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Israeli-Gaza ceasefire holds - It's Palestinians who have the right to defend themselves

Israeli-Gaza ceasefire holds

Hostilities cease between the two sides after eight days of fighting claims more than 160 lives

 in Gaza in Cairo,  in Jerusalem and agencies

22 November 2012

Palestinians in Gaza celebrate the ceasefire brokered in Egypt between Israel and militant factions led by Hamas Link to this video

A ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians appeared to be holding on Thursday after eight days of fighting in the Gaza Strip that claimed more than 160 lives.

Several rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel shortly after the ceasefire came into force late on Wednesday, according to Israeli police, but there were no casualties and no sign of an Israeli response.

Under the truce, which will be guaranteed by Egypt on the Palestinian side, Israel agreed to "stop all hostilities in the Gaza Strip by land, sea and air including incursions and targeting of individuals". In exchange it committed "all Palestinian factions" to "stop all hostilities from the Gaza Strip against Israel including rocket attacks and all attacks along the border".

Gazans awoke to discover the ceasefire had survived its first few hours. The mosque loudspeakers, largely silenced over the past week of fighting, resumed their dawn calls to prayer.

The area's diminished and struggling fishing fleet once again put to sea, albeit under the watch of Israeli gunboats and constrained by tight restrictions on where they can work.

Gaza City's notorious traffic jams once again began to build as Palestinians returned to work, or to clean up the wreckage of their shops and businesses. Convenience stores and cafes pulled up the shutters for the first time in a week.

But the incessant buzz of the Israeli drones, like an annoying unseen insect, is a constant reminder that a halt to the rockets is not an end to conflict.

Leaders on both sides were quick to claim victory. Khaled Meshaal, the exiled leader of Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, said at a press conference in Cairo that Israel had "failed in its adventure" when it launched attacks on Gaza and had been forced to accept Palestinian terms.

The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, said Israel had destroyed thousands of missiles as well as Hamas installations.

The conflict has claimed the lives of at least 161 Palestinians, including dozens of civilians, while five Israelis died.

Many people in Gaza regard the ceasefire as a victory for Hamas, which is seen as having resisted a deliberate escalation in violence by Netanyahu, in order to bolster support in January's general election.

The truce – announced in Cairo by Egypt's foreign minister, Mohamed Kamel Amr, and the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton – included a pledge to open border crossings. That could ease the five-year blockade of the coastal enclave, a key point certain to be the focus of differing interpretations as the dust settles.

But even as the truce was being announced, Netanyahu warned more "forceful" action might be required if the ceasefire failed, a reference to a threatened ground invasion of Gaza which was postponed by Israel after pressure from the US president.

Speaking at a press conference, Netanyahu said the operation had destroyed "thousands of missiles" as well as Hamas installations. Israel could not "sit with their arms folded" under attack, he said. He also repeated his veiled threat of a wider army operation if the ceasefire failed: "I know there are citizens expecting a more severe military action, and perhaps we shall need to do so."

Netanyahu's statement came as an instant poll by Israel's Channel 2 television revealed that 70% of Israelis opposed the ceasefire deal.

Meshaal, speaking in Cairo, welcomed the ceasefire and said "the Israeli conspiracy" that had sought election propaganda and to "test Egypt" had "failed in its objectives".

After the deal was struck Barack Obama called Netanyahu to commend him for agreeing to the Egyptian proposal and told him he would seek more money for the Iron Dome defence system that has protected Israel from rocket attacks.

Israel launched well over 1,500 air strikes and other attacks on targets in Gaza, while more than 1,000 rockets pounded Israel after the fighting began on 14 November.

Announcing the ceasefire in Cairo, Clinton commended Egypt's mediation. "This is a critical moment for the region. Egypt's new government is assuming the responsibility and leadership that has long made this country a cornerstone for regional stability and peace."

She also thanked Egypt's Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, for his mediation efforts and pledged to work with partners in the region "to consolidate this progress, improve conditions for the people of Gaza, and provide security for the people of Israel".

Despite securing support from western governments for its initial military operation against Hamas, Israel had failed to win US and European backing for a ground invasion as a series of key US allies in the region, led by Egypt and Turkey, strongly protested against the Israeli assault.

The agreed truce, mediated by Morsi and his spy chief, Mohamed Shehata, came after days of talks and frantic shuttle diplomacy involving regional leaders, the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, and Clinton.

The deal as it stands – despite comments by Clinton that efforts would continue for a wider settlement – leaves considerable areas of friction and uncertainty. However, an Israeli government source said, following the ceasefire agreement, an "ongoing dialogue will start within 24 hours" covering underlying issues of concern to both parties. They include the further relaxation of border restrictions and the issue of targeted assassinations.


It's Palestinians who have the right to defend themselves

The US and Britain stand behind Israel's onslaught on Gaza. Justice requires a change in the balance of forces on the ground

Seamus Milne   20 November 2012

Egypt Foreign Minister Amr hospital iGaza City

Egypt's foreign minister and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh (second and third from left) in a hospital in Gaza City on 20 November, visiting a Palestinian woman wounded in an Israeli air strike. Photograph: Ahmed Zakot/REUTERS

The US and Britain stand behind Israel's onslaught on Gaza. Justice requires a change in the balance of forces on the ground

The way western politicians and media have pontificated about Israel's onslaught on Gaza, you'd think it was facing an unprovoked attack from a well-armed foreign power. Israel had every "right to defend itself",Barack Obama declared. "No country on earth would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders."

