TIME Israel

Cease-Fire Ends in Gaza

APTOPIX Mideast Israel Palestinians
A Palestinian woman carries her belongings past the rubble of houses destroyed by Israeli strikes in Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza Strip, July 26, 2014. Lefteris Pitarakis—AP

Israel reports rocket fire from Gaza

Updated 3:11 p.m. ET

The Israeli military reported rocket fire from Gaza Saturday after militant Islamic group Hamas rejected Israel’s proposed extension of a truce by four hours.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri rejected an offer announced by Israeli Cabinet member Yuval Steinitz to extend the 12-hour truce by four hours, the Associated Press reports.

The end of cease-fire comes on the same day as the death toll in Gaza hit 1,000 people, according to Gaza health official Asharf al-Kidra.

Western officials including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon are currently meeting in Paris in an attempt to create a deal that could provide a longterm truce.

[AP]

TIME Israel

Israel Rejects Gaza Cease-Fire As Fresh Protests Rage in West Bank

Palestinian supporters of Hamas take shelter while clashing with Israeli security forces on July 25, 2014 near Ramallah, West Bank.
Palestinian supporters of Hamas take shelter while clashing with Israeli security forces on July 25, 2014 near Ramallah, West Bank. Andrew Burton—Getty Images

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has yet to successfully mediate a cease-fire

Palestinians marched on the Qalandia checkpoint, rocks and Molotov cocktails flew, and Israel Defense Forces soldiers responded with gunfire and tear gas. It’s 2014, but today it all looks achingly similar to 2000, the year the Second Intifada, or “uprising,” broke out.

Five West Bank Palestinians have been killed by IDF troops since Thursday night: two on Thursday night in Ramallah, and three more in the cities of Hebron and Nablus. A sixth Palestinian was killed by gunfire from a settler near the Hawara checkpoint south of Nablus, Israeli Radio reported.

“You’d better believe this is the start of the Third Intifada,” said Raed Froukh, 22. Froukh was part of a group of about 200 young Palestinians who threw rocks at Israeli soldiers Friday near a checkpoint on the outskirts of Ramallah – five minutes from the home of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas – and then ran for cover when the troops began shooting in the direction of the youths.

“Israel has been killing our people in Gaza, is refusing to allow us pray in the al Aqsa mosque, and is now shooting live bullets at demonstrators,” said Froukh. “I think this will be worse than the first two intifadas which we witnessed. And as you can see, it’s all the factions coming together to fight the occupation and show resistance everywhere we can.”

The outburst of Israeli-Palestinian violence comes against the backdrop of intense diplomatic activity, led by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, to reach a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. On Thursday, Hamas and the secular Fatah faction, led by President Abbas, presented a rare unified position, outlining joint demands for a ceasefire: First, they want Israel to lift its blockade of Gaza. Second, they want Hamas-affiliated Palestinians, released in 2011 in a prisoner exchange deal but re-arrested by Israel last month after the kidnapping and killing of three West Bank teenagers, set free once again. There are several other demands, including allowing Gazans to pray at the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem: they used to be permitted there, but some haven’t left Gaza since the Second Intifada almost 15 years ago.

Israel, meanwhile, has a different condition: The complete demilitarization of the Gaza Strip. That would prevent Hamas from preparing for that seems like an inevitable next round of fighting, given how frequently conflicts between it and Israel have cropped up in recent years. Israel’s disarmament demand mirrors that of 28 European Union foreign ministers, who also called for Hamas to be stripped of its arms this week.

Demilitarization, though, is a key sticking point standing in the way of a cease-fire deal. Gershon Baskin is an Israeli peace activist who has been involved in other back-channel cease-fire and prisoner exchange negotiations between Israel and Hamas. He said that asking Hamas to lay down all of its weapons is clearly a non-starter for the Palestinian side.

“Israel has defined its demands of ceasefire, which are probably totally unrealistic,” Baskin said. “Israel wants a demilitarization of Gaza, and if that is their demand, they probably won’t get a cease-fire.”

But neither has Hamas shown flexibility on the other demand, that of an immediate end to the violence. It has patently rejected Kerry’s proposal for a two-stage cease-fire – an immediate cessation of all hostilities followed by a five-day or one-week period to negotiate the exact terms. Meanwhile, Israel’s cabinet on Friday also rejected Kerry’s idea, according to Israeli media.

