Israel Strikes Gaza After Hamas Fires Incendiary Balloons

On June 17th, the Israel launched a second round of airstrikes on the Gaza Strip since the cease-fire which halted hostilities between Hamas and the Israeli military at the end of last month. Following the cease-fire and the formation of a new government with Naftali Bennett as prime minister, attacks resumed with the Israeli military striking Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip and Hamas sending incendiary balloons into Israel. This new round of fighting in the Gaza Strip mirrors a new phenomenon in hostilities between Hamas and Israel.

In previous wars over the last fifteen years, events in the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank have largely been treated separately both by the Israeli and Palestinian leaders. As Tareq Baconi observed in an interview with 972 Magazine in May, previous wars centered around blockade conditions or political developments limited to the specific relationship between Israel and Hamas. In contrast, the eleven-day war in May defied this dynamic because Hamas launched its rocket attacks in response to raids and arrests the Israeli police carried out at the al-Aqsa compound in Jerusalem, as well as in support of residents facing eviction from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan neighborhoods.

The escalation to airstrikes again this week also followed a Hamas reaction to developments in Jerusalem and the West Bank. According to NPR, the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, a flashpoint for protests and crackdowns by Israeli police, was forcibly cleared in advance of an ultra-right march, while other confrontations occurred at the site of a new settlement near Nablus in the West Bank. Futhermore, four Palestinians in the West Bank were been killed by Israeli forces in the last few weeks during protests and at checkpoints. While these events have often been considered separate in terms of cease-fire agreements and reprisals, Hamas’ change in tactics has sought to connect conditions in both Gaza and the West Bank.

The new threat of continued bombings and strikes comes as Israel has carried out numerous military campaigns in the small enclave over the last fifteen years. In addition to the thousands of casualties from bombings and ground operations, additional thousands have been injured and killed by Israeli sniper fire along the border. Futhermore, Israel along with Egypt have imposed a land, air, and naval blockade of the Gaza Strip since Hamas won elections for the Palestinian Authority in 2006 which was followed by armed confrontations with the Fatah party over taking formal control of the Palestinian Territories designated under the Oslo Accords. Under this blockade, Israel limits the freedom of movement of Palestinians in Gaza, only allowing movement after what the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem calls “a lengthy, non-transparent and arbitrary bureaucratic process” where requests are often denied.

The cumulative effect of military campaigns, blockade, and political strife have taken a significant toll on the residents of Gaza. Forty percent of the population in Gaza is under the age of 14, and as Hozayfa Yazji of the Norwegian Refugee Council notes, this means that close to a majority of Gazans have never experienced life without blockade and have experienced significant trauma multiple times during their childhood. The U.N. has stated that over 50,000 residents in Gaza were displaced by the fighting last month and 450 buildings were either destroyed or badly damaged. In addition, the New York Times reported that Israeli air strikes destroyed Gaza’s only Covid-19 testing lab, and crossing closures ended all vaccine shipments to Gaza, where only 1.9% of residents are fully vaccinated. In order to end the cycle of trauma, displacement, and poverty in Gaza, Israel must end its policies of collective punishment both by blockade and bombings.