Part V: Midway in the 50 Day 2014 Israeli-Gaza War: 24 July-31 July
On 24 July, the American and European air carriers resumed their flights to Ben Gurion Airport. In Operation Cast Lead over three weeks between 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009 (the Battle of al-Furqan according to Hamas), Israel sent its troops into Gaza with the explicit goal of disarming Hamas and getting Hamas to cease raining rockets on Israel. Operation Cast Lead began with an initial series of air attacks for a week, followed by a two week ground attack. It ended with an Israeli unilateral cease-fire and withdrawal leaving about 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead. For a week from 14 November 2012 in Operation Pillar of Defence, the IDF bombed Gaza to repeat the process, beginning with the targeted killing of Ahmed Jaban, the Hamas Military chief, in response to 100 rockets targeting Israel and two ground attacks against soldiers on Israeli soil the previous day. Hamas in turn responded with Operation Stones of Baked City by greatly increasing its rocket fire at Israel.
The human costs were 55-120 militants and 57-105 civilian Gazans killed, the breakdown in numbers mostly dependent on whom one counts as a militant. Two soldiers and four civilians were killed on the Israeli side. This year between 8 July and 26 August, the IDF repeated the process once again in Operation Protective Edge to stop rockets from Gaza targeting Israel. The cost: over 2,000 Palestinians dead and 73 Israelis, 67 of them soldiers. Each time, Israel failed to achieve its stated military objectives. Isn’t the expression three strikes and you’re out? Yet each time Israel claimed victory.
So did Hamas and Hamas’ war aims were much more ambitious – lifting the blockade and ending the occupation of the West Bank and even Jerusalem. Though its failures each time were far greater, its celebrations of victory each time were far more boisterous. How do we explain the gross disjunction between war aims and actual achievements and the increasing costs to both sides each time?
On 25 July – as usual on a Friday when Palestinian passions are stirred by sermons in mosques – West Bank protests against Israel’s part in the Gaza War escalated. Two Palestinians were killed and an additional 200 were wounded. Additional fears of a war penetrating all areas of Israel on the ground resulted from the discovery of a Hamas war plan in one of the tunnels captured by the Israelis. The attack from Gaza into the Eshkol district of Israel on 19 July, in which two Israelis were killed while the attackers escaped to safety through the tunnels, was but a foretaste of an attack planned for Rosh Hashanah of 2014 on 24 September. Attacks would be launched simultaneously through a dozen or more tunnels to kill and abduct civilians. Given the number of IDF dead, the war did not appear to be going well for Israel at the same time as the imperative to snatch victory out of a supposedly wasted effort increased.
On 28 July, the UN Security Council voted on a resolution that was passed unanimously that called for an unconditional “humanitarian” cease-fire by all sides in the conflict. The Canadian government took an opposite tack and condemned Hamas while backing Israel unequivocally. The Honourable Jason Kenney stated: “Canada calls on Hamas and other militant groups to end the rocket attacks on Israel and bring an end to the ongoing violence that threatens the lives of innocent Israelis and Palestinians. The path chosen by Hamas and its allies does not lead to peace.”
Rejecting the UN Human Rights Council’s one-sided criticism of Israel, Canada’s Foreign Minister’s statement read: “Canada rejects UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay’s uncalled-for criticism of Israel’s response to rocket attacks from Gaza. Focusing her comments on Israel is neither helpful nor reflective of the reality of this crisis. There must be no moral equivalence between Hamas, a listed terrorist organization, and its blatant disregard for human life, and the liberal democratic State of Israel’s duty and obligation to defend its people from cowardly and indiscriminate attacks. Canada mourns the death and suffering of innocent civilians in Gaza. Responsibility rests solely with Hamas and its allies, who launched and continue to feed this crisis. The Israel Defense Forces have taken extraordinary steps to reduce
civilian casualties in very difficult and trying conditions. Israel should be commended – not criticized – for these efforts in the face of an enemy clearly determined to put civilians, from both sides, in mortal danger to suit its own purposes.”
