How Israel torpedoed its ceasefire with Hamas to produce a casus belli


By David Morrison

Political Officer, Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign



  • From 19 June 2008 until 4 November 2008 – during its Egyptian brokered ceasefire with Israel – Hamas didn’t fire any rockets or mortar shells out of Gaza and restrained other Palestinian groups from doing so.  This was confirmed by Israeli spokesman, Mark Regev, on More4 News on 9 January 2009 [1].


  • This was despite the fact that Israel failed to honour its obligations under the ceasefire agreement to lift its economic blockade, which had brought the people of Gaza to the verge of starvation.


  • From 19 June 2008 until 4 November 2008, only 20 rockets and 18 mortar shells were fired out of Gaza (all by groups other than Hamas), compared to 1,199 rockets and 1,072 mortar shells in 2008 up to 19 June – which amounts to a reduction of 98% in the frequency of both rockets and mortars.


  • On 4 November 2008 – while the world was watching the election of Barack Obama – Israel made an armed incursion into Gaza, the first since the ceasefire began on 19 June, and killed 7 members of Hamas.


  • In retaliation, Hamas resumed firing rockets and mortar shells out of Gaza.


  • Israeli Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, declared on 31 December: “Last Saturday [27 December] at 11:30, Israel started its military operation in the Gaza Strip – there was no other alternative.  For eight years now, Israel has been under attack from the Gaza Strip and it has become worse. Hamas … has been targeting Israel on a daily basis.” [2]


  • There, Tzipi Livni told a big lie.  There was an alternative: it was to stick to the terms of its ceasefire with Hamas, as a result of which Hamas had fired no rockets or mortar shells out of Gaza from 19 June to 4 November.


  • Israel’s assault on Gaza cost the lives of more than 1,400 Palestinians (including over 400 women and children). 13 Israelis, including 3 civilians, also died.  None of this carnage was necessary in order to defend Israeli citizens from rocket and mortar fire out of Gaza.  All Israel had to do to protect its citizens was to stick to the terms of its ceasefire agreement with Hamas.  It chose not to do so.


  • Israel’s assault on Gaza did not destroy the capability of Hamas and other groups to fire rockets out of Gaza: in the two months after the assault ended, 95 rockets were fired out of Gaza, compared with a mere 20 during the whole of the four and a half month ceasefire.



Under the ceasefire agreement, brokered by Egypt, in exchange for Hamas and other Palestinian groups stopping the firing of rockets and mortars out of Gaza, Israel undertook to lift its economic blockade of Gaza and cease military incursions into Gaza.  The ceasefire was to be for six months initially, but, if successful, it was to be renewed and to apply to the West Bank as well. 


The key facts about the ceasefire are indisputable.   They are confirmed in reports by the Israeli Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center [ITIC], reports that are publicly available on the Center’s website and are used extensively by the Israeli Government.


For example, a report entitled The Six Months of the Lull Arrangement [3], written on 17 December 2008, just before the 6-month ceasefire agreement was due to expire, summarises its effect as follows:


The lull arrangement brought relative quiet to the western Negev population and the

Gaza Strip, especially during its first months, but it did not completely end the rocket and mortar shell attacks.”  (Paragraph 3)


The report makes no attempt to hide the fact that the ceasefire worked well up to 4 November 2008 and that it was Israel’s military incursion into Gaza on that date which brought it to an end in all but name.  Here’s what it says:


“An analysis of the situation on the ground indicates two distinct periods:

i) A period of relative quiet between June 19 and November 4: As of June 19, there was a marked reduction in the extent of attacks on the western Negev population. The lull was sporadically violated by rocket and mortar shell fire, carried out by rogue terrorist organizations, in some instance in defiance of Hamas (especially by Fatah and Al-Qaeda supporters). Hamas was careful to maintain the ceasefire. The IDF refrained from undertaking counterterrorism activities in the Gaza Strip, taking only routine defensive security measures along the border fence. Between June 19 and November 4, 20 rockets (three of which fell inside the Gaza Strip) and 18 mortar shells (five of which fell inside the Gaza Strip) were fired at Israel.


ii) The escalation and erosion of the lull arrangement, November 4 to the time of this writing, December 17: On November 4 the IDF carried out a military action close to the border security fence on the Gazan side to prevent an abduction planned by Hamas, which had dug a tunnel under the fence to that purpose. Seven Hamas terrorist operatives were killed during the action. In retaliation [my emphasis], Hamas and the other terrorist organizations attacked Israel with a massive barrage of rockets.” (Paragraph 4)


So, the ITIC confirms that from 19 June to 4 November “Hamas was careful to maintain the ceasefire” and that the relatively small number of ceasefire violations were “carried out by rogue terrorist organizations, in some instance in defiance of Hamas (especially by Fatah and Al-Qaeda supporters)”.