While Kerry and the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, kept trying to find the right cease-fire formula, the fighting plodded on. The IDF continued to attack Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip Friday, and Hamas kept lobbing rockets into Israel.

Still, the world’s attention on Friday turned to the West Bank, on a day poised for upheaval. The bloodshed in Gaza, with the death toll standing at 832 Palestinians (and 38 Israelis, most of them soldiers), has West Bank Palestinians outraged. Throughout the week, Palestinians in the West Bank had been gearing up to hold a rally, dubbed the #48Kmarch, to protest IDF actions in Gaza. That demonstration, which attracted thousands of Palestinians, came after recent rioting in Shuafat, a Palestinian neighborhood of northern Jerusalem under Israeli control. Those protests followed the death of a Palestinian teenager, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, who was kidnapped and killed earlier this month. The murder was allegedly committed by Israeli extremists in revenge for the June 12 kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teens in the West Bank – Naftali Frenkel, Eyal Yifrah, Gilad Sha’er – which prompted Israel to launch a campaign of night raids and arrests around the West Bank. Following the raids and arrests, Hamas in Gaza began launching rockets at Israel daily, and about a week later, Israel launched “Operation Protective Edge,” its invasion of Gaza.

Thursday night and Friday also happened to be Laylat al-Qadr – usually translated as “Night of Destiny” or “Night of Power” – one of the holiest days of Ramadan. The killing of two Palestinians during the protests led Fatah and other Palestinian factions to declare Friday a “day of rage in support of bleeding, besieged Gaza.” Hamas spokesmen in the Gaza Strip urged Palestinians to use the moment launch a new intifada against Israel.

Samira Hamdan, 36, was one of many Palestinians who hung back and watched the slightly younger and mostly male Palestinians charge at the Israeli soldiers with rocks outside Ramallah, then attempt to escape to safety when the shooting ensues – a well-worn dance of years past.

“I am saddened to say that it really does feel like this is the Third Intifada,” she said. “This means more deaths and harsher conditions than ever before. But it’s not just Gaza or Mohammed Abu Khdeir. It’s the night invasions of homes, the re-imprisonment of released prisoners, and more deaths which have caused the Palestinian people to explode.”

- with reporting by Rami Nazzal in Ramallah

TIME Middle East

Hamas Still Has Some Friends Left

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters at parliament in Ankara, Turkey, July 22, 2014.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters at parliament wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh, in Ankara, July 22, 2014. Burhan Ozbilici—AP

Though Egypt has turned its back on Hamas, other countries are coming in from the cold

With the fighting in Gaza intensifying daily, the ruling militant group Hamas is finding itself pushed to the limit. Trying to match Israel’s vast military might is an impossible task, and even finding the resources to launch rocket attacks against Israeli targets could only be achieved by heavy foreign investment.

But which country wants to invest in Hamas? The West certainly doesn’t. The militant Palestinian organization has been a firm fixture on the United States’ Foreign Terrorist Organizations list since 1997. Hamas’ only hope is its neighbors in the Arab world.

Hamas has two clear allies, according to Middle East experts: Qatar and Turkey. Both have given Hamas their public support and financial assistance estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

“Qatar also hosts Hamas’ political bureau which includes Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal,” says Shashank Joshi, Senior Research Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute. “Qatar has a long history of providing shelter to Islamist groups, amongst them the Muslim Brotherhood and the Taliban.”

Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party, which came to power in 2002, supports what Joshi calls “other neo-Islamist allies.” Though the Turkish government explicitly rejects the label “Islamist”, their social conservatism is inspired by an Islamic ideology that Hamas shares. Last year, Meshaal visited Turkey and met with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for several hours.

Both Qatar — one of the world’s richest states — and Turkey are powerful allies to have, but Hamas might wish for more support given the breadth of the Arab world. It once had it, too. Hamas used to be strongly allied with both Iran and Syria, with the former giving Hamas an estimated $13-15 million a month as recently as 2011, as well as long-range missiles. Hamas’ political bureau used to be based in the Syrian capital of Damascus before its move to Qatar in 2012.

But relations cooled dramatically with Iran and Syria amid sectarian divisions following the outbreak of the Syrian civil war. Iran, a Shia-majority country, backed the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad whose Alawite faith is a branch of Shia Islam. Hezbollah, a powerful Shia Islamist group based in Lebanon, also took Assad’s side.

