gaza 2009

January 9, 2009

The current Israeli offensive took me by surprise. I am not an expert on Middle East politics, no more than the casual Newsnight viewer, and to me everything happened out of the blue.

Israeli and Palestinian casualties (monthly 2000-2008)

Israeli and Palestinian casualties (2000-2008)

Apparently Israel is getting pissed off with Hamas firing rockets over the wall and endagering Israelis. So I had a look around to see how Israeli casualties have increased in the past few months to warrant such a response. After a few Google searches I had compiled my data set which is given above. The bulk of the data come from B’Tselem, with the latest figures from AP.

Interesting isn’t it? Having seen no apparent trends, I decided to have a look at the timeline of the conflict.

The second “intifada” commenced in 2000, and by the end of February 2002 Ariel Sharon was the Israeli prime minister. This marks clearly the new round of violence and the peak of the death toll. Palestinians stepped up their suicide missions, while the West Bank was re-occupied.

During this year and the next, Arafat was repeatedly humiliated and under siege in his compound, with the militants retaliating against the Israeli invasions. Aparently with not much success, as the trend of Israeli deaths falls steadily, while the Palestinian casualties mount. The Road Map was published in April 2003, but this does not appear to have any impact.

In April 2004 Sharon announced the withdrawal of all settlers from the Gaza strip (and the troops that were posted with them). The Palestinian death toll drops dramatically, while Arafat dies later this year. The settlers’ pullout from Gaza is completed by the end of 2005, which coincides with a peak of Palestinian casualties.

Hamas wins the Palestinian elections in the begining of 2006, and Palestinian casualties spike until March when a cabinet is formed. After Hamas is established the death toll drops. At the same time Sharon falls ill and is replaced by Olmert.

The Israel-Hizbollah conflict in southern Lebanon takes place in mid-2006. After this point, and until the middle of the next year the Palestinian death toll spikes. Not unlike today, these operation by IDF were retaliations for increased rocket attacks from Palestinian millitants, presumably as a token of support to Hizbollah. Nevertheless, not unlike today, there is no evidence of increasing casualties on the Israeli side.

In June 2007 Hamas forces Fatah out of Gaza and establish themselves as the dominant force. After this point the Palestinian death toll decreases rapidly until today.

This casual look of the data together with the timeline indicates to me that Palestinians are better off with Hamas strongly in power. The only relatively quiet periods, if you are a Palestinian, were after Hamas took power in 2006 and after they kicked Fatah out of Gaza in 2007. In fact, the probability of geting killed by an Israeli appears to spike just before Hamas establish themselves; a conspiracy theorist could even claim that Israel seems to be pushing them into power…

In terms of the current crisis I cannot see any significant increase of Israeli casualties that would warrant such a retaliation. Am I missing something here? And how are Hamas doing these days by the way?

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