December 27th 2012 is the fourth anniversary of the Israeli assault on Gaza, known in Israel as “Operation Cast Lead” and in Palestine as “The Battle of al-Furqan’. Many others refer to it simply as the “massacre of Gaza”.
It was launched by Israel, the only nuclear-armed country in the Middles East, against the largely civilian population of the besieged Gaza Strip, a small enclave along the Mediterranean coast with an area of 360 km2 and a population of around 2m. The war lasted for 22 days during which Israeli aircraft, warships and tanks pounded Gaza with hundreds of thousands of high explosives, including munitions such as white phosphorus, banned internationally for use in built-up areas. Israel used it against a UN school where Palestinians were sheltering.
The war followed a six month truce between Hamas and Israel which was brokered by Egypt in June 2008. When Hamas refused to renew the truce because Israel was refusing to lift the siege imposed on Gaza, the Israelis breached it anyway on 4th November 2008, killing six Palestinians.
The truce had been due to end officially on Friday, December 19, 2008, and Israel started to bombard Gaza at 11:30 am on Saturday December 27, 2008. More than 1,400 Palestinians were killed in the following three weeks, including 412 children, 111 women, 14 paramedics and four journalists. More than 5,000 Palestinians were injured.
Israel said that 13 of its soldiers were killed, with about 400 casualties, although the Palestinian fighters claimed to have killed around 100 Israeli soldiers.
According to the Israeli government, the aims of the war were to end Hamas control of the Gaza Strip, free their soldier Gilad Shalit who was being held prisoner in Gaza, and stop the homemade rockets fired from Gaza into Israel.
The first day was the bloodiest of the war, with the largest number of casualties since the creation of Israel in 1948. Israeli F-16 fighter jets and Apache attack helicopters struck 100 pre-planned targets within a span of 220 seconds. Thirty minutes later, a second wave of 60 jets and helicopters struck at an additional 60 targets. More than 400 Palestinians were killed and around 700 were injured; most of the casualties were civilian police officers.
The Palestinian Centre for Israeli Studies said that Israel intended to deceive the people of Gaza when it opened the Gaza border crossings on 26th December to allow 428,000 litres of industrial fuel and about 75 tons of cooking gas to enter the enclave. In addition, 105 truckloads of goods were allowed through. On the same day, the Israelis also announced a 48 hour window of opportunity for Palestinian fighters to stop firing their homemade rockets at Israeli targets otherwise it would carry out a massive military operation against Hamas. Less than 24 hours later, Israeli bombs started to hit home.
Israel started the war after its then Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni visited Egypt and, during a press conference with the Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit in Cairo, threatened to end Hamas control and change the situation in the Gaza Strip. Egypt faced severe criticism and was accused of conspiring with Israel.
All security and police stations next to Hamas offices in Gaza were targeted during the assault and invasion. Hundreds of police officers were killed, including the Police Brigadier in Gaza, Tawfiq Jaber and Colonel Ismail Ja’bari.
More than 9,000 civilians were displaced as their houses were destroyed completely; 27 mosques, 67 schools and 34 hospitals and clinics were also destroyed.
Independent journalists and experts confirmed that Israel used internationally-banned weapons during the war. Some experts even confirmed the use of depleted uranium. Norwegian doctor Mads Gilbert, who rushed to help in Gaza’s hospitals when the war started, told a meeting at the British House of Commons later that he saw the proofs of such banned munitions in the bodies of the casualties. Dr Gilbert also said that he thought that Israel’s war against Lebanon in 1982 was the bloodiest he had ever seen until he saw the effects of the Israeli war on Gaza.
In Cairo, Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit blamed Hamas for the violence, telling several news agencies, “Egypt has warned Hamas that Israel is going to carry out such an attack, but as Hamas ignored that warning, it should be blamed for the attack.”
Ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak said that his country was not ready to open the Rafah Crossing to ease the life of the Palestinians by letting food and medical assistance in to Gaza unless PA officers and Israeli and European observers were in place. He also blamed Hamas implicitly for what took place.
On 18th January, 2009, Israeli ground forces withdrew from the Gaza Strip and Israel announced unilaterally the end of the operation. Palestinians claimed a victory because the Israeli army had failed to achieve its planned military goals on the ground. In addition, Israel’s offensive provoked massive popular criticism all over the world.