After Israeli warplanes bombed Gaza on Friday, the BBC described the air strike on “a Hamas facility” as “the first such action since the declaration of a truce in August.”
The short BBC News item, essentially a repackaged Israeli army press statement, added that the strike was “in response” to a rocket fired earlier from Gaza.
The casual reader would understand this to mean that Israel has held its fire since the August ceasefire which ended the intensive bombing this summer that claimed more than 2,200 Palestinian lives.
However, the reality is that Israel has fired on Palestinians in Gaza nearly every day since the 26 August truce.
Meanwhile, Israel and Egypt have kept Gaza totally sealed and its 1.8 million inhabitants effectively imprisoned.
One of the main Palestinian conditions for a ceasefire was the lifting of the years-long siege that has all but obliterated Gaza’s economy, and which has had a deleterious impact on nearly all aspects of life there.
During the 51 days of Israeli bombing this summer, the unanimous cry from Gaza was not just for the ending of the genocidal violence. A return to the status quo of slow suffocation under siege and complete impunity for Israel’s constant violations of Palestinian rights was not tenable. Gaza’s staggering sacrifice — more than one in every thousand of its residents killed — required the fulfillment of basic rights.
“A ceasefire is not enough,” wrote the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights’ Raji Sourani during the height of Israel’s violence.
The August ceasefire deal brokered by siege-enforcing Egypt, while never made transparent to the public, reportedly called for the opening of Gaza’s crossings, allowing the entry of reconstruction materials needed to rebuild Gaza’s devastated neighborhoods, the extension of the permitted fishing areas off Gaza’s shore and the relaxation of access restrictions in the areas along Gaza’s perimeter fence with Israel.
These truce conditions are similar to those that ended twelve days of Israeli bombing — claiming hundreds of Palestinian lives in Gaza — in November 2012.
Like its relentless violations of that earlier ceasefire, Israel has violated the August agreement with total impunity.
Here is a brief breakdown:
- Gaza remains sealed. While the Israeli closure of all of Gaza’s other crossings remains in place, travel through the Rafah crossing with Egypt — the sole point of entry and exit for the vast majority of Gaza’s residents — has also been strangled. On Sunday, approximately 630 Palestinians left Gaza via Rafah after Cairo temporarily reopened the crossing — for only the second time in two months.
Travel via Rafah is limited to those seeking medical treatment or people holding permits to stay abroad; at the end of last month, there were an estimated thirty thousand people waiting to exit Gaza via Rafah. Amongst them were one thousand patients who include “those with advanced cancer, renal and heart diseases, and orthopedic and ophthalmological needs,” according to the United Nations monitoring group OCHA.
- Construction materials are not allowed in to Gaza. Though $5.4 billion was pledged at a donors conference in Cairo in October, “reconstruction of Gaza has barely begun” and “even fewer construction materials are now entering Gaza than before the conflict,” according to the humanitarian group Oxfam. Despite the massive scale of destruction — it is estimated that Israel dropped the equivalent of an atomic bomb on Gaza this summer — only one percent of the estimated five million tons of construction materials required have been allowed in to Gaza. “At this rate it would take more than 23 years to meet ‘immediate’ needs alone,” states Oxfam.
- Exports are not allowed out of Gaza. Only a trickle of exports from Gaza are allowed through the Israeli-controlled commercial crossings each month. Before the blockade was imposed in May 2007, an average of 240 truckloads of exports left Gaza each week. So far this year, an average of only two truckloads of exports have been allowed out of Gaza each week. Though the Israeli government announced an easing of export restrictions in October, the reality is that the total number of trucks of exports allowed out of Gaza so far this year is about only half of the weekly average before the siege, according to data compiled from OCHA’s weekly reporting.
- Gaza is under constant Israeli fire. The Israeli military, which monitors movement in the area of the boundary fence, uses deadly force against any Palestinians who dare approach the perimeters of the Gaza open-air prison, where much of the most fertile farmland is located.
Though the August ceasefire deal stipulated that Palestinians would have increased access to the perimeter areas, Israel has “so far not officially announced the boundaries of what they consider a restricted area, thus generating uncertainty and increasing the risks to the civilian population,” states OCHA. “Field observations suggest that areas within 100 meters from the fence are largely inaccessible, while access to areas several hundred meters beyond this distance is risky.” Meanwhile, access to fishing waters “is restricted to six nautical miles from the coast.”
Indeed, Israeli forces opened fire at Palestinians in the “access restricted areas” on a daily basis the week of 9-15 December (the last week of available data from OCHA), resulting in the injury of four civilians. Twenty incidents of Israeli fire were recorded the week before that and an average of two incidents per day during the last week of November. One Palestinian civilian was killed and a seventeen-year-old boy was critically wounded by Israeli fire in the perimeter area last month, in the most serious of such incidents.
Oxfam data show that approximately fifteen rockets have been fired from Gaza since the August ceasefire, including “test rockets” fired toward the sea. During that same period, there were about 45 incidents of Israeli naval fire, 35 incidents of Israeli border fire, and about a half-dozen army incursions into Gaza. Israel has fired on Palestinians in Gaza on almost a daily basis since the ceasefire. Six Palestinians were shot during a protest earlier the same day that Israel bombed Gaza “in response” — as the BBC put it — to a rocket fired from Gaza which landed in an open field, causing no injuries.
Not only is the pre-ceasefire status quo of Israeli siege still firmly in place, but the secret terms of the United Nations-backed Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism “include onerous controls of building supplies and intrusive monitoring of Palestinian families seeking to rebuild homes destroyed by Israel,” as The Electronic Intifada has previously reported:
The mechanism gives Israeli occupation authorities access to Palestinian families’ personal information on UN databases, effectively turning the UN into the enforcer and partner of Israel’s Gaza siege.
The deal, brokered and championed by UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry, capitulated ultimate control of reconstruction to Israel while doing nothing for people in Gaza.
Instead of easing its grip since August, Israel finds that it enjoys more control over Palestinians in Gaza than ever before.
But none of this has made international news headlines, which largely seem to regurgitate Israeli government press briefings.
One notable exception is Newsweek’s recent cover story which comprehensively lays out the horror to which Gaza has been subjected — from the erasure of almost one hundred Palestinian families in Israeli air strikes this summer to the practical and moral failure of what has become known as the “menacing mechanism” for reconstruction.
The daily violence Israel wreaks on forsaken Gaza has gone otherwise unreported — and when there is a brief news item on Israeli air strikes on Gaza, it is Israel which “responds” to Palestinian rocket fire. Never is rocket fire from Gaza presented as a “response” to Israel’s routine violation of Palestinians’ most basic rights.