International Crisis Group warns against ‘Cast Lead II’

Israel/Palestine
on 34 Comments

The International Crisis Group (ICG) issued a warning that the recent escalation of air strikes on Gaza and rocket attacks into Israel has created “the conditions for a rapid deterioration toward the kind of clash to which neither side aspires, for which both [Israel and Hamas] have carefully prepared, and from which they will not retreat quickly.”

In June of last year, I had a glimpse of the destruction wrought during Israel’s ‘Cast Lead’ military offensive on the Gaza Strip and Palestinian militants’ barrages of rocket fire into Israel. Even back then I met Israelis and Palestinians who were gravely concerned about a renewal of catastrophic hostilities. As the ICG report illustrates, the “combustible context” of the present circumstances necessitates 1) an immediate and comprehensive ceasefire between Israel and Hamas 2) an end to the closure regime on Gaza which constitutes an “assault on normal, dignified life” and 3) Palestinian reconciliation efforts should be supported, which will “require a different approach by international actors, Western countries in particular” to Hamas.

al jazeera hotel
Ashraf Mattar stands in front of Al Jazeera Hotel in Gaza City, destroyed during ‘Cast Lead’

Stage set for Operation Cast Lead II?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened that if the rocket attacks continue—and Islamic Jihad has promised they will—“there will be an even more painful military retaliation.” While the assailants of the bus bombing in Jerusalem—which killed one passenger and wounded dozens—are still unknown, the attack added fuel to a fire already stoked by several months of airstrikes and rocket attacks. Tensions in the West Bank have also been exceptionally volatile in the wake of the murders of five family members in the Israeli settlement of Itamar. According to a UN report, “in the days before the killings in Itamar, there was already a sharp increase in the number of settler incidents” and the number of settler attacks on Palestinians continued to rise in its aftermath.

Israel’s Deputy Minister Silvan Shalom has ominously warned that “the period of restraint is over” adding that “I hope it won’t come to another Operation Cast Lead, but if there is no other choice, we will launch another operation.” Operation Cast Lead was the 22-day Israeli military assault on the Gaza Strip more than two years ago which killed approximately 1,400 Palestinians, a majority of whom were civilians, and wounded 5,300 more. Thirteen Israelis were killed during the hostilities, including three civilians struck by rocket attacks in Israel, and nearly 800 were wounded.

Israel’s air strikes have already killed 14 Palestinians since March 19th, including 5 children, and injured dozens. Rocket attacks have injured a number of Israelis and have reached, for the first time, the outskirts of Tel Aviv. On Tuesday, March 29th, eye-witnesses in Gaza reported seeing Israeli tanks accompany bulldozers leveling more agricultural land in the Strip.

Sderot
Sderot Bus Stop Converted to Double as Rocket Shelter

The On-going “Assault on a Normal, Dignified Existence”

The ICG points out that the ceasefire must be accompanied by ending “an access regime that is best defined as neither a siege nor blockade, but rather as an assault on a normal dignified existence, and an engine of impoverishment, social isolation, and political disaffection”.

Israel continues to bar Palestinians in Gaza from accessing the construction materials they need to rebuild the war-ravaged Strip. During my visit to Gaza, I saw large areas of the Strip that still looked like a vast moonscape of mounds and craters of rubble, where Israeli air strikes had leveled entire neighborhoods to the ground. Just a few days before my visit, the International Committee of the Red Cross called the closure regime on Gaza “collective punishment imposed in clear violation of Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law”, noting that “the whole of Gaza’s civilian population is punished for acts for which they bear no responsibility”.

I saw neighborhoods teeming with thousands of makeshift tents, pieced together with tarps and scrap metal, where survivors of Cast Lead lived. These families slept on the rubble of what was once their home before Israeli airstrikes or bulldozers demolished it wholesale. Many Palestinians told me that during Cast Lead, they had taken shelter in schools. With 46% of the schools damaged or destroyed during those three weeks and with Israel’s continuous denial of UN requests to import construction materials to build new schools, it is unclear where civilians could go for any modicum of protection against a full-scale Israeli military offensive.

beit lahiya tents
Survivors of ‘Cast Lead’ Still Living in Tents in Beit Lahiya

Ceasefire Requirements for Hamas

ICG highlights that in any ceasefire agreement Hamas must be committed not only to ending its own rocket and mortar attacks but that Hamas “should continue to enforce the ceasefire on recalcitrant groups”, like the Salafi-Jihadist militants routinely firing rockets into Israel.

