The roots of Hamas resilience

Yesterday, the Israeli air force dropped a large (and most likely US-supplied) bomb on the apartment-building home of Nizar Rayyan, one of the top five leaders of Hamas in Gaza, killing him and 15 family members, including children, and wounding numerous neighbors. The Hamas website reported the killing, and gave a brief eulogy for Rayyan, here.
The “strategy” of the Israeli government, if it can even be called that, now seems to have shifted from “taming” Hamas to decapitating or even completely dismantling Hamas. As I noted here last Monday, a dismantling/decapitating war, which was then being advocated by Ehud Barak, implies a very different approach to both operations and diplomacy than a “taming” war.
Today, Israel attacked the homes of other Hamas leaders. Many of the heavily populated areas of Gaza City, Rafah, and Jabaliya now look, from the photos, very similar to Beirut’s southern “Dahiyeh” suburbs after the US-supplied Israeli warplanes started blasting into it in July 2006. But at least the residents of the Dahiyeh had places elsewhere in Beirut and Lebanon that they were able to flee to (and they found that Lebanese of all stripes including previous critics of Hzibullah, were very eager to help give them emergency shelter and emergency aid.)
Now, where can the residents of blasted areas inside Gaza flee to? And remember: the winters can get very cold in that corner of the Mediterranean.
And yet… this is what AP is reporting today: Hamas resilient despite Israeli onslaught.
Reporters Ibrahim Barzak and Karin Laub write this:

    Israel is methodically targeting the Hamas domain, bombing government offices, security compounds, commanders, and even Hamas-linked clinics, mosques and money changers. Yet Gaza’s Islamic rulers show no sign of buckling under the aerial onslaught.
    Israel says Hamas still has thousands of rockets. Hamas TV and radio remain on the air, broadcasting morale-boosting battle reports. Hamas’ political and military leaders communicate from hiding places by walkie-talkie. Police patrol streets to prevent price gouging and looting.
    “Israel has destroyed the buildings, but Hamas is still here,” Ahmed Yousef, a Hamas spokesman, said Thursday, the sixth day of the bombing campaign. “There is no anxiety over the existence of Hamas — even if they destroy all of Gaza — because we are among the people.”

The rest of that informative article is also worth reading. Including this:

    The initial round of Israeli bombing wiped out key police installations, and Hamas officials say 185 members of the group’s security forces are among the nearly 400 dead. Hamas security men have slipped into civilian clothes to avoid being targeted, but still patrol the streets. Hamas’ Al Aqsa TV and radio have broadcast a toll-free number for residents to make criminal complaints.
    Policemen direct traffic and run checkpoints near bombed-out government buildings to prevent scavenging. They tour gas stations, bakeries and groceries to make sure owners don’t take advantage of growing shortages to hike prices.
    On Tuesday, two Hamas plainclothes police officers drove up to a small gas station in Gaza City and learned from customers that the price for diesel fuel had tripled. They approached the owner who swiftly lowered the price.
    Hamas inspectors with scales visit bakers, making sure that the government-fixed price for bread — 55 pitas for 7 shekels, about $2 — is being honored.

I note there is a key difference between the situation of Hamas under Israel’s assault in Gaza today and the PLO when it came under a very similar Israeli assault in Lebanon, in 1982. On that earlier occasion, the Palestinians received considerable help from a portion of Lebanon’s population. But as the assault– and particularly the seven-week siege of West Beirut– dragged on, many of the PLO’s Lebanese allies became very depressed because of the continued battering their city was taking. (In Lebanon, too, there was always a large chunk of the populace that hated the Palestinians and was working very actively indeed to support Israel’s attacks against them.)
Finally, after eight weeks of that war, Lebanese PM Shafiq Wazzan, who had been a long-time, if never very enthusiastic, supporter of the PLO presence in Lebanon, persuaded Yasser Arafat to negotiate a ceasefire that saved some of his forces but sent them sailing off to some very distant Arab countries. (Sharon’s massacres of Palestinians at Sabra and Shatila ensued.)
This time, by contrast, Gaza’s defenders are fighting to defend a small portion of their own country. Adding to their current determination are these other facts about them:

