A sober reality has dawned on the people of Gaza in the days following the 50-day conflict with Israel, which killed 2,147, injured and maimed another 10,870 and destroyed or severely damaged tens of thousands of homes, hospitals, mosques and other infrastructure. Initially, there was euphoria because the war had ended, but only after forcing Israel to the negotiating table. They say, and history supports them, that the only time the world pays serious attention to Gaza, and thus insists that Israel makes some concessions, is when they fight back and enough people are killed to shame the collective conscience.
The concessions this time were never officially spelled out (which is telling in and of itself) and the terms that were paraphrased in the media are not significant victories, but still initially perceived as real: a multi-lateral ceasefire, opening of Israel’s crossings with Gaza under Palestinian Authority supervision, expansion of fishing to six nautical miles (with discussions in a month about moving the limit to 12), reduction of the “no-go zone” along the Israeli border from 300 meters to 100, and talks in 30 days about release of political prisoners and the re-opening of a working air- and sea port.
Within days, however, Facebook posts such as these began to appear:
“The aggression on Gaza has not yet ended. I still feel like I am in a war zone, as the armed drones are still roaming Gaza skies every single second. Nothing actually has improved or changed in our miserable daily life in Gaza. We have 12 hours of electricity outages every day and the borders are shut down. We had great hope that our life will get better soon after an immense loss of our people and infrastructures in the latest Gaza attack. However, there is not even a prospect of improvements in the near future for us.” (The mother of Ayman Qwaider, a Palestinian from Gaza now living in Australia)
”I can only think of this ceasefire as a pillow that was squeezed against the face of an-already-dying patient to suffocate his/her screams so that he/she dies quickly and quietly.” (Maysam Yusef, a 25-year-old Palestinian in Gaza now studying for a bachelor’s degree in media and politics, and the founder of the Rubble Bucket Challenge)
The evidence to date backs up their words. It’s true that a donor conference is planned for Oct. 12, and that the PA’s Mahmoud Abbas said in the last few days that he has finally reached an agreement with Israel and the United Nations to “allow imports of reconstruction materials into Gaza and the export of what’s possible to export [emphasis mine] abroad.” However, few specifics are forthcoming. In addition, as the roster of violations on my blog documents, numerous Israeli violations already have taken place, mostly against fishermen attempting to sail the promised six miles. In fact, in addition to shooting at the Palestinians and sometimes detaining them, the Israelis have now officially rolled back their pledge, moving it to five instead of six nautical miles. As for the promise to return in a month to negotiate the more substantive issues, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has sent very mixed signals. One report from an Israeli TV station said he would renege, while the Egyptians insist the plans are still on.
Sharmine Narwani of Russia Today wrote recently, “Israel loves ceasefires. It is part of the occupation game…The terms of most of these ceasefires are violated, either immediately or shortly thereafter. There is simply never any mechanism for enforcing the agreement, and there never will be one.”
She’s right. This lukewarm truce is part of a long, boringly consistent pattern. A 2009 study that tracked patterns of violence between Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza over the course of eight years revealed that unlike what Western mainstream media coverage of the conflict suggests, Israel violates the vast majority of ceasefires first. MIT’s Nancy Kanwisher, Princeton University’s Johannes Haushofer and Tel Aviv University’s Anat Biletzki concluded:
“It is overwhelmingly Israel that kills first after a pause in the conflict: 79 percent of all conflict pauses were interrupted when Israel killed a Palestinian, while only 8 percent were interrupted by Palestinian attacks (the remaining 13 percent were interrupted by both sides on the same day). In addition, we found that this pattern — in which Israel is more likely than Palestine to kill first after a conflict pause — becomes more pronounced for longer conflict pauses. Indeed, of the 25 periods of nonviolence lasting longer than a week, Israel unilaterally interrupted 24, or 96 percent, and it unilaterally interrupted 100 percent of the 14 periods of nonviolence lasting longer than nine days.”
In short, Israel can’t sit still for too long when things are calm in Gaza.
This situation is not just the fault of Israel, however. It gets away with murder and mayhem because the international community (read: the United States) allows it. Saying that it is “deeply concerned” about aggressive acts such as settlement expansion is simply insufficient to stop them. Activists themselves often move on to other “hot buttons” once the active fighting stops. As Jay Michaelson, contributing editor to The Jewish Daily Forward wrote, “Americans have a habit of moving on once the guns stop firing. We did it in Afghanistan in the 1980s, tried to do it in Iraq in the 2000s — and now we’re doing it in Gaza. Yet as past experience has shown, now is the moment for more engagement, not less.”
So this is a call to activists: I have created a roster of violations by truce term on my blog and will update the information regularly. Check it daily. And each time a violation occurs, call and email the U.S. State Department, along with your representatives and senators. Write letters to the editor. Organize protests. Post on social media. KEEP SPEAKING OUT.