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Israel's Operation in Gaza: Frequently Asked Questions

Posted: January 22, 2009

Why did Israel undertake this military action in Gaza?

Why did Israel institute a unilateral cease fire?

Israel's actions seem so extreme. Didn't they inflict excessive damage on the Palestinians in Gaza?

Wasn't Israel's military operation disproportionate to the threat from Hamas rockets? Wasn't the damage inflicted on Gazans disproportionate?

Isn't Hamas just 'fighting against the Israeli occupation?'

What about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza?

Is this the end of the peace process?

Why did Israel undertake this military action in Gaza?

Israel's military action in Gaza was in response to the nearly constant barrage of rockets and missiles launched by Hamas and other terrorist organizations in Gaza. Israel's military objective was to end Hamas' ability to launch rockets into Israel and to prevent Hamas from smuggling in further weapons and materiel. Israel is fulfilling its duty and responsibility to protect the people of southern Israel who have been terrorized by eight years of a deadly rocket assault by Hamas. 

Israel is not at war or in conflict with the people of Gaza or the Palestinian people.  Israel's action was directed against the terrorist organization Hamas and its operational infrastructure.   Israel's operations in the air and on the ground targeted Hamas operational centers, storage depots, workshops, production facilities, smuggling tunnels, rocket launching pads and Hamas gunmen.
 
For years, Hamas has built up its military resources and know-how with the sole intention of attacking Israel and its population centers.  Since Israel's 2005 disengagement from Gaza and Hamas' violent take over of the Gaza Strip in June 2007, Hamas has launched thousands of rockets against cities in Israel's south, well inside the internationally accepted borders of the State of Israel established in 1948.  Hamas temporarily eased its rocket attacks following an Egyptian-brokered six-month "period of calm" in June 2008.  As this period drew to a close, Hamas began to once again fire rockets and mortars into Sderot, Ashkelon, and other densely populated centers in Israel's south, launching more than sixty rockets on December 25 alone.  Since the start of Israel's operation on December 27, more than 800 rockets and mortars have attacked Israel.   On December 30, Hamas rockets reached the Israeli city of Beer Sheva.  On January 6, rockets hit the central Israeli city of Gadera.  Today, more than 900,000 Israeli civilians live with range of Hamas rocket attacks.

Israel's ability to survive and prosper for decades in a region where enemies abound has been due to its strength and deterrence which prevented cross-border aggression because of fear of a massive Israeli response. Hamas has challenged that deterrence capability through their rocket campaign, which was  growing more and more lethal. Indeed, in the days before Israel began its operation, Hamas pledged that its artillery will soon be able to reach Israel's heartland, threatening millions of Israeli civilians, and called for the resumption of suicide bombing attacks within Israeli cities and the assassination of Israeli leadership.

Weapons technology advances mean that in the future, Israel will likely have to deal with the specter of missiles armed with chemical weapons. Israel understood that it must end the barrage now or else it will never end, and will continue to jeopardize Israel's fundamental security and existence as an independent state.

No sovereign government in the world would stand by and allow its citizens to be under steady and heavy attack. In light of the unceasing attacks, Israel had no choice but to act against Hamas and eliminate its operational capabilities.

As President Barack Obama said when he visited the beleaguered town of Sderot in July 2008, "If somebody was sending rockets into my house, where my two daughters sleep at night, I'm going to do everything in my power to stop that."

Why did Israel institute a unilateral cease fire?

Israel had no wish to conduct its military operation in Gaza any longer than necessary.  At the same time, a premature cease fire, with Hamas preserving its ability to launch rockets on Israel and smuggle in advanced weaponry, would mean that Israeli civilians were still threatened. 

On January 17, Israel announced it was unilaterally ending its operation in Gaza.  Israel's decision to undertake this unilateral cease fire followed the January 16 signing of a Memorandum of Understanding Between The United States and Israel Regarding Prevention of the Supply of Arms and Related Materiel to Terrorist Groups.  The MOU, signed by Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Israel Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in Washington D.C., provided Israel with the assurance that the United States will be a partner in preventing the flow of arms and military equipment to Hamas. 