    (1) The status quo ante they had to live in prior to this war was itself quite unacceptable– as were, too, the lengthy preceding years of direct Israeli occupation. So the Gazawis don’t even have as much “stake” as, for example, Hizbullah’s people did in 2006, in seeing a ceasefire that would give them a return to the status-quo-ante;
    (2) Though Gaza is a part of Palestine, some 80% of its people are refugees from other parts of Palestine. So though many Gazans do have a deep concern for the physical infrastructure of the Strip, still, many of them also harbor very long-held and deep claims against Israel, including very large property claims, along with a correspondingly deep sense of resentment that these claims have never been seriously addressed in the many rounds of alleged “peace diplomacy” that have occurred over recent decades.

But all these socioeconomic facts about Gaza’s population would count for nothing if Hamas and its antecedent movements had not also been working hard for the past 25-30 years to organize their supporters in such a way as to build and rebuild the resilience of their constituency.
In the west, too many people think that Hamas is “only” the “terrorist organization” that it’s designated to be by the US State Department. They imagine it is made up of wild-eyed, implacable Islamist radicals who have much more in common with the Afghan Taliban than with any movement that is considered “civilized” in the west.
Not so. Hamas’s founder, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, always placed a lot of emphasis on the need for education, self-restraint, and the need to rebuild the social fabric of Palestinian constituencies torn apart by years of Israeli attacks, occupation (including the heinous divide-and-rule tactics of the Shin Bet), and physical and social dispersal. Gaza Islamic University (badly bombed by Israel earlier this week) was just one of an entire network of educational and social-welfare institutions with which Hamas sought to rebuild Gazan society. Those institutions preceded the creation of Hamas as an armed political movement, which happened in 1987; and they have continued to operate alongside Hamas ever since. (You can read a lot more about Hamas’s history here or here.)
Another indicator of the resilience of Hamas is that the movement has suffered numerous rounds of extremely serious decapitating attacks in the past 15 years– including the assassinations of Ahmed Yassin and numerous other top leaders in 2004– but still, its systems for educating successive generations of youth and for cultivating leadership skills in a broad array of skill-sets, not just the military, means that those leaders were replaced by others of considerable experience. Those assassinations never resulted in the breaking up of the movement. Indeed, the leaders who have survived– and their followers– now have an even flintier sense of dedication to their nationalist/Islamist cause because of the fires they’ve lived through and the colleagues and former mentors whom they’ve lost.
As of now, this intriguing article from Radio Netherlands tells us a bit about how Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and his colleagues in the top leadership have been surviving Israel’s attacks: Literally, by going underground. I had kind of suspected as much.
… In related news, the “international community” is still showing that it is marked by a devastating vacuum of power at the leadership level. None of the non-US powers seem to have the will (or perhaps the inclination?) to try to force the desperately needed immediate and binding ceasefire resolution through the Security Council. Or at least, to force the US to cast a veto against this ceasefire, which would clarify Washington’s role in world affairs considerably right now. The EU has just turned the presidency over from France to the Czech Republic, whose leaders are still in fairly deep kowtow mode to Washington. And neither the Chinese nor the Russians seem eager to confront Washington at this time.
White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe today stressed that any decision on whether to launch an infantry invasion of Gaza would be “Israel’s” to make. Condi Rice said that though the administration does favor a ceasefire, the administration is working to attain one “that would not allow a re-establishment of the status quo ante where Hamas can continue to launch rockets out of Gaza… It is obvious that that ceasefire should take place as soon as possible, but we need a ceasefire that is durable and sustainable.”
Right. No-one wants a return to the status-quo-ante. The big remaining question though, is in which direction will it end getting tipped? That is precisely what the two sides are fighting about.
… And at the Arab/regional level, both Egypt and Jordan had to deploy riot police today to beat back crowds of pro-Gaza demonstrators that gathered after Friday prayers. Both these increasingly repressive states receive considerable backing–including for their police forces– from the US, and both have peace treaties with Israel. In Amman, the crowd was reported as 60,000 strong. There were other anti-Israeli demonstrations in other Muslim countries. In the West Bank, pro-Hamas protesters were beaten back by (US-trained) Fateh police units.
Two useful sources for learning about what’s happening in Egypt are the blog of the leftist activist Arabawy, part of a network that’s making some excellent use of the new media (including Jaiku), and the website of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.
Ceasefire now! And link that directly to a speedy UN effort to define and implement a durable and fair final peace between these two deeply troubled peoples.