On two separate occasions last year I visited Sderot, the Israeli town that bore the brunt of rocket attacks during Cast Lead. I was struck by how the character of the entire town is shaped by these rocket attacks. The bus stops have been transformed to double as rocket shelters, rocket shields have been installed on the roofs of school buildings, and even the playground structures are fortified shelter in the 15 seconds they have between the sounding of the ‘Color Red’ rocket warning siren and when the rocket will land. I met an Israeli named Nomika Zion, who vividly described what it was like to live in Sderot during Cast Lead. She recounted times when the ‘Code Red’ siren would sound 60 times in a single day, while at night her walls would shudder from the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, less than a mile away.

“Israel should refrain from targeting farmers and those collecting rubble”

The ICG points out that “Israel should refrain from targeting farmers and those collecting rubble in the buffer zones that the Israeli army enforces on the Strip’s perimeter”. Remote-controlled Israeli machine guns fire at Palestinians whom Israeli security forces determine to be too close to the Gaza/Israel border. Since Cast Lead, dozens of Palestinians, including children, have been killed and many more have been wounded by Israeli fire while collecting rubble and scrap metal or tending to their farms in these buffer zones.

Seeing some of these rubble and scrap metal collectors at work was the first image I saw upon entering the Gaza Strip. I peered through the openings in Israel’s caged walkway from Erez crossing to see Palestinian boys piling rubble onto donkey-drawn carts in what looked like the aftermath of an earthquake. Later, I learned that they were collecting scrap metal and rubble to sell for production of recycled cement. While notorious for its poor quality and suspected contamination with depleted uranium, recycled cement is still in high demand due to Israel’s ban on construction materials. On my bus ride from Gaza City to its southern border in Rafah, I saw boys collecting rubble or processing rubble collections in at least a dozen different neighborhoods. Gaza has one of the world’s highest rates of unemployment and locals told me that bomb-site scavenging, dangerous though it was, was the only work these boys and young men could find.

rubble
Palestinians in Gaza Use Rubble for Recycled Cement

International Community Must Support Palestinian Unity

Finally, ICG notes the imperative for Palestinian unity between the rival factions of Hamas and Fatah. The report emphasizes that Western countries “should pledge to work with any government that adheres to a ceasefire”, rather than boycott a unity government which would, in meaningful reconciliation effort, include Hamas.

Netanyahu has already rejected the negotiation of a peace agreement with any Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas, even though the only way to ensure a ceasefire could be effective and fully protect Israeli civilians would be to gain Hamas’s buy-in.

For the Good of All Civilians: Ceasefire, Normalization of Life in Gaza, and Hamas Engagement

The greatest protection for civilians would clearly be an effective ceasefire rather than a renewal of violence as witnessed in Cast Lead—which saw the deadliest 24 hours for Palestinians since 1948 and the greatest number of rocket attacks in Israeli history. The ICG points out that rather than protecting civilians, the primary intentions of Israel and Hamas are to ‘deliver messages’ of deterrence:

“Hamas is seeking to deliver a message to Israel that it will not be intimidated and that it too can control the timing, pace, and scope of the confrontation. The same is true for Israel, intent on demonstrating its continued deterrent power.”

The ICG report should serve as a wake-up call that the “assault on normal, dignified life” for Palestinians in Gaza and the U.S. and Israeli isolation of Hamas endanger, rather than protect, civilian lives on both sides of the Israeli-Gaza border.

Kate Gould is the Director of Advocacy and Outreach for Just Foreign Policy. This article was originally posted at Just Foreign Policy’s blog here.

