NEWS UPDATE JANUARY 31ST 2008
New from the Holy Land in the last 10 days has been dominated by two events. The first was the breaking down of the wall between Gaza and Egypt by Hamas. The other was the final report of the Winograd Report by the Israeli committee set up to consider what went wrong in the recent Lebanon War.
THE DESTRUCTION OF THE GAZA WALL The blowing up of the wall at 3am on January 22nd was clearly well-planned over a period of months. The wall had been weakened so it would fall easily.
From a humanitarian point of view, it allowed the people of Gaza to escape from the confines of the Strip to purchase necessities for life in Egyptian shops. Tens of thousands did so. The Egyptians, partly because they are sensitive to the threat from the extreme Islamists in their own country, and doubtless partly for humanitarian reasons allowed this to last for six days before they ordered the shops to close, cut off supplies to them and began to reseal the border.
From a political point of view, it was a coup for Hamas:
- Showing their organisation, discipline and determination.
- Humiliating Israel and undermining the Israel blockade.
- Impressing Egypt with its strength and its need to be taken seriously.
- Putting strains on the important relationship between Israel and Egypt.
- Possibly allowing terrorists to infiltrate the Sinai and to seek to enter Israel.
Egypt has so far failed to get Hamas and Fatah to dialogue. Each group wants to control the border between Gaza and Egypt.
Israel is considering building a security fence along the border between Israel and Egypt. It opposes Mahmoud Abbas’s desire to control the Gaza-Egypt border, but Hamas would doubtlessprevent that happening anyway. Israel has restated that it will not allow a humanitarian crisis to happen in Gaza although the High Court has approved some reduction being made in electrical power being supplied to Gaza.
THE WINOGRAD REPORT Meanwhile, in Israel the long-awaited Winograd report blamesmainly the IDF for the failures in the Lebanon War. “Israel embarked on a long war, which it initiated, and which ended without Israel achieving a clear military victory ….. A paramilitary organization of several thousand fighters stood for a number of weeks before the most powerful army in the Middle East, which enjoyed complete air superiority and great advantages in size and technology. The rocket attacks of Hezbollah against the Israeli home front continued throughout the entire war and the IDF did not provide an effective counter to this.”
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his government were then seriously criticized and doubtlesscalls for his resignation will continue. However he claims the report “lifted the moral stigma” from him. The importance if this issue is that a stable and credible prime minister is needed if the peace process is to continue. It may be that Olmert will survive in office and be able to facilitate this.
In an appendix, Winograd said that the way Israel has been using cluster bombs was contrary to international law, so it needs to consider whether it wishes to continue using them but legally.
TRAUMAS ON BOTH SIDES
Two quotations from Israel writers are helpful:
Speaking of the enormous pressure and deprivation visited on the Palestinians in Gaza (lack of water and other necessities, a public health crisis when sewage pumps stopped working, etc) one writes: “Collective punishment is abhorrent. It is morally reprehensible. It is functionally self-defeating. It destroys the moral fibre of those who order it, practice it, countenance it, turn a blind eye to it and those who are subjected to it.”
Speaking of the traumas experienced by Israelis within range of Gazan Qassam rockets another writes: “Thousands and thousands of people, many of them children and the elderly, are plunged into a reality in which they must fear for their lives day in and day out, in which their livelihoodsare crippled, with their schools and even pre-schools under siege. Entire communities are trapped, paralyzed. Whole childhoods are spent in a state of post-traumatic stress. Occasions that should be high points in a lifetime are routinely curtailed or cancelled.”
- For the welfare of both the innocent people of Gaza subject to pressure from Israel and the innocent Israelis subject to indiscriminate Qassam or terrorist attacks.
- For Hamas to accept the existence of Israel, for a ceasefire and for dialogue.
- For dialogue and a just settlement between Fatah and Hamas.
- For good relations between Israel and Egypt.
- For political stability and effectiveness in Israel, that will further the peace process.
- For an end to terrorist attacks, the use of Qassam rockets and of cluster bombs.