Debate in Israeli cabinet over Gaza

In my earlier post, I was looking at the public debate among non-official Israelis over the course of the Gaza war. The more important debate, of course, is that inside the Israeli cabinet.
A Haaretz reporting team writes today that officials in the defense ministry, which is headed by Labour Party leader Ehud Barak favor ending the war via,

    a clear agreement with Hamas, even if it is not enshrined in a written document, [whereas] Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is considering another idea.
    She reportedly believes that it might be better to aim for a situation in which there is no clearly set-out agreement, but Israel would make clear beforehand that it would respond forcefully to any firing from Gaza after hostilities ended.
    [PM Ehud] Olmert, for his part, has conditioned any future truce between Israel and Hamas on the establishment of an international mechanism to monitor the cease-fire.

These are fascinating differences– if the Haaretz report is based on accurate reporting, as I assume is probably the case.
The cabinet contains, obviously, some non-trivial internal political tensions, given that Israelis have a general election February 10 in which Barak is leading a party that will be running against Kadima, the party led by Livni– as well as against Likud, which keeps up strong pressure on both Labour and Kadima from the rightwing/hardline direction.
Hence, I’m assuming, the resistance both Barak and Livni evince to the idea of any written-down agreement that would also involve Hamas signing onto it, directly or indirectly, and therefore involve some prior negotiations with Hamas.
This is starting to look more and more like Shimon Peres’s ill-fated war venture of 1996. He felt he needed to launch that war– which was against Hizbullah in Lebanon– in March of 1996, because he faced elections within a short number of weeks. He knew he was under a lot of pressure from Likud (then as now led by “Bibi” Netanyahu), and he felt he needed somehow to “burnish” his militaristic credentials to the generally bellophilic Israeli voting public.
That war was a disaster– for Peres; for Israel’s strategic project of using military coercion to get its way in Lebanon; and for the whole broader strategic “credibility” of Israel’s power of deterrence. Read the details, here.
Long story short: Israel’s public, by and large, just “loved” that war, especially at the beginning; but Peres and his commanders fatally overshot their military mark, couldn’t figure out how or when to end the war; the IDF ended up killing hundreds or thousands of Lebanese civilians, including in Qana; and Israel finally had to succumb to international pressure that forced them to enter into a negotiated ceasefire with Hizbullah that for the first time ever would be monitored by an international monitoring team– a facet of the agreement that helped assure the stability of the ceasefire but also considerably restricted Israel’s “freedom of action” inside Lebanon over the years that followed.
Oh, and Peres lost that election to Netanyahu, anyway. Not least because the Palestinian Israeli voters whom he could otherwise have fairly strongly relied upon were so disgusted by his war that they stayed home from the polls in droves.
(In Lebanon, four years later, a completely depleted and demoralized Israeli occupation force slunk out of the country altogether in June 2000, under a new plan for “unilateral”, i.e. un-negotiated, Israeli troop withdrawals that was hatched by– yes, none other than Ehud Barak. Hizbullah has increased its power and influence in Lebanon in the eight years since then…)
In the current war, Olmert’s reported position of favoring some form of international monitoring mechanism seems the most constructive to me. And remember, there is no way you could get any such mechanism into place without involving Hamas in the negotiation over its deployment and terms of reference. Also, as noted above, a third-party monitoring mechanism can help assure the stability that both citizenries so desperately need.
Olmert, of course, is not running as head of any of the parties in the election, so he perhaps feels he can afford for his position to be more “statesman-like” and less unredeemedly belligerent than those of either Livni or Barak? Also, he is the current prime minister, so he should be able to wield executive power over Barak if they came to a serious disagreement over how to end this war?
But no, I don’t think it would be that easy for him to do that…
Oops, maybe these three highly competitive people should have had all these discussions and figured out a joint plan on how to end the war before they got into it?
The internal politics within Israel’s cabinet may well end up making the termination of this conflict very complex and long-drawn-out indeed.

