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Time to ask the question: why does Hamas fire rockets?

August 6, 2014 at 12:53 pm

Israel’s month long military offensive- dubbed “Operation Protective Edge,” has claimed the lives of over 1,865 Palestinians, largely civilians. The civilian death toll has bought Israel worldwide condemnation from politicians, the media and the general public.

Prime Minister David Cameron’s called the loss of life in Gaza awful, but said, “We do have to remember, whenever we have had a ceasefire in the last few days, it has been a ceasefire that has been obeyed and observed by the Israelis but it has not been observed by Hamas.” Obama condemned Israel’s shelling of a United Nations school, but called the rockets from Gaza “barbaric.”

The average member of the general public expresses upset when they see the number of children that have been killed in Gaza printed in black and white in their Sunday morning papers, but they still question why Hamas fires rockets- when if they stopped and agreed to a ceasefire Israel would stop killing Gazans.

What they don’t understand is that Israel has enforced an air, sea and land blockade on Gaza for the past 7 years, effectively sealing off the 25 mile long strip of land, caging 1.8 million Gazans within it- a form of collective punishment which is against international law.

This has forced 3,000 fishermen to fish within three nautical miles of the shoreline and placed 35 per cent of Gaza’s agricultural land out of bounds- restrictions enforced through the use of live ammunition by the Israeli military and naval forces.

As a result of the blockade 60 per cent of Gaza’s businesses have closed and a further quarter has laid-off 80 per cent of their staff. Unemployment stands at 43 per cent, leaving 80% of the population dependent on humanitarian aid, and around 57 per cent of Gazans food insecure.

The only crossings through which people are permitted to travel to and from the Gaza Strip are Erez (to Israel) and Rafah (to Egypt). Israel allows passage through Erez only “in exceptional humanitarian cases, with an emphasis on urgent medical cases.” Due to the political situation in Egypt, travel of people and goods through Rafah is also extremely difficult.

The United States works to ensure no tangible change can occur through the United Nations by using its veto power as a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

In the ceasefire agreements which ended the hostilities in the two previous military offensives, provisions on the easing of the blockade were reneged by Israel. The last time the Israeli government and Hamas reached a ceasefire agreement following Operation Pillar of Cloud in 2012, a military offensive that claimed the lives of around 174 Palestinians and 6 Israelis, there was a commitment to “open the crossings and facilitate the movement of people and transfer of goods” in and out of Gaza.

A year after that offensive the UN said the situation in the tiny coastal strip was worse than before the conflict, claiming it was fast becoming “uninhabitable.”

In short, Israel has penned people up in what can only be defined as an open air prison; taken away their tools to fight for their freedom and in the process stolen hopes and dreams of entire generations. When they fire homemade projectiles back, people ask why.

It is the Palestinians right under international law to resist this situation, by non-violent means and otherwise. Numerous UN resolutions support this, including a General Assembly resolution of November 1974, which “reaffirms the legitimacy of the peoples’ struggle for liberation from colonial and foreign domination and alien subjugation by all available means, including armed struggle”

In the words of renowned author and scholar Norman Finkelstein, “the United States and Britain, among others, have staunchly defended the right of a state to use nuclear weapons by way of belligerent reprisal. By this standard, the people of Gaza surely have the right to use makeshift projectiles to end an illegal, merciless seven-year-long Israeli blockade or to end Israel’s criminal bombardment of Gaza’s civilian population.”

International law prohibits an occupying power from using force to suppress a struggle for self-determination, whereas it does not prohibit a people struggling for self-determination from using force. Israel’s relentless bombing of Gaza in an attempt to root out a democratically elected government that is attempting to resist decades of their people’s oppression, is not a right accorded to any state.

We often hear Israel and its allies call self-defense to justify what is happening in Gaza. However, Israel was carrying out operations long before Hamas was born, and if Hamas did not exist, the Palestinian people would still not be free.

Formal negotiations to secure a lasting ceasefire in the Gaza Strip are expected to begin in Egypt on Wednesday, as a temporary truce between Israel and Hamas enters a second day.

Representatives of Palestinian factions have been in Cairo since Sunday to agree a set of demands and a possible end to hostilities.

The Palestinian demands include “a ceasefire; Israeli troop withdrawal from Gaza; the end of the siege of Gaza and opening its border crossings”. They have also demanded fishing rights up to 12 nautical miles off Gaza’s coast and the release of Palestinian prisoners.

To call a ceasefire without agreement to basic demands such as a chance for an economy and freedom of movement and without mechanisms to guarantee these demands would be met by Israel, would be a waste of the lives already lost.

It is time to contextualize the use of rockets against the backdrop of the blockade and as a means to resist in the only way Israel has left possible.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.