Israel has launched an offensive attack against HAMAS in Gaza Strip with the aim of wiping out HAMAS. HAMAS, i.e. Harakat al-Muqāwamat al-Islāmiyyah, meaning “Islamic Resistance Movement” is a Palestinian Sunni paramilitary organization and a political party, which holds majority of seats in the elected legislative council of the Palestinian National Authority.
International perception of HAMAS varies from the extreme negative to somewhat positive:
– The European Union lists HAMAS among its list of entities against which it applies restrictions to combat terrorism.
– Israel’s ministry of foreign affairs claims that “Hamas maintains a terrorist infrastructure in Gaza and the West Bank, and acts to carry out terrorist attacks in the territories and Israel.” In February 2008, a Haaretz poll indicated that 64% of Israelis favour their government holding direct talks with HAMAS in Gaza about a cease-fire and the release of the captives.
– Japan stated in 2005 that it froze the assets of “terrorist organizations, including… Hamas.”
– Jordan has banned HAMAS.
– Norway was the first western country to recognize the 2007 Palestinian Government consisting of both HAMAS and Fatah, and the Norwegian officials have met with HAMAS representatives on several occasions.
– The United States lists HAMAS as a “Foreign Terrorist Organization”.
– The military wing of HAMAS, the Izzad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, is listed as a terrorist organization by Australia and the United Kingdom.
– In a 2007 Pew Global Attitudes Survey, 62% of the Palestinians have a favorable opinion of HAMAS, as do majorities or pluralities in Jordan and Morocco.
– Opinions about HAMAS are divided in Egypt and Kuwait, and HAMAS is viewed negatively in Turkey and Lebanon.
HAMAS long term goal is to make Israel withdraw from all land occupied in the 1967 Six Day War. However, HAMAS publicly announced an offer for a 10 year hudna or cease-fire with Israel if they decide to return to their pre-1967 borders and allow the return of all Palestinian refugees. Several nations originally rejected the plan, but Israel is yet to respond. On June 19, 2008, a six-month long Egypt-brokered-ceasefire agreement was signed between HAMAS and Israel. On 20th December, HAMAS officially announced they would not be extending the cease-fire. Citing Israeli border closures as the primary reason, HAMAS then resumed the shelling of the Western Negev. HAMAS blamed Israel for the end of the ceasefire, claiming Isreal failed to respect the ceasefire terms including the lifting of the blockade, failing which little more than the humanitarian aid has been allowed into Gaza. Israel says it initially began easing the blockade, but it was halted when HAMAS failed to fulfill the agreed upon conditions including the termination of all rocket fire and the halting of weapons smuggling.
The current situation in Gaza is summed up by The New York Times as follows:
Opening the routes to commerce was Hamas’s main goal in its cease-fire with Israel, just as ending the rocket fire was Israel’s central aim. But while rocket fire did go down drastically in the fall to 15 to 20 a month from hundreds a month, Israel said it would not permit trade to begin again because the rocket fire had not completely stopped and because Hamas continued to smuggle weapons from Egypt through desert tunnels. Hamas said this was a violation of the agreement, a sign of Israel’s real intentions and cause for further rocket fire. On Wednesday [12/24/08], some 70 rockets hit Israel over 24 hours, in a distinct increase in intensity.
The United Nations humanitarian chief said that, in the first three days, about 320 Palestinians were killed and about 1,400 injured; the UN said that the civilian casualties, i.e. women and children, are 62.
Some members of the Arab League including Libya, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Yemen condemned the attacks by Israel. Russia, France, and the United Kingdom have condemned both sides. The United States, Egypt and Germany justified Israeli attacks as ramification of the HAMAS’ bombings and condemned the bombings. Some Arab states were condemned by the others for being indifferent to the attacks. The United Nations Security Council called “for an immediate halt to all violence.” Several Muslim religious authorities, including the Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei and the major Iraqi Shi’a clerics Ali Sistani and Awadh Al-Qarni, issued a fatwa urging Muslims to “avenge the Gaza raids.”
Israel justifies the attacks as self-defence.
In 1967 war also, Israel justified the pre-emptive attack taking over Sinai Peninsula (later returned), Gaza Strip, West Bank, Golan Heights and East Jeruselam as self-defence. The critics have criticized this as disproportionate use of force.
Ironically, Israel justifies both the pre-emptive strikes and the defensive strikes in self-defence, and HAMAS/Arabs don’t get the self-defence benefit in either case, which is unfair. If instead of ending the ceasefire, HAMAS claims the non-lifting of blockade as an attack on the Palestinian economy and the livelihood of the Palestinians, would HAMAS be justified in launching a pre-emptive rocket attacks! A line has to be drawn somewhere! BTW, in 1967, Egypt almost retreated under pressure from the USSR and the USA; in contrast, Israel has prepared for the current attacks on HAMAS for the last six months. Assuming HAMAS and Israel are both irresponsible bodies (terrorist or non-terrorist), this is a fit case for subjugating the national sovereignty of the states to international peace and thus the International Law.
© 2008 Ankur Mutreja