At the same time, Prime Minister Stephen Harper weighed in. “The indiscriminate rocket attacks from Gaza on Israel are terrorist acts, for which there is no justification. It is evident that Hamas is deliberately using human shields to further terror in the region. Failure by the international community to condemn these reprehensible actions would encourage these terrorists to continue their appalling actions. Canada calls on its allies and partners to recognize that these terrorist acts are unacceptable and that solidarity with Israel is the best way of stopping the conflict. Canada is unequivocally behind Israel. We support its right to defend itself, by itself, against these terror attacks, and urge Hamas to immediately cease their indiscriminate attacks on innocent Israeli civilians. Canada reiterates its call for the Palestinian government to disarm Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups operating in Gaza, including the Iranian proxy, Palestinian Islamic Jihad.”
Not a mealy-mouthed word anywhere. No qualifications about understanding the plight of Palestinians trapped in Gaza. No extended homily on the horror at civilians (read Gazans) dying or this being a tragedy while condemning Israel for its “occupation” and blockade of Gaza as the major source of the problem while claiming Israel deliberately targets civilian institutions (mosques, schools, clinics) and civilians. In the meanwhile, in the media war, creeping in from the sides from reporters who were in Gaza but left, we began to read some honest reports from journalists who were denied any ability to interview certain civilians or to take pictures which might reveal that a declared civilian death was a military one.
However, one fraudulent report was revealed almost immediately. Worldwide the media reported that on 30 July during a humanitarian cease-fire, an Israeli missile struck a crowded market in the Shijaiyah neighbourhood of Gaza City killing 17 people, including the photojournalist Rani Rayan. Sometimes reports referred to one Israeli air strike. At other times, a barrage of 10 Israeli shells was blamed. While Hamas sent out a picture of unexploded Israeli ordinance, the damaged rocket cone was not even part of the Israeli arsenal. The reality was very different. A Hamas warehouse loaded with shells and fueled rockets exploded.
On 30 July, an Italian journalist, Gabriele Barbati, who had just left Gaza, tweeted about another incident that had occurred a few days before. On 28 July, Israel had been blamed for a direct rocket attack on Al-Shifra Hospital that killed ten children. In fact, two Gazans were killed in the explosion that had been caused by a mis-fired Hamas rocket from a site adjacent to the hospital. The children in Shati had been killed by the misfired Iranian-made long-range Fajr rocket. Barbati tweeted that militants had rushed to the scene to clear up the debris. There was no direct attack on al-Shati refugee camp or on Al-Shifra Hospital by Israel.
Out of #Gaza far from #Hamas retaliation: misfired rocket killed children yday in Shati. Witness: militants rushed and cleared debris
A Finnish television reporter from Finland’s Helsingin Sanomat corroborated Barbati’s account, reporting that she had spent the night at Al-Shifra Hospital and saw the militants launching the rocket from the hospital’s parking lot and saw it explode before it got into the air. The shock was that she dared to file the report while still in Gaza, a very rare exception. Yet where in the stats on civilian casualties do we find a breakdown between those that are the result of friendly fire and those that result from Israeli action? The reporters cannot even say that al-Shifra was the entrance to Hamas’ underground communications centre. More importantly, where are the media corrections to this misreported story based solely on Hamas propaganda and not any direct witness or corroboration of claims?
The problem, however, was not simply the international misreporting. The problem was also one of government leadership. As stated above, war aims were stated but the methods applied could not possibly achieve them. While the Israeli government encouraged Israelis in the south to stay in their homes, most, especially those with children, moved to safer parts of Israel. The war lasted much longer than expected with, as many argued, so little to show for it. And for a month, the Israeli government effectively pleaded with Hamas to accept a cease-fire. For Israel, the number of soldiers lost in what was called “an operation”, was appalling. One accomplishment, already visible at the war’s halfway mark was that the Israeli polity was pushed further right and appeared to plunge a final stake into the heart of the peace camp.
The events in August merely confirmed this trend and the question that remains is whether Abbas, like Hamas, will be able to rise from the dead, revive the two-state solution, and the Israeli peace camp with it, with a proposal for direct negotiations with Israel to establish a Palestinian state and, in the first three months of those negotiations, establish the borders of that state.
Does a stalemate war ironically help bring about peace that all our work and protests failed to do?
Tomorrow: The End of the Ground War