The cynicism of a terrorist state.
Every so often however, the mask slips. The last time was the Israel-Hizbullah-Lebanon war. No one disputed that it was Hizbullah that had invited some sort of response with their attack which killed a number of Israeli soldiers while kidnapping others; it was however the staggeringly disproportionate response, resulting in the deaths of over a thousand Lebanese civilians, while Israel fired in hundreds of thousands if not millions of cluster bombs, killing and injuring hundreds more over time, which showed to many for the first time that Israel was not the one forever wronged, but also an aggressor, a bully that cared just as little for the lives of the innocent as the terrorists it was ostensibly fighting against.
The mask has again slipped today. After a six-month ceasefire in which Hamas and the other Palestinian miltant groups mostly sat by as Israel attempted to starve Gaza into submission, almost achieving the former but completely failing to destroy the spirit of resistance which has long characterised the Palestianian people, Israel has unleashed what can only be described as mass slaughter. Israel's supposed justification is that since the ceasefire was ended, Hamas and other groups have massively stepped up the shelling of the towns close to the Gaza border; while true, the home-made rockets and mortars smuggled into the Strip rarely hit their targets, and even when they do, they even more rarely injure, let alone kill. Their main function is fear, as the Israelis themselves even acknowledge. Knowing that they cannot get away with claiming that such rockets pose an existential threat to the Israeli state, the Israelis instead focus on the mental harm which they cause: 33% of children in Sderot apparently suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. They are however less inclined to discuss not just the mental health of children in Gaza, but also their physical health, which the International Committee of the Red Cross in November said was approaching chronic malnutrition as a direct result of the Israeli blockade.
We perhaps ought to have seen this coming: yesterday Israel allowed at least 40 trucks of food and humanitarian supplies to enter Gaza. A security official told YnetNews.com that this was because "there are segments of the Palestinian population in Gaza which do not support terror, and we cannot neglect them." Instead it was to allow the Gazans to stock up for the siege, so that Israel would not be criticised quite as much by the so-called international community when it began its air strikes, which have killed at least 205 Palestinians and injured over 700. Hospitals have been overwhelmed, mosques have appealed for blood to be donated, and doubtless some of those "who do not support terror" have been killed as well as the Hamas policemen that seem to have been the main target. If this is an attempt by Israel to try to overthrow Hamas, then it seems doomed to failure; Fatah has been routed in Gaza, and however much Israel tries to blame Hamas, its words are completely and utterly hollow to overseas observers, let alone Gaza residents. Increasingly, Gaza residents are instead turning their anger on the Arab nations, which they regard as doing worse than nothing. Egypt, which has also been involved in the blockading of Gaza through refusing to open its entry into the Strip, is coming in for the most criticism, especially after Egypt's first minister was photographed hand-in-hand with Israel's equivalent, Tzipi Lvini.
There has been one apparent Israeli casualty, a 58-year-old man killed when rockets struck a synagogue. Since the end of the ceasefire, there had been no deaths on the Israeli side from the rocket attacks, attacks which were nonetheless described by Israeli politicians and officials as "unbearable". The futility and idiocy of the Qassam attacks was mercilessly shown when a rocket fell short of its target yesterday and instead struck a house in Gaza, killing two schoolgirls, yet for many Palestinians, even those critical of Hamas and the other militant groups, they are the only way of striking back against Israel. Why should they roll over and play dead when that is exactly what the Israelis want them to do? Why should they stop the rocket fire, even if they could, while Israel refuses to lift the siege, when it is only interested in the overthrow of Hamas, despite its legitimate election victory?
Even if those involved are primarily Jewish and Islamic, this is still meant to be a time of peace on earth, of goodwill to all men. In fact, that seems to have almost certainly entered Israel's military calculus: hit the Palestinians when the West is more interested in the sales and themselves, and you're less likely to have to face down such bitter criticism. Increase the idea that they've brung it on themselves, that they're the ones truly responsible, and that Israel, as ever, is the only one capable of defending itself from those that are determined to bring about her destruction Also influential was doubtless the approaching Israeli election, with Likud ahead in the polls; after all, when has a little war ever harmed anyone's electoral chances, especially one where it's unlikely that many on your own side will be killed? One can but hope that the mask has once again truly slipped, that such killing can never be justified, and that all sides back down. But as we saw on Christmas Day, both Faith and Hope have now died.