Israelis debate how (more than whether) to continue war

Brushing aside the many calls from the “international community” for an immediate and permanent ceasefire with Gaza, the Israeli government has vowed to continue its assault against the Strip, and some Israeli citizens are now openly debating whether the war effort should be continued more or less “as-is”, i.e. mainly an assault from the air force and other stand-off weapons platforms, or whether its should be expanded to include some form of a major ground incursion.
This debate is presumably being held all over the country. A Haaretz poll reported today that 52% of Israeli respondents favored continuing the war as-is, and 19% favored launching a ground push. Only 20% favored negotiating a truce as soon as possible. (Unclear from that poll: when it was taken exactly, and– even more importantly– whether it included the Israeli citizens who are of Palestinian-Arab ethnicity or was restricted, as many Israeli opinion polls are, only to Jewish Israelis. If the former, then they most likely occupied just about all the slots of those who favored a speedy truce.)
Also, in today’s Haaretz, Yossi Melman lays out seven possible courses of military action for Israel regarding Gaza, including the “as-is” and the two versions of the “introduce ground forces” option. Two of his other options (numbers 5 and 7) involve concluding a ceasefire with Hamas: one more limited, and the other more extensive; and he notes that both these options have significant advantages. But he also argues that they have the “disadvantage” that they would entrench Hamas’s power to a significant degree. Altogether, though, his is a fairly realistic and reasonable assessment.
Haaretz also, as always, opens its pages to several voices from the hard right. Among these are, today, Ari Shavit and the longtime settler activist Israel Harel.
Harel seems to be a big proponent of using ground forces, and much of what he writes is very informative. First, he simply assumes– as do, I suppose, most Israelis– that the main decisionmaking “brain” behind Israel’s Gaza policy since last spring has been that of defense Minister Ehud Barak. He strongly criticizes Barak’s decision to accept the tahdi’eh of last June, which he says allowed Hamas to regroup and strengthen its positions in Gaza. (The tahdi’eh also– though it has been Israeli writers other than Harel who have noted this– allowed Barak to complete his preparations for the present war.)
Harel writes this about the current war effort:

Continue reading “Israelis debate how (more than whether) to continue war”

Security Council discussing Gaza tonight

This news from the BBC is good. The SC will meet at the request of the Arab League Foreign Ministers who,

    want a binding UN resolution to ensure an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and a lifting of the Israeli blockade of the territory.

It is an excellent demand. The people of Gaza are suffering hell now, and their neighbors in southern Israel are living in some degree of fear.
There should be an immediate, binding ceasefire with, as requested, a lifting of the siege of gaza under terms carefully negotiated to ensure that

    (a) The people of Gaza can be reconnected with the global economy from which they’ve been cut off for three years– or actually, much more; and
    (b) This opening occurs under a UN-run verification regime that ensures that Gaza does not become host to any offensive military forces at all.

The people of Gaza would also need credible international guarantees of their physical security from any renewed Israeli assaults.
The need for a negotiated ceasefire is urgent. All members of the international community should be required to support the push for it by undertaking not to ship any weapons to either Hamas or Israel until they agree to it. Other sanctions could also be applied against the warring parties until they agree to a ceasefire.
Of course, Hamas is already subject to heavy international sanctions. If they agree to a ceasefire on the terms outlined above– including the complete and verified demilitarization of Gaza– then those sanctions should be lifted.

Gaza: the importance of the Bob Gates straddle

Yesterday, as I noted here, Condi Rice gave a degree to acquiescence to a much-needed statement calling for “an immediate and permanent ceasefire” between Israel and Hamas/Gaza, that had been jointly agreed upon by Ban Ki-moon, Bernard Kounchner, Rice, and Sergei Lavrov. Ban had apparently convened the conference call in which the four members of the Mideast “Quartet” all agreed on that position.
Was Condi thereby representing the position of President Bush?
Good question. Bush has been cavorting around his vacation home in Crawford, Texas. But his spokseman Gordon Johndroe came out today to say,

    “President Bush thinks that Hamas needs to stop firing rockets and that is what will be the first steps in a ceasefire.”

