The Gaza Trap

Source: Flash90/TOI

In 2005, the Government of Israel took a decision that baffled people within and outside the country alike. Strongman Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the architect of the Lebanon War and a celebrated war hero, decided to withdraw forces, control, and settlements from Gaza Strip. A move of political genius, it would set the course for the security discourse in Israel in the decade to come.

Israelis were dragged out of their homes by the military and construction bulldozers demolished those buildings, right in the manner Israeli bulldozers level the houses of Palestinian militants to the ground. Israeli settlers were shouting slogans against their own government and leader and there was a sense of anger and belligerence among the more conservative Zionist factions within Israel.

Little did anyone knew this single decision will help solidify the political leadership of his conservative and hawkish Likud Party, following years of disappointment and failed efforts for peace between Labour administrations and Arafat, including those of Sharon’s own government. With separating the control in Gaza Strip, the Ariel Sharon administration clearly made the difference clear by the section fully controlled by Palestinians, soon to fall in the hands of the extremist militant group Hamas and Islamic Jihad, in contrast with the PLO administered West Bank where Israeli Defense Forces have control to this day.

From that year onward, Israel and the tiny Gaza Strip has had three major wars with no consequential result in any of them. The Israel-Gaza conflict has become the new normal in the Middle East. Whenever something significant is about to occur in Israel such as the Eurovision contest or if Israel takes a brutal security measure, the Hamas regime in Gaza fires its improvised explosive rockets into the Southern parts of Israel within its range in towns like Beer Sheba, Sderot, Ashdod, and Ashkelon.

Source: Israel Matzav Blog

There is no need to underestimate the threat of the rocket attacks from Gaza just because they are facing a naval blockade. Israel must be facing far worse attacks if this blockade is lifted since Hamas is not able to do a bad job of smuggling them in through tunnels from Egypt and with support from Jordan and West Bank too.

Not taking away anything from the evil of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the Gaza controlled territory, in stark contrast to the IDF controlled West Bank, offers a clear and present threat to the Israeli population. You could argue that at the time Sharon was withdrawing from Gaza Strip, he knew such a security predicament would present itself to Israel in the coming years.

Gaza not only keeps Israelis effectively separated from the enemy but also keeps them in close proximity to a lethal threat. This significantly weakens the impact of liberals within Israel who have never won an election convincingly since then. Especially with the horrors of the Intifada fresh in the memory of Israeli citizens, the now disappeared threat of the terrorists and suicide bombers have uplifted the security situation in Israel significantly.

The contribution of right-wing Israeli governments led by Likud to the security of Israel is undisputed. But the rekindling of the conflict with Gaza every now and then not only reminds the Israeli people that a threat in the neighborhood will always loom on their head but will also show the world what Palestinians are capable of if left to their own device. This threat would have been not only worse but easily unacceptable and unsustainable if Israel were to withdraw from the West Bank. This is why the idea of annexing the West Bank does not face as much resistance in Israel as it would have a few decades ago.

With Israel aiming to become the regional leader in technology and innovation, a safe, stable, and secure environment are imperative to its growth. The people of Israel do not seem to be in a mood for experimenting with their security and rely on the conservative coalition that has delivered relatively calm years in comparison except for the continual Gaza wars. This also keeps the pressure up on US Congress to increase funding for Iron Dome, which is of late seeing the inclusion of progressives like Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Alessandria Ocasio-Cortez who openly attack the idea of military aid to Israel.

The Israeli right wing and Hamas feed off each other in this conflict in terms of power and the end result is miserable living conditions for the people of Gaza and the people in Southern Israel. Of course, Israel would ideally not want this conflict to continue for a single more day, but it is simply not possible with an autonomous Gaza Strip under Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad which is continually supported by the likes of Iran and its allies in the Middle East.

Therefore, the Gaza Trap will keep the hardliners in power on both sides of the conflict. And we will continue to see the Gaza wars in the headlines every few months.

