Steaming tensions reached a boil on Monday as the almost two-year relative calm between the Palestinians and Israel was shattered when Hamas rejected an Egypt-arranged agreement and subsequently shot 47 missiles into Israel. That country’s military then followed the orders of its government and unleashed its own campaign. The death toll is currently at 210 people in the Gaza Strip while the first Israeli was reported dead near the border on Tuesday.
With 1.6 million people in an area the size of Detroit, the region is one of the most human-congested places on Earth. Although jurisdiction of the area is technically administered by the Palestinian Authority, the Gaza Strip has effectively been controlled by the Hamas militant group since 2007.
Outright, Hamas believes Israel does not have the right to exist. It recently, however, formed a government with Fatah, the major Palestinian political group, and the newly formed Palestinian Unity Government does recognize the State of Israel. However, the current hostilities, which are strictly between Hamas and Israel, have left the Palestinian Authority as an authority in name only.
The most recent tensions began last month after three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and killed in the Gaza Strip. One of the teenagers had American citizenship. Israel accused Hamas militants of the kidnappings, which the group denied. Hundreds of Palestinians were then arrested, many of whom were Hamas members. More than 1,000 homes were stormed and ten or more Palestinians died in the process.
The three Israeli bodies were discovered on June 30, and two days later a Palestinian teen was set afire in retaliation. Riots broke out in the largely Palestinian area of East Jerusalem and three Israeli citizens were arrested and charged with the murder.
Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said that the Israeli teenagers that were found dead were the victims of “human animals.” When the situation was reversed and the Palestinian teen was discovered murdered, Netanyahu phoned the boy’s father, characterizing the man’s son’s murder as “abhorrent.” Mark Regev, a spokesman for Netanyahu, said that Israel is appalled at the killing and that the three suspects are currently behind bars, awaiting justice.
It was the killing of the Palestinian that triggered Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (the PIJ is a militant group backed by Iran) to step up their attacks, launching missiles with a longer range than previously seen. Air raid sirens went off as far away as Jerusalem in the east and even Haifa in Israel’s far north. Most of the rockets launched from the Gaza Strip have either landed in deserted areas or have been intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system.
A mortar shell killed an Israeli near the Gaza border crossing of Erez and reports of Israeli injuries include another teenage boy who reportedly took the brunt of a shrapnel blast.
The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) report that its Operation Protective Edge has hit more than 1,700 sites in the Gaza Strip, either with naval rockets or air strikes, while over 1,200 missiles have been launched at Israel. Of these, 984 actually hit land and 228 were intercepted by the Iron Dome system. Using these numbers, Iron Dome has been responsible for taking out 19 percent of Hamas’ missiles before they hit ground.
Bomb shelters do not exist in the Gaza Strip. According to the international non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch, Israeli restrictions and Egypt’s refusal to allow Palestinian immigration have conspired to leave medical personnel and facilities lacking in the Gaza Strip. Putting aside the large differences in casualty numbers, the group says the missile attacks on Israel have been either targeted specifically at civilian population centers (punishable as war crimes) or generally indiscriminate. As for Israel, the group says the alleged targeting of private homes by Israel would be prosecutable as “collective punishment.”
A full-scale ground assault by Israel has not happened but could be imminent. Tanks have been massed and more than 40,000 reservists have been called up and gathered along the border.
Hamas, the group in control of the Gaza Strip, and the PIJ are both considered terrorist organizations by the United States, Israel and others. Although Israel does not have a military presence inside Gaza, control of the area’s air, sea and ground borders is effectively under Israeli control.
By Gregory Baskin