For 51 days in July and August 2014, Israel conducted a military operation in Gaza known as Protective Edge. It was the third major Gaza operation by the Israeli armed forces in seven years, and by far the most lethal and destructive. Some 2,205 Palestinians, including 722 militants and over 500 children, and 70 Israelis (64 of whom were soldiers) were killed. Thousands of Palestinians were wounded; over 18,000 of their homes were destroyed; some 470,000 were displaced; and large areas of Gaza were essentially razed.
In February, the well-known British street artist Banksy went to the Gaza Strip to draw attention to the plight of Palestinians in the aftermath of the devastating Israeli assault the previous summer. With regard to the murals he painted around the Strip, he wrote: “Gaza is often described as ‘the world’s largest open-air prison’ because no one is allowed to enter or leave.
In the last week of August, after several false starts, a ceasefire finally halted the summertime slaughter in Gaza. Israel’s bombs stopped falling, Palestinians stopped dying and the world media stopped its round-the-clock coverage. And, just like that, Gaza was again yesterday’s news.
Latin American solidarity movements with Palestine are starting to win important political battles.
Three weeks into Israel’s military campaign against Gaza, media and observers are turning the lens inward on the coverage itself. NBC was the focus of the conversation after the network recalled its correspondent in Gaza, Ayman Mohyeldin, shortly after he filed a powerful report on the killing of four boys playing on a Gaza beach. A barrage of criticism on social media spurred network executives to return Mohyeldin to his post, but MSNBC’s Rula Jabreal was not so lucky. Jabreal lost her contract with the network after she criticized its bias and that of American media on the whole.
The brutal Israeli assault on Gaza, the fourth in less than ten years (2006, 2008-2009, 2012 and now again), has triggered a burst of solidarity in Latin America.
I’ve been through wars before, two of them, in 2008-2009 and 2012. The difference this time around is that I am responsible for a six-month old daughter.
I have to be strong for her. I have to be around her all the time. I have to be ready to make funny noises as soon as the Israeli F-16s resume the bombardment.
The nights are much worse than the days, and each night is rougher than the night before. Ten days now.
My heart is sick whenever I watch the news, particularly when I see footage of parents crying over their dead children.
The fear I see in my neighbors’ eyes as they talk about ground invasion is indescribable.
“Gaza is Israel’s Soweto.” With those four words, Joan Mandell led her dispatch for Middle East Report in 1985.
Visitors to Gaza cannot help but draw grim parallels. The place urges it upon them. Julie Peteet prefaced her 2009 piece for us with a quote from Alice Walker, the gifted author of The Color Purple. “Rolling into Gaza I had a feeling of homecoming. There is a flavor to the ghetto. To the bantustan. To the ‘rez.’ To the ‘colored section.’”
For months Arab television watchers have been engrossed in the phenomenon of Muhammad ‘Assaf, the 23-year old Gazan singer who has now been crowned the winner on “Arab Idol.” Modeled after “American Idol,” the popular show is broadcast on MBC, a satellite channel based in Beirut. As on the original, the victor of the “Arab Idol” competition is decided by the votes of the audience, cast through text messages and phone calls. ‘Assaf received over 67 million votes.
One can only imagine the nods of self-satisfaction when an Israel Defense Forces planner came up with “Pillar of Cloud” to name Israel’s subsequent eight-day aerial assault on Gaza. By lifting this metaphor from several well-known passages in the Torah, the IDF sought to portray the operation as a divinely sanctioned mission to clear the skies of Palestinian rockets through an immovable force from above, while also branding its heavily marketed Iron Dome missile defense system. It was a three for one.
For an informal smuggling route, the tunnel complex underneath Gaza’s border with Egypt is remarkably formal. A security cordon of chicken-wire fencing surrounds the Gazan side of the site, barring entrance from Rafah town a few hundred meters away. At each exit a squad in military fatigues monitors the round-the-clock traffic for blacklisted goods. At one checkpoint, Hamas security men frisked a youth in jeans and a baggy T-shirt, discovering a colored paper bag taped to his waist. Inside were 16 packets of tramadol, an opioid painkiller that can be purchased over the counter in Egypt but is sold by the pill in Gaza. The young man’s stash would have fetched 6,000 shekels (over $1,600) on the streets.
Why would the Israeli navy commandeer boats carrying collapsible wheelchairs and bags of cement to the Gaza Strip? Israel says that the aid convoys are trying to "break the blockade" of the densely populated Palestinian enclave. But why is there a blockade in the first place?
