(1) Refugees. It is little-known that when Israel became a nation in 1948 it expelled about 750,000 Palestinians from their homes. Israeli historians Benny Morris and Ilan Pappé have now overturned the myth that they left voluntarily. This is what some call Israel's "original sin" in that it pursued ethnic cleansing to redress demographics that were against them. Many Palestinians fled to the West Bank and surrounding Arab nations (and were never allowed to return home). Others fled south to Egypt and the oasis of Gaza. Today Gaza has about 1.7 million people and over half are descendants of these refugees. So, as Cambridge historian Colin Chapman has said, "the rockets that Palestinians have been firing from Gaza have been landing on areas from which their parents and grandparents were driven out in 1948."
Take Ashkelon. This is an Israeli town about 35km north of Gaza. But wait. In 1948 the town had about 12,000 Arab residents and a thriving textile industry. But during that war it was shelled fiercely by Israel and a forced expulsion pushed all but 1000 Arabs into Gaza. Some slipped back home and they were rounded up and kept in camps until an expulsion order in 1950 removed all but about 20 families. Then most of these people then ended up in Gaza too. And the town? It was repopulated by incoming Jewish families. The Gaza refugees haven't forgotten this.
(2) Casualties. As of this week (Aug 28) about 2,000 Gaza Palestinians are dead and over 10,000 have been wounded. And on the Israeli side: 67 (mostly) soldiers have died. According to the UN, of these Gaza casualities, 1400 were Palestinian civilians. And of those injured, 3000 were children. 1000 of these children will have life-long disabilities. It is no wonder that we've seen UN staff express outrage at what they see. But the UN has taken its own losses. 30 of their Palestinian staff were killed and 11 UNRWA personnel were killed.
This is remarkably disproportional and it explains the limitations of the military arm of Hamas, the ruling government of Gaza. And it makes ludicrous the claim that Hamas could destroy Israel. It also underscores Israel's world-class military (sustained by U.S. technology and funding) and its effective "Iron Dome" anti-missile defense system which rendered Hamas' missile-barrages relatively ineffective.
However Israeli bombing of Gaza has been a staple of the region for years. In 2008-09 another bombing campaign (Operation Cast Lead) did the same thing killing 1400 people there. In 2012 (Operation Pillar of Cloud) repeated it (133 killed). And since the election of Hamas in 2005 (and its complete takeover in 2006), Israel has pursued a policy of assassinating Hamas political leaders with rockets and has successfully killed hundreds. But at the same time, it has killed many innocent civilians as well. Which has led to worldwide criticism.
The bottom line: Israel has been actively bombing Gaza for a long time. Of course Israel will argue that
But the real challenge is what happens next. How do we fix Gaza and not simply end the fighting? If we don't fix it this tragedy will repeat itself in another five years.
Gary M. Burge, Ph.D., is a professor of theology at Wheaton College in Chicago, IL. He writes extensively on the Middle East and has traveled frequently to countries from Iraq to Libya. He is also the author of numerous books and articles on theology as well. His recent publications on Israel/Palestine include Jesus and the Land: The New Testament Challenge to Holy Land Theology (2010) and Whose Land? Whose Promise? What Christians Are Not Being Told About Israel and the Palestinians (2013). www.garyburge.org.