However Hamas, a Sunni-led faction, sided, as most of the Arab world did, with the rebels. Cue Tehran cutting their allowance, Hezbollah allegedly ordering Hamas members out of Lebanon, and Hamas packing their bags for Qatar.

“Iran’s relationship with Hamas was always problematic,” says Chris Doyle, director of the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding. “Hamas is a Palestinian Sunni group and Iran is Shia. Nevertheless, Hamas was their entry into the issue of Palestine.”

Seeking to regain its influence over this issue, Iran has attempted to foster a reconciliation with Hamas over the last 18 months. Farwaz Gerges, professor on the Middle East at the London School of Economics says the conflict in Gaza is the reason. “The current crisis has brought a kind of rapprochement between Iranian leaders and Hamas.”

Hezbollah too, Gerges notes, has invited Hamas back into the fold. On Monday, the Hezbollah-owned television channel Al Manar reported that Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, praised Meshaal for “the persistence of the Hamas resistance.” The TV station added he “strongly supported their rightful demands to end the current battle.”

Gerges is quick to point out that this doesn’t signal “a return to the warm days of the Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas leaders.” However he adds: “Out of this particular crisis, a new realignment might happen.” That may sound like good news for Hamas, but there’s another Arab country that is of late vehemently opposed to it. That would be Egypt, the largest and most influential country in the Arab world and the one responsible for drafting a potential cease-fire.

From 2012 to 2013, Hamas enjoyed Egypt’s munificence under the leadership of former President Mohamed Morsi, a longtime member of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood of which Hamas is an offshoot. When Morsi was ousted last year and replaced with Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, Hamas knew the good times were over.

“The most devastating thing that has happened to Hamas is the ousting of Mohamed Morsi,” comments Gerges. Sisi, whose government has orchestrated a violent crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, destroyed Hamas’ tunnel network into Egypt and closed the border crossing at Rafah, devastating Hamas’ finances. The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, two of Egypt’s financial backers, are also hostile to Hamas. Like Egypt, they view the Muslim Brotherhood as a clear domestic threat — and Hamas is guilty by association.

But perhaps Hamas doesn’t need Egypt. As the death toll continues to rise in Gaza, there is a groundswell of public sympathy across the Arab world for the group.

“Hamas in terms of people on the street is at the height of its political power in every single Arab country with the exception of Egypt,” says Gerges. “The longer the conflict continues, the more they gain in popularity. And for Hamas, what really matters is the public pulse.”

TIME Morning Must Reads

Morning Must Reads: July 25

Capitol
The early morning sun rises behind the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

In the news: Secretary of State John Kerry proposes plan to halt the fighting in the Gaza Strip; Obama Administration considers refugee status for Honduras; Veteran Affairs reform efforts break up; New Jersey Governor Chris Christie battered by fellow Republican governors

  • “Secretary of State John Kerry has proposed a two-stage plan to halt the fighting in the Gaza Strip that would first impose a weeklong truce starting Sunday…” [NYT]
    • “Gaza officials said Israeli strikes killed 27 people on Friday, including the head of media operations for Hamas ally Islamic Jihad and his son. They put the number of Palestinian deaths in 18 days of conflict at 819, most of them civilians.” [Reuters]
  • “U.S. defense and diplomatic officials said Thursday that Russia is firing artillery across its border at Ukrainian military positions, an assertion that Moscow now is directly engaging in hostilities against Ukrainian government forces.” [WSJ]
  • “When President Obama issues executive orders on immigration in coming weeks, pro-reform activists are expecting something dramatic: temporary relief from deportation and work authorization for perhaps several million undocumented immigrants. If the activists are right, the sweeping move would upend a contentious policy fight and carry broad political consequences.” [TIME]
    • “Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus plan to meet with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and White House counsel Neil Eggleston at the White House on Friday morning.” [TIME]
  • “Hoping to stem the recent surge of migrants at the Southwest border, the Obama administration is considering whether to allow hundreds of minors and young adults from Honduras into the United States without making the dangerous trek through Mexico…” [NYT]
  • How VA Reform Fell Apart In Less Than 4 Days [HuffPost]
  • “Boehner told reporters that the House will pass a short-term continuing resolution to keep the government open sometime in September, avoiding a government shutdown that would otherwise occur on the last day of the month. The legislation would likely expire in early December…” [National Journal]
  • Chris Christie Battered By His GOP Rivals on Governors’ Circuit [TIME]
  • The drug that’s forcing America’s most importatant—and uncomfortable—health-care debate [WashPost]

A brief message from Michael Scherer, TIME Washington D.C. bureau chief:

We will hold an #AskTIME subscriber Q&A this Friday, July 25, at 1 p.m., with TIME’s political correspondent Zeke Miller, who covers the White House and national politics, and congressional reporter Alex Rogers.

