The latest Israeli onslaught on Gaza is nearly over. The obvious outcome is massive killing and indiscriminate destruction on the Palestinian side. That is the visible part of it. It will take time before the scale of the invisible damage in the larger region can be accurately assessed, although the civilian massacres already revealed are beyond imagination.
The region is not going to be the same after this third Gaza invasion. All sides will have to count their losses and adjust their future plans accordingly. The same applies to the so-called international community, whose decades-long poor investment in a sterile peace process is responsible for precipitating more conflict and a steady decline of regional security and stability.
Israel has miscalculated once again; more than in 2006 when its forces sought to destroy Hizbollah in Lebanon; and more than in 2008 when its demoralised army attempted to make up for the Lebanon debacle with a victory over Hamas in Gaza.
For the usual “experts” it seems everything looked better for yet another military adventure this time; not only for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, but also for many others in the region who believe that the battle against the Muslim Brotherhood should be waged in Gaza too.
Hamas in Gaza, besieged, boycotted, shunned and widely isolated looked like an easy target. The group, labelled as a “terrorist organisation” by Israel and its sponsors, has also been a prime target for the Egyptian military regime which accuses it of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood.
As a result, Egypt further tightened the siege of Gaza, destroying vital supply tunnels and sealing the Rafah crossing. And Hamas lost Syria (and consequently Iran) when its leaders decided to prematurely abandon their strategic base in Damascus and move to Qatar, believing that the Bashar Assad regime was about to fall. It was not unreasonable, therefore, to anticipate an easy victory over an exhausted Hamas.
This spring, Hamas finally agreed to surrender authority to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas by endorsing the national unity government. Though viewed in Israel as an additional proof of Hamas’ weakness, Netanyahu was determined not to let it go ahead.
Israel does not normally lack pretexts for initiating a premeditated aggression against a Palestinian target, but this time there was a handy one in the mysterious disappearance of three Israeli settlers — later found killed — near Hebron in June. Israel’s accusations that Hamas was responsible have been shown to be without any merit.
But that was the beginning of the current Israeli onslaught on Gaza. As usual many rushed to condemn Hamas for provoking Israel, blaming it for firing rockets at neighbouring Israeli towns, but that is a blatant distortion of the truth as was reported by the Times of Israel on June 30, 2014. Commentator Avi Issacharof reported that “Hamas hasn’t fired rockets into Israel since Operation Pillar of Defence ended in November 2012”. He added that security sources “assessed that Hamas had probably launched the barrage in revenge for an Israeli air strike several hours earlier which killed one person and injured three more”.
(Ghada Ageel quoted this Times of Israel article in her article “Look carefully at who started the current Israel-Hamas conflict”, published in The New York Times on July 22, 2014).
Israel’s sense that Hamas was weak and it had a free hand to do as it pleased was a big miscalculation.
Not only the Israelis, but many others were stunned by the power unleashed by Hamas and other resistance factions in Gaza. No amount of killing and destruction was enough to send the resistance running with white flags.
On the contrary, they confronted the attackers with unforeseen heroism and military skill, holding the attack and inflicting a large number of military casualties.
It is quite ironic that the resistance fighters, who only targeted and hit soldiers, are the “terrorists”, while the self-styled “most moral army in the world” has murdered almost 2,000 Palestinian civilians including more than 400 young children.
After almost a month of unprecedented shelling from land, air and sea; indiscriminate earthquake-scale destruction — including mosques, hospitals, schools, farms, shops, businesses, public buildings, shelters and disabled homes; and after a wholesale displacement of no less than a quarter of the entire population of the densely populated narrow strip, the war seems to be slowing down but the massacre continues.
Without achieving any of its declared and ever-shifting goals, Israel is left with no more than continued genocide. That harms the Palestinians enormously, but it also harms the killers. One Israeli commentator noted that “casualties on our side are our loss and casualties on their side are our loss too”.
According to Israeli media reports, the resistance military infrastructure remains in place. There is no question that it must have suffered major losses but it has not been disabled, and what has been lost will be replaced in the future.
Israel has once again agreed to a 72-hour “humanitarian truce,” and after initially resisting, has agreed to send negotiators to Cairo. It remains to be seen if Israel will abandon its stubbornness and accede to basic Palestinian demands: end the siege and let the people of Gaza live a normal life.
If Israel refuses to do this, and only agrees to “calm for calm” and a balance of deterrence, it will merely start the clock ticking towards the next war.
The Palestinians, all of them, not just the resistance organisations, will not accept a return to the status quo ante, no matter how much sacrifice that may entail.
A better outcome also depends on the so-called “international community” abandoning its role of enabling Israel and helping the aggressor at the expense of the victim, international law and basic human decency.
My fear, though, is that the unprecedented atrocities committed by the Israelis this time — not just the army — the callousness towards Palestinian life, the deliberate and indiscriminate destruction of private property, the senseless willingness to inflict pain and suffering and the indifference towards aggression victims, may have eroded any remaining sentiment for future reconciliation.
The wounds inflicted seem to be too deep to heal. If that proves to be the case, the region must then prepare for long periods of conflict and bloody confrontation. This may also undo the little achieved, whether in the form of peace agreements or any other understandings between Israel and its Arab neighbours.
Unless the international community wakes up to the new realities this vicious, naked Israeli aggression has exposed, the chaos currently fast spreading in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Somalia will be impossible to contain.
The century-old Arab-Israeli conflict is fast destroying the very political and social fabric of the entire region. This conflict remains the source of all the troubles in this region.
It is foolish to believe that future disasters will harm some and spare others. In this region we either all sink or we all survive.
Israel’s war on the Palestinians did not begin in Gaza; it has been going on for seven decades, but always with adverse results. The Palestinians have been paying heavily, but they are getting stronger and more committed to fighting for their rights. They are entitled to all that. They are not terrorists. The terrorists are the Israeli aggressors, the killers of children and civilians.
It is the Palestinians alone who have the right to defend themselves with whatever means available to them. The population of Gaza should not be disarmed; their attackers and occupiers should be. Their struggle for freedom should be honoured and supported by the civilised world.
Let us hope that Israel’s sponsors and enablers will learn the lesson that supporting Israeli aggression will never subdue Palestinians and never bring peace.