Lapid’s unprovoked war merely an attempt to prove his credentials
In the annals of the ongoing Palestinian tragedy, Gaza has become a repository of strata of “nakbas” or catastrophes. It is home to those who were evicted or had fled the often bloody Jewish encroachment onto their ancestral land from 1948 onward. It has become a dumping ground for millions of Palestinians who have nowhere else to go. And for more than 15 years, it has been the largest open-air prison on Earth; a festering wound for 2 million inhabitants that refuses to heal.
Under direct occupation for decades and now blockaded by Israeli forces, Gaza has become a soft underbelly for the occupation. In 1992, then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin declared that he wished he could “wake up one day and find that Gaza has sunk into the sea.”
But Gaza did not sink into the sea. Instead, it has repeatedly risen from the ashes to challenge the fortress that is Israel. For Israeli leaders, subjugating a defiant Gaza has become a way to endear themselves to largely right-wing voters. The imbalance in power notwithstanding, Israel wages repeated wars against besieged Gaza; leveling buildings and killing civilians, only to agree to a ceasefire in the end. Gaza, bleeding and mourning, has never been defeated. An impasse will prevail for months, even years, before another war is waged with the same tragic results.
The latest round was planned and launched deliberately — and without provocation — by interim Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid. The target was Gaza’s second-largest militant group, Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Lapid, a media man in a previous career, wanted to be baptized by fire, three months before crucial elections. There is no evidence that the group was planning terrorist attacks against Israel. Gaza has been under tight Hamas control for almost 15 years. It is Hamas that poses the bigger threat to Israel. The two sides fought a bitter 11-day war last year. Back then, Hamas’ rockets reached the heart of Tel Aviv and the outskirts of Jerusalem. The war ended without a clear winner, even though hundreds of Palestinian civilians died, mostly under the rubble of their own homes.
This time, Israel said it had no quarrel with Hamas. And the Islamist movement was indeed spared and its rockets were never fired. Israel’s attack on the Palestinian Islamic Jihad was brutal; killing at least three senior military leaders. But the group’s rockets, 1,000 of them, rained down on southern Israel and a few reached Tel Aviv. In the end, a ceasefire was reached through Egyptian mediation. Both sides declared victory. The impasse resumed.
Israel started this latest war under the pretext of self-defense. And the US and UK were quick to side with Israel. No one questioned what Israel’s self-defense means. A preemptive strike, Israel claimed. But Palestinian Islamic Jihad could not start a war on its own — not without Hamas’ acquiescence. Israel’s self-defense pretext gives it a license to kill. Yes, it killed a handful of Palestinian Islamic Jihad leaders, but in the process it slaughtered more than 40 civilians, including 15 children and four women. Pundits on both sides agree that Palestinian Islamic Jihad infrastructure may have suffered, but it will soon be rebuilt. As for military leaders, they will be replaced. So, what did Israel achieve?
Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz hoped that the operation would endear them to radical voters come November. The election will be a competition between them and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who waged war against the Gazans more than once. Ironically, Netanyahu’s forays into Gaza did not help him much at the polls. Israel is deeply divided between the right and the radical right. Both sides have no qualms about seeing future leaders proving their credentials by having their hands dripping with Palestinian blood.
This time around, the world looked the other way as Israel perpetrated yet another massacre. The stigma of double standards no longer raises eyebrows. Activists asked: What is the difference between Palestine and Ukraine? In Israel itself, few pundits accused Lapid and Gantz of shedding Palestinian blood purely for electoral gains. There was no excuse for this war, they said.
For Israeli leaders, subjugating a defiant Gaza has become a way to endear themselves to largely right-wing voters.
The duplicity of the West sent a message to the radical Israeli leaders that it was open season to strike Gaza with impunity — and the West Bank is not much better. While the cold-blooded murder of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in May stirred so many across the world, few will bother calling for an investigation into Israel’s slaughter of Palestinian children in Gaza. They did not do so before, so why should they now?
Every few years, Israel sends a message to its own people that it still has the advantage of deterrence. But its enemies know that Israelis have no stomach for long wars, nor do they see a path to a lasting and durable peace. Its foes also know that, internally, Israel is in trouble and the day will come when its domestic front will pose the greatest challenge. For Gaza, the festering wound, life after the aggression will not be much different from life before the aggression. The truce is holding for now, but both sides know that another bloody campaign could be just around the corner.
- Osama Al-Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman. Twitter: @plato010