You can submit your questions beforehand on Twitter using the #AskTIME hashtag or in the comments of this post. For this to work, we depend on smart, interesting questions from readers.

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TIME Palestine

Tensions Swell in the West Bank as Gaza Offensive Rages

An Israeli armed vehicle seen passing near the Israeli-Gaza border on July 25, 2014 near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip.
An Israeli armed vehicle seen passing near the Israeli-Gaza border on July 25, 2014 near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip. Ilia Yefimovich—Getty Images

Israel rejected a cease-fire proposal from U.S. Secretary or State John Kerry as thousands of demonstrators raged against the Israeli military’s operation in the Gaza Strip

Tensions in the occupied Palestinian territories remained high Friday as Israel rejected a cease-fire proposal from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry amid ongoing clashes between protesters and Israeli authorities in the West Bank and Gaza.

At least five Palestinians were killed near the Qalandiyah checkpoint in the West Bank and another 200 injured after Israeli security forces fired live rounds into the crowd, reports The Los Angeles Times. An Israeli military spokesman told the Washington Post that an estimated 10,000 protesters “were rioting violently” on Thursday night, prompting the violent crackdown by riot police.

Israeli news outlets said the West Bank demonstrations were the largest since a five-year uprising in the territory ended in 2005. Palestinian leaders have called for the observance of a day of anger, which prompted Israel to dispatch thousands of security officials to Jerusalem’s Old City ahead of Friday prayers.

A number of diplomatic envoys, including U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, have been canvassing the region to try to broker a truce.

In Cairo Friday for meetings with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukry and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Secretary Kerry called for a cease-fire on humanitarian grounds lasting at least five days amid a mounting civilian death toll in the conflict. Israeli’s security cabinet met Friday in Tel Aviv to discuss the temporary cease-fire and rejected the proposal, which would have gone into effect Sunday, reports Haaretz.

The Egyptian government tabled a U.S.-backed cease-fire proposal earlier this month calling for a cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hamas before negotiations over a seven-year blockade of Gaza commence. Israel endorsed the deal, while Hamas has continued to call for an end to the siege before signing a truce.

“The Israelis somehow seem to think they can do something through Egypt, where the present regime hates Hamas as much as it hates its own Muslim brethren,” Peter Sluglett, director of the Middle East Institute of National University of Singapore, tells TIME. “Really there is no future in that.”

Cairo has traditionally helped broker peace deals with Israel in the past, including the last cease-fire it signed with Hamas in 2012. However, experts say the calculus in Egypt has shifted since a military coup ousted the pro-Hamas Muslim Brotherhood from power a year ago.

Following the putsch, the Egyptian military dismantled numerous tunnels linking the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza, which has increased the choke hold on the Strip’s economy and brought Hamas’s finances to a breaking point.

“What is important to me is there should be a genuine guarantee to lift the siege on Gaza,” said Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal during an interview on BBC’s Hardtalk this week. “These promises have been made in the past. Nothing was done.”

Rather than continue to work through Cairo, analysts have suggested a shift to Qatar, where Meshaal is currently based.

“I genuinely believe that the international community should do a few things,” says Sultan Barakat, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center. “One is maybe turn its attention to Qatar instead of Egypt as a potential place for mediation given that Qatar, unlike Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world, continues its contacts with Hamas.”

As diplomatic wrangling over a potential peace deal continued, Israel’s military offensive in the Gaza Strip carried on.

The U.N. Offices for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported on Friday that 814 people in the Palestinian coastal territory have been killed since the military offensive began, the vast majority of whom are civilians. At least 37 Israelis have died during the fighting, including two civilians and a foreign laborer.

On Friday morning, the Israel Defense Forces reportedly struck 30 targets and claimed to kill a senior Islamic Jihad militant.