Following these guarantees, Israel agreed to a one-week cease fire to enable negotiators to work out firm guidelines for ending Hamas' smuggling of weaponry into Gaza, and guarantees to stop Hamas rocket fire into Israel.   By January 21, all Israel troops had left Gaza.  This cease fire is also intended to enable humanitarian assistance to flow into Gaza and reach those residents that require medical care and other aid. 

However, any long-term cease fire agreement involving Israel and Hamas must also include the active support and participation of the international community, particularly the U.S., Europe and regional neighbors, in order to ensure that Hamas will be prevented from launching rockets, attacking Israel, and smuggling in weapons.

Israel's actions seem so extreme. Didn't they inflict excessive damage on the Palestinians in Gaza?

Civilian injuries and death are regrettable and tragic and throughout its operation, Israel took serious measures to avoid harming civilians. The targets chosen by the Israel Defense Forces were Hamas operational centers, most of which were  deliberately located in densely populated areas. The targets included Hamas command centers, training camps, rocket manufacturing facilities, storage warehouses and tunnels used to smuggle arms. It cannot be forgotten that Hamas cynically and deliberately put ordinary Palestinians in harm's way by establishing its terrorist infrastructure – manufacturing, storage, training and strategic planning – within densely populated areas, in homes, schools, mosques and hospitals. Israel enacted procedures to warn civilians though leafleting and phone calls, that their neighborhoods and buildings were located in the vicinity of military operations and urged  them to leave the area.

Additionally, Hamas inserted itself within the civilian population of Gaza,  fighting in civilian clothing, making it all the more difficult to distinguish between civilians and terrorist. According the Israeli military intelligence officials, Hamas stashed weapons in houses, schoolyards, mosques and the leadership bunkered beneath a major hospital in Gaza.

Wasn't Israel's military operation disproportionate to the threat from Hamas rockets?  Wasn't the damage inflicted on Gazans disproportionate?

Solely on the basis of the relative number of casualties, some have criticized Israel's operations in Gaza for being "disproportionate" in comparison to Hamas' launching of rockets into Israel.

While the significantly, higher number of casualties among the people in Gaza is indisputable, it is important to note that the concept of proportionality in war is a complex legal term that has been interpreted by international tribunals and is not based on a quantitative comparison of the number of casualties on each side of the conflict. 

Israel's actions were taken in self-defense, a right given to every nation. An equitable number of casualties on both sides does not determine whether a country's response was "proportionate."  Indeed, according to the president of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, Rosalyn Higgins, proportionality "cannot be in relation to any specific prior injury - it has to be in relation to the overall legitimate objective of ending the aggression."  Under international law, Israel is not required to calibrate its use of force precisely according to the size and range of the weaponry used against it.  For instance, Israel is not expected to make Kassam rockets and lob them back into Gaza.

In other words, if a state, like Israel, is facing aggression, then proportionality addresses whether force was specifically used by Israel to bring an end to the armed attack against it. By implication, force becomes excessive if it is employed for another purpose, like causing unnecessary harm to civilians.  Proportionality is not measured by the number of civilians actually killed, but rather by the risk posed.  Israel has shown the greatest possible restraint and makes a determined effort to limit Palestinian casualties. Whenever possible, the Israel Defense Forces respond to Palestinian violence in a directed manner, at carefully specified targets. 

Tragically, innocent Palestinians were caught in the crossfire.  But as the Advisor to Palestinian Authority President, Nimr Hammad, stated on December 29, 2008, "The one responsible for the massacres is Hamas, and not the Zionist entity, which in its own view reacted to the firing of Palestinian missiles. Hamas needs to stop treating the blood of Palestinians lightly."

