Article published : Saturday, May 15th, 2021 3:00 pm
There are no easy answers for what's happening in Gaza On Saturday morning, the Associated Press reported that an Israeli airstrike had destroyed the building containing their offices in Gaza. The upper floor of the high-rise building had served as AP's headquarters for 15 years, and been the site from which the news agency reported on previous conflicts over that period. Now it's gone. Though the official Israeli position is that residential apartments in the building were being used by Hamas militants, other reports have indicated that the& primary target for the attack were the offices of& Al-Jazeera TV, which was broadcasting live from that location when orders came to evacuate the building. According to the AP, Israel has accused Hamas of using the journalists as human shields, but "provided no evidence to back up the claims." This& is just the latest in a series of buildings which have been leveled over the last week in attacks that have left at least 139 people dead in Gaza, including 39 children. However, this latest action drew a direct response from the White House; Press Secretary Jen Psaki tweeted Saturday& morning& that "we have communicated directly to the Israelis that ensuring the safety and security of journalists and independent media is a paramount responsibility." Overnight,& 10 people were killed when shells struck a refugee camp. Since the level of conflict sharply increased a week ago, over 1,000 people have been reported injured in Gaza.& Over that same period,& a staggering& 1,800 rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israel, including 470 in a single day. Despite Israel's technologically-advanced& "iron dome" defense system, those rockets have resulted in the deaths of at least seven Israelis, including a 5-year-old boy. The conflict between Israel and Hamas is hugely asymmetric. One side has the power to destroy buildings,& decimate whole neighborhoods, and threaten its enemy's existence. The other simply does not. But that doesn't mean that Hamas is completely toothless, or that this fight is limited to just who can throw up, and shoot down, the most rockets. It's not possible to say that this current round of violence really started over the last 10 days, because though the it's been seven years since the last time there was anything approaching this level of open warfare between Israel and Hamas,& peace has always been a tenuous, paper-thin condition. Still, during much of the last seven years, the situation between Israel and Palestinians seemed to be as stable as it has ever been, with relative peace holding in spite of the U.S. moving its embassy to Jerusalem, and in spite of a series of expanding settlements in what had been Palestinian territories.& The current situation appears to have been inflamed after a single rocket was fired from Gaza just under a month ago. Possibly as a response to that event, Israeli police entered& the al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem and interrupted a prayer session in progress on the first day of Ramadan. Additional raids and police actions followed over the course of Ramadan, which many saw as deliberately provocative. Over a three week period, events at the mosque became increasingly violent. On the evening of May 10, a large number of rockets were launched from locations inside Gaza, with the rate of fire growing from dozens to hundreds over a few hours. The iron dome defense units shot down many, but far from all of the rockets. The number of rockets launched was far greater than in past conflicts, which seems to indicate that the J-80 Qassam and smaller M-75 rockets are largely& being manufactured in Gaza, rather than smuggled in, as in the past. These are very basic, poorly-directed rockets, little more than a steel pipe with fins, using solid fuel and explosives, both of which can be created largely from fertilizer and other common chemicals. The estimated cost for each rocket is about $800 in materials. They don't require any special facilities to manufacture, and are easily prepared for launch. They are also extremely unlikely to strike a designated target, but are nonetheless deadly. Rockets being launched from Gaza on May 15 As the pace of rockets being launched from Gaza increased, so did the actions of the Israeli government. That included not just aerial strikes, but more actions on the ground. Israeli Occupation Forces carried out yet another violent raid on al-Aqsa Mosque compound tonight, spraying Palestinian worshippers with rubber bullets, tear gas and flash bang grenades.— CJ Werleman (@cjwerleman) May 11, 2021 The response was, of course, more violence. Hamas insisted that it would not back down, and continued to fire hundreds of more rockets. On Thursday, at least five Israelis were wounded when one of these rockets struck a building near Tel Aviv. Israel launched even more air strikes. And across the region, local conflicts broke out in& towns and cities. One of the most visible and shocking events of the last week has been the deliberate targeting and destruction of high-rise buildings. In each case, Israeli defense forces seem to have provided advance warning, signaling people to evacuate the buildings and move back from the area before launching strikes at sites they indicated were being used by Hamas. But the images are still extremely disturbing and, as was the case this morning, Israel hasn't been forthcoming on evidence that justified the destruction. A 13-story residential tower in Gaza was hit by an Israeli air strike and soon after collapsed, witnesses said— Reuters (@Reuters) May 11, 2021 All of this is further confused because the government in Israel has been hanging on by a thread for months.& Just weeks& ago—a day before the first police action at the& al-Aqsa Mosque—Foreign Policy& wrote that Israel's government had "nobody at the wheel," with an inability to form a new government leaving the nation trapped in a "cycle of deadlocked elections."& On the other side of the aisle, Hamas has spent years trying to solidify its position inside Gaza. It has had almost unchallenged power since ousting the Palestinian Authority over a decade ago, but isn't seen as a legitimate partner for negation because of its involvement in violent protests and support for actions such as...& launching hundreds of rockets. Meanwhile, the U.S. is in the always awkward position of defending an ally—and, like it or not, a series of recent actions and& agreements initialed by Donald Trump—while trying to also uphold its position as a defender of human rights. That last effort has been made even more difficult by the last four years in which the Trump White House walked away from any pretense of caring about what happened to Palestinians and hung a big "don't give a damn" sign above the United States' already very dented ability to be seen as an "honest broker." There's also no doubt that some of the apparent peace in the region was an illusion. As The New York Times reports, while the deterioration of the situation has come far faster than anyone expected, it follows years of building pressure and a growing tally of slights on both sides. Stack on top of this tension the pressures of the pandemic. Israel has achieved one of the highest rates of vaccination in the world and driven cases down to a handful a day, but that rate of vaccination is nowhere near so complete in Gaza, where the spread of COVID-19 in refugee camps is only adding to misery, fear, and the ultimate death toll. In other words, this was about the worst possible time for things to fall apart. So of course, they& did. Asymmetric warfare isn't a new phenomena. For millennia, small groups of militants defied empires from Persia and Greece, to Vietnam and Afghanistan. The response in most ancient cases was simple and disproportionate. You kill one of ours, we kill a thousand of yours. Then we burn down your city, sell the survivors into slavery, and salt the fields. The end. Except it never was the end. More recently, that kind of disproportionate response has not only been frowned on internationally, it's also become blindingly clear that, after thousands of years of trying, it still doesn't work. WATCH: The owner of al-Jalaa tower pleads with an Israeli officer on live TV to let journalists collect their gear before he bombs it. Moments later, Israeli air strikes demolish the #Gaza building that housed several international media offices, including #AlJazeera and MEE— Middle East Eye (@MiddleEastEye) May 15, 2021
Author : Mark Sumner