Sunday, 27 December 2020

Operation Cast Lead Remembered


Today on December 27th 2008, Israel  without warning began an intensive campaign that would last 22 days, combined with a ground invasion which they called 'operation cast lead,' It would lead to  death and destruction and international condemnation and protests and would be met by Palestinian resistance in Gaza.
In the aftermath of the offensive, a UN-appointed fact finding mission found strong evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by both the Israeli military and Palestinian militias. Investigations by human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch came to the same conclusion. 
Six months before Cast Lead, Israel negotiated a ceasefire with Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups in Gaza. Under the agreement, which went into effect on June 19, 2008, both sides agreed to stop hostilities across the Green Line, the de facto border between Israel and the Gaza Strip. Despite a number of violations by both sides, the truce was largely successful. 
Hamas negotiators claim that Israel agreed to end its closure of Gaza's border crossings as part of the ceasefire agreement, however Israeli officials dispute this. While Israel did resume operations at one border crossing, the overall policy of closure did not change. Two months after the truce began, the UN reported that the number of goods allowed into Gaza actually decreased.
Nevertheless, overall, a situation of relative quiet prevailed in and around Gaza until November 4, when Israeli soldiers staged a raid into the Strip, killing six members of Hamas. The attack, which took place on the eve of the US presidential elections, ended the ceasefire and led to an escalation of hostilities culminating in Cast Lead the following month.
Despite claiming that Operation Cast Lead  was a response to Hamas rockets and Hamas was refusing to negotiate another ceasefire, which was untrue, Israel later revealed it had been planning the offensive for 6 months. The reality was that Israel provoked Hamas, and then used their retaliation as an excuse to launch the offensive for two reasons to send Hamas a message and to attempt to recover the kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. 
Operation Cast Lead proceeded in two phases: a week of intense aerial bombing followed by two weeks of a joint air and land assault and invasion. The surprise attack began at 11:30 a.m. on December 27, 2008, with Israeli F-16 fighter jets, Apache helicopters, and unmanned drones striking more than 100 locations across the tiny, crowded Gaza Strip within a matter of minutes.
Among the targets were four Palestinian police stations, including the central police headquarters in Gaza City, where a graduation ceremony for new officers was underway. Ninety-nine police personnel and 9 members of the public were killed in the first minutes of the attack. By the end of the first day at least 230 Palestinians had been killed.
 The massive bombardment continued until January 3, 2009, when the Israeli army invaded the Strip from the north and east. Israel's navy also shelled Gaza from offshore. The  ferocity of the attack was  unprecedented in the more than six decade conflict. Reports of the exact number of Palestinians killed vary, but casualty figures supplied by credible independent nongovernmental organizations are generally consistent.
The Gaza-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rights reported that the offensive left 1,419 Palestinians dead, including 1,167 civilians. The Centre also reported more than 5,000 Palestinians wounded, as did the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
The Israeli human rights group B'Tselem reported 1,385 Palestinians killed, including 762 noncombatants, and 318 minors under the age of 18.
Officially, local authorities in Gaza put the total Palestinian fatalities at 1,444. For its part, the Israeli government claimed that 1,166 Palestinians were killed, including 709 combatants.According to Israeli authorities, three Israeli civilians and one soldier were killed by rockets fired from Gaza during Cast Lead. Nine Israeli soldiers also died in combat in Gaza, including four killed by friendly fire. According to the UN, 518 Israelis were wounded.
On January 18, 2009, under enormous international pressure and just two days before Barack Obama was sworn in as President of the United States, Israel declared a unilateral ceasefire and withdrew its forces from Gaza. Palestinian armed groups followed with a separate unilateral ceasefire.
In April 2009, following international outrage at the carnage caused by Cast Lead, the UN Human Rights Council established a Fact Finding Mission to investigate possible violations of international law committed during the conflict. Leading the mission was Justice Richard Goldstone, a former judge of the Constitutional Court of South Africa and war crimes prosecutor for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.
The four members of the mission visited Gaza in late May and early June 2009, holding hearings there and in Geneva. They conducted 188 interviews and reviewed more than 10,000 pages of documents, more than 30 videos, and 1,200 photographs.
Israel refused to cooperate with the inquiry, denying the mission the opportunity to meet with Israeli officials or visit the West Bank.
As a result of its investigation, the mission issued the so-called "Goldstone Report," a 575-page document detailing alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the Israeli military. The report also accused Palestinian armed groups of war crimes as a result of indiscriminate rockets attacks on Israeli civilians living near Gaza.  an incendiary substance that is illegal when used in populated areas. Israeli forces illegally used white phosphorus (a banned chemical weapon)  in attacks on at least two hospitals (Al-Quds Hospital and Al-Wafa Hospital), as well as the central UN compound in Gaza City. Numerous civilian casualties were caused by white phosphorus in the small, densely populated Strip. leading to symptoms that medical professionals had never seen before. Burning flesh to the bone. In what amounts to  a war crime in violation of international law. Also there was deliberate targetting of civilians and vital infrastructure. 
In addition to the Goldstone Report, human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch issued reports of their own documenting numerous allegations of war crimes being committed by Israeli forces.
The horrors inflicted remain  indelibilly embedded in the minds of all Gazans. As many as 340,000 Palestinians were displaced by Peration Cast lead and due to the blockade many of these remain homeless. Twelve years later, Gaza still relies on international  aid for day to day activities, including the most basic needs such as food and drink. 75% of homes  destroyed are still waiting to be rebuilt. Leaving many people still displaced. The people of Gaza  left with a legacy of poverty and economic injustice,  80% of the population lives under the poverty line. 1.8 million of people in Gaza still locked in like animals by Israels illegal blockade, that  prevents them from access to essential goods that are needed to rebuild and sustain life.
In a sense the war never ended. People still demanding an end to the occupation and justice, because without justice, peace will remain a distant illusion. 2020 has seen conditions for Palestinians  to deteriorate and 2021  does not promise any better. Our solidarity with the people of Gaza and Palestine is more necessary now than ever.
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