TIME Israel-Gaza conflict

As Israel Fights Hamas in Gaza, Egypt Plays the Peacemaker Once Again

APTOPIX Mideast Israel Palestinians
Smoke from an Israeli strike rises over Gaza City on July 24, 2014. Adel Hana—AP

Egypt craves Western and Arab approval but fears strengthening Hamas

John Kerry, the beleaguered U.S. Secretary of State, arrived in Cairo Monday to try and broker another cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas, a Palestinian militant group which controls the Gaza Strip. But it’s not the U.S. that’s most likely to get a deal done – it’s Egypt.

Egypt has often played the role of negotiator when conflicts between Israel and Hamas have bubbled up in the past. Former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak brokered a cease-fire between them in 2009. After Mubarak was given the boot in 2011, it was left to Mohamed Morsi to negotiate the next truce.

Cairo, though, has a rough road ahead. Israel and Hamas aren’t likely to seek a cease-fire just yet, as both are claiming successes in their latest bout of violence. Israel says it’s destroying Hamas’ tunnel network. Hamas, meanwhile managed to scare several international airlines away from flying to Israel for a few days for fear of rocket attacks. It also claimed to have captured an Israeli soldier.

Egypt’s position as peacemaker dates back to 1979, when then-president Anwar Sadat, exhausted by Egypt’s 30 years of war with Israel, signed a peace agreement between the two countries. It was a deeply controversial decision — Israel is not, and was not, considered a traditional ally by other Arab countries. Sadat was assassinated two years later.

“In the intervening 35 years [since 1979], Egypt has always played an important role, both because of its geography and the peace treaty,” says Robert Danin, Senior Fellow at the Council for Foreign Relations. “It is the largest Arab country and still has a leadership role.”

Yet for Egypt’s current president, Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, who took control after playing a key role in ousting the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood’s Morsi, the peace treaty and its accompanying accord agreeing to Palestinian autonomy no longer carry much weight.

“The view in the west is Egypt has traditionally played [the role of peacemaker] and this is a role they should play now,” says Eric Trager, Wagner Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “But Sisi is in an existential conflict with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and Hamas is the Palestinian equivalent. Egypt views Hamas as the same as the enemy they’re fighting at home … It’s not going to offer cease-fire terms that are at all favorable to Hamas.”

International diplomacy isn’t exactly at the top of Sisi’s agenda, either. Facing upheavals in Egypt’s Western Desert and the Sinai, plus the ever-present threat of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s president has his own domestic conflicts to sort out.

It’s easy to assume that a prolonged war between Israel and Hamas would benefit Egypt, who wants to see Hamas weakened. But Danin thinks otherwise, as Egypt’s Arab partners put pressure on it to act.

‘”At a certain point [conflict] isn’t [beneficial],” says Danin. “When things get out of hand, the perception in the Arab world is that Israel is slaughtering Palestinians … it puts Egypt in a difficult position.”

Egypt’s acting as a negotiator not only appeases the Arab world — its financial backers in the Gulf States particularly — but the U.S. as well.

“Sisi needs to establish his credibility in the West,” says Dr. Claire Spencer, Head of the Middle East and North Africa Program at Chatham House. Brokering a cease-fire presents “Egypt as a power to be reckoned with,” she adds.

If Egypt can help put an end to Israel’s current invasion in Gaza, it will be lauded as a peacemaker and a key player in international diplomacy. Yet Sisi may have darker motives for getting involved with negotiations. Cairo’s current record on rule of law, democracy and human rights is dubious, to say the least. The recent sentencing of three Al-Jazeera journalists to seven years in jail is only one example of this. “When people are focusing on Israel this is good,” says Danin. “It means people aren’t focusing on Egypt.”

Sisi, then, is torn. Arranging a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas will paint him as a hero to the West and the Arab world, both sick of the bloodshed in Gaza. Yet any cease-fire that benefits Hamas will cost him support amongst his party and strengthen an enemy. Caught in this deadlock, a truce looks unlikely. Whatever Sisi suggests, Hamas is almost sure to refuse.

