Last Monday night Israeli fighter jets executed airstrikes on the besieged Gaza Strip for the ninth night in a row in an act that may be another on Israel’s long list of possible war crimes.
Israeli leaders characterized the actions as retaliatory, naming Gazan “incendiary balloons” and “riots” as justification.
This is just the latest in what mainstream media generally depicts as a “protracted conflict” between “the militant group Hamas and Israel,” after “months of calm” (5 Gazans have been killed in 2020; Israel has shot at farmers and fishermen hundreds of times; no Israelis have been killed).
The plight of Palestinians in Gaza, a population of almost two million crammed into a region the size of Detroit, has been hidden from the view of most, even as the US funds its occupier with over $10 million a day in military aid.
Not only does Israel limit the amount of food and medicine entering the Strip, but it has also attacked the population in three massive incursions and countless smaller forays, killing thousands while only suffering relatively minor casualties itself.
The current escalation is one example of the constant oppression and violence Gazans have experienced for thirteen years.
Hamas is the democratically elected political party in Gaza, with a wing that engages in resistance against Israel’s 53-year de facto occupation and 13-year blockade – both of which are illegal. International law condones such resistance.
Most recent cases of incendiary balloons were not the work of Hamas, but of independent activist groups in the Strip, which have also been responsible for launching several rockets.
The incendiary balloons have caused some fires on Israeli farmland and forests, but have never killed or injured anyone; in the 19 years that militants have fired rockets out of Gaza, about 30 Israelis have been killed – the most recent in May 2019.
Actions that Israel describes as “riots” that are described in Associated Press as “dozens” of Palestinian protesters who have gathered nightly at the border fence with Israel.
Israel’s punishing response
Israeli reprisals have been harsh, as its leaders acknowledge. The IDF “responds with all its might against incendiary balloons,” according to a Jerusalem Post report.
Actions include nightly strikes by IDF fighter jets, attack helicopters, and tanks against what Israel calls “Hamas targets.” Arab news outlets describe hits to “many homes” (injuring women and children) and “farmlands,” as well as structures belonging to resistance groups. IDF also targeted a cement factory.
Last Thursday morning, residents discovered an unexploded missile inside a UN school in a Gazan refugee camp.
Israel has also closed all crossings into and out of Gaza, blocking the delivery of needed food and fuel to run Gaza’s only power plant. The plant has shut down as of Tuesday.
In addition, Israel has completely shut down Gaza’s fishing zone “until further notice,” directly impacting nearly 5,000 Palestinians employed by the fishing sector.
While mainstream media rarely addresses the reasons for Gazan resistance – or relegates it to the last paragraphs of articles – the people’s appeals are accessible.
Hamas officials have charged that Israel is reneging on its promises to ease the 13-year-old blockade, causing starvation in Gaza.
Elsewhere, activists have expressed anger at “Israeli violations against Al-Aqsa Mosque” and Netanyahu’s annexation plans, as well as policies that “paralyze daily life and disrupt efforts of combating coronavirus.”
Israeli leaders’ confessions
In the words of Israel’s own leaders, they are perpetrating collective punishment and disproportionate actions on Gaza’s Palestinians – war crimes under international law.
In addition to unjustifiably holding Hamas responsible for every militant action in Gaza, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz has vowed to continue punishing all Gazans until the resistance ends:
By launching rockets and explosive balloons, the heads of Hamas are undermining the interests of the residents of Gaza and are impairing their ability to live in dignity and security…The IDF will respond forcefully to any violation of sovereignty…If [Israeli border town] Sderot isn’t quiet, Gaza won’t be either.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indicated his intentions to mount a disproportionate attack after incendiary balloons arrived in Israel:
There will be a very heavy price for the balloon terror. We will not suffer this, we will act and exact a heavy price.”
Ongoing war crime investigations
Israel is already under investigation for actions in 2014 and possibly 2018. Chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) Fatou Bensouda stated,
There is a reasonable basis to believe that war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.”
The ICC cited Israel’s “disproportionate use of force” in the 2014 military action that left 2,200 Palestinians and 73 Israelis dead – as well as other possible war crimes, including collective punishment and transfer of population into occupied territory.
Israel insists, not that it is innocent, but that the ICC has no jurisdiction over the Palestinian territories.
[S]uch practices, by reason of their excessive severity and cruelty, [keep] alive and [strengthen] the spirit of resistance…They are opposed to all principles based on humanity and justice.
Feature photo | A Palestinian boy inspects the damage in his family home following Israeli airstrikes in Buriej refugee camp, central Gaza Strip, Aug. 15, 2020. Khalil Hamra | AP
Kathryn Shihadah writes for MintPress News and If Americans Knew. She speaks regularly about the injustice and demonization Palestinians face at the hands of Israel with complicity from the United States, especially to Christian audiences. Kathryn has lived in the Middle East for ten years and has traveled extensively. She blogs at PalestineHome.org.