The ITIC also confirms that Israeli forces entered Gaza on 4 November and killed 7 members of Hamas and that the subsequent rocket fire by Hamas and other groups was “in retaliation”.  Clearly, if Israeli forces hadn’t entered Gaza, there would have been no retaliation – and the population of the Western Negev would have continued to be free from Hamas rocket fire.


Another ITIC report, Escalation in the Gaza Strip [4] justifies the Israeli incursion into Gaza by saying that the purpose of the tunnel was to abduct Israeli soldiers.  One doesn’t have to be a military genius to know that, once the tunnel was discovered, there was no need to enter Gaza to prevent the abduction of soldiers on the Israeli side of the fence.


This report also gives the following bar chart showing the dramatic decline in rocket and mortar firing since the ceasefire came into force (figures for January to mid-November 2008):


Rocket and Mortar Shell Fire during the Lull Period
Compared with the First Half of 2008



The ceasefire wasn’t perfect.  Nevertheless, as of 4 November, the threat to Israeli civilians was greatly diminished – in October only 2 rockets (and no mortar shells) were fired out of Gaza. No Israeli civilian had been killed since the ceasefire began on 19 June.


The following account of life in Sderot in early October testifies to the ceasefire’s effectiveness:-


Israeli town celebrates end to daily rocket

TheStar.com - Columnist - Israeli town celebrates end to daily rocket fireBesieged residents of Sderot relieved at quiet start to

Yom Kippur, thanks to the ceasefire with Hamas.


Toronto Star, October 09, 2008 [5]


SDEROT, Israel–Young boys horsed around on their bicycles, families hurried to make last-minute purchases at the downtown supermarket, and food stands did a steady business in shawarma and beer.


Meanwhile, the October sun sparkled down from a blue and rocket-free sky.


If this seems like an unremarkable description of any Israeli town about to mark the holy day of Yom Kippur, it almost could be – except for that part about rockets.


Just a kilometre from the Gaza Strip, this southern Israeli town has been struck by an average of three missiles a day for each of the past seven years – and that is a long way from what most people would consider normal.


Lately, however, the cloudless firmament over Sderot has been mostly free of deadly ordnance, and the community is doing its best to resemble what for a long time it has singularly failed to be – a halfway normal town.


For seven years, local residents barely went out at all. But, late last June, under Egyptian mediation, the Israeli government reached a ceasefire agreement with the Palestinian militant group Hamas.


Since then, with only a few violations, the rocket salvoes from Gaza have stopped.

So have the punitive Israeli military incursions into the neighbouring strip – attacks that had been a frequent and deadly feature of Palestinian existence prior to the laying down of arms in June.

Less than a month later, on 4 November, Israel broke the ceasefire and, as a result, the near rocket-free days that Sderot had enjoyed since 19 June ended.


An Israeli Government with the security of its civilians as its top priority would have been extremely careful to avoid action that might disturb this ceasefire, which had been so successful in diminishing the threat to them.  It might even have taken action to bolster the ceasefire by, for example, easing its economic blockade as it was supposed to do under the ceasefire agreement.


But, instead, on the night of 4 November, Israel took action that torpedoed the ceasefire – Israeli forces entered Gaza and killed 7 members of Hamas.  Israel had now broken both elements of its ceasefire agreement with Hamas.  The inevitable consequence was that Hamas responded by resuming rocket and mortar fire into Israel.


The military assault on Gaza, which began on 27 December, could not have been justified to the world prior to 4 November, when, thanks to Hamas holding fire and restraining other groups, rocket and mortar fire out of Gaza was almost non-existent.  Rocket and mortar firing out of Gaza was necessary as a casus belli.  And the incursion of 4 November was mounted to produce a reaction, which could be presented as a casus belli.


Had the Israeli Government’s primary concern been the safety of its citizens, it would have fulfilled its obligations under the ceasefire agreement – desisting from military action against Gaza and lifting its economic blockade of Gaza.  Had it done so, there is no doubt whatsoever that Hamas would have been prepared to maintain indefinitely the ceasefire that prevailed prior to 4 November.


David Morrison

July 2009


[1]  http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=SILJxPTqjAM

[2]  www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Government/Speeches+by+Israeli+leaders/2008/


[3]  www.terrorism-info.org.il/malam_multimedia/English/eng_n/pdf/hamas_e017.pdf

[4]  www.terrorism-info.org.il/malam_multimedia/English/eng_n/html/ct_e011.htm

[5]  www.thestar.com/World/Columnist/article/514498