Sen. Chuck Schumer, an ardent supporter of Israel's policies, recently offered an unusually frank explanation before a Jewish audience in Washington. The siege of Gaza aims "to show the Palestinians that when there's some moderation and cooperation, they can have an economic advancement," the New York Democrat said. "To strangle them economically, until they see that's not the way to go, makes sense."
In late December 2009, Arab TV channels aired footage of throngs of demonstrators, surrounded by the usual rows of riot police, on the streets of downtown Cairo and in front of foreign embassies. Street protests in Egypt have been sharply curtailed in the last few years, but the scene was familiar to anyone who had been in the country in 2005, when protests against President Husni Mubarak’s regime and in favor of judicial independence were a semi-regular occurrence. Yet there was something unusual about these protesters: They were all foreigners.
It was early afternoon, a bright, crisp Friday in mid-January on the hilltop that lies between Route 34 and the Gaza border, maybe half a mile from Sderot. At the base of the hill lounged journalists and TV crews in foldout chairs, taking advantage of a midday lull in the bombardment. Pop music sounded from one of their dish-mounted vans. No one seemed to take much notice of the locals who came and went overhead — couples, amateur videographers, a man in a wheelchair, taking up positions under an overhanging copse of pine trees.
The Middle East has always been a difficult challenge for Western human rights organizations, particularly those seeking influence or funding in the United States. The pressure to go soft on US allies is in some respects reminiscent of Washington’s special pleading for Latin American terror regimes in the 1970s and 1980s. In the case of Israel such organizations also face a powerful and influential domestic constituency, which often extends to senior echelons of such organizations, for whom forthright condemnation of Israel is anathema.
Three weeks after the war on Gaza, Israel declared a unilateral ceasefire but refused to terminate its so-called defensive operations. In response, Hamas declared a ceasefire for one week, until the withdrawal of Israeli troops has been completed. For many in the West, the ceasefire might seem like an occasion to celebrate, for the cessation of military hostilities on both sides will perhaps renew the peace process. But there are reasons to be critical of this ceasefire, since it continues the situation in which Israel acts unilaterally. What we are actually witnessing is a new phase of the catastrophe in Gaza. While the characteristics of this phase are not yet known, Israel’s violence has become ever more evident.
Shortly after 11:30 am on December 27, 2008, at the height of the midday bustle on the first day of the Gazan week and with multitudes of schoolchildren returning home from the morning shift, close to 90 Israeli warplanes launched over 100 tons of explosives at some 100 targets throughout the 139 square miles of the Gaza Strip. Within minutes, the near simultaneous air raids killed more than 225 and wounded at least 700, more than 200 of them critically. These initial attacks alone produced dozens more dead than any other day in the West Bank and Gaza combined since Israel’s occupation of those lands commenced in June 1967.
A stopped clock, the saying goes, is right twice a day. The “senior Bush administration official” who chatted with the Washington Post on December 28 was right that Israel is “not trying to take over the Gaza Strip” with the massive assault launched the previous day, and correct that the Israelis are bombing now “because they want it to be over before the next administration comes in.” That’s twice, and so one must take this official’s remaining reasoning — that President-elect Barack Obama may not smile upon Israel’s gross abuses of military power as the Bush administration has done — with a grain of salt.
In the first attempt by a foreign country to break the blockade of Gaza, a Libyan freighter carrying 3,000 tons of essential humanitarian aid set sail for the impoverished coastal strip. On the shore Gazans assembled to welcome its arrival, a much needed gesture of hope and relief for Gaza’s 1.5 million residents, caged in on all sides in one of the most densely populated areas on earth, allowed only the most basic food stuffs and regularly bombarded with ordinance from the skies. As it approached Gaza’s coastal waters on December 1, the ship was intercepted by the Israeli navy and forced to turn back.
In mid-January, when Israel further tightened its blockade of the Gaza Strip, it hurriedly assured the world that a “humanitarian crisis” would not be allowed to occur. Case in point: Days after the intensified siege prompted Hamas to breach the Gaza-Egypt border and Palestinians to pour into Egypt in search of supplies, Israel announced plans to send in thousands of animal vaccines to prevent possible outbreaks of avian flu and other epidemics due to livestock and birds entering Gaza from Egypt.  Medicines for human beings, on the other hand, are among the supplies that are barely trickling in to Gaza now that the border has been resealed.