Has Gaza beaten Goliath?
Israel entered the war on Gaza aiming to destroy Hamas politically and militarily. Instead, on the latest leak from the ceasefire talks, Hamas has won a substantial easing of the siege, with an airport and seaport on a possible longer-term agenda, and has gained greatly in prestige within the Palestinian liberation movement. Israel has lost an equal amount of prestige and support from the international community, expanded the Palestine solidarity movement, and faces a massive acceleration of the BDS campaign and indictments for war crimes. The balance of forces has shifted, and this might even deter them from doing it again. How did this come about?
It has been observed that those who win are often not those who can inflict the most pain but those who can endure the most. This maxim is commonly applied to civilian bombing intended to demoralise and to isolate the combatants from their base of support, which is mostly known to risk having the opposite effect.
There is little doubt that Palestinians are well practised at enduring. All the evidence is that the terrible toll in lives and destruction has united the people of Gaza around their fighters. They know that Israel has been punishing them since 1947 just for existing, decades before Hamas was ever thought about. They know that the bullets and bombs have “Israel” written all over them, and they are not about to blame their only defenders for what Israel has done to them.
Israel’s vulnerable flanks
In Israel, it’s a different story. Any increase in the number of army or civilian casualties would apparently not be tolerated and could even bring down the government.
For that reason the army and government PR worked overtime to present the early August ceasefire as a successful and victorious end of the bloody operation: “job done” was the message. But 53% of Jewish Israelis polled were not convinced and declared it had been a draw. Given the odds in favour of Israel, this must be seen as a victory for Gaza, despite the appalling cost in lives.
Al Jazeera revealed that in a classified military report to the Netanyahu cabinet, the government was advised that a “boots on the ground” war to eliminate Hamas could take up to five years, threatening to make Gaza into Israel’s Vietnam, fighting an unwinnable and unending war.
Commentators have started referring to the tunnels as Gaza’s “Ho Chi Minh trail”: the jungle tracks that the Vietnamese resistance used to keep supplies coming, on foot and on bicycles, through to the front lines. Despite the carpet bombing of Hanoi and the saturation of the South in napalm and toxic defoliants, they fought the massive American war machine to a humiliating defeat, which also saw a powerful revolt on Uncle Sam’s home front.
If instead of such a lengthy ground invasion Israel persists with its anti-people Blitz, it will bring on itself an onslaught of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, international isolation and criminal proceedings. This prospect accelerates with every hospital bombed, every picture of dead babies and devastated homes and utilities.
Already, several countries (e.g. in South America) where Israel had worked hard to gain lucrative trade deals have sent their Israeli embassies packing. Added to these costs of Israel’s aggression will also be the growing demands on it for reparations to re-build Gaza.
Meanwhile on Israel’s domestic scene, reports of violent street gangs attacking Palestinian Israeli citizens do nothing to add to its PR.
Gaza’s very modest demands
Perhaps what most undermines Israel’s implausible plea of self defence is the utter reasonableness of Hamas’s demands, most of which had already been agreed in the past but which Israel reneged on: an end to the siege, the chance to re-build their lives and economy, the chance to trade and do business with the rest of the world. Suddenly Hamas look less like the “terrorists” and fanatics they are said to be, and more like builders, and there is a good measure of sympathy for Gaza to have the airport and sea port Hamas are asking for.
These demands are even likely to find fertile ground in the “peace process” milieu, focused as it has been on commerce and work opportunities (unfortunately many in the shape of exploitative trade union-free zones) that they hope might replace resistance and struggle by giving the people an economic stake. One can imagine that even Tony Blair might be on Hamas’s wavelength on this one!
This is the new arena that Gaza’s rockets created for settlement talks, a playing field a bit more level than the one before the war. If Gaza itself has also been levelled in the process, that is increasingly being blamed on Israel’s refusal of these modest needs.
For its part, that refusal is entirely driven by Israel’s wish not to “hand victory”, and with it influence and respect, to Hamas. For this, thousands had to die. So it responds by demanding that Gaza must be de-militarised, which is designed either to sabotage the chance of a settlement, or to humiliate Hamas and take the edge off its political gains.
But why should Gaza, that has such an acute need for self-defence, agree to give up on its fighters? Surely it is Israel that needs to be demilitarised, and may then become a much better-behaved country, having to mind its manners rather than relying on brute force?
Gazans might well adopt Israel’s constantly re-stated question: “What other country in the world would etc etc?” Let’s hear it for: “Where in the world other than Gaza do they have to choose between having a self-defence force and having an airport? And why would Gaza disarm when senior members of Israel’s governing party and state officials issue daily calls for their complete annihilation, stirring up blood-lust and armed militias?
The modest rights of freedom to travel and trade and work and fish should not need to be traded for anything.
We say: STAND WITH GAZA! End the Siege unconditionally!
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