34 Responses

  1. Chaos4700
    April 1, 2011, 10:18 am

    You know, those scenes of what Gaza is like after Operation Cast Lead have no analog whatsoever to any picture you could take of Israeli suffering. There are no Israelis who have to walk past a burned out, skeletal husk of a building jutting out of a hill of debris day after day for years now and think to themselves, “That’s where my dad used to work. Now he’s dead.”

    • eee
      April 1, 2011, 10:48 am

      And there are no more Jews living in refugee camps while Arabs are just fine with Palestinians living in camps for 60 years. Hamas can decide to move cement through the tunnels and not arms. Hamas can decide not to shoot rockets or stop the groups that are shooting. Simple priorities.

      The Gazan entity is at war with Israel. Why the hell should we give them anything? Why should we trade with them? Let the Egyptians take care of them.

      • Theo
        April 1, 2011, 12:01 pm

        eee

        Germany was not bombed continuously for 60 years or so, they could go on with the rebuilding of their country, with their own work and money.
        On the other hand israelis built their modern state with our billions, US taxpayers money, enough of it to make deserts bloom.
        The arabs did not have such a spendable uncle and you are withholding hundreds of millions of their taxes and duties.

      • eee
        April 1, 2011, 12:27 pm

        Theo,

        What are you talking about? The Arabs have trillions and trillions of dollars form oil. It is orders of magnitude of what Israel ever got. The Palestinians have gotten billions of dollars direct aid. They have squandered it.

        If the Gazans want to keep the war going, they should expect destruction. It is that simple.

      • marc b.
        April 1, 2011, 12:55 pm

        The Palestinians have gotten billions of dollars direct aid. They have squandered it.

        what do you mean by ‘squandered it’? donors and investors are reluctant to continue to spend cash in the OT, lebanon, and elsewhere as they watch their investments pulverized under the combined might of the IDF and israeli air force. is that how you define ‘squander’?

      • tree
        April 1, 2011, 3:08 pm

        On the other hand israelis built their modern state with our billions, US taxpayers money, enough of it to make deserts bloom.

        It should also be noted that during the early years Israel used the considerable confiscated wealth of the ethnically cleansed Palestinians to build their state. Without the considerable proceeds from the Palestinian orange export and other Palestinian industries, Israel would have gone belly up in the first few years, despite the income from foreign sources.

      • eee
        April 1, 2011, 3:21 pm

        Where did you invent that from? Some octopus gave you the statistics?

      • Chaos4700
        April 1, 2011, 4:03 pm

        The Palestinians have gotten billions of dollars direct aid. They have squandered it.

        Gee, yeah, they really squandered it. Building all those homes and factories and government buildings underneath Israeli air strikes! What were they thinking?

      • mig
        April 1, 2011, 5:10 pm

        eee, we have here ( and i guess that many places ), orange label as jaffa. Coming from Israel. Done by arabs until 14.5.1948. And that day is ?

      • Chaos4700
        April 1, 2011, 3:51 pm

        So, you all picked up guns, stole Palestinian homes and drove them into the tent cities you (or your ancestors) vacated? That still means YOU put them into tent cities, like Nazi aggression did to you. So what makes you different from the Nazis, exactly? (No. I’m NOT dropping that. It’s relevant for exactly that reason.)

    • Mooser
      April 1, 2011, 10:57 am

      Ah Ha! Caught you, Chaos! Don’t you know that after WW2, rebuilding of bomb-damaged German cities (in West Germany, anyway) took place at an almost unprecedented pace. So there you go comparing Israelis to Nazis again, which endangers Jews, or rather “groups of Jews.”

      • eee
        April 1, 2011, 11:03 am

        Mooser,

        It took quite a bit of time to rebuild Germany, and it was done after the war ended. So, the Gazans might want to consider the option of ending the war.

      • mig
        April 1, 2011, 11:26 am

        Gazans have considered that a long time. As has international community. Only rock in the path is Israel & occupation + settlement enterprise. Oslo agreement years.Virtually no attacks. Double of settlers. There went in sewers your analyze.

        Would Israel change attitude if attacks stop today ? Show some proposals to that direction from Israel leaders. None. Continue business as usual….

