Calls grow for Israel-Hamas truce

Calls are mounting for an end to the Israeli bombardment and lockdown of Gaza and for Israel-Hamas talks to end their armed confrontation. Egypt and other countries were reported to be working behind the scenes for an agreement that would end the violence and also provide some immediate relief for the besieged people of Gaza by reopening its border with Egypt.

Ori Nir, a spokesperson for Americans for Peace Now, said such steps are essential to a longer-term solution. “If the chief objective is to go on with the peace process, then an approach of escalation, isolation, belligerence, does not serve that goal,” he told the World. Americans should put pressure on the U.S. government to “lead, or at least not hinder,” efforts by third parties to resolve this crisis, he said.

Hussein Ibish, senior fellow with the American Task Force on Palestine, said diplomacy to end the armed conflict is urgent. In addition, opening Gaza’s border with Egypt is a “realistic, practical step” that should be pushed for, he said. “You can’t have people corked in a giant prison.”

The only real way to do it, Ibish said, is for Egypt and the Palestinian Authority to take over control of the crossings with observers from the European Union, and even perhaps the U.S. Hamas doesn’t want this, “but it’s the only realistic prospect,” he said, suggesting that Hamas will find it untenable to put its own political interests ahead of the people’s needs.

Israel’s ground offensive in northern Gaza last week left 117 Palestinians dead, half of them civilians including 22 children. Two Israeli soldiers were killed in the action.

Physicians for Human Rights-Israel said the offensive had created a health crisis in Gaza, with hospitals “finding it almost impossible to function due to massive overload of injured people continuing to arrive for admission.”

Israel said it launched the assault in response to escalated and longer-range rocket fire from Gaza that killed one Israeli civilian and wounded others.

However, the Israeli attacks on densely populated Gaza communities drew wide criticism. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon assailed the “disproportionate and excessive use of force.”

Israel pulled its ground troops out days later, but has continued air and rocket attacks.

A coalition of Israeli and Palestinian groups said the suffering inflicted on civilians in Gaza “did not and cannot” solve the problem of rocket attacks on Israeli towns, and called for a ceasefire and an end to Israel’s military and economic siege on Gaza.

Even those supporting the Israeli government questioned its military actions, which have failed to stop the Hamas rockets.

According to the Jerusalem Post, recent polls show roughly two-thirds of Israel’s public supports truce talks, and a growing number of leaders say the government will have to try to talk with Hamas to work out a ceasefire. The Post quotes Education Minister Yuli Tamir saying, “Given the terrible situation, and given the fact that we don’t have a perfect option that can guarantee quiet in the south, we should try such a move.”

Nir, who grew up in Israel, said the mood on the Israeli street is “do whatever works” to end the crisis. Most understand that wiping out Hamas and reoccupying Gaza would come at a very high cost. “There’s a growing realization that this is just not possible,” he said, thus the feeling is, “we have to try dealing with Hamas somehow.”

The Jerusalem Post reported that despite proclamations of victory, Hamas leaders indicated readiness for a truce. Hamas official Mahmoud Zahar told reporters his organization has been in touch with a third party to discuss a ceasefire.

Among the Palestinian victims in Gaza last week were two sisters, ages 13 and 18, killed when an Israeli shell hit their home, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.

Their uncle told the reporter, “There are no gunmen here. We wouldn’t let them near. There are more than 20 children here. We don’t want trouble and don’t like it, but why did they shoot at us? What did we do to deserve this?”

The girls’ father used to work across the border in Israel. “Plasterer. That was my profession by you,” he said. “I always thought you wanted peace, but what did you do? What did you do? You slaughtered my two girls.”

Nir said he thinks many Israelis are using a “defense mechanism,” a kind of denial, “in order not to face the facts” that so many civilians are being killed.

Ibish called it a grim situation, with slim possibilities for immediate improvement. Nevertheless, he noted that in the U.S. Congress there is “a growing understanding, among those who support Israel, that this doesn’t really benefit Israel.” He believes that the prospects for Palestinian statehood in the next five to 10 years may be greater now than in the past 50 years. “The reason is, it’s in everyone’s interests.”

suewebb@pww.org