There is no side to be taken in the ongoing Israeli-Gaza war. Israel has occupied Gaza in varying degrees for 47 years. Since its 2005 pullout, Israeli has maintained a blockade that severely hinders economic life and health in Gaza. Hamas emerged after 20 years of Israeli occupation, during the first Palestinian uprising in 1987. It has since risen to become Gaza’s dominant political group. Hamas are religious extremists, with little skill for governance, and no regard for human life. Perceiving that their popularity increases with Israeli aggression, Hamas deliberately provokes Israeli attacks by firing rockets into Israel from Gaza.
Israel’s ongoing blockade constitutes an act of war. Firing rockets into Israel is the only way that that Hamas, the democratically elected leadership of Gaza, can fight back – Israel has proven unresponsive in negotiations absent the use of force. Israel, for its part, reasonably insists that it needs to control imports into Gaza to keep out materials used for making rockets. If Israel lifted the blockade, one might reasonably expect armaments to flow into Gaza, to be used on Israelis. Hamas, and practically every other political group in Gaza, is intent on lobbing ordinance onto Israelis. It’s a vicious circle: the blockade, intended to reduce rocket attacks, remains itself a justification for such attacks. The rocket attacks, intended in part to retaliate for the blockade, remain itself a justification for the blockade.
A half-century of Israeli occupation came with the usual perks. For 27 years (1967-94), the Israeli military directly administered most government functions. Israel colonized Gaza with 21 settlements, whose combined population only maxed at about 8000. Those settlements nonetheless controlled 20% of all the land in Gaza – leaving more than 1 million Arabs to share the other 80%. Despite international condemnation of their occupation, Israel would have been content to occupy and colonize Gaza indefinitely. It was Palestinian resistance that brought Israel to the bargaining table in the 90s, and drove them out in 2005.
Israel’s differential treatment of Gaza and the West Bank is driven by demography, geography and history. Gaza, with 1.7 million people living in 139 square miles, has the same size and population of 1960 Detroit. The West Bank is fifteen times larger (about the size of Delaware), with an Arab population of 2.1 million; it also encompasses the biblical lands of Judea and Samaria, not to mention East Jerusalem. In short, Gaza is 10 times more densely populated than the West Bank, which is therefore much more attractive for Israeli colonization. While Israel has abandoned its Gaza settlements, it continues to expand its colonization of the West Bank, with 500,000 settlers and direct control of 40% of the territory.
Unlike the West Bank, Gaza is too small and too densely populated with Palestinians to be attractive for Israeli colonization. It will for a long time to come be very poor, and very hostile to Israel. The purpose of Israel’s present incursion is political: the Israeli government hopes to convince Israelis that they’re doing their best to end the rocket attacks out of Gaza. Beyond that, it will accomplish nothing. Hostility toward Israel, whether in the form of suicide bombers or rocket attacks, are the consequence of a political movement, which will never be defeated on the battlefield. It took decades of Israeli occupation to create Hamas. It will takes decades more for them to go away. The US should condemn Israel’s invasion of Gaza – not because it’s unjustified, but because it’s futile.