After more than two weeks of relentless violence that has cost more than 600 Palestinian lives and thousands of wounded, it is becoming increasingly clear that Israel’s savage assault on the Gaza Strip has not been successful even on its own terms. Day after day the rockets keep coming out of Gaza, and civilian air liners are now refusing to land at Tel Aviv.
Tens of thousands of Gazans have been driven from their homes. Yet there is no sign of any popular rebellion against Hamas or the other armed organizations. Nor does there appear to have been any pressure on Hamas to accept the fraudulent ceasefire that Blair, Sisi and Kerry attempted to impose last week, which would have left Gaza still under the same economic siege that has been in place ever since its population made the mistake in 2006 of voting for a government that Israel and the West didn’t approve of.
On the contrary, Israel’s vicious assault appears to have hardened the determination of Gazans to resist. On Sunday Israel killed more than one hundred Palestinians, most of whom died in the horrendous fighting in Shuj’ aia district, but that day it also lost 14 soldiers, Israel’s bloodiest day since the 2006 war in Lebanon.
No one who has ever been to Gaza will be surprised by this. Gazans have been resisting Israel for a long time. In the 1980s I worked there for two summers as a volunteer English teacher. I saw the large pool of sewage at Jabalya refugee camp, where most of the male population was rounded up by the victorious Israeli army in 1967 and forced to sit up to their waists and necks for hours in a sign of subjugation before their conquerors. I saw the wide avenues in the refugee camps known as ‘Sharon’s boulevards’, where Ariel Sharon bulldozed some 16,000 houses in 1970 during counterinsurgency operations against the post-occupation resistance.
I met Palestinian men and women who had spent years in Israeli jails for nationalist activity, including a former fedayaat who described a strike at the womens’ prison where the IDF poured tear gas into their cells, Most of these activists belonged to Fatah or leftist Palestinian groups. Hamas didn’t exist then, and the only Islamist organization in Gaza was the Muslim Brotherhood, which was operating with the de facto protection of the Israeli army, in an attempt to foster divisions amongs the Palestinian nationalist movement.
These efforts eventually backfired during the first Intifada, when the Muslim Brotherhood organization in Gaza and the West Bank produced Hamas. Given this history, it is entirely natural that Gazans should have refused to give in to the vicious eight year siege imposed by Israel with the utterly cynical support of the ‘international community’ and the ‘Quartet’ and its malevolent peace envoy – a siege that was intended to force the population to reject Hamas.
And whatever criticisms Gazans may have of Hamas, it is difficult to imagine that Israeli bombs are going to make them reject it now. Israel, of course, has its own explanations for this defiance. Back in the 80s Gaza was often portrayed in Israel as a savage and barbaric place, where you were likely to get your throat cut if you went anywhere near it. Today Gaza is often described as an irrational or even mad place, whose population is fatally trapped in a culture of martyrdom and hatred, or languishing under the dictatorship of Hamas ‘terrorists’.
In an interview with CNN on Sunday the despicable Benjamin Netanyahu once again accused Hamas of deliberately using ‘human shields’ because ‘They want to pile up as many civilian dead as they can. They use telegenically dead Palestinians for their cause. They want the more dead, the better.’ In another interview with the BBC’s Arabic Department the same day, Netanyahu declared: ‘Israel regrets every injury to civilians. I call on the residents of Gaza, don’t stay there, Hamas wants you to die, we want you to be safe.’
Netanyahu is lying and the people of Gaza know he is lying. They know they are being killed and terrorized because Israel wants to kill and terrorize them. They know that Israel’s strategy in this war, as in so many others, is based on inflicting suffering on the civilian population in order to turn it against Israel’s armed opponents.This strategy failed in Lebanon in 2006 and it will fail in Gaza. Because it is becoming increasingly clear that Gazans will not go back to the siege and the pre-war status quo, and that they will endure almost anything to avoid this. They are fighting and dying because they want to breathe and become part of the world again. As Sarah Ali, a Palestinian woman from Jabalya refugee camp, wrote last week:
Despite the enormous odds against them, the Gazans are winning this war. Of course they can’t win it militarily; no one doubts that Israel has the ability to obliterate the Gaza Strip with its British and US-funded weaponry. But wars are not only decided by military hardware or even by battles, but by long-term shifts in attitudes, political positions and sympathies. And on this front, Israel is clearly losing. Even journalists who have gone to Gaza primed with narratives of ‘balance’ have been shocked and reduced to tears at the sight of children blown to pieces by Israeli missiles. Pro-Palestinian demonstrations and individual gestures across the world are a testament to the international popular sympathy for the Gazans, which is radically at odds with the cynical posturing and handwringing connivance of their governments with Israel’s war aims.
Everyday the world’s television screens are filled with Israeli spokesmen ranting, bullying, and lying, or even attacking news presenters, and it is becoming increasingly clear that even mainstream journalists no longer believe them. Even the hapless Ban Ki-moon – the UN chief who has hardly said a word that the western powers on the security council didn’t like – has condemned Israeli actions. It takes a lot to make Madeleine ‘the price was worth it’ Albright worry that Israel might be ‘overdoing it’ in Gaza and losing its ‘moral authority’.
Israel and its supporters will naturally try to attribute these developments to antisemitism or some sinister alliance between the left and ‘Islamism’, rather than the arrogance, stupidity and brutality of Israel’s leaders. But that explanation no longer has the clout that it once did. Because it isn’t only that the world sees Gazans as victims. The world also sees them as resisters. It sees the courage, resilience and heroism of a population that has refused to give into Israel and its high and mighty supporters. It sees the Palestinians as David, battling an Israeli Goliath that appears to be nothing but a cruel and sadistic bully, addicted to violence and unwilling to even consider a just peace.
States that behave like that eventually become pariahs, now matter how militarily powerful they may be, and no matter how many lies they tell. They can get away with a lot of things only as long as they can count on the support of the powerful. But sooner or later there will come a point when even the governments that have given Israel carte blanche for so long will conclude that it is not in their interests to do so any longer. When that happens Israel will have to change or it will not survive.
That day may not be far off. And when or if it comes, both the horrors that Netanyahu has unleashed on Gaza and the astonishing refusal of the Gazan population to be cowed by them will have done a great deal to bring it about.