The roots and hidden meanings of ‘Al-Aqsa Flood’
Regardless of the precise strategy of Hamas, or any other Palestinian movement for that matter, the daring military campaign deep inside Israel that began on Saturday was only possible because Palestinians are simply fed up.
Sixteen years ago, Israel imposed a hermetic siege on the Gaza Strip. The story of the siege is often presented through two starkly different interpretations: For some, it is an inhumane act of collective punishment; for others, it is a necessary evil so that Israel may protect itself from so-called Palestinian terrorism.
Largely missing from the story, however, is that 16 years is enough time for a whole generation to grow up under siege, to enlist in the resistance and to fight for its freedom.
According to Save The Children, nearly half of the 2.3 million Palestinians living in Gaza today are children. This fact is often used to delineate the suffering of a population that has never stepped outside the tiny, impoverished Strip of 365 sq. km. But numbers, though may seem precise, are often employed to tell only a small part of a complex story.
This Gaza generation, which either grew up or was born after the imposition of the siege, has experienced at least five major, devastating wars, in which children, like them, along with their mothers, fathers and siblings, were the main targets and victims.
“If you surround your enemy completely, give them no chance to escape, offer them no quarter, then they will fight to the last,” wrote Sun Tzu in “The Art of War.” Yet, year after year, this is precisely what Israel has done. This strategy has proved to be a major strategic miscalculation.
Any attempt at merely protesting the injustice of the siege, by gathering in large numbers at the fence that separates besieged Gaza from Israel, was not permitted. The mass protests of 2018-2019, known as the Great March of Return, were answered with Israeli sniper bullets. Scenes of youngsters carrying other bleeding youths and shouting “God is great” became a regular scene at the fence. However, as the casualty count increased, media interest in the story simply faded with time.
The hundreds of fighters who crossed into Israel through various entry points at dawn on Saturday were the same young Palestinians who have known nothing but war, siege and the need to protect one another. They have also learned how to survive, despite the lack of everything in Gaza, including clean water and proper medical care. This is where the story of this generation intersects with that of Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad or any other Palestinian group.
Yes, Hamas chose the timing and the nature of its military campaign to fit into a very precise strategy. This strategy, however, would not have been possible if Israel did not leave these young Palestinians with no option but to fight back.
Videos circulating on social media showed Palestinian fighters yelling in Arabic, with that distinct, often harsh, Gaza accent, “this is for my brother,” “this is for my son.” They shouted these and many other angry statements as they fired on panic-stricken Israeli settlers and soldiers. The latter had, on many occasions, abandoned their positions and run away.
The psychological impact of this war will most certainly exceed that of October 1973, when Arab armies made quick gains against Israel, also following a surprise attack. This time, the devastating impact on the collective Israeli thinking will prove to be a game-changer, since the “war” involves a single Palestinian group, not a whole army, or three.
The October 2023 surprise attack is directly linked to that of 1973. By choosing the 50th anniversary of what Arabs consider to be a great triumph against Israel, the Palestinian resistance wanted to send a clear message: the cause of Palestine remains the cause of all Arabs. In fact, all statements made by top Hamas military commanders and political leaders were loaded with such symbolism and other references to Arab countries and peoples.
This pan-Arab discourse was not haphazard and was delineated in statements made by Al-Qassam Brigades Commander Mohammed Deif, the group’s founding commander Saleh Al-Arouri, Hamas’ Political Bureau head Ismail Haniyeh and Abu Obeida, the Brigades’ famous masked spokesman. They all urged unity and insisted that Palestine is a component of a larger Arab and Islamic struggle for justice, dignity and collective honor.
The group called its campaign “Al-Aqsa Flood,” thus again recentering Palestinian, Arab and Muslim unity on Al-Quds — Jerusalem — and all its holy places.
Everyone seemed shocked, including Israel itself, not by the Hamas attack per se, but by the great coordination and daring of the massive, never-seen-before, operation. Instead of attacking at night, the resistance attacked at dawn. Instead of striking at Israel using the many tunnels under Gaza, they simply drove there, parachuted in, arrived by sea or, in many cases, walked across the border.
Hamas’ strategy would not have been possible if Israel did not leave these young Palestinians with no option but to fight back.
The element of surprise became even more baffling when Palestinian fighters challenged the very fundamentals of guerrilla warfare: Instead of fighting a “war of maneuver,” they, however temporarily, fought a “war of position,” thus holding the areas they gained inside Israel for many hours.
Indeed, for the Gazan groups, the psychological warfare was as critical as the physical fighting. Hundreds of videos and images were beamed through every social media channel, as if hoping to redefine the relationship between Palestinians, the usual victim, and Israel, the military occupier.
Regardless of how many Palestinians Israel kills in retaliation, although tragic, it will hardly salvage the tattered image of an undisciplined army, a divided society and a political leadership that is solely focused on its own survival.
It is too early to reach sweeping conclusions regarding the outcomes of this unprecedented war, but what is crystal clear is that the fundamental relationship between the Israeli occupation and occupied Palestinians is likely to be altered, and permanently so, as a result of what took place on Oct. 7, 2023.
- Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for more than 20 years. He is an internationally syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books, and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. X: @RamzyBaroud