Johndroe said that as part of the report he made to journos on a phone conversation Bush had with Olmert this morning.
Reuters added:

Continue reading “Gaza: the importance of the Bob Gates straddle”

Gaza: US blocking power eroded; Quartet calls for ceasefire

Back in the 33-Day War of 2006, the Bush administration was able to block the Security Council and the rest of the UN from issuing a formal call for a ceasefire until the point when Israel, realizing its forces were getting into very hot water indeed, started actively pleading for one.
This time, the Olmert government is still very resistant to a ceasefire. And earlier, the position of the Bush administration was, as in 2006, to give Israel carte blanche to do what it liked against its neighbors.
But the international dynamics have changed since 2006.
This evening, Condi Rice agreed to join the principals of the other three powers in the Quartet in calling for “an immediate ceasefire that would be fully respected.” Follow that link for more details of who was involved, how it happened, etc.
The other three members of the Quartet are the EU, Russia, and the UN. Ban Ki-moon was on the conference call in which the call for the immediate ceasefire was agreed.
The global balance between the US and the other 95% of humanity is indeed changing.

How Israel can end the Gaza war

Once again, as in 2006, the Israeli government has launched a war against neighbors from which it finds difficulty in extricating itself.
Of course, not launching the present war was always an option, right down to the time (Friday night?) when an irrevocable decision to launch it was taken. Not launching it might have been judged politically difficult, given the vulnerability of residents of Southern Israel to the Palestinian rockets whose firing– in continued, highly asymmetrical exchanges of fire with the IDF– became a new fact of life after the six-month tahdi’eh expired December 19th; and given, too, the imminence of Israel’s general election… But still, a responsible Israeli government could surely have used the proven Egyptian channel to the Hamas leaders to try hard to reinstate and even strengthen the tahdi’eh regime, while also reaching an agreement for the freeing of long-held POW Gilad Shalit.
That course could have been presented to the Israeli public with honor by a government going into an election. But Ehud Olmert’s government chose not to take it.
Instead, they chose to launch the present war of choice. And now, it is clear– once again, as in 2006– that they are very unclear indeed on how to end it.
And today, Olmert brushed aside reports that the Defense Ministry had been considering responding positively to an early proposal from French FM Bernard Kouchner for a 48-hour pause in the fighting, to allow humanitarian goods into Gaza, and an evacuation of the wounded. Instead, Olmert vowed that Israel would “continue [fighting] as long as necessary.”
He also (Xinhua here) said today that the Israeli military operation in Gaza Strip is “the first phase in a series of steps approved by the cabinet.”
A “series of steps”, amid reports of the call-up of additional units of Israeli ground forces? Does this sound as if the Israeli cabinet is considering a ground-force incursion into Gaza? I believe it does.
And there is some raw military logic to such a ‘”step.” Since, if the goal is to make quite sure that no-one in Gaza is capable of launching any rockets into Israel, then only the IDF/IOF’s exerting a very intrusive and oppressive form of control over the whole Strip can ensure that.
However, if Olmert is serious about wanting to halt all or very nearly all the firings of rockets from Gaza into Israel, as I believe he is, then he has two ways he can achieve that:

    1. He could send ground troops in to occupy all or nearly all of the Gaza Strip, or
    2. He could conclude a robust, and preferably also verifiable, ceasefire agreement with Hamas and its allies.

