There are many reasons why I didn’t write any political analysis at the time of this bloody war.
One reason is that I only wanted the war to be over, to stop the bloodshed, while I knew that the longer Gaza can stand in the face of the Israeli genocidal rampage, the better the chance that the aggressors will not get what they want and that the siege of Gaza, which, in the long term, is even more destructive to Human lives and development, will be lifted.
But the best excuse is that throughout this war the monstrous Israeli war machine seemed clumsy and clueless, while the Gaza resistance seemed to keep cool and know what they are doing.
I preferred to keep quiet and do my small thing by demonstrating against the aggression.
Now, that the war is over, what can we learn from it politically? I will try to do it short, going over many different aspects of this war, hoping to write in more details about some of them soon.
Who Won The Military Confrontation?
Great wars end with the winning side conquering territory or even with the loser signing his surrender.
The Israelis say they could conquer Gaza, but they didn’t do it. In fact, they already did it twice, in 1956 and in 1967. When they withdrew from Gaza in 2005 it was without agreement, after they paid a heavy price in two Palestinian intifadas. The fact that Gaza was not occupied again is the combine result of the expected resistance to the act of occupation and the memories of the resistance over 38 years of continued occupation. Any way you count it, the resistance is what keeps Gaza free of direct occupation.
Without gaining land or surrender, isn’t war all about killing people and destructing their livelihood? The Israeli officers, politicians and experts run to the judge of history crying: “We killed more than 2,000 people; we destroyed the homes of almost half a million Gazans, what they did to us is nothing to compare. You must declare us winners!”
But this is not the way the war is decided. We live in the world of expectations. Everybody knew that Israel has the military firepower to destroy Gaza. If the war is not for total annihilation of the other side, then it is fought to prove something about the relationship of forces.
Like Lebanon’s Hezbollah in summer 2006, the Palestinian resistance in summer 2014, led by the Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, surprised Israel both with their technical preparations and with their fighting power.
- Missiles and mortars – The previous Israeli onslaught on Gaza, just in November 2012, ended with a few rockets that reached the Tel-Aviv metropolitan area, where most of the Israelis live. Now, for the first time, Tel Aviv was systematically targeted, putting in doubt the Israeli assumption that it can wage its wars on other people’s lands without being targeted. From the first days of the confrontation, as they had no effective way to stop the rockets flying, the Israeli military commanders claimed that the resistance is running out of ammunition. By the end of the first week they declared that a third of the missiles were already used. After 51 days of war the only possible conclusion is that they didn’t have any idea how many rockets there were. The only bright side for the Israelis was the development of the anti-rocket systems, which limited the practical damage they suffered. It is still an open question how much of this is real technological success and how much is the weakness of the new Palestinian rockets. Yet, you should remember that many of the people in Gaza that were launching these rockets spent their summers as kids throwing stones at Israeli soldiers. They have many reasons to feel that they are making progress.
- The Tunnels – In this war the Palestinian resistance gave a new dimension to the old notion of Underground movement. It compensated for the overwhelming Israeli firepower and Israel’s full control of the air and the sea with this simple, old technological solution. The tunnels that went under the fence and behind Israeli lines where only a small addition. The Israeli fixation with “destroying the tunnels” (whether real or simulated) enabled the resistance to kill many more soldiers inside Gaza than those killed by attacks through the tunnels.
- Endurance – Israel was not prepared for a long confrontation. In the end it was the longest war of its kind. Typically the Israeli political thinking was that they should buy as much as possible political time in order to let the army do its thing (They call it “Let the IDF win” – even though they don’t even remember when they last won, nor have any idea what such a win should be…) On the other side the Hamas leadership made an up-hill job during the long days of fighting and negotiations to improve the functioning of the new Palestinian unity and heal some of the breaches in the Arab solidarity. In the end news of rockets in Tel Aviv fell on the Western news somewhere between car bombs in Baghdad and an earthquake in Iceland – not a ranking that the Zionist state, as the spoiled child of the world’s top powers, can let themselves be in.
For all these reasons, this military confrontation created some shift in the completely imbalanced balance of power in favor of the Palestinians.
The Politics of the War
The military confrontation is just the tip of the iceberg of a much wider confrontation between political entities, societies and economies. Each side in our days is deeply dependant on a supportive “camp” of states, people and cultures.
Israel started this war at what seemed like an optimal combination of political circumstances. The suffering of the Palestinian people tends be shadowed by the bloody mayhem in Syria, Iraq, Libya and other Arab countries. The Western powers have lost any purpose or semblance of direction in handling the conflict in Palestine and their attitude is defined by their prejudice against Palestinians as “terrorists” and by the mantra about “Israel’s right to defend itself”, no matter what any of the two sides is doing.
The Palestinian resistance entered this war in the worst regional conditions. It has never been more isolated. The Egyptian state is now controlled by a boiling counter-revolution that regards Hamas as an extension of its main enemy, the Muslim Brothers. The traditional supporters of the resistance in Iran and Syria are busy putting down the insurrection by the Syrian people and didn’t forget Hamas’ taking sides with the revolt against Bashar. So the resistance in Gaza was left with only Qatar and Turkey as active political backers for its aspiration to break the siege.
