During Israel’s eight-day brutal assault on the Gaza Strip in November 2012, one hundred sixty-two Palestinians, including more than a 100 civilians and 40 children, were killed by sophisticated bombs unleashed from the sky and sea on to the most densely populated strip of land on the planet.
The Israeli attack also caused millions of dollars’ worth of damage to property, vital infrastructure (already in terrible decline after Israel’s attack in 2008-9), and thousands of physical and mental injuries to Palestinian civilians.
On the Israeli side, there were five deaths – two soldiers and three civilians killed by crudely constructed rockets fired from inside the Strip.
The loss of life, no matter who it affects and how many it includes, is tragic. There is, however, a context to the Israeli assault on Gaza that is important to understand and that sheds light on the depth of this tragedy.
This context also demonstrates the changes that have developed in the struggle against Israel and in the Israeli governments own ability to maintain its regional supremacy.
How Did the 2012 Israeli Assault Begin?
In covering the Israeli attack on Gaza, most mainstream Western media agencies, as well as Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya, relied predominately on Israeli talking points.
They presented their viewers with a simplistic narrative of a fearful Israel that had to act after patiently surviving a barrage of rocket attacks for over a decade. Of course, none of these news agencies pointed out that more Israelis have died from peanut allergies than from Palestinian rocket attacks.
As Ali Abunimah explained on Electronic Intifada, if one simply looks at a comprehensive time-line that goes back to the end of October, one can see that “in general, Palestinians fired rockets, attacked the Israeli army, as a response to Israeli attacks, seeking to avoid escalation and publicly embraced a truce.”
In fact, the Israelis kicked off the Gaza massacre by assassinating Hamas’s military chief Ahmad Jaabari hours after he received a draft for a permanent truce agreement between Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, and Israel.
Indeed, if we extend Abunimah’s timeline even further to September 2000, we clearly see the startling imbalance of pain and power between Palestinians and Israelis.
For anyone who is well-versed on the conflict, this is hardly a surprising revelation. Israel has a systematic tendency to kill first, and a long pattern of aggressive provocation that goes back decades, toward not only the Palestinians but also anyone with whom Israel is antagonistic.
As the revered Israeli military general Moshe Dayan stated during an interview with the New York Times in 1976:
“I know how at least 80 percent of the clashes there started. In my opinion, more than 80 percent, but let’s talk about 80 percent. It went this way: We would send a tractor to low some area where it wasn’t possible to do anything, in the demilitarized area, and knew in advance that the Syrians would start to shoot. If they didn’t shot, we would tell the tractor to advance farther, until in the end the Syrians would get annoyed and shoot. And then we would use artillery and later the air force also, and that’s how it was.”
Why did the 2012 Gaza Massacre Happen?
The Israeli narrative emphasized rockets launched by Palestinian resistance fighters as the primary reason behind the assault. It is a justification – recycled from explanations it gave for attacking Gaza in 2008-2009 – that crumbles under even moderate scrutiny.
As the progressive Jewish publication, Mondoweiss, has noted, the numbers provided by Israeli political and military officials have been cooked up in order to garner more sympathy for the assault. In particular, Israeli authorities inflated the number of dead and included superficial injuries such as “shock” in its casualty accounting.
If rockets weren’t the essential reason, why then did Israel attack Gaza today?
Speculation on this issue is rife.
Some have pointed to a shameless attempt by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to shore up votes for himself and his right-wing Likud party in upcoming Israeli elections in January 2013. Others point to a window of opportunity between the end of the American elections and the start of Obama’s second term, which Israel chose to exploit.
History is indicative on this point. One only has to look at the timing of the 2008-2009 attack, the lead up to the Second Intifada in 2000, among other moments of Israeli aggression, to see that American and Israeli elections provide cover and motivation for Israeli violence. If the assault was indeed a shameless grab for votes, a poll conducted by Haaretz in the midst of the massacre suggests it was somewhat successful.
In assaulting Gaza and its population, Israel may also be attempting to further split the West Bank and Gaza. Backed by competing regional and international alliances, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (PA) have been competing against each other for the hearts and minds of the Palestinians. While Hamas relies on the rhetoric of armed resistance to achieve liberation, the PA has placed all its cards on negotiating a political settlement with the Israelis. The Gaza attack may have been an attempt by Israel to sow further division between the supporters of armed resistance and those who want to pursue negotiations.
The PA has suffered major setbacks in the last decade. Negotiations with Israel have neither stopped Israeli colonization, nor ended Israeli violence. Meanwhile, the PA seems willing to capitulate on the Palestinian right of return. As a result of these developments (or lack thereof), more and more Palestinians are seeing the PA for what it really is: a collaborative arm of the Israeli occupation.