The Gaza Riot Killings and A New Hamas

Source: roseauinternational.net

Hamas has come a long way ever since it first emerged as a militant challenge to Israel. You could argue that it is no longer a knee-jerk extremist antisemitic party, at least for a public show, whose only priority is to eliminate the Jewish people and destroy Israel. The organization is already recognized by many around the world as a legitimate Palestinian representative regime, despite Israel’s insistence about its status as a terrorist organization as it is recognized by the United States government at least.

However, Hamas has probably figured for the first time that sending rockets into Israel is not working when it adopted the Gaza border encampment protests initiated by a popular independent civilian resistance movement in March 2018. They won the war of optics against Israel this time around.

Now, this kind of protest is not Hamas’ style, which has openly preached war and destruction of Israel with vividly anti-Semitic expression. However, it did manage to adopt and influence the non-partisan call of protests from Ahmed Abu Artema, the inspiration behind the Gaza border protests, a critic of borders such as the one between Gaza Strip and Israel, he is demanding the right of Palestinians to visit their ancestral territories now occupied by Israel.

On May 14, 2018, the Trump administration took special care to coincide the day of the inauguration of the US Embassy in Jerusalem with the Independence Day of Israel. It is also curious that the very same day was the bloodiest in years for Palestinians, with more than fifty casualties at the border including an infant due to tear gas. However, it is important to note that such protests have never taken place between Gazan Palestinians and Israelis either.

Like the 1980s Intifada, Israel has always been clueless on how to deal with a homegrown riot. They knew how to deal with a foreign threatening army and have always pushed one back successfully, but have always made a mess when the threat came from home. That same confusion always raises its head when Israel deals with the protesters in West Bank and Gaza Strip. Yasser Arafat had figured it out after years of violent resistance and it seemed on this occasion, Hamas has figured it out too. They had the decency to figure that the occasion of the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital deserves better than rockets flying into Israel and making the state gather sympathy on a day when it was already a villain in the eyes of most people.

It is cruel to attribute the genuine grievances of the Palestinian people to a political ploy of Hamas. It is unfair to undermine the suffocation in the Gaza blockade as well as the humanitarian crisis the lack of access has brought about. However, it is also impossible to keep Hamas out of the picture, as it is impossible to keep tribal biases out fo the debate. With the resurgence of antisemitism around the world, especially Europe, Israel is more important and relevant than ever before.

Interestingly, Israel does not leisurely kill Gazan Palestinians every other day, that too, with such brutality and indiscriminately. But according to the Israeli side, a violent reaction was incited especially due to arson attempts by the protesters who had set fields on fire on the Israeli side through fire kites, Unlike the impression among Israeli nationalists, most of the world does not really care about their version of the story but fortunately for them, they barely care about the Palestinians either.

But where Israel has totally lost the respect of the International community and attracted condemnations in the United Nations when its action turned from brutal to criminal with the killings of Palestinian journalists. Even in the United States, very few people were actively defending the Israeli actions on this occasion, Israeli born actress Natalie Portman being a prominent critic who had declined a prize back home. Even in Tel Aviv, hundreds of protesters condemned the killings of protesters on the border despite the recent low tolerance for Palestinian security risks in recent years. The country’s top liberal publication Haaretz, which I take as the conscience of the nation, continuously criticized the extreme action taken by its government and pointed out how the Gaza withdrawal does not absolve Israel of its responsibility.

But it does not absolve Hamas of its reckless actions either.

Considering how tribal the Israel-Palestine conflict is, the defense will never be conditional by morality, only survival.

Just a day ago, Hamas fired a barrage of its trademark rockets into Israel, most of which were neutralized by the Iron Dome of course, but also ended up injuring a number of Israelis. So you think to yourself, has Hamas returned to their old ways? According to Israeli nationalists, they never left their ways and the protests were just a new twist to their violence. And if they returned to self-defense, then where was it when their people were getting killed at the border by the enemy?

But a sad reality that is apparently lost on both sides lusting for an old city is that humanity always becomes the casualty in the war between these two parties.

Can’t Gazan Palestinian not even protest the misery they have been enduring without rejected as Hamas by Israelis? And can’t they separate their identities from the extremism of Hamas leadership?

I wish we reach a time in the Middle East politics when for both sides the lives of their people become more important than Jerusalem.