In these conditions, developments throughout the war didn’t bring any massive breakthrough but did help gradually to tilt the edge toward the resistance’s side.
In the beginning of the war Israel was exited by its own unity around the sacred cause. This wall to wall unity is typical to the settlers’ community in Israel at the beginning of any war and is held together by complete disregard to the Palestinians as Human beings and by the long practiced rituals of self-victimization. But recent developments in the Israeli society meant that racist extremism, the logical conclusion of the settler mentality, took control of politics, the street and the media. Before the end of the war most of the ruling coalition and half of the war cabinet turned to “talkback attacks” on the government and the military leadership for failing to satisfy their militarist dreams. The atmosphere of internal terror against any opposition to the war helped to silence political opponents but didn’t make the “internal front” much stronger.
On the other side the Palestinians entered this war with a newly established “unity government” that started its period by the PA President Abbas declaring that security cooperation with the occupation is “sacred” and failing to transfer wages to tens of thousands of government employees in Gaza. The Israelis hoped to use Abbas to add pressure on the Hamas-led resistance in Gaza.
As the attack on Gaza enraged Palestinians elsewhere, there was a massive popular mobilization – most significantly in Al-Quds, where there was a local Intifada after the burning to death of Muhammad Abu Khdeir. In the 1948-occupied territories Palestinian youth held the widest confrontations with the police since October 2000, in which more than a thousand were detained. In the West Bank there were several mass demonstrations and several demonstrators were shot dead by the Israeli army.
In the end it was the Palestinians that played the unity card, succeeded to form a united list of Palestinian demands and a united negotiating team. Israeli and Egyptian “achievements” like letting Abbas’ men control the border crossings are no more than face saving for them to cover their agreement to relieve the siege. What extra “security” for them will the Palestinian guards give as anything that goes through the crossings is already scrutinized by the Israelis or the Egyptians?
On the Arab level Hamas made the best in the worst conditions. For some time the Palestinian cause was again at the center of attention. There were demonstrations in many places, massive ones in Jordan, some even in Haleb (Allepo) in spite of continuous bombing by the regime. In these conditions every Arab government felt obliged to pay some lips’ service to show support for the Palestinians. Even the Egyptian government had to temper down its instinctive hostility.
Throughout the world there was a wave of activity and support for the Palestinian cause. Naturally “Stop the War” was accompanied by “Lift the Siege”, “BDS” and “Free Palestine”. The Latin American left, which took control of most of the state in South America over the last decade, gave important moral support, led by Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first Indian and Socialist president, who endorsed BDS and declared Israel a terrorist state.
Public opinion in the Arab World and the West also forced some rethinking in the ruling imperialist circles. It mostly came in two waves: First the temporary suspension of air travel to Tel Aviv, later re-examination of some weapons’ supply by the US, Britain and Spain. This doesn’t mean that the Western powers overcame their racist instinct – we have seen, for example, the European initiative toward the end of the war to re-condition the lifting of the siege of Gaza on its demilitarization – just as the Israelis themselves all but dropped this condition. But Israel is not as high as it used to be in the imperialist agenda – it is just another source of problems. Its imperialist masters have almost forgotten when was the last time that it served their interests in any effective way.
The future of Gaza is still uncertain. Even when you reach agreement with Israel (or with Egypt) there is no guarantee that it will be honored, as happened with the agreements after the previous (2012) war and with the 2011 prisoners’ exchange. Yet Gaza is fighting for liberty…
It required one intifada to bring in the PLO and another intifada to throw away the Israeli army and settlers. The Israeli withdrawal in 2005 enabled the relatively free 2006 elections and the establishment of the Hamas government. By 2007 Hamas succeeded to implement the elections result and take full control after aborting an attempted coup by a US trained militia led by Dahlan.
Gaza became the first (and till now only) part of Palestine under Palestinian control. Since then Israel makes everything it can to make this experience at Palestinian independence painful. In the last years its official policy is “differentiation” – to prove that lives under the occupation and Abbas in the West Bank is better than independence (and siege) under Hamas. Being loath to give anything to the Palestinians and driven by uncontrollable desire for settlements and land grab, it concentrated its effort on making life in Gaza a hell.
Gaza became stronger in spite of the siege and consecutive attacks. In the last war, for the first time, Gaza fought like a state, mostly by organized armed forces under central command. In the middle of the war Hamas’ leader, Khaled Mashaal, boasted that the resistance is killing soldiers while the Israelis are killing civilians. By the end of the war most Palestinian leaders agreed that the guarantee for their achievements is not any agreement but the power of the resistance.
But the struggle is not about Gaza – it is about the future of Palestine. And Palestine could not be freed while much of the rest of the Arab world is deteriorating into a bloody civil war. The heroic standing of the Palestinian during the latest assault on Gaza was an important reminder to the Arab people everywhere that the fight for freedom requires unity in the face of the oppressors and that it can be won even at the harshest conditions.