One year ago today, Israel launched "Operation Cast Lead", a murderous full-scale military assault on the small, densely populated, and defenseless Gaza Strip. The operation resulted in the massacre of over 1,300 Palestinians, the vast majority civilians, including hundreds of children.
This includes only those killed directly by military attacks. The actual casualty figure from Israel's policies towards Gaza, including the number of deaths attributable to its ongoing siege of the territory, is unknown.
The official pretext for the operation given by Israel and parroted unquestioningly in the Western media is that Israel had to respond with force as an act of self-defense against to an onslaught of rocket attacks against southern Israel from Hamas and other militant groups in Gaza.
Even if this were true, nations acting in self-defense against armed attacks must respect international law designed to protect civilians in time of war. Israel flagrantly violated the Geneva Conventions and other relevant treaties governing the use of force during the course of its operation, committing numerous war crimes.
But the stated pretext itself does not stand up to scrutiny. Six months prior to the assault on Gaza, Israel and Hamas had agreed to a cease-fire. Under the terms of the truce agreement, Hamas would end its rocket attacks against Israel and Israel would similarly cease attacks against Palestinians in Gaza and lift its siege on the territory.
Hamas, for its part, lived up to its obligations under the truce. It fired no rockets into Israel and actively pressured other groups to similarly refrain from launching attacks.
Israel, on the other hand, never lived up to its obligations under the truce. From the beginning, Israel declared a "security zone" on Gaza's side of the border and Israeli soldiers repeatedly violated the truce by firing at Palestinians, guilty of merely trying to access their own land.
Israel also never eased its siege of Gaza. Israel controlled (and continues to control) the borders of Gaza, its airspace, and its coast, and implementing a near total blockade, including preventing by force the delivery of humanitarian goods into the territory.
Rather than easing the siege, Israel continued to let in only minimal amounts of humanitarian supplies (a practice that also continues today), just enough to prevent a total humanitarian catastrophe, thus keeping the population of Gaza in a state of despair and on the verge of human limits, with untold consequences on the health and mental well-being of the Palestinians.
The complete breakdown of the truce agreement came on November 4, when Israel launched air strikes and a ground incursion into Gaza, killing four Palestinians. This violation of the cease-fire resulted in its effective undoing.
Israel's official reason for the attack was its claim that militants were digging a tunnel under the border. The more credible explanation, however, was that Israel wanted to provoke Hamas into launching rockets and thus to claim a pretext for the full-scale military assault that Israel had, at that time, by its own account, already been planning.
Indeed, from the beginning of the truce, it appeared Israel's intent was to provoke a violent response in order claim a pretext for its military assault. While Hamas scrupulously observed the cease-fire, Israel took deliberate actions to undermine it. Besides those already noted, Israel also stepped up operations against Palestinians in the West Bank, such as the assassination of members of Islamic Jihad shortly after the announcement of the truce.
Islamic Jihad militants in Gaza responded to that incident by firing rockets into Israel, but Hamas criticized the attacks and pressured Islamic Jihad to cease, including with the threat of arrests, and the tenuous truce continued to hold, for a time.
A greater and more provocative action was necessary in order to completely undermine the truce, and Israel's November 4 attack proved to be that action. From that day forward, the so-called "cease-fire" consisted of tit-for-tat attacks on a daily basis, with Israel launching repeated attacks on Gaza and Hamas and other militant groups launching rockets into Israel.
Israel had achieved the pretext it was looking for in order to gain the political cover necessary to wage its assault on the civilian population of Gaza.