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Home | Friday 9th January 2009 | Issue 661

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Ceasefire ends - Hamas fires rockets - Israelis retaliate. Lots of people die. Many in the media are questioning whether the Israeli response to Hamas' declaration that they would not seek to renew the ceasefire is proportionate. Some even question who was responsible for the breakdown of the ceasefire and the failure to renew it. Few however, are asking the question of whether there ever actually was a ceasefire.

In June, Israel and Hamas signed an Egyptian brokered agreement that Hamas and its affiliates would put an end to rocket attacks into Israeli territory while Israel would stop incursions and military actions in the Gaza strip, ease border restrictions and allow goods into the besieged and impoverished territory. The term used was tahadiya, 'calm' or a 'lull' in hostilities.

In the six months that followed each side frequently accused the other of breaching its side of the agreement and responded by breaching their own terms of the agreement. The first months saw a 'relative calm', a drastic reduction in rocket and mortar attacks even as groups outside of the control of Hamas, mostly Islamic Jihad, continued to limit Israeli military actions, confining them to strikes on the rocket crews in border areas. Restrictions on the Israeli border were sporadically loosened then tightened in response to the rocket fire, though even when open little more than the bare essentials were getting through to ease the desperation of the Gazan people. The terms 'fragile', 'delicate' and 'uneasy' were habitually prefixed before the 'ceasefire's or 'truce's found in reportage.

The turning point however, was 4th November when Israel launched a raid into Gazan territory targeting what they say was a tunnel being prepared to be used for the capture of Israeli soldiers. One Hamas fighter was killed. In response, mortars were launched at the Israeli military followed by an Israeli air strike that killed five more Hamas fighters. For the all the lip service that was paid to it in the month that followed, any semblance of a ceasefire was effectively over. Rocket attacks and air strikes resumed and the borders stayed firmly closed.

As the agreement expired Hamas declared that they would not seek a renewal. Their argument was articulated by Ali Abunimah, co-founder of The Electronic Infitada, "what is Israel's idea of a truce? It is very simple: Palestinians have the right to remain silent while Israel starves them, kills them and continues to violently colonise their land."

Since then, Israel has accused Hamas of using the period to re-arm while media reports coming out of Israel and comments by loose lipped Israeli military personnel have alluded to six months of planning for the current attack.

Did anyone on either side believe that the agreement was a step towards peace? Did anyone seriously believe that there would be no more rocket attacks or air strikes? Given the history of failure and betrayal of all previous ceasefires it seems extremely unlikely. 'Hamas don't want peace!' has been the cry of the Western media pundits as the rocket fire persists, even as the Israeli tanks roll in. That they don't want peace is unfair. That their members no longer believe in it, perhaps accurate.


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