The rapidly intensifying violence in the Gaza Strip has killed 52 Palestinians, including 11 children, and three Israelis so far, and is a clear example of total Israeli impunity. Israel ostensibly started its action by assassinating Ahmed Jabari, the deputy military head of the ruling Palestinian party Hamas, on November 14. By November 18, the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) had launched over 1,000 air strikes on the densely populated Gaza Strip, with additional shelling from the sea. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also called up 75,000 reservists in probable preparation for an invasion of Gaza; in true Orwellian fashion, the Israeli attack on Gaza is called “Pillar of Defence.” The IDF claims to target only Hamas weapons stores and the government headquarters, but the Jabalia refugee camp has been hit. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has spoken of “dangerous escalation” but Israel’s ambassador in the United States says the Obama administration has given Tel Aviv “full backing to take whatever measures are necessary,” and the British Foreign Secretary William Hague has condemned Hamas. President Obama has affirmed Israel’s “right to defend itself,” conveniently forgetting that any use of force pursuant to such a right must be proportionate and necessary — conditions the Israeli attacks clearly do not fulfil.
Whatever the stated provocation, several internal Israeli factors lie behind the Gaza operation. Mr. Netanyahu, who faces a general election in January 2013, has at a stroke neutralised domestic challenge. The Labor leader Shelly Yachimovich has no option but to support him over the action, as does former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who is attempting a comeback. The Prime Minister can now portray any criticism of his record on Israel’s creaking economy as anti-national, thereby excluding that from the campaign. Secondly, the claim that the Pillar of Defence is a response to a Hamas rocket attack on November 10 is untenable; the IDF killed a mentally-disturbed Palestinian man on November 4 and a 13-year-old boy on November 8. Furthermore, Israel had probably planned Mr. Jabari’s murder earlier. The Haaretz editor Aluf Benn says that as Hamas’s control over other factions dwindled, Mr. Jabari ceased to be a useful “subcontractor” maintaining the truce in the south, and therefore the Israeli government saw him as disposable. All in all, the Israeli action is an exercise in political hubris by Mr. Netanyahu; it takes him even closer to his aim of removing from public discourse the illegal Israeli presence in the Occupied Territories. But even he cannot stifle the aspirations of the Palestinian people for justice, freedom and a state of their own.