The attack, code named “Pillar of Defense”, began 14 November with the assassination of Hamas’ Gaza Military Commander Ahmed Jabari and coordinated attacks on 20 alleged Hamas targets throughout Gaza. These attacks have been followed by the continued shelling and bombardment of Gaza from the air, land, and sea. Gaza is home to 1.6 million Palestinians of whom fifty per cent are children under the age of 18.
There have already been over ten Palestinians killed, including young children, as a result of the attack. As violence usually leads to violence, Palestinians have retaliated resulting in Israeli deaths and injuries. The number of dead and injured on both sides will continue to rise as the violence continues.
It is likely that a great deal of attention will be paid to the question of who started the latest escalation. This attention will be misplaced: the roots of the current conflict are to be found in Israel’s ongoing occupation of the Gaza strip, its failure to recognize the results of the 2006 Palestinian elections, and the continued Gaza blockade.
In both the short and long term, military escalation and violence will do nothing to make either Palestinian or Israeli civilians safer. Rather, they will likely increase suffering by civilians on both sides of the conflict. There are striking similarities between the current situation and the events that immediately preceded Israel’s “Operation Cast Lead” which began in December 2008 and during which over 1,400 Palestinians, including over 300 children, were killed. The world cannot sit by and allow a similar tragedy to occur.
The US government and the international community must immediately pressure Israel to completely end its assault on Gaza. The US government has a particular responsibility to ensure that the nearly $4 billion it provides to Israel annually in military assistance is not misused and it therefore must do more than simply “monitor the situation”.
Pressure to end the immediate violence should be complemented by a diplomatic offensive that targets both Israel and all Palestinian factions and that has as its goal ending the occupation and realizing a just peace. The only way to truly end the violence of the conflict is to end the occupation, respect international law, and ensure equal rights for all.