      • eee
        April 1, 2011, 11:54 am

        Are there any Israelis in Gaza? Is that not a good enough start for peace instead of years of rockets? How about have the Gazans not attack Israel for 3 years? That would be a good start.

      • mig
        April 1, 2011, 12:26 pm

        Are there any Israelis in Gaza?

        ++++ As far as i know, none. As settler. In west bank yes. But gaza and west bank are one entity. But did you think that because of settlers were removed from gaza, its the path to paradise. Often heard slogan that ” we removed gaza settlers and get rockets instead “. Nice but it didnt end whole settlement enterprise.

        Is that not a good enough start for peace instead of years of rockets?

        ++++ Sure but in what terms ? Demolish settlements ?

        How about have the Gazans not attack Israel for 3 years?

        ++++ And that would result of settlement removal ?

        That would be a good start.

        ++++ Indeed. But only if Israel makes agreement that settlements are going down.

      • Mooser
        April 1, 2011, 12:31 pm

        “So, the Gazans might want to consider the option of ending the war.”

        Sure “eee” it’s the Gazans making war on Israel. Just amazes me that everybody can’t see that.

      • eee
        April 1, 2011, 2:41 pm

        Mooser,

        Sorry, I forgot, the rockets coming from Gaza are independent entities functioning automatically without human intervention.

      • Chaos4700
        April 1, 2011, 3:55 pm

        So, eee? By your logic, Jews in Tel Aviv should be shot at because of what terrorist settlers are doing in the West Bank. That’s what your advocacy for collective punishment would mean if it were applied equivocally.

        Collective punishment is wrong, immoral and — surprise! — is yet one more thing that takes its emulation from Nazi Germany.

      • Potsherd2
        April 1, 2011, 5:27 pm

        Gazans have no option to end the war that Israel is waging on them. Israel won’t stop killing, no matter what Gazans do.

      • Potsherd2
        April 1, 2011, 5:28 pm

        How about have the Gazans not attack Israel for 3 years?

        The Gazans have tried ceasefires many times. Israel just keeps killing, just keeps the siege in place.

      • seafoid
        April 1, 2011, 5:35 pm

        Hey Mooser

        I found this and it made me think of you. These are your people, you schmuck . You just don’t realise it.

        link to nbn.org.il

      • Chaos4700
        April 1, 2011, 6:16 pm

        Hey, Mooser didn’t break them. He doesn’t have to buy them.

  2. marc b.
    April 1, 2011, 10:47 am

    The International Crisis Group (ICG) issued a warning that the recent escalation of air strikes on Gaza and rocket attacks into Israel has created “the conditions for a rapid deterioration toward the kind of clash to which neither side aspires, for which both [Israel and Hamas] have carefully prepared, and from which they will not retreat quickly.”

    i cannot read the full ICG report right now, but i take exception to this statement. regretably it appears that a full blown military confrontation is an aim, an aspiration, of many within the GOI, particularly with all that is going on around israel in the ME.

  3. Debonnaire
    April 1, 2011, 10:51 am

    Israel will look to initiate Cast Lead II during a U.S. Government shutdown. They’re very confident that Obama won’t say boo and that the story of a fresh massacre will receive little or no media coverage at all. As far as The Goldstone Report – J Street dismissed it – so as far as they’re concerned…no problemo.

  4. seafoid
    April 1, 2011, 12:40 pm

    Israel has far bigger things going on than CL2 .

    “It’s true that the General Assembly’s decisions are not binding, but the very discussion about recognizing a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders will increase the intensity of the ill wind against Israel. Bibi didn’t tell the people that there is a UN Resolution 377 ‏(from the time of the Korean War‏) that authorizes the General Assembly to serve as the Security Council if disagreement paralyzes the council. The fact that the decision has never been implemented doesn’t mean that it won’t be implemented if the tsunami of fury against Israel intensifies”.

    YESHA is SO f**ked

    • mig
      April 1, 2011, 5:03 pm

      Yup, first time that uniting for peace resolution was used in Korea war, and next time as far as i know, in 1956 Suez war. Together 11 times so far.

