It isn’t easy to understand what Hamas is trying to accomplish in this latest conflict. The rockets they launch toward Israel are quickly followed by destruction in Gaza. Don’t the leaders of Hamas care about the hundreds of Palestinian deaths, the thousands of injuries and the obliteration of entire neighborhoods in places like Gaza City?
One way to attempt to understand Hamas’ actions is to consider how this latest round of violence started. The events below are taken from Wikipedia’s detailed timeline, except for two interesting additions, the first for June 11th and the second for June 30th.
6/11: It’s not part of the Wikipedia timeline, but a weekly report for June 10-16th from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs states on page 4:
On 11 June, the Israeli Air Force targeted an alleged member of an armed group riding on a motorcycle together with a ten-year old child, in the Beit Lahiya area. The man died instantly and the child, who sustained serious injuries, died three days later; two civilian bystanders were also injured.
The last targeted killing in the Gaza Strip was reported in early March. Following this incident and through the rest of the week, Palestinian armed groups launched a number of rockets at southern Israel.
6/12: Three Israeli teenagers are kidnapped in the West Bank.
6/14: Israel sends troops and police officers into the West Bank to conduct searches and arrests.
6/15: The Israeli Prime Minister claims to know “for a fact” that Hamas was responsible for the kidnappings. Israel further restricts border crossings for both the West Bank and Gaza.
6/16: At least 150 Palestinians have been arrested. The Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) announces that many of the arrests are unrelated to the search for the kidnappers. Instead, they are meant to put pressure on Hamas.
Photograph of weapons said to have been found by the IDF after a search:
6/18: After six days, Israeli forces have made 240 arrests, searched 800 structures, put 300,000 Palestinians under curfew and restricted the movements of 600,000.
6/20: Palestinians commit sporadic violence in the West Bank. At least two Palestinians are killed by Israeli forces. Some 1000 buildings have been damaged during searches, mostly private dwellings.
6/22: Three more Palestinians are dead. The Palestinian Authority calls on the U.N. to intervene and stop what it calls “collective punishment”.
6/23: An Israeli officer states that the operation has been a success because it has crippled Hamas’ infrastructure, although no progress has been made in locating the three teenagers. Prime Minister Netanyahu again affirms that Hamas was clearly responsible for the kidnapping.
6/24: Photograph of a nursery said to have been taken after an IDF search:
6/26: “According to Israel figures, state detentions number 381, of whom 282 are affiliated to Hamas. The number of locations searched rose to 1,955, including 64 Hamas institutions. Palestinian figures state that 566 were detained, 6 were shot dead, and over 120 wounded; 2 elderly people died of heart attacks during Israeli operations, and over 1,200 homes were searched.”
6/30: According to the Times of Israel, but not mentioned in the Wikipedia timeline:
At least 16 rockets were fired at Israel Monday morning [on June 30], most of them hitting open areas in the Eshkol region, the army said. The security sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, assessed that Hamas had probably launched the barrage in revenge for an Israeli airstrike several hours earlier which killed one person and injured three more. A member of Hamas’s militant wing was killed in the attack, Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra said….
Hamas hasn’t fired rockets into Israel since Operation Pillar of Defense ended in November 2012, and has yet to take responsibility for this latest barrage.
Also 6/30: The bodies of the teenagers are found. That night, Israeli forces destroy the homes of two Palestinian suspects.
7/1: “Israeli jets and helicopters struck 34 locations in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip in response to over 20 rockets being fired at Israel from Gaza.” Another Palestinian is shot and killed.
7/2: A Palestinian teenager is abducted and killed. “Palestinians fired nine rockets into Israeli territory, three of which heavily damaged residential buildings”, but no casualties were reported.
7/3: “The Israeli Air Force conducted 15 air strikes in Gaza.”
7/8: Israel announces plans to call up 50,000 reserves as part of Operation Protective Edge. In the early morning, Israel strikes at 50 targets in Gaza, injuring 17. PM Netanyahu instructs the IDF to “take their gloves off” against Hamas and take any means necessary to restore peace to Israeli citizens.
“The Geneva-based nonprofit, nongovernmental human rights organization Euro-Mid Observer for Human Rights, [reports that] the Israeli government has been accused of having stolen around $370,000 in cash and $2.5 million in property, in search of the abducted youths. In 387 incidents throughout the West Bank, the Israeli government has confiscated goods ranging from computers, cars, mobile phones and jewelry, taken from a wide variety of localities, including private homes, clinics, companies and universities, says the report. Spokespersons for the Israeli government say that goods were confiscated from sources that were using them to fund or support terrorism.
Note: On July 25th, a BBC journalist reported that Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld informed him that the killers of the three teenagers were “definitely” from a “lone cell”, affiliated with Hamas but not under Hamas’ direct leadership. Further, if the kidnapping had been ordered by Hamas’ ledership, the Israelis would have know about it in advance. Later, in seeking to explain his remarks, Rosenfeld reiterated that the suspects were affiliated with Hamas.
So, given the extreme military imbalance, what moved Hamas to launch those rockets at Israel for the first time since 2012?
Considering the timeline above, one explanation that seems fairly reasonable is that the people in the Gaza Strip who control those rockets got very angry and decided to fight back, whatever the consequences might be.
Tomorrow: a shorter part 2 regarding different perspectives, real and imagined.