Gazans will continue to suffer even as rocket fire paused
Hopefully, the latest Israeli bombing of Gaza has drawn to a close. However, the aggression through the blockade continues and Israelis will benefit from any sense of calm.
Many will ponder the precise reasons why violence flared up over the weekend, but underlying it all is one harsh reality: Pummeling Palestinians wins votes and bears few political costs. It certainly does so in Israel, and arguably in other largely Western countries that suffer from widespread anti-Arab, anti-Palestinian racism.
Once again, the 2 million-plus Palestinians of Gaza were the cannon fodder, hemmed in their 365 sq km cage for 15 years. As the UN special rapporteur on the Occupied Territories tweeted: “Operation Breaking Dawn is a flagrant act of aggression.”
On this occasion, the Israeli leadership did not even wait for an excuse. In the past, Palestinian groups started firing rockets into Israel either for their own reasons or after deliberate Israeli provocations designed to produce a violent reaction.
This was, according to Israeli figures, a pre-emptive strike. But the absence of hard, independently verifiable evidence leaves open alternative possibilities. The Israel Defense Forces claimed: “Due to the imminent threat of attack against Israeli civilians posed by the Islamic Jihad terrorist organization in Gaza, we began Operation ‘Breaking Dawn’ earlier today.” Israeli leaders were quick to proclaim the assassination of Palestinian Islamic Jihad commander Tayseer Al-Jabari in Gaza as a huge victory. But strangely, given his supposed status, an Israeli army spokesperson could not even remember the man’s name.
The head of the military’s Operations Directorate claimed Israel had killed the entire top brass of the group’s military wing. A somewhat grand claim perhaps, but it certainly included southern brigade commander Khaled Mansour, a hugely influential Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader. By Sunday, the head of Shin Bet was briefing the Security Cabinet that the operation had been even more successful than anticipated.
The reality is that Israel is in election season. Untested Prime Minister Yair Lapid felt it was in his interest to demonstrate his hard-line security credentials as he goes up against the self-styled “Mr. Security,” Benjamin Netanyahu, who leads in the polls. Lapid showed that he too can bomb Gaza without hesitation.
As ever, we have been here before. Shimon Peres bombed Lebanon in 1996 as he tried, unsuccessfully, to ward off an insurgent Netanyahu. Ehud Olmert bombed Gaza at the tail end of 2008 in Operation Cast Lead, in advance of the elections where he too lost to Netanyahu. Lapid also recklessly permitted further mass Jewish prayer on the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on Sunday during the religious holiday of Tisha B’Av, risking broadening the confrontation.
The lesson is that you cannot be more right than the right, more hawkish than the hawks. However hard Lapid tries, he cannot outdo Netanyahu. The other lesson — not being learned in many quarters it seems — is that Lapid is no peacenik. He is pursuing near-identical policies to his predecessors, whether on Gaza, Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa, settlements or ethnic cleansing. He just tends to package it in sweet talk and smiles.
But all of this is a mirage. Constantly bombing and caging Palestinians in Gaza does not augment Israeli security. This attack on Gaza may have ended, with the rocket and mortar fire paused, and this ceasefire may hold, but at some point it will all kick off again. In the meantime, Palestinians will have to bury 44 of their number and dig through the rubble of 700 destroyed homes.
Practically nobody in Israeli politics is honest enough to admit that the country’s Gaza policy is a total and utter failure. It remains a policy of insecurity. Tel Aviv prefers to keep Israeli society in a semi-permanent state of fear rather than develop a viable relationship with the Gaza Strip and its residents.
Just as there is no doubt about the use of military force on Gaza, even less discussion takes place about the Israeli blockade. Even before the bombing, Israel totally shut the borders on Aug. 2. The Gaza power station had to close down and much of the Strip had no electricity, with power cuts of up to 20 hours a day.
Yet Palestinian Islamic Jihad is no innocent party here. Its actions do not warrant the war crime that is the collective punishment of Gaza, but the Iran-backed group has, in 2022, carried out attacks inside Israel and sought to provoke it as well. How much of this is an Iranian agenda is hard to tell.
What was notable was the inaction of Hamas. Israeli commanders believe that one success of the operation has been to drive a massive wedge between the two Gazan groups. Yet they may come to regret this if Hamas loses any ability to exercise any restraint on Palestinian Islamic Jihad and it becomes a more fractured, unpredictable actor. Hamas and the Israeli leadership have established a modus vivendi.
With each round of Israeli aggression on Gaza, the international silence grows louder. The US was just monitoring the situation, while the EU said it was following events in Gaza with “great concern.” Great concern means it will do nothing. No European or American leaders will be interrupting their summer holidays.
The most jaw-droppingly chilling, even Siberian, statement came from British foreign secretary and likely next prime minister Liz Truss. She produced an extraordinary defense of the indefensible, stating: “The UK stands by Israel and its right to defend itself. We condemn terrorist groups firing at civilians and violence which has resulted in casualties on both sides. We call for a swift end to the violence.”
Practically nobody in Israeli politics is honest enough to admit that the country’s Gaza policy is a total and utter failure.
Anyone would think it was Gaza that was occupying Israel, that it was Palestinian groups that attacked first. This is victim blaming on an epic scale. During her entire period as foreign secretary, Truss has, to my knowledge, never once criticized Israel’s behavior or illegal actions. But when Russia carries out similar actions, she calls them war crimes and backs sanctions. The Arab world should be truly worried if such extremist attitudes, coated in hypocrisy and double standards, are exhibited from Downing Street.
This is not a two-sided conflict between equal parties. It is not a war. Israel occupies Gaza. It is a question of subjugation and colonization. Israel pulverizing Palestinians in Gaza is a regular, even routine, event. This should never have become normalized, but sadly this is exactly what has happened.
- Chris Doyle is director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, in London. Twitter: @Doylech