Slippery-Slope Ceasefire

By Joharah Baker

No ceasefire can ever hold if it is constantly being nudged towards the edge of a precipice. For the Israel-Hamas ceasefire, designed to sustain for six months, it has taken less than a week for its walls to crack, contaminating the shaky calm enjoyed by the people of Gaza for five glorious days.

While no one could possibly be surprised that a ceasefire between the two arch enemies would hold as long as the core issues dividing them are not addressed, it is worth questioning Israel’s intentions in first, agreeing to the tahdi’ah and then sabotaging it soon after.

In the early morning hours of June 23, Israeli army troops raided a student dormitory in Nablus, shooting in cold blood two young men, Iyad Khanfar 24 and Tareq Abu Ghali 23. The later was reportedly a commander of the Quds Brigades, the armed wing of the Islamic Jihad while Khanfar was a fourth year student at Nablus’ Al Najah University. According to eyewitnesses, Israeli troops stormed into the apartment where the two men lived and riddled them with bullets. Both Abu Ghali and Khanfar were unarmed at the time.

Just hours later, the Quds Brigades fired three "Al Quds" rockets at Sderot in southern Israel, damaging a house and causing two Israeli women to go into shock.

In response to the rocket firing, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak ordered Gaza crossings closed as of the morning of June 25. Since the ceasefire went into effect on June 19, there has been a slight increase in goods and fuel that have entered Gaza. Israel is now saying any further opening of the border crossings will be "upon security consideration" after the Palestinians’ breach of the ceasefire agreement.

In strict terms, the Palestinians did violate the ceasefire agreement by firing rockets into Israel. However, just as Israel claims its closing of the borders was in response to these rockets, the Islamic Jihad maintained it only fired the rockets in retaliation for Abu Ghali’s death. For the past five days, all has been quiet on the Gaza front. No one can deny it.

Things changed, however, in the wee hours of Tuesday morning. The Israelis are brutally aware of the intrinsic link between events in the West Bank and those in the Gaza Strip, perhaps just as much as the Palestinians themselves. This means, they know that if they shoot two Palestinian activists in their beds in the West Bank without any prior provocation, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are going to react. Israelis may be a lot of things, but they are no fools. A provocation like this is not going to go unanswered by the Palestinians, which is precisely why they did it.

Even if Abu Ghali or Khanfar were ruthless terrorists, responsible for the deaths of scores of Israelis, what gives Israel the right to shoot them, defenseless in their beds unarmed and in cold blood? Doesn’t any democratic state preach the right to a fair trial? Couldn’t they have merely arrested them and by that, possibly obtained further intelligence information about their groups through Israel’s famed torture tactics?

If Israel were really interested in maintaining the newborn ceasefire, it knows a move like Tuesday’s assassination would blow it right out of the water, which brings us to the assumption that Israel wanted precisely this to happen. Being the Palestinians’ occupiers for so many years has allowed Israel to delve into their collective psyches. They know what makes the Palestinians tick. By killing these two men in the dead of the night, Israel guaranteed a reaction, preferably one that could be categorized as a breach of the Gaza ceasefire. Sure enough, the Palestinians delivered and Israel is now gleefully dumping the blame on the heartless Gazans targeting innocent Israelis. Olmert hardly needs to justify closing Gaza’s border crossings because it was the Palestinians, not Israel, who violated the agreement.

Depending on the developments over the next few days, Israel may also be aiming for an even higher goal. If public opinion is swayed far enough, a wide scale military operation into Gaza may still be in the offing. It is still too early to tell though whether this is a risk Israel is willing to take or whether it will maintain its policy of "invade when necessary."

We need to remember that Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalit is still somewhere in the Gaza Strip after being captured by Hamas in June 2006. Shalit is an ongoing sore spot with the Israelis, his family in particular. Just after the ceasefire agreement was reached, Shalit’s family petitioned the Israel High Court, demanding that the government not open the borders until Shalit is released. While the court refused the petition, it only took another couple of days before their demands were met, albeit under another pretext. This way, Israel can have its cake and eat it too – denying any breach of the ceasefire in Gaza while playing the victim to Palestinian hostilities and ultimately justifying its actions against them.

Another factor that may have played into Israel’s grand plan was the recent visit of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who addressed the Knesset on June 24 a day after the Nablus operation and Islamic Jihad’s retaliation. Although Israel certainly doesn’t have to worry about where France’s loyalties lie, it takes no chances. In his Knesset speech, Sarkozy first reiterated his country’s undivided support for Israel before also saying that no peace could come without a Palestinian state, an end to settlement activities, and a solution to the refugee problem. Sarkozy even said Jerusalem must be the capital for two states if to peace is to prevail.

In this respect, the three rockets played right into Israel’s hands. How can Israel agree to peace with a people who have its very destruction at heart? The Nablus killings were not part of the equation of course, deemed a necessity for the security of the state, which has a duty to defend its citizens from ruthless terrorists.

In any case, whether or not Israel has exploited the ceasefire agreement to serve its own purposes and justify more hostilities in the battered Gaza Strip, the bottom line is that nothing can maintain this tahdi’ah if the intentions to uphold it are not sincere. Israel cannot withhold its military actions in the Gaza Strip only to transfer them to the West Bank without expecting Palestinian retaliation. That’s like saying the Palestinians agreed not to carry out attacks in Jerusalem only to take out scores of Israelis in Tel Aviv. It’s highly unlikely Israel would ever stand for that.

-Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Programme at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at mip@miftah.org. (Originally published in MIFTAH – www.miftah.org)

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