Israel and Gaza violence: How did it start?

November 17, 2012

In the past few days, the world has once again turned its focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with Israel and Hamas bombarding each other, blowing up key buildings and targeting large cities. An Israeli ground invasion remains a possibility. What triggered this latest violence?

The tensions are not new: Israel and Gaza have been trading airstrikes and rocket fire for months. In just one day in late October, Palestinian militants fired more than 60 rockets from Gaza into southern Israel, wounding three Thai workers in an Israeli border community. Israel retaliated with several airstrikes, killing four militants.

Israel's Iron Dome defense system fires to intercept incoming missiles from Gaza in the port town of Ashdod. (AP Photo /Tsafrir Abayov)

The attacks stem partly from growing frustration in Gaza over economic hardships, exacerbated by the blockade imposed by Israel to try to squeeze out Hamas, the Palestinian militant group. A U.N. report in August concluded that Gaza may not be a "livable place" by 2020 because of food insecurity and abysmal infrastructure. The unemployment rate hovers near 30 percent, and in September a Palestinian man set himself on fire, apparently frustrated by his job prospects and his family's poverty.

Some analysts believe Israel's isolation policy is failing and are recommending that Israel shift its focus from trying to undermine Hamas to securing its border. As The Washington Post's Joel Greenberg reported:

“Israel has an interest that Gaza resemble, as much as possible, a state with a stable government. That is the only way to have an address for both deterrence and dealing with security issues,” Giora Eiland, a former general who headed Israel’s National Security Council wrote in the Yediot Ahronot daily.

Writing in the Atlantic, Emily L. Hauser, an American-Israeli writer who lived in Tel Aviv for 14 years, tried to piece together the escalation of the past two weeks.

Some Palestinians date the start of this latest conflict to Nov. 4, when Israeli soldiers shot and killed a Palestinian man who strayed too near Gaza's border fence with Israel. Israeli troops fired warning shots when the man failed to heed orders to leave the buffer area, but Palestinian medics said that the victim was unarmed and mentally unfit and that they were forced to wait several hours for permission to assist him.

But, Hauser said, rockets had been fired back and forth regularly around that time, so the Nov. 4 incident might not have been the only instigator.

It's genuinely impossible to date today's hostilities conclusively to one incident or another; even the "two-week lull" that some outlets have said preceded Nov. 8 (when the timeline below begins) was, according to Reuters, "a period of increased tensions at the Israel-Gaza frontier, with militants often firing rockets at Israel and Israel launching aerial raids targeting Palestinian gunmen."

Hauser's timeline then details how events unfolded leading up to Wednesday's assassination of Ahmed al-Jabari, head of Hamas's military wing:

Thursday, November 8

In an exchange of fire on the border of Gaza with militants from the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), Israeli forces killed a 12 year old (or 13 year old) Palestinian boy. "The PRC said it had confronted an Israeli force of four tanks and a bulldozer involved in a short-range incursion beyond Israel's border fence with the Gaza Strip." Later, Palestinian fighters blew up a tunnel along the Gaza-Israel border, injuring one Israeli soldier. Reuters

Saturday, November 10

An IDF force patrolling near the border, inside Israel, was hit by an anti-tank missile fired from inside the Gaza Strip. Two soldiers were seriously injured. MFA

In retaliation, Israeli tanks fired into Gaza, killing four Palestinians; Palestinian fighters retaliated in turn with rockets into Israel; an Israeli air strike targeted a rocket crew, and killed a militantReuters

Sunday, November 11

Israeli government reports four civilians injured in rocket fire from Gaza; Israeli attacks result in one Palestinian civilian killed and dozens injured. Institute for Middle East Understanding

Ynet reported that over 100 Qassam rockets, mortar shells and Grads fired from Gaza into Israel in the course of 24 hours; the Israeli air force "struck several terror hubs in the Strip." Ynet

Monday November 12

Israeli warplanes opened fire on three different Gaza targets between the hours of 2:20 and 3:20 a.m.; no casualties reported. PCHR

At 9:07 p.m., Haaretz reported that "The representatives of Palestinian militant groups in the Gaza Strip announced an agreement to hold their fire on Monday, following days of persistent rocket attacks.... However a matter of minutes later, two rockets [exploded] in open fields near [the southern town of] Sderot. No casualties or damage reported." Haaretz

Tuesday November 13

Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh praised Gaza's main militant groups in Gaza for agreeing to the truce: "They showed a high sense of responsibility by saying they would respect calm should the Israeli occupation also abide by it," he said." Reuters

A rocket exploded in an open area in Ashdod. MFA

 

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