GAZA CITY (Ma’an) — Palestinians around the world on Saturday commemorated the sixth anniversary of the beginning of Israel’s 22-day offensive on the Gaza Strip in 2008-9 that left more than 1,400 dead.
This year’s commemorations take place in the shadow of another Israeli offensive over summer — the third major assault in six years — that left nearly 2,200 Palestinians dead and 110,000 homeless.
Until this year, the 2008-9 assault was the bloodiest sustained Israeli assault on Palestinians since 1967, with more than 80 percent of victims thought to have been civilians.
The offensive, known by its Israeli moniker “Cast Lead,” began on Dec. 27, 2008 around 11:30 a.m., when Israeli warplanes launched more than 100 airstrikes on Gaza simultaneously.
The airstrikes killed hundreds of police officers and civilians, including dozens of police cadets who were attending their graduation ceremony, and injured more than 2,000 Gazans on the first day alone.
On Jan. 3, 2009, meanwhile, an Israeli ground offensive began around 9 p.m., with Israeli soldiers, artillery, tanks, and other units raiding the Gaza Strip by land as the assault continued by air and sea.
Israeli forces famously used a number of internationally-banned weapons such as white phosphorus, a chemical that enters the body and burns the skin from the inside.
More than 5,500 Palestinians were injured in the assault while around 50,000 were displaced.
Israel launched the attack at the conclusion of a six-month ceasefire with Hamas that it repeatedly violated, despite Hamas’ general adherence.
On Nov. 4, a month-and-a-half before Cast Lead began, Israel launched an unprovoked attack on Gaza that left six Hamas members dead and led to a number of Palestinian rocket firings into Israel.
Critics pointed out that the attack was carried out on the same day as the US elections and went nearly unreported in the international media. Cast Lead itself, meanwhile, was launched in the media lull between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
The utter devastation of Cast Lead was previously unimaginable in Gaza, which — despite having survived decades of Israeli military occupation — had never before been so viciously assaulted from air, land, and sea.
Cast Lead is also considered one of the first wars in modern history from which there was no possibility of flight or refuge, as both Israel and Egypt kept the border with Gaza tightly sealed, preventing Gaza’s 1.7 million residents from escaping.
The scenes would be repeated again only three years later, however, when Israel launched an assault in Nov. 2012 that killed around 160 Palestinians, the majority of whom were civilians.
Less than two years later, Gaza would again fall prey to an Israeli military assault, in the bloodiest year for Palestinians in the occupied territories since the occupation began in 1967.
Throughout the entirety of the last six years, the Israeli siege on Gaza has persisted, and the majority of the Strip’s population has been reduced to poverty and dependance on international aid as the vast majority of imports and exports have been blocked by Israel.
The siege has also prevented reconstruction as cement and other building materials are among the imports banned by Israel. As a result, today the landscape of the Gaza Strip continues to be marred by the physical reminders of all of the wars of the recent past.