TIME Middle East

Explosions at Gaza School Kill at Least 16, Health Ministry Says

A Palestinian man holds a girl injured during shelling at a U.N.-run school sheltering Palestinians, at a hospital in the northern Gaza Strip on July 24, 2014.
A Palestinian man holds a girl injured during shelling at a U.N.-run school sheltering Palestinians, at a hospital in the northern Gaza Strip on July 24, 2014. Alessio Romenzi for TIME

An estimated 750 Palestinians and at least 32 Israeli soldiers have been killed in Gaza since Israel began its operation to counter rocket strikes from Hamas

Updated at 7:50 p.m. ET

At least 16 people were killed after a U.N.-run school sheltering Palestinians in northern Gaza was destroyed, officials said on Thursday.

According to the Gaza Health Ministry, 200 people were wounded in the attack. This marks the fourth time that a UN facility has been hit since Israel began Operation Protective Edge on July 8, the BBC reports.

Nearly 750 Palestinians and at least 32 Israeli soldiers have been killed in the fighting, which intensified last week when Israel launched a ground operation to destroy tunnels used by Hamas to deploy a regular stream of rockets into Israel.

The international community has struggled to broker a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, the militant group that controls the Gaza Strip, even as the United Nations has condemned both sides in the conflict.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said Wednesday there was a “strong possibility” that Israel was committing war crimes in Gaza while also condemning the indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed “outrage and regret” after rockets were found to have been stored inside a UN building in Gaza.

A spokesman for the Israeli military, Lt. Colonel Peter Lerner, said that it was possible that the damage had been caused by Hamas rocket fire, Reuters reports. “We don’t strike schools. We don’t strike U.N. facilities. We do not target the United Nations,” he was quoted in the New York Times.

More than 140,000 Palestinians have been displaced in Gaza since the fighting, many of whom have taken shelter in UN buildings, the UN has said.

According to CBS, survivors at the school on Thursday said they were warned that the school was being targeted and were preparing to leave when Israeli forces opened fire. The Israeli military told CBS it was reviewing the incident.

[BBC]

An earlier version of this story drew a premature conclusion that the attack on the Gaza shelter was committed by Israel. The source of the attack has not yet been confirmed.

TIME In the Arena

In Gaza, a Just but Bloody War

Gaza Strip, Gaza City: Relatives of four boys, all from the Bakr family, killed by Israeli naval bombardment, mourn during their funeral in Gaza City, on July 16, 2014. . ALESSIO ROMENZI
Relatives of four boys from the Bakr family, mourning at their funeral in Gaza City, July 16, 2014. Alessio Romenzi

Hamas provoked this round, and Israel had no choice but to respond

Clarification appended July 27, 2014

Ori Nir is a man of Peace. He was born and raised in Jerusalem, spent many years as a prominent journalist for Ha’aretz, Israel’s finest newspaper, and is now the spokesman for Americans for Peace Now. He is not shy about disagreeing with the Israeli government, especially when it comes to the illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the general bellicosity of Benjamin Netanyahu’s regime. But he hasn’t protested the current Israeli incursion into Gaza. “It is a just war,” he told me, “carried out with a great deal of care.”

This may seem surprising to people who don’t follow the Middle East as closely as Nir does, and you might rightly ask, Why is this incursion different from all other Israeli incursions? Because Hamas, which was in an existential jam this spring, needed a new strategy. It had lost its prime ally in the region when the Egyptian army overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood. (Hamas is the official Palestinian branch of the Brotherhood.) It also alienated another of its supporters, Iran, when it sided with the Brotherhood against Bashar Assad in Syria. Opposition within Gaza to Hamas’ corruption and misrule was also on the rise. What to do?

Provoke Israel. It had worked in the past. A kidnapping of Israeli soldiers on the northern border had led to Israel’s less-than-discriminate assault on Hizballah in Lebanon in 2006. Rocket attacks had provoked Israel’s two previous Gaza incursions, in 2008 and 2012. Hamas and Hizballah had “won” those wars because their fighters resisted the Israelis more effectively than conventional Arab armies had done in the past but also because the images of collapsed buildings and blood-soaked children had bolstered Israel’s growing reputation as an oppressor and a bully in the eyes of the world.

