Thousands of Palestinians marched through the streets from different factions in a show of solidarity, as Hamas activists vowedrevenge by way of more Qassam rockets on the settlements.

Analysts and officials I've spoken to insist the "truce" (if this is a truce...) is not in tatters, and tha neither side, strategically speaking, will want to officially abandon it. At the same time, neither side is defining its "red line". Its simply easier to be vague, politially speaking, I guess.

We can only wait and see what will happen tonight.

* * * *

From this distance, that is about all we can do, also. Wait and see.

Jonathan Edelstein takes thread at The Head Heeb. This is one of the most intelligent forums I have found.

*** *** *** ***

Rafah Pundit update Sunday evening...

Blog Link * * * *Haaretz Link

Analysis: Palestinian infighting behind upsurge in violence
Amira Hass, Haaretz Correspondent
GAZA - A Palestinian journalist asked an armed Hamas militant yesterday why his organization had suddenly begun to fire Qassam rockets again after two months of quiet. His answer: "Do you know how many Qassams we have? What are we going to do with them next month, after disengagement?"
[ed. Can you believe this?]

Some people say that six months after being manufactured, the Qassams explode by themselves. If so, it might explain the urgency Hamas suddenly feels to get rid of them. But the issue behind the escalation of violence is fundamentally one of internal Palestinian competition.

In a nutshell, four groups are competing for control. 1. PA, the Palistinian Authority, 2. Hamas, 3. Islamic Jihad and 4. the Israeli Military. There is no brief way to summarize properly any of these four backgrounds. The Haaretz article has a fairly understandable analysis.

First-hand account from Laila's blog via Rafah Pundit

lawlessness at midnight, Sunday, July 17, 2005

A quick post on the situation before I head to bed: Its a bit crazy here, Fateh people, from what I can tell shabab with nothing better to do, are out on the main city streets in a show of force banging their rifles every which way, in response to yesterday's incidents.

I'm crawling into bed and suddenly I hear the all-too-familiar darts of bullets spraying into the air. I look out the kitchen window (note to self: never look out glass window when Fateh men are firing haphazourdly) and see several hundred Fateh men marching down the street, chanting "kata'ib", in reference to the Fateh-linked Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.

Ok, now he rundown: No idea why: 1) they chose midnight to do this; 2) why they are endangering innocent bystanders lives with their emotions run wild (though perhaps they may argue that is why they chose midnight...) 3) why the police, under the auspices of the Ministery of the Interior, is not doing anything about this, but all-too-anxious to shoot at Hamas folks.

Just today, a spokesperson for the Ministry assured me that "no one is above the law", which they would enforce equally, without discrimination or hesitation. My take on it is that there are simply WAY too many unlicensed weapons on Gaza's streets. I mean, anyone whose no one can get a hold of a gun.

There's something rather unsettling about a lot of fed-up, stressed out people, locked in a 350sq mile open-air prison with a bunch of guns in their hands. Let's not even talk about road rage. And by the way, all of these real psycho-social implications of the occupation, according to a Gaza psychiatrist I interviewed last year.

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