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Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine
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 11 January 2009


David Morrison
Political Officer, Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign

From 19 June 2008 until 4 November 2008 – during the Egyptian brokered ceasefire – Hamas didn’t fire any rockets or mortar shells from Gaza into Israel and restrained other Palestinian groups from doing so. This was confirmed by Israeli spokesman, Mark Regev, on More4 News on 9 January 2009.

This was despite the fact that Israel failed to honour its obligations under the ceasefire agreement to lift its savage economic blockade, which had brought the people of Gaza to the verge of starvation.

From 19 June 2008 until 4 November 2008, only 20 rockets and 17 mortar shells were fired from Gaza into Israel (all by Palestinian groups other than Hamas), compared to 1,199 rockets and 1,072 mortar shells in 2008 up to 19 June – which amounts to a reduction of 98% in the frequency of both rockets and mortars.
On 4November 2008 – as the attention of the world was on the election of Barack Obama in the US – Israel launched an armed assault on Gaza killing six Palestinians and torpedoing the ceasefire altogether.

The inevitable retaliation in the form of the resumption of Hamas firing its homemade rockets into Israel provided the casus belli “justifying” Israel’s long-planned and savage onslaught on Gaza launched on 27 December 2008, which has killed nearly a thousand Palestinians and wounded thousands more.

The dramatic reduction in rocket fire was the result of a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas, brokered by Egypt, which came into force on 19 June 2008. Under this 6-month agreement, in exchange for Hamas and other Palestinian groups stopping the firing of rockets and mortars out of Gaza, Israel undertook to end both its military operations against Gaza and its economic blockade of Gaza (which, as stated by the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs in the Dáil on 11th March 2008, constitutes “collective punishment … illegal under international humanitarian law”).

This information on the ceasefire comes from the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, an Israeli organisation which is regularly quoted by the Israeli Government. A report dated 5 November 2008, entitled Escalation in the Gaza Strip, on the Center’s website states:

"Since the lull arrangement went into effect on June 19, 2008, the Palestinian terrorist organizations have violated it scores of times, primarily by firing rockets and mortar shells. Occasionally rogue terrorist organizations have been responsible for the violations, among them networks belonging to Fatah, the PIJ [Palestinian Islamic Jihad] and the Army of Islam. Hamas, for its part, did not take part in rocket and mortar shell fire and sometimes prevented other organizations from attacking, although it did not confront them directly and massively or end their continued violation." (emphasis added)

The report also gives the following bar chart showing the dramatic decline in rocket and mortar firing since the ceasefire came into force (figures for January to mid-November 2008):

The ceasefire wasn’t perfect. Nevertheless, as of 4 November, the threat to Israeli civilians was greatly diminished – in October only 2 rockets (and no mortar shells) were fired from Gaza. No Israeli civilian had been killed since the ceasefire began on 19 June.

This much reduced threat was not from Hamas, but from other Palestinian groups. Hamas held its fire, even though Israel failed to honour its promise to lift its economic blockade. Israel ceased military operations in Gaza between 19 June and 4 November (but killed at least 16 Palestinians on the West Bank in that period).

An Israeli Government with the security of its civilians as its priority would have been extremely careful to avoid action that would disturb this ceasefire, which had been so successful in diminishing the threat to them. It might even have taken action to bolster the ceasefire by, for example, easing its economic blockade as it was supposed to do.

But, instead, on the night of 4 November (while the world was watching the election of Barack Obama) Israel took action that torpedoed the ceasefire – Israeli forces entered Gaza and killed 6 members of Hamas. Israel had now broken both elements of its ceasefire agreement with Hamas. The inevitable consequence was that Hamas responded by resuming rocket and mortar fire into Israel.

The murderous military assault on Gaza, which began on 27 December, could not have been justified to the world prior to 4 November, when, thanks to Hamas holding fire and restraining other groups, rocket and mortar fire out of Gaza was almost non-existent. Rocket and mortar firing out of Gaza was necessary as a casus belli. And the incursion of 4 November was mounted to produce the reaction which could be presented as a casus belli.

The Israeli Government, which tells us unceasingly that it has been forced to act in order to ensure the safety of its citizens, did exactly the opposite on 4 November. It made them less safe, in order to justify the coming assault. No Israeli civilians were killed while the ceasefire was in operation; at least 4 have been killed since.

Had the Israeli Government’s primary concern been the safety of its citizens, it would have fulfilled its obligations under the ceasefire agreement – desisting from military actions against Gaza and lifting its economic blockade of Gaza. Had it done so, there is no doubt whatsoever that Hamas would have been prepared to maintain indefinitely the ceasefire that prevailed prior to 4 November.

Instead, the Israeli Government chose to torpedo the ceasefire to provoke a casus belli in order to launch a murderous assault on Hamas, killing nearly a thousand Palestinians and injuring thousands more – and making its own citizens less safe in the process.

11 January 2009

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