The Contemporary History of Israel Part II
As one of several reactions to the rising violence, in June 2002 Israel began to set up a separation barrier around Palestinian cities in the West Bank and around Jerusalem. The stated main purpose was to make it more difficult for terrorists to enter Israel. The 68-mile barrier alternates between being a high concrete wall, smaller fences and other physical barriers. The goal was for it to give Israel complete control over the border. The separation barrier is very controversial. Large parts of it are created on occupied Palestinian territory. In July 2004, the International Criminal Court (ICJ) issued a statement that made it clear that the barrier must be regarded as contrary to international law. It takes away the land that is to fall to the independent Palestinian state, it changes it demographic situation in the West Bank and it creates major obstacles to Palestinian self-rule. The separation barrier has been repeatedly condemned by the UN.
The evacuation of Gaza
Another significant episode in Israel’s history was the decision to evacuate all Jewish settlements on the Gaza Strip in the fall of 2005. The then prime minister, Ariel Sharon, was the architect of the retreat. He presented his controversial plan in 2004, calling for the dismantling of all 21 Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip (as well as four in the West Bank) during 2005. At the same time, green light was provided for further Israeli new construction on Palestinian land in the West Bank.. Although Israel evacuated all of the Jewish settlements on the Gaza Strip in August 2005, they have maintained control of the area ever since, through extensive border control; both onshore and offshore. Israel also controls the airspace over the Gaza Strip.
Control over the Gaza Strip was further tightened after Hamas emerged victorious from the Palestinian elections in 2006. For Israel, Hamas was nothing more than a terrorist organization, and Israel refused to accept that they would now sit in a Palestinian government and have political power. Israel therefore started what has been a long-standing blockade of the Gaza Strip, with strict control over who can travel in and out of the area, and over what goods can be imported and exported. The Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip is a major contributor to the poverty and underdevelopment of this area, which according to a 2012 UN report was becoming an uninhabitable place.
In addition to the blockade, the situation on the Gaza Strip has been aggravated by several rounds of war between Israel and Hamas. Rockets fired from the Gaza Strip against Israel have been responded to by bomb attacks by the IDF, and in 2008-2009 the attacks escalated into a full-scale war, in a military operation known as Operation Cast Lead (‘cast lead’). After just over three weeks of war, including a full ground invasion of Israeli forces, heavy casualties and massive destruction of houses and infrastructure, the war ended after both Israel and Hamas announced individual ceasefire.
With some exceptions, this fragile ceasefire lasted until 2012, when Operation Pillar of Cloud was initiated by the Israeli defense. This operation was smaller in scope than the invasion in 2008-2009, and also faded in comparison to the one that followed – Operation Protective Edge, summer 2014. Check Zipcodesexplorer to see more articles about this country and Middle East.
The Gaza War in 2014 was the bloodiest and most devastating of the three invasions. Hundreds of Palestinians and 71 Israelis were killed before the parties again reached a new ceasefire. The war lasted 50 days and the devastation was enormous. After the end of the 2014 war, there have been several rounds of rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip and Israeli bombs in response to this, but without this breaking out into a new full-scale war. However, the situation remains unstable. As of December 2018, major Palestinian demonstrations on the Gaza Strip, where protest marches have moved up to the Israeli border, have once again made the situation in the area uneasy, and fears of a new war always hanging in the air.
The war against Hezbollah
In the north, on the border with Lebanon, the Israeli threat picture has not changed much since Ehud Barak decided to withdraw Israeli troops in 2000. Tensions between Israel and Hezbollah continued after Israel’s withdrawal, and intensified in 2005-2006. When Hezbollah killed three and kidnapped two Israeli soldiers in Israel on July 12, 2006, the government decided to go to war in an attempt to eliminate the Lebanese militia. After a series of air strikes, ground forces moved into southern Lebanon on July 19; Hezbollah responded by shelling cities in northern Israel and down into Haifa, then attack the Israeli forces in Lebanon. After 34 days of fighting, 43 civilian Israelis and over 1,000 civilian Lebanese were dead. More than 500,000 residents of northern Israel were forced to leave their homes, as were 900,000 in southern Lebanon.
On 11 August 2006, with the support of Lebanon and Israel, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1701 on the immediate ceasefire and the strengthening of the UNIFIL force, with subsequent withdrawal in September of that year.
Although Hezbollah suffered massive losses, Israeli authorities could not cash in on the 2006 war as a success at home. On the contrary. The invasion of Lebanon met widespread opposition in Israel as well, and both the political and military leadership were criticized for lack of preparation. Once again, a commission was set up to examine the course of the war and the Israeli leadership’s handling of the conflict. In January 2008, the Winograd Commission delivered a stinging judgment on the Army’s actions, decision structure, strategy and final outcome of the operation.
Israel’s border with Lebanon has been a quieter place since Israel’s withdrawal. In September 2019, for the first time in several years, there were meetings between Israel and Hezbollah.