He was echoed by Britain's foreign secretary, William Hague, who declared that the Palestinian Islamists of Hamas bore "principal responsibility" for Israel's bombardment of the open-air prison that is the Gaza Strip. Meanwhile, most western media have echoed Israel's claim that its assault is in retaliation for Hamas rocket attacks; the BBC speaks wearisomely of a conflict of "ancient hatreds".

In fact, an examination of the sequence of events over the last month shows that Israel played the decisive role in the military escalation: from its attack on a Khartoum arms factory reportedly supplying arms to Hamas and the killing of 15 Palestinian fighters in late October, to the shooting of a mentally disabled Palestinian in early November, the killing of a 13 year-old in an Israeli incursion and, crucially, the assassination of the Hamas commander Ahmed Jabari last Wednesday during negotiations over a temporary truce.

srael's prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, had plenty of motivation to unleash a new round of bloodletting. There was the imminence of Israeli elections (military attacks on the Palestinians are par for the course before Israeli polls); the need to test Egypt's new Muslim Brotherhood president, Mohamed Morsi, and pressure Hamas to bring other Palestinian guerrilla groups to heel; and the chance to destroy missile caches before any confrontation with Iran, and test Israel's new Iron Dome anti-missile system.

So after six days of sustained assault by the world's fourth largest military power on one of its most wretched and overcrowded territories, at least 130 Palestinians had been killed, an estimated half of them civilians, along with five Israelis. The goal, Israel's interior minister, Eli Yeshai, insisted, had been to "send Gaza back to the middle ages".

True, the bloodshed hasn't so far been on the scale of Operation Cast Lead in 2008-9, which left 1,400 Palestinians dead in three weeks. But the issue isn't just who started and escalated it, or even the grinding "disproportionality" of yet another Israeli military battering (even before last month's flareups, 314 Palestinians had been killed since 2009, as against 20 Israelis).

It's that to portray Israel as some kind of victim with every right to "defend itself" from attack from "outside its borders" is a grotesque inversion of reality. Israel has after all been in illegal occupation of both the West Bank and Gaza, where most of the population are the families of refugees who were driven out of what is now Israel in 1948, for the past 45 years.

Despite Israel's withdrawal of settlements and bases in 2005, the Gaza Strip remains occupied, both effectively and legally – and is recognised as such by the UN. Israel is in control of Gaza's land and sea borders, territorial waters and natural resources, airspace, power supply and telecommunications. It has blockaded the strip since Hamas took over in 2006-7, preventing the movement of people, materials, and food supplies in and out of the territory – even calculating the 2,279 calories per person that would keep Gazans on an exemplary "diet". And it continues to invade the strip at will.

So Gazans are an occupied people and have the right to resist, including by armed force (though not to target civilians), while Israel is an occupying power that has an obligation to withdraw – not a right to defend territories it controls or is colonising by dint of military power.

Even if Israel had genuinely ended its occupation in 2005, Gaza's people are Palestinians, and their territory part of the 22% of historic Palestine earmarked for a Palestinian state that depends on Israeli withdrawal from the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem. Across their land, Palestinians have the right to defend and arm themselves, whether they choose to exercise it or not.

But instead the US, Britain and other European powers finance, arm and back to the hilt Israel's occupation, including the siege of Gaza – precisely to prevent Palestinians obtaining the arms that would allow them to protect themselves against Israeli military might.

It's hardly surprising of course that powers which have themselves invaded, occupied and intervened across the Arab and Muslim world over the last decade should throw their weight behind Israel doing the same thing on its own doorstep. But it isn't Palestinian rockets that stop Israel lifting the blockade, dismantling its illegal settlements or withdrawing from the West Bank and Gaza – it's unconditional US and western support that gives Israel impunity.

Whatever the Israeli government's mix of motivations for winding up the past week's conflict, it seems to have backfired. For the first time since the start of the Arab uprisings, the cause of Palestine is again centre stage.

Emboldened by the wave of change and growing support across the region, Hamas has also regained credibility as a resistance force, which had faded since 2009, and strengthened its hand against an increasingly discredited Palestinian Authority leadership in Ramallah. The deployment of longer-range rockets that have now been shown to reach Tel Aviv and Jerusalem is also beginning to shift what has been an overwhelmingly one-sided balance of deterrence.

The truce being negotiated on Tuesday would reportedly enforce Hamas responsibility for policing the strip and crucially break the blockade, opening the Rafah crossing with Egypt for goods as well as people. It doesn't, however, look like the long-term security deal with Hamas Israel was looking for, which would risk deepening the disastrous Palestinian split between Gaza and the West Bank.

Any relief from the bombardment, death and suffering of the past week has got to be welcome. But no ceasefire is going to prevent another eruption of violence. Whatever is finally agreed won't end Israel's occupation and colonisation of Palestinian land or halt its war of dispossession against the Palestinian people. That demands unrelenting pressure on the western powers that underwrite it to change course. But most of all, it needs a change in the balance of forces on the ground.