It feels to me today like we’re at about Day 20 of the 33-Day War that Israel launched against Hizbullah in Lebanon back in July 2006.
So many similarities! Including that Israel’s war goals include winning a cessation of the opponent’s firing of rockets, the release of Israeli POW(s), and also, beyond that, a significant sea-change in the political complexion of the territory from which the rockets have been fired.
In the 33-Day War, Israel won the first and second of those war aims… But it won them only through the conclusion of an internationally mediated ceasefire agreement in which it, too, was bound by reciprocal conditions. It did not win the third of the listed war aims in 2006.
The ceasefire with Hizbullah has proven remarkably robust in the 28 months since it went into effect on August 14, 2006. Including right now, I imagine Hizbullah’s fighters in South Lebanon have been working overtime to prevent any attempts the many Palestinians in South Lebanon might have hoped to make, to heat up that border with Israel, too.
… So now, Olmert is making a second attempt to force an Arab opponent to meet his demands for unilateral disarmament using brute physical violence instead of negotiation. Why does he imagine that, this time around, the attempt might end more successfully?
I have no idea.
Perhaps he thinks that this time around, Israel can rely on the power vacuum of the transition environment in Washington to ensure there is no pressure of any real kind from there for him to halt operations on humanitarian grounds?
Well, he faced no such pressure back in 2006, either.
Perhaps he thinks that this time around, Israel’s ground forces will be much more effective and well-trained than they proved to be back in 2006? (And certainly, the flat terrain of Gaza is far easier for their tanks to roll into than the hills and ravines of South Lebanon.)
But so the tanks roll in– and then what? Obviously, thousands of Palestinians might die in the event of a massive land incursion into Gaza. And given the dense patterns of habitation in the Strip, a large proportion of those killed would inevitably be civilians…
But then what? Israel’s much-vaunted ground forces with their lumbering big Main Battle Tanks would find themselves mired in the alleyways and backstreets of Gaza’s refugee camps and shanty-towns. We could expect 100 Jenins…
And then what?
Even in the many jingoistic, intensely bellophilic portions of Israel’s public, there is a real (and quite realistic) reluctance to send the country’s conscript army back into the heart of the Gaza Strip…
And meantime, what happens tothe political environment in the Middle East and the rest of the world?
There is already serious political instability threatening in Jordan, as Marc Lynch noted this morning.
Hosni Mubarak’s regime in Egypt, which has cooperated with Israel in maintaining the tight siege around Gaza for the past three years, is now coming under mounting popular pressure to accede to Hamas demands to end the siege by reopening Egypt’s border fully with Gaza. (You can see some recent videos of Cairo street protests here.)
These two countries’ governments are bulwarks of US power and influence in the Arab world…
But US influence in the Middle East and worldwide is anyway nowhere near as strong as it was back in 2006. So even if the Bush administration– and perhaps even the Obama administration from January 20 on– want to continue shielding Israel from the mounting international chorus that is calling for a ceasefire, it won’t have the same muscle to do so this time as it used in 2006.
In fact, today as in 2006, Israel’s defiance of the international campaign for a ceasefire could well contribute significantly to a continued erosion of Washington’s worldwide influence.
I see that the EU has now taken up Kouchner’s original call, which had been for a 48-hour humanitarian pause, and has been discussing strengthening it into a call for a lasting ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.
This is interesting. There is a significant difference between a humanitarian pause and a lasting ceasefire.
So Olmert brushed aside the earlier humanitarian pause idea– and now the Europeans are coming back with an even stronger suggestion.
If he carries on brushing off not only the Europeans but also the rising chorus of other voices calling for a ceasefire, then might the international momentum shift even further towards calling for an immediate, authoritative, UN-led peace conference to hammer out the details of a permanent Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, as I hope it does?
Notable, too..,Breaking news here… that this time around Condi Rice has apparently come to the conclusion that she can’t hold out against the worldwide momentum for an immediate ceasefire, and this evening she joined the representatives of the other three “Quartet” powers in calling for “”an immediate ceasefire that would be fully respected”.
Now let’s see how the UN, the EU, Russia, and the US can work together to being that about… Immediately!
… But meantime, let’s be clear in all this. Olmert can end this war any time he wants. But if he wants to end it in a way that results in an assured end to the firing of rockets into southern Israel, then he is going to have to get into a negotiation that also includes Hamas.
The Olmert government and its friends in Washington can rant on all they want about “terrorism.” But their invocation of the discourse of (anti-)terrorism rings horribly hollow to a world public now seeing the face of the humanitarian disaster and mass killings, including of civilians, that the people of Gaza are now suffering.
They ranted on about “terrorism” in the case of the war against Lebanon in 2006, too. But that did not prevent them, at the end of the day, from engaging in negotiations that also, indirectly, involved Hizbullah. And those negotiations “worked”, from, Israel’s perspective, in bringing about the end of Hizbullah rocketings of northern Israel, and the return of the remains of the lost POWs.
They also worked for the Lebanese, by allowing a restoration of calm that allowed them to bury their hundreds of civilian dead and start, slowly, to rebuild their shattered towns and villages.
This time, too, negotiations that involve Hamas can “work” for Israel, by bringing about an end to rocketing and the return of Gilad Shalit (who apparently was among those injured in the recent bombing.)
But let’s take this idea of a simple “ceasefire” between Israel and Hamas very much further. Let’s give it some real political strengthening, as the latest EU moves suggest. Indeed, let’s see it as a speedy segue into the final, durable Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement that those two peoples, all their neighbors, and the rest of the world all so sorely need.

