While Americans were celebrating the arrival of 2009 last week with fireworks and festivities, the people of the Gaza Strip were witnessing explosions of a different nature, giving them no cause for celebration or reason to consider the New Year a happy one.

Israel began bombing Gaza on Saturday, December 27, announcing as a pretext that Hamas had ended the cease-fire that had begun on June 19.

The truth is that there never really was a cease-fire. Almost immediately following the implementation of the truce in June, the UN reported that Israel had repeatedly violated the agreement with numerous incidents of Israeli soldiers firing upon Palestinians in Gaza, including farmers attempting to work their own land.

In response to criticism over its violations, Israel unilaterally announced the creation of a “special security zone” along the border in Gaza and declared that it would fire upon any Palestinians who entered this zone.

At the same time, the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) stepped up its operations in the occupied West Bank. In one targeted assassination, Israel killed a member of Islamic Jihad, which responded by firing rockets into Israel from Gaza.

Hamas, for its part, responded by pleading with Islamic Jihad to desist and to observe the cease-fire to help further the objective of ending Israel’s siege of Gaza, one of the terms of the agreement.

Instead, Israel tightened its blockade of Gaza even further, allowing only minimal humanitarian supplies across the border. Food, fuel, and medicine had to be smuggled into the territory through tunnels dug under the border with Egypt.

Israel also announced that it would hold Hamas responsible for the actions of other groups who were not party to the agreement.

On November 4, Israel launched an airstrike into Gaza, killing four and wounding several others. Hamas had strictly observed the cease-fire until that time. The simple historical fact of the matter is that it was not Hamas but Israel that violated the cease-fire.

The response by militants within Gaza to Israel’s airstrike was then used by Israel as pretext for its bombing campaign – an operation that had been announced prior to the cease-fire and which Israel has now acknowledged had been in the planning throughout the truce period.

Israel began with a bombardment of Gaza, but commenced this week with a ground invasion. It’s bombing included the use of cluster munitions, according to Israel’s Haaretz newspaper.

Israel also used US-made cluster munitions in Lebanon in 2006. These weapons release hundreds of submunitions designed to canvas a very large area with shrapnel-projecting explosives. Moreover, a percentage of these submunitions inevitably fail to explode initially, and thus effectively become landmines.

Israel has also begun using white phosphorus munitions in its war on Gaza. When a phosphorus round bursts, it begins a chemical reaction resulting in countless incendiary projectiles that, like cluster submunitions, cover a very wide area. When burning phosphorus comes in contact with human skin, it can burn it to the bone. Although its use on the battlefield for illumination or to provide a smokescreen is technically legal, its use as a weapon is banned under international law.

At the time of this writing, the number of Palestinians killed is over 600. Israel has targeted schools, mosques, police stations, government and residential buildings, and numerous other locations with protected status under the Geneva Conventions and other applicable international law.

On Monday, Israel bombed a UN-run school where civilians had taken refuge, killing at least 40, including women and children.

4 Israeli civilians have also been killed in retaliatory rocket fire from Gaza since Israel began “Operation Cast Lead”. None had been killed during the cease-fire period.

The US rightly condemns such rocket attacks, inherently indiscriminate in nature and therefore war crimes. But many Americans are unaware of the role their own tax dollars play in this ongoing violence, of the role of their own government in supporting Israel’s policies financially, militarily, and diplomatically.

Israel receives more than $3 billion annually from the US, which is also a major arms supplier to the country. US-made  weaponry is currently being used against Gaza, including F-16 bombers and Apache helicopters.

When member states in the United Nations announced their plan to call for a cease-fire, the US quashed the effort by declaring that it would veto any Security Council resolution demanding an end to Israel’s military operations (a repeat of its actions during Israel’s 2006 war in Lebanon).

Israel’s siege of Gaza and continuing occupation of the West Bank, including all settlement activity and acts of collective punishment, are illegal under international law. When Israel seized the Palestinian territories during the June 1967 war, the UN responded with Security Council resolution 242, which noted the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and called upon Israel to withdraw, a demand reiterated in numerous resolutions since.

Under the US Foreign Assistance and Arms Export Control Acts, US military items furnished to any other country must be used “solely for internal security” or “for legitimate self defense”. It is expressly forbidden under US law to sell arms “to any country the government of which engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.”

What is happening right now to the people of Gaza is a crime, under both US and international law. Americans, therefore, have a duty to speak out and to take action to pressure their government to end its support for such egregious acts of violence.

For the people of Gaza, time is running out.