This time is different, however, for several reasons. The initial provocation, the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers, was indefensible, as was a retaliatory murder of a Palestinian teen. In a moment of moral clarity, Hamas lauded its kidnappers, while a furious Netanyahu called the retaliation “reprehensible.” Indeed, Israel’s actions have been more prudent across the board. It confined its bombing at first to Hamas’ military facilities and leaders. Civilians were killed in the process–as was Hamas’ intent–but these were targeted strikes, not the free-range assault on Gaza City that had occurred in Operation Cast Lead in 2008. The ground campaign that followed was limited as well, confined to Shejaiya, a neighborhood on the eastern outskirts of Gaza City that was a warren of Palestinian fighters and the launch point for a very elaborate tunnel system from Gaza to Israel. The fighting has been brutal, to be sure. More than 500 Palestinians and 32 Israeli soldiers have been killed. But it was not an indiscriminate massacre. Israel was protecting its border, the right of any sovereign nation; its citizens were threatened by Palestinian assaults at the receiving end of the tunnels (several of which were attempted, and foiled, during the fighting). “I don’t like the civilian casualties that result from bombing the homes of the Hamas leaders,” Nir says. “And what’s happening in Shejaiya is horrible, but I think it falls within the normal rules of war. The moral bottom line seems clear.” And then, semi-amazed to be doing so, he quoted Netanyahu: “‘We’re using missile defense to protect our civilians, and they’re using their civilians to protect their missiles.'”

There have been the predictable anti-Israel riots in Europe, mostly populated by Islamic groups; the parlor left has been appalled, on cue, by the alleged Israeli brutality–without questioning the deadly cynicism of Hamas. Meanwhile, Hamas has been outfoxed diplomatically: it opposed the cease-fire agreement proposed by Egypt, which Israel–and the Arab League–supported. If you’re really the aggrieved party, it’s not easy to explain why you won’t accept peace. By now, in a reasonable world, Hamas would have lost all remaining shreds of its tenuous moral credibility.

A cease-fire will be negotiated sooner or later, perhaps even by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. It is likely that nothing good will come of it. But Hamas’ weakness, its inability to dictate terms, does leave a tiny possibility for peace. The first step is to restore legal order in Gaza by returning the Palestinian Authority–ousted by Hamas in a 2007 coup–to power and bringing in the U.S.-trained Palestinian security forces who have done such an excellent job of bringing law and order to the West Bank. The next step is free elections in Gaza, which, given Hamas’ current unpopularity, might be won by more moderate factions, perhaps even Fatah.

This is the Middle East, of course. Israel remains intransigent on a West Bank agreement. Peace is a chimera; only the dead bodies are real.

TO READ JOE’S BLOG POSTS, GO TO time.com/politics

Clarification: The views expressed by Ori Nir in this column are his own and not those of Americans for Peace Now.

TIME Middle East

UN Human Rights Council Launches Inquiry into Gaza Conflict

Displaced Palestinians from Beit Hanoun sleep inside the UNRWA school in Jabalia, July 23, 2014.
Displaced Palestinians from Beit Hanoun sleep inside the UNRWA school in Jabalia, July 23, 2014. Alessio Romenzi for TIME

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calls vote to open inquiry a "travesty"

Updated 6:30am ET

The UN Human Rights Council voted Wednesday to launch an inquiry into potential violations of human rights by Israel in its conflict with Hamas in the Gaza Strip — a move Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quickly labeled a “travesty.”

The council’s inquiry would investigate “all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law” in Palestinian areas. The resolution was drafted by Palestine, and supported by 29 of the 46-member council. The U.S. voted against the resolution, while European countries abstained.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed the UNHRC inquiry as a “travesty” and condemned the organization for failing to bring Hamas to account for its own conduct.

“The UNHRC is sending a message to Hamas and terror organizations everywhere that using civilians as human shields is an effective strategy,” said the prime minister in statement published on his official Facebook page.

The vote came after the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay suggested that war crimes might have been committed in the Gaza Strip, accusing Israel of doing too little to avoid civilian deaths, and condemning Hamas for “indiscriminate attacks” on Israel.

“There seems to be a strong possibility that international humanitarian law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes,” Pillay told the U.N. Human Rights Council. “Every one of these incidents must be properly and independently investigated.”

Civilian casualties in Gaza have soared, according to the UN. As of Thursday, 757 Palestinians had been killed, of which 571 were civilians, including 182 children and 95 women, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. At least 30 Israelis have also been killed during the conflict, mostly members of the armed forces.

Israeli tanks and aircraft continued their thrust into the sliver of Palestinian coastal territory on Thursday, aiming to eliminate Hamas’s rocket systems and destroy the matrix of tunnels that Israel says the Islamist group uses to wage war.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said it struck 35 targets overnight. But there were more reports of Palestinian civilians killed; six members of the same family and an 18-month-old infant boy were killed when an Israeli airstrike hit the Jebaliya refugee camp, according to the Associated Press.