One can also not diminish the ongoing trauma caused by eight years of Hamas rocket attacks on civilian centers in Southern Israel.  When the alarm is sounded, no matter where they are or what they are doing – taking  a shower, shopping for food, in the classroom, going to work – residents have 15 seconds to reach shelter or risk being killed or injured. In the city of Sderot, for example, where the majority of rockets have fallen over the past eight years, mental health professionals have documented the trauma experienced by children and adults alike, many of whom endure nightmares, panic attacks, and are afraid of going about their daily lives for fear of being caught unprotected during a missile strike.  For the children in Sderot, the trauma is most intense.  They are more accustomed to daily siren alarms and the regular rush to a bomb shelter than to an innocent play date with friends.

Isn't Hamas just 'fighting against the Israeli occupation?'

The Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip is not under Israeli occupation. Israel fully redeployed from the Gaza Strip in August 2005, uprooting Israeli 8,000 settlers from their homes and removing its military installations. Israel took this step in order to improve quality of life and in the hope that the Palestinians would govern Gaza responsibly and peacefully. Three and a half years later, the Hamas leadership has turned Gaza into an armed camp and a launching pad for terrorism and extremism targeting Israeli civilians.

Moreover, Hamas' openly declared strategy  does not focus on the West Bank or Gaza Strip, but calls for the complete eradication of the State of Israel. Its ultimate objective is the establishment of an Islamic Palestinian state ruled by Islamic theocratic law in place of the State of Israel. The Hamas
covenant, issued in 1988, is replete with anti-Semitism, and echoes the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion which charges Jews with an international conspiracy to gain control of the world. In Hamas' world-view, Islamic precepts forbid a Jewish state in the area known as Palestine, and the Jewish people have no legitimate connection to the land of Israel. As its covenant proclaims, "The land of Palestine is an Islamic trust... It is forbidden to anyone to yield or concede any part of it... Israel will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it..." To this end, the leaders of Hamas have denounced compromise with Israel as a betrayal of the Palestinian cause.
Hamas bears sole responsibility for the situation in the Gaza Strip. It cynically and deliberately put ordinary Palestinians in harms way by establishing its terrorist infrastructure – manufacturing, storage, training and strategic planning – within densely populated areas, in the midst of homes, schools, mosques and hospitals.  For eight years it launched thousands of rocket attacks at Israeli population centers.   Since the start of Israel's operation on December 27, more than 800 rockets and mortars have attacked Israel.   On December 30, Hamas rockets reached the Israeli city of Beer Sheva.  On January 6, rockets hit the central Israeli city of Gadera.  Today, more than 900,000 Israeli civilians live with range of Hamas rocket attacks.

What about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza?

Israel is making efforts to facilitate humanitarian assistance. Despite the fact that rockets continued to rain down on its citizens, Israel ensured the flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza throughout its operation.  Israeli government officials met regularly with representatives from the United Nations and humanitarian organizations to ensure that Gazans were provided with the necessary aid, food and medical supplies.  Since the start of Israel's operation in Gaza, more than 53,000 tons of aid have entered the Gaza strip.  

Since Israel's unilateral cease fire on January 17, four crossings between Israel and Gaza opened to facilitate and expedite the transfer of humanitarian goods. 

Hamas is ultimately responsible for the difficult conditions the people of Gaza are enduring. Its refusal to comply with international demands to recognize Israel's right to exist and cease terrorist operations has led to the isolation of Gaza by the international community. It has cynically exploited the harsh conditions in Gaza for public relations purposes, while continuing to expand the hostile activities that created and exacerbated these conditions.

Is this the end of the peace process?

While the situation in Gaza has strained current relations, the State of Israel remains committed to negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, with the goal of an agreement that will establish an independent Palestinian State living in peace alongside Israel. Israel and the Palestinian Authority have been engaged in comprehensive negotiations for months.

Should the current cease fire hold, there is likely to be efforts by israel and the Palestinian Authority to renew peace negotiations and enact confidence building measures.

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