  5. Richard Witty
    April 2, 2011, 8:52 am

    Reconsidering the Goldstone Report on Israel and war crimes

    link to washingtonpost.com

    By Richard Goldstone, Friday, April 1, 8:42 PM

    We know a lot more today about what happened in the Gaza war of 2008-09 than we did when I chaired the fact-finding mission appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council that produced what has come to be known as the Goldstone Report. If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document.

    For example, the most serious attack the Goldstone Report focused on was the killing of some 29 members of the al-Simouni family in their home. The shelling of the home was apparently the consequence of an Israeli commander’s erroneous interpretation of a drone image, and an Israeli officer is under investigation for having ordered the attack. While the length of this investigation is frustrating, it appears that an appropriate process is underway, and I am confident that if the officer is found to have been negligent, Israel will respond accordingly. The purpose of these investigations, as I have always said, is to ensure accountability for improper actions, not to second-guess, with the benefit of hindsight, commanders making difficult battlefield decisions.

    • James North
      April 2, 2011, 11:15 am

      Richard: Why didn’t you quote more of Goldstone’s (in my view excellent) Washington Post article?

      “While I welcome Israel’s investigations into allegations, I share the concerns reflected in the McGowan Davis report [the follow up to Goldstone’s report] that few of Israel’s inquiries have been concluded and believe that the proceedings should have been held in a public forum.”

      Also, do you see any connection at all between
      a) Goldstone’s report, and the worldwide publicity it got, and
      b) whatever efforts Israel is making to investigate

      • Richard Witty
        April 2, 2011, 11:22 am

        For SO long, the line here has been that Israel did not conduct any inquiry, and here is Goldstone declaring that his conclusions would be different.

        Here is Goldstone declaring that Israel HAS undertaken inquiry, but NONE by Hamas.

        It is the elephant in this room.

        “Some have charged that the process we followed did not live up to judicial standards. To be clear: Our mission was in no way a judicial or even quasi-judicial proceeding. We did not investigate criminal conduct on the part of any individual in Israel, Gaza or the West Bank. ”

      • James North
        April 2, 2011, 11:30 am

        Richard: You are evading my question:
        Is there any connection between
        a) Goldstone’s report, and
        b) Israel’s desire to avoid even more damaging publicity by conducting its own (secret) inquiry?
        I admire your zeal in wanting to expose the truth. I don’t recall you displaying the same zeal when the Mavi Marmara was attacked, and 9 people murdered.
        And relax: There’s no elephant. I encourage all Mondoweiss visitors to read Goldstone’s article in its entirety, not just the fragments you exerpted above.

      • Richard Witty
        April 2, 2011, 11:55 am

        Rationalize if you like North.

        I’m not sure if Israel was wise in not participating in the UN investigation or not.

        That it has conducted a material amount of investigation is important. It indicates that Israel regards international law as valid, binding, relevant. And, the contrast with Hamas indicates that Hamas does not.

        I wrote about the Mari Mavmara on my blog, which I hope you’ve read.

        link to rwitty.wordpress.com

        I think Phil, Adam, Emily and all that have quoted them, and exagerated their points beyond quotes, will note the elephant.

        For what its worth, I assume that Judge Goldstone has read the full “Goldstone Report”, even if I’ve only read what has been linked here.

      • mig
        April 2, 2011, 2:47 pm

        “”It indicates that Israel regards international law as valid, binding, relevant.””

        ++++ LOL, Richard, you have good sence of humor really.

  6. jon s
    April 2, 2011, 10:22 am

    See Goldstone, revisited, by Goldstone himself:
    link to washingtonpost.com

  7. eljay
    April 2, 2011, 11:10 am

    >> See Goldstone, revisited, by Goldstone himself …

    Interesting article, and pretty well-balanced, too. He rightly criticizes Hamas for failing to conduct inquiries, but he also rightly criticizes Israel for not holding its inquiries – “”few of [which] have been concluded” – in a public forum.

    >> “I continue to believe in the cause of establishing and applying international law to protracted and deadly conflicts.”

    Amen.

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