Last month, Israel launched a massive air strike on various infrastructural targets in the Gaza Strip. On January 3, Israel continued its assault on Gaza with a wide-scale ground incursion that included several thousand members of Israel’s reserve military forces. Israel has twice refused a diplomatic conclusion to the hostilities, instead claiming to seek a more “durable” solution to Hamas’ rocket fire into southern Israel. In the process of attempting to realize this “durable” solution, Israel has managed to terrorize Gaza’s 1.5 million Palestinians, killing more than 1,000 people — including 315 children.

According to many in the pro-Israel community, the current offensive is a direct response to increased rocket fire from Hamas following the expiration of a ceasefire on December 19. By claiming its actions are “self-defense,” Israel has yet again succeeded in misleading the international community and completely ignoring the historical context of Israel’s 41-year-old military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In order to justify its current bombardment and 18-month siege of the Gaza Strip, Israel presents itself as the blameless victim of rocket attacks from crazed, anti-Semitic Muslim terrorists seeking to disrupt Israel’s democracy and way of life. This distorted perception of the Palestinian resistance movement is largely uncontested by many in the international community and therefore affords Israel the opportunity to economically, politically, and militarily incapacitate both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

While Israeli officials claim they are targeting Hamas “militants,” it is clear the current offensive has affected every man, woman and child in Gaza. On January 6, scores of women and children seeking refuge at a United Nations school were slaughtered when two tank shells exploded outside the building. This is particularly appalling considering the United Nations regularly provides Israel with its exact location. The next day, UN officials denied Israel’s claim that militants were operating near the school when it was shelled.

In order to realize a just and lasting peace, we must ask questions that address the root of this conflict. Classic anti-Semitism or an intrinsic hatred of Israel cannot explain Hamas’ rocket fire into towns in southern Israel. Many view Hamas’ actions as a response to Israel’s history of aggression and occupation that has included the forced dispossession and expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians in 1948, the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip since 1967, the systematic expropriation of Palestinian lands through settlement construction, expansion and home demolition, humiliation Palestinians face under a brutal occupation that regularly subjects Palestinians to curfews, illegal detention, political assassinations, military incursions, checkpoints and an inability to exercise social and political autonomy. The question here is not the justifiability of rocket attacks out of Gaza, the question is what compels someone to shoot homemade rockets at Israeli civilians in Sderot and Ashkelon? By subjecting the Palestinians in Gaza to disproportionate and particularly savage forms of collective punishment, Israel continues to perpetuate the seemingly intractable nature of the conflict.

Contrary to Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni’s claim that “there is no humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip,” the people of Gaza are suffering from a devastating humanitarian disaster. Since January 2006, Israel has imposed a series of economic and social blockades on the Gaza Strip — including the current 18-month-old siege — that have resulted in soaring unemployment rates, poverty, and food, fuel and medical shortages. As a result of Israel’s current land invasion, nearly 250,000 people are without electricity and running water and hospitals are overflowing with patients seeking urgent medical care.

Israel cannot ignore its human rights violations against the Palestinians for much longer. Regrettably, any ceasefire is destined for failure as long as Israel and the international community refuse to examine the core of the conflict. Any lasting peace requires Israel’s recognition of the Palestinians’ right to exist freely, either as citizens of a sovereign Palestinian state or as co-citizens with Israelis under a secular, one-state democracy.

Andrew Dalack and Bre Arder are co-chairs of Students Allied for Freedom and Equality.

Read the pro-Israel viewpoint from American Movement for Israel here.

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