While whispers of a possible humanitarian truce ahead of the upcoming Eid al-Fitr festival wafted through the social media sphere this week, there have been no concrete signs that such an armistice will be signed. “It would not be accurate to say that we expect a ceasefire by the weekend,” said a U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to Reuters.

A smattering of international envoys have been shuttling across the Middle East throughout the week in attempt to wrangle up some sort of agreement that remained elusive as of Thursday morning.

In Qatar, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal signaled that the organization would consider a humanitarian ceasefire with Israel, but reiterated that his group would not strike a deal with the Netanyahu Administration until Israel agreed to end its seven-year blockade of Gaza.

“We will not accept any proposal that does not lift the blockade,” said the Hamas chief in a televised address Wednesday. “We do not desire war and we do not want it to continue but we will not be broken by it.”

Analysts say Israel is facing mounting global pressure as civilian losses grow in Gaza, but add that Hamas is facing plenty of pressures of its own.

“Hamas is on the receiving end and they can only go a certain distance in terms of absorbing losses and holding a united front within Gaza,” Sultan Barakat, the director of research at the Brookings Doha Center, tells TIME. “Soon they will run out of supplies. There will be an increased number of people displaced within Gaza and people will turn their anger towards them.”

TIME Foreign Policy

FAA Lifts Its Ban on Flights to Israel

Mideast Israel Palestinians
A departure flight board displays various canceled and delayed flights in Ben Gurion International airport a day after the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration imposed a 24-hour restriction on flights. The ban has now been lifted. Dan Balilty—AP

The agency says it has "carefully reviewed" new safety measures being taken by the Israeli government

Under pressure from Israeli and American officials, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) lifted a temporary ban on flights by American carriers to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport late on Wednesday night.

The ban, issued midday Tuesday after a rocket fired from Gaza struck within one mile of the airfield, was rescinded 36 hours later, the FAA said in a statement. The move clears the way for U.S.-based airlines to resume flights to Israel’s main international gateway.

“The FAA has lifted its restrictions on U.S. airline flights into and out of Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport by canceling a Notice to Airmen it renewed earlier today,” the agency said.

“The cancellation is effective at approximately 11:45 p.m. EDT. Before making this decision, the FAA worked with its U.S. government counterparts to assess the security situation in Israel and carefully reviewed both significant new information and measures the Government of Israel is taking to mitigate potential risks to civil aviation.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lobbied Secretary of State John Kerry Tuesday evening to rescind the ban, as Israeli officials argued the American government was giving Hamas a victory. The airport is a mere 50 miles from Gaza, the scene of intense fighting between Hamas fighters and the Israeli military, who are determined to halt the firing of rockets into Israel. Many of the rockets have been intercepted by the U.S.-backed Iron Dome missile shield.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg boarded an El Al flight late Tuesday to protest the FAA’s decision, declaring the airport safer than American counterparts in an interview with CNN Wednesday from Jerusalem. “The fact that one rocket falls far away from this airport, a mile away, doesn’t mean you should shut down air traffic into a country and paralyze the country,” he said.

Kerry, who arrived at the airfield Wednesday aboard a U.S. military plane, was apparently not troubled by the security situation. “He and our whole team were very comfortable landing at Ben Gurion Airport,” State Department deputy press secretary Marie Harf told reporters.

The FAA ban followed days after the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukrainian airspace that the FAA had not believed to be unsafe for flight — an oversight that has drawn scrutiny after the deaths of the aircraft’s 298 passengers and crew. The FAA said it would continue monitoring the situation for any continuing security issues.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday Texas Sen. Ted Cruz promised to place a procedural hold in the Senate on all Obama administration nominees to the State Department until his questions on the FAA were answered. He accused Obama of using the flight ban to pressure Israel into accepting a ceasefire with Hamas to end the weeks-long conflict.

“The facts suggest that President Obama has just used a federal regulatory agency to launch an economic boycott on Israel, in order to try to force our ally to comply with his foreign-policy demands,” Cruz said in a statement.

The State Department’s Harf rejected Cruz’s assertions as “offensive and ridiculous.” Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes said Tuesday that the White House would not overrule a security decision by the FAA.

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