The Israelis have done this so many times before that it’s hard to find the appropriate words to describe their latest murderous onslaught in occupied Palestine. More than 100 Palestinians dead in Gaza, including many women and children, is just the cold statistic of a military action that cannot hide a deep political crisis inside Israel itself.
The Israeli attacks were said to be in response for rocket attacks from Gaza, which are fired as an act of resistance from people living in what is effectively a large-scale prison camp, surrounded by massive military might. Gazans are deprived of basic supplies like food, medicine and power and isolated from the rest of the world, as well as fellow Palestinians on the West Bank.
Behind all this is a crude attempt to create a smokescreen to smother Israeli public opinion in nationalism and outright racist attitudes. The cat was let out of the bag last week when deputy defence minister Matan Vilnai threatened Palestinians in the occupied Gaza Strip with a "holocaust", a term rarely used in Israel outside discussions of the Nazi genocide during World War II.
While Israeli leaders escalate the violence and threats, some other top officials and a vast majority of the Israeli public support direct talks with Hamas to achieve a mutual ceasefire, something Hamas leaders in Gaza have repeatedly offered for months. "Sixty-four percent of Israelis say the government must hold direct talks with the Hamas government in Gaza toward a cease-fire and the release of captive soldier Gilad Shalit," the Israeli daily Haaretz reported on 27 February citing a Tel Aviv University poll. The report noted that half of Likud supporters and large majorities of Kadima and Labour party voters support such talks and only 28% of Israelis still oppose them.
Knesset Member Yossi Beilin, leader of the left-Zionist Meretz-Yahad party, called for an agreed ceasefire with Hamas, noting that "there have been at least two requests from Hamas, via a third party, to accept a cease-fire, Haaretz reported on 29 February. Israel's public security minister, Avi Dichter, visiting Sderot [where many rockets have landed] the previous day, criticized Israel's military escalation, saying: "Whoever talks about entering and occupying the Gaza Strip, these are populist ideas which I don't connect to, and in my opinion, no intelligent person does either."
And, in an interview with the American magazine Mother Jones, published on 19 February, the former head of Israel's Mossad intelligence agency, Efraim Halevy, repeated calls for Israel and the US to negotiate a ceasefire with Hamas. Dismissing lurid rhetoric about the group, Halevy stated that "Hamas is not al-Qaida," and "is not subservient to Tehran".
Ali Abunimah co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, and author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse, asks: “The question remains as to why when the vast majority of Israelis and Palestinians, some senior Israeli officials, and Hamas leaders are all talking about a ceasefire, the Israeli government refuses to accept one and the US refuses to call for one ...The Palestinian and Israeli populations are exhausted by the relentless bloodshed, however unequal its toll. They are paying the price of a failed policy, pushed by Washington and its local clients, which attempts to demonise, isolate and destroy any movement that resists the order that the United States seeks to impose on the region.”
He is right. Now is the time for bold initiatives by Palestinian leaders to break the deadlock and expose the Israeli government. The two-state plan for the region is defunct and should be abandoned. Palestinians should campaign for a single, secular state for all the people of the area. Whether Hamas or Fatah have the capacity to alter course in this direction is another matter.
AWTW communications editor