A Different War in Gaza, and the War Ahead
By Ramzy Baroud
In life, some phenomena cannot be explained by ordinary logic or technical language, let alone official discourses. How did Gaza manage to fight back with such ferocity and undying vigor in quelling the latest Israeli war despite years of a bloody siege and one-sided war in 2008-9? It simply cannot be explained by the outmoded language of today’s media analysts. Notwithstanding, a new reality is about to emerge.
During the 2008-09 ‘Operation Cast Lead,’ Israel killed over 1,400 Palestinians and wounded over 5,000 others. It was like shooting fish in a barrel. Most victims were civilians as is always the case in such wars of ‘self-defense’. A United Nations investigation published in September 2009 concluded there is “evidence indicating serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law were committed by Israel during the Gaza conflict, and that Israel committed actions amounting to war crimes, and possibly crimes against humanity.”
Back then there was no shortage of indictments and condemnations, as will surely emerge from its latest 8-day war on Gaza. Many spoke of how the tide of public opinion is turning against Israel, how the self-declared Jewish State was losing its command over an ever-skewed narrative of David vs. Goliath, of how the US will no longer be able to shield Israel against the profound anguish of millions of besieged people imploring the world for help and solidarity.
Much of this was in fact true, but equally true was that Israel succeeded in dragging Gaza and the rest of Palestine back to the same status quo – despite the heinous crimes committed four years ago -that preceded the war. Former Israeli Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, told journalists on January 12, 2009 that her country was deliberately ‘going wild’ in Gaza to “restore ..Israel’s deterrence. Hamas now understands that when you fire on its citizens it responds by going wild – and this is a good thing.”
It certainly was good enough for the United States, but also for many European powers who giddily wined and dined with Livni in Brussels, shortly after the war, as if thousands of people had not been killed and wounded or that whole families hadn’t just perished for no fault of their own and as if a whole nation was not still in mourning for its lost children, men and women.
It is not that Israel was particularly crafty in restoring its standing among official western circles in the last four years, thus giving it the needed confidence to assault Gaza once more. The fact is that Israel never lost that standing to begin with. These very powers (starting with Washington and London) never ceased backing Israel with the latest killing technology, bolstering Israel’s economy despite their own economic woes and of course, supporting Israel’s ‘right to defend itself’ at every available opportunity.
The 22-day war on Gaza of 2008-09 was in actuality a continuation of another long war, which is difficult to demarcate by specific dates and times. Palestinians in Gaza (as in the rest of the occupied territories) have been dying at rates that decelerate and accelerate depending on the political mood in Tel Aviv. In 2008, embattled Kadima party officials sought war to boost their rating among a war and security-obsessed public. In 2012, national elections in Israel are upon us once more. In both cases, Palestinian blood had to be exacted in that same bloody game of Israeli politics. And all rising stars in Israeli politics needed to be there to impress the ever-approving public.
When “more than 90 percent of Israeli Jews support Gaza war” (Haaretz, Nov 19), it becomes less shocking to read Gilad Sharon (son of former Israeli Prime Minister and repeatedly accused war criminal Ariel Sharon) writing in the Jerusalem Post: “There should be no electricity in Gaza, no gasoline or moving vehicles, nothing. Then they’d really call for a ceasefire ..We need to flatten entire neighborhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza. The Americans didn’t stop with Hiroshima – the Japanese weren’t surrendering fast enough, so they hit Nagasaki, too.”
Yet what was thought of as another hunting season of Gaza’s civilians and fighters alike didn’t turn out as desired. ‘Operation Pillar of Cloud’ was meant as to present Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Defense Minister Ehud Barak with ample opportunities so that they may wave their fingers in threatening gestures and score as many political points as they could before international pressure mount. Instead, it ended up being a political debacle of historic proportions.
Israel’s trial balloons were downed by hundreds of Palestinian rockets that reached as far as northern Tel Aviv and even west Jerusalem. What was meant to break the resistance, so that Palestinians may never dare complain of occupation, of Israel-imposed political isolation and suffocating siege, along with Israel’s ‘deterrence’ wars, resulted in a new strange reality that sent Israelis everywhere seeking shelter. When sirens blared, Israel came to a halt as Israelis experienced bloody glimpses of what Palestinians experience too often. 167 Palestinians were killed and over a thousand wounded. 6 Israelis were killed, including a soldier who died from his wounds after a ceasefire was achieved through Egypt on Nov 21. But it was not the amount of spilled blood that made this war different, for the ratio of horrific deaths remains tilted. It was different because of the nature of the message that Hamas and other resistance factions delivered. Even starved and besieged Gazans are capable of fighting back after six long years of a hermetic blockade that forced them to dig hundreds of tunnels seeking salvation through neighboring Egypt.
In Ramallah, the Palestinian Authority, with little credibility to begin with, became more irrelevant than ever before. Mahmoud Abbas tried to impose himself as a party in the conflict by speaking of a popular but peaceful resistance in a televised speech. He conveniently explained the Israeli war as an attempt to coerce him not to seek the UN vote on a non-member state status for Palestine. And as Israeli leaders struggled to understand the new variable in their unfair war equation with the Palestinians, Arab officials poured into Gaza signaling that this time around things would be different. The Americans took notice too. Just as the US media spoke of a shift in US foreign policy focus to East and Southeast Asia, the alarming nature of the new war forced Secretary of State Hilary Clinton to rush to Israel to offer its support and solidarity. European leaders did the same. The lines were being demarcated once more. This time Gaza was a dividing point of regional and international politics, its resistance being the main factor behind a seismic shift.
Many in Israel tried to distort the facts by explaining that a ceasefire for Hamas would be good for Israel as it would bring “quiet” to border communities. Thus the Israeli objectives were achieved in a roundabout sort of way. Haaretz military correspondent Amos Harel labored to soften the blow by saying “The art of measuring the level of deterrence power is far from an exact science. Nobody expected that failed actions against Hezbollah in 2006 would lead to six-and-a-half years of quiet (which for the time being persists) on the Lebanon border”.
However, Israel’s intentions were not exactly about achieving peace and tranquility. For decades, Israel’s sought to have complete monopoly over violence, thus the right to punish, deter, intervene, occupy and ‘teach lessons’ to whomever it wanted, whenever it wanted. Its recent targeting of Sudan, its past strikes against Iraq, Tunisia, Syria, appalling wars in Lebanon, and constant threats against Iran are all cases in point.
Certainly, something big has changed. Not that Palestinians managed to narrow the imbalance of power, but that they succeeded in imposing their resistance as a factor in Israel’s ‘security’ equation that was exclusively determined by Israel.
Despite their heavy losses, thousands of Palestinians danced with joy throughout the Gaza Strip. They kneeled and prayed among the rebels, thanking God for their ‘victory’. Masked armed men were crowded by jubilant Gazans cheering for resistance. Israel and its benefactors began assigning blame by pointing the finger mostly at Iran. But their words drowned in the echoes of Palestinian chants. All parties know that something fundamental has been altered, although the battle is anything but over. A war of a different kind is about to begin.
– Ramzy Baroud (ramzybaroud.net) is an internationally syndicated columnist and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London).