UN official says Israel violated a truce Saturday

Karen Abu Zayd, commissioner of the UN Relief and Works Agency, told reporters yesterday that on Friday, the Palestinians in Gaza believed they had an agreement with Israel for a 48-hour humanitarian halt to the low-level exchanges of fire that had started to go both ways across the Gaza-Israel border since the previous six-month-long tahdi’eh expired on December 19.
According to her, the weekend lull started on Friday morning and could have been expected to last till Sunday morning.
On Friday there was almost no fighting across the border, and Israel did indeed take the opportunity to allow some very urgently needed food supplies into the Strip.
It was at 11:30 on Saturday morning that the IDF launched its massive aerial assault on the Strip.
“We were all at work and very much surprised by this,” Abu Zayd said.
Certainly, on Friday we in the United States got lots of news and pictures from Israel about the convoys of urgently needed food aid that finally, that day, started to be allowed to cross into Gaza, so there is some prima facie evidence for the idea there was a humanitarian lull of some type and some duration. Also, Israeli FM TZipi Livni had been in Cairo Thursday, talking with the Egyptian government officials who have been the main intermediaries in all the indirect Hamas-Israel negotiations of recent years (some of which have had some success.)
My advice for the Hamas leaders: Next time you think you have an agreement with the Israeli government on a truce or lull, get all its terms written down clearly, signed by an authorized rep of the Israeli government and counter-signed by your intermediaries/witnesses before you make the judgment you have reached an effective agreement.
And yes, what of the Egyptian FM’s role in all this? Was he complicit with Livni, or was he, too, duped by her?
AP (as carried by Haaretz) reported the following from AbuZayd’s press conference, as well:

    Abu Zayd mentioned the lull when she was asked whether the population of Gaza was aware that this was all commenced by the Hamas government unilaterally ending the cease-fire and firing rockets.
    “I don’t think they think the truce was violated first by Hamas,” she said.
    “I think they saw that Hamas had observed the truce quite strictly for almost six months, certainly for four of the six months, and that they got nothing in turn – because there was to be kind of a deal,” Abu Zayd said.
    “If there were no rockets, the crossings would be opened,” she said. “The crossings were not opened at all.”

I have no reason whatsoever to doubt the veracity of Abu Zayd’s evaluation of the attitudes of the Gaza Palestinians. If the Israeli government is hoping to use the ferocity of its attacks against Gaza to somehow turn the population of Gaza against Hamas– similarly to how they tried to turn the Lebanese against Hizbullah in 2006– then it seems that they know nothing at all about the psychology of human communities that come under intense threat from outside.
They learned nothing from 2006. Or from their own lengthy history and experience.
Tragic, for everyone involved. First and foremost for Gazans, who have suffered so many unpspeakable tragedies over the past three years and the past three days. But tragic also for so many Israelis who, blinded and rendered actively illogical by their own sense of fear, continue to cheer on their government’s acts of barbarity and to be quite blind to the effects these acts have on the attitudes of just about everyone else around the world.