In a desperate desire to remain relevant, Mahmoud Abbas and the PA have resorted to high-profile political action, such as heading to the UN in order to upgrade “Palestine’s” status in the UN General Assembly. The UN bid, which succeeded on November 30 , will not change things on the ground and, in fact, legitimizes a racist status quo (namely the two state solution). Nevertheless, it does offer the Palestinians an opening to take Israel to the International Criminal Court to face a wide array of war crimes and an ever-growing, and never-ending list of human rights violations.
Israel, along with its European and American backers, has feared this possibility, and perhaps hoped that an attack on Gaza would derail this move to “internationalize” the issue. Indeed, immediately after the vote, the Israelis expanded settlement construction once again and have withheld tax money owed to the PA in order to punish them for upping the ante.
The Arab uprisings are another potential factor. Israel is facing a new region borne out of a continuing struggle between the people and the dictatorships ruling over them. For the Israeli establishment (as well as for its European and American backers), the Arab uprisings of the last two years have been unsettling to say the least.
Under Hosni Mubarak, Egypt was a key pillar for ensuring tight control over Palestinian resistance while providing assistance to maintain Israel’s suffocating blockade on the Gaza Strip. The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and the subsequent election of Mohamed Morsi as president of Egypt sent alarm bells throughout Tel Aviv and Washington. As such, it is possible that the recent massacre in Gaza was a test to gauge how a ‘new’ Egypt would react.
Diminishing Israeli Military Might
Israel’s ability to deter challenges by fear and force was shattered by its failed attack on Lebanon in 2006. Long gone are the days of 1967 when Israel could destroy and expand its territory in less than a week while Arab forces pathetically cower and retreat.
The aura of Israeli military superiority, or as the Americans like to call it “Israel’s qualitative military edge,” has been one of the most important tools in maintaining Israeli dominance in the region.
This edge has been eroding as Arab resistance toward Israel has evolved and become more sophisticated over time.
As the 2006 Lebanon war demonstrated, when Israel comes across an organized and efficient fighting force, panic ensues. Palestinian fighters have learned from this example (even during the 2008-2009 Israeli assault in Gaza). As a result, they have become more confident and organized in their resistance activities to the utter dismay of the Israelis.
After eight days of bombardment, Israel begrudgingly accepted a cease-fire agreement with Hamas and other resistance forces. The agreement was almost identical to the one that followed the 33-day assault on Gaza in 2008-2009.
Much like the aftermath of the 2008-2009 attack, Israel claimed to have accomplished its objectives. These statements hold little weight, however, considering that, during the 8-day attack, Palestinian resistance fighters were able to fire more rockets toward Israel than were fired in 2008-2009. The only thing Israel succeeded in doing was to once again kill countless Palestinian civilians without much harm to its military forces.
For Palestinians, the ceasefire agreement was considered a “victory,” despite the death and destruction. It even seemed to re-energized hopes for new unity between the various Palestinian factions.
But as days turn into weeks, it seems clear that this “victory” has been one for the Palestinian elites and not for the people themselves.
Hamas is following in the footsteps of Fatah by accepting the parameters of ‘peace’ set by Israel and its supporters. Already, Hamas’s political chief, Khaled Mishaal has been allowed entry into Gaza by the Israelis and Egyptians, while Islamic Jihad leader Ramadan Shallah has been banned from entering the strip – a key indication of how Israel truly views Hamas in comparison to other resistance organizations.
Particularly after the eruption of the Syrian uprising, Hamas has slowly been dismantling itself from the “resistance axes” of Iran and Syria. It has, instead, put its chips behind the resurgent Muslim Brotherhood, which is supported by Turkey and Qatar and has demonstrated a willingness to work in the service of American and Israeli interests in the region.
This ‘moderation’ of Hamas could come at the cost of confronting other Palestinian factions and further complicating the complex system of alliances that are currently developing in the region. This dynamic will continue to grow, much to the concern of many commentators aligned with the other Palestinian resistance movements.
For its part, Egypt may have been the biggest victor here. As the guarantor of the ceasefire, Morsi was a key player, and won much praise from the Americans and Israelis for his role in the conflict. It is no coincidence that, immediately after brokering the agreement, Morsi felt confident enough to initiate a controversial and unpopular power grab in Egypt.
Perhaps the most interesting and unexamined part of the Israeli assault was the lack of influence and presence on the part of the Americans and Saudis. This may be another sign of the decline of old power brokers and the rise of new forces in the region.
Overall, what one can predict without any hesitation is that this latest massacre in Gaza will, sadly, not be the last. Violence is an inherent part of an Israeli government system that seems unwilling to abandon its obsolete and failed policy of aggression in dealing with the Palestinians and other neighbors. This policy has caused the Palestinian resistance to evolve into a more effective, sophisticated, and intelligent force.
As long as the core issues of the conflict – the end of the occupation and blockade of Gaza, the inalienable right of return for Palestinian refugees, and the abandonment of the Zionist project – remain unresolved and Israel continues to reject a one state solution (the only comprehensive just solution for all parties), then we should prepare to continue burying the dead for some time to come.