How one thinks about Israel’s war on Gaza depends on where one begins the story.
For conservatives like Alan Dershowitz, Hamas declared war against Israel with its rocket attacks in late 2008, meaning that Israel had the right under the UN charter (despite its long history of ignoring UN Security Council resolutions) to take whatever military action was necessary to stop the attacks.
For critics like Avi Shlaim, it’s a matter of setting it all in an historical context that goes back to the establishment of Israel in 1948. One then sees in Gaza “a uniquely cruel case of de-development” the stripped the occupied territory of a reasonable future. In 2005, after Israel’s settlers were withdrawn, continued Israeli colonial control meant “Gaza was converted overnight into an open-air prison.”
For Adi Ophir, the noose around Gaza that has made it a “laboratory of catastrophization” can also be dated from that time. The post-2005 military siege, building on the closure begun during the 1991 Gulf War, strangled the flow of people, goods and resources and created a zone of permanent emergency that functions like a “human pen.”
Taking the broader historical view is the only way forward. Looking back even a few years paints a different picture. An analysis of ceasefires in Israel/Palestine has shown that the vast majority have been broken first by Israeli military actions. The unwritten, six-month ceasefire of 2008 was effective in almost eliminating Hamas rocket attacks. But between an Israeli attack on November 4 and the ceasefires’ conclusion on 19 December, Israel charged Palestinian groups with firing more than 300 rockets into Israel and Hamas claimed more than 70 military incursions by Israeli forces (see the International Crisis Group report of 5/1/09 for a good analysis).
Imaging a more permanent end of hostilities and inequalities in Gaza and the West Bank requires a rethinking of their causes. It is not about blame; it is about inescapable responsibilities. And it requires that all parties recognize and engage each other without preconditions. Looking at only the most recent actions will not get us very far in that direction.