In November, Egypt brokered an end to the eight-day offensive launched by Israel against the Gaza Strip, the so-called Operation Pillar of Defence. During the assault, 6 Israelis were killed, as were more than 160 Palestinians. As the ceasefire agreement was announced, Palestinians celebrated in the Strip with fireworks and firing bullets into the air.
The ceasefire terms called on Palestinians to stop all attacks, including rocket fire, against Israel and aggression along the border. Israel was to stop assaulting Gaza by land, sea and air, including cross-border attacks and targeted killings. It was also to open all border crossings, relaxing restrictions on the movement of people and goods.
Israel’s terms were a response to the siege it imposed with Egyptian support on Gaza following Hamas’s election victory in 2006 and ousting of Fatah the following year. Palestinians regard the siege as illegal collective punishment, the source of what is now a miserable life. The limitations imposed have meant they cannot rebuild power plants or water sanitation facilities, and many live without access to electricity and clean water.
It is heartening, then, that on Monday a lorry carrying gravel arrived at the Rafah border crossing from Egypt, a sign that Israel is in part keeping to its side of the agreement. Israel has actually agreed to allow twenty lorries of gravel a day, five days a week. Egypt has allowed 1,400 tons of gravel, funded by Qatar, to cross the border. This is cited regularly as Israel’s first major fulfilment of the terms of the truce.
But the Palestinian Ministry of National Economy estimate that as a direct result of the blockade on the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian Authority has lost $1.9 billion. It will take a long time for Gaza to build up its resources after a strict five-year embargo, and Gaza’s leaders want much more. They need to be able to export goods, for example; trade to the West Bank was once a huge chunk of their economy.
After the ceasefire, Israel also agreed to allow fisherman to fish up to six nautical miles out to sea, instead of the three mile limit that was imposed as part of the siege. Although still only half of the internationally-recognised limit of territorial waters, it was better than before. However, since the ceasefire came into force, a number of fishermen have been attacked by the Israeli navy and detained. On Thursday, the navy targeted fishing boats off the north coast of Gaza even though they were working within the agreed six-mile limit.
Sadly, these infringements are not isolated incidents. Yesterday, “Occupied Palestine’s” live blog recorded the latest attacks on Palestinian fishermen as Israel’s 45th violation of the ceasefire agreement. Since the start of the truce Israeli tanks and bulldozers have moved into the Gaza Strip; Palestinian children have been shot at; drones are ever-present in the sky; and farmers and internationals have been shot at across the border. Considering that the ceasefire came into effect on the 21st November 2012, 45 days ago, that works out at one violation a day.
Gaza’s part of the deal was to halt all rocket fire. Shortly after the truce was announced it was reported (and contested) that 12 rockets were fired into Israel. Since then there has been nothing launched from the Palestinian side of the border. Is Israel trying to provoke a response to give it an “excuse” to re-enter Gaza with even more devastating force?