Gaza under fire 2.0

On the evening of November 14, Gaza time, shortly before Maghrib prayer, Israeli warships unleashed a series of deadly attacks on crowded Gaza City on more than twenty locations, the first of many more in the days since. Thus far, 16 Palestinians have been killed, including a 7-year-old girl, 10 month old Hanin Tafish, a pregnant woman, and a 13 yr old aspiring soccer player-Hamid Abu Daqqa. He died in his Real Madrid shirt, before he could finish the second half.

Among the dead: Hamas military commander Ahmed Jabari, whom Israeli liquidated in an extra-judicial killing, as it has dozens of times in the past with no heed or consequence. Jabari was instrumental in the prisoner swap negotiations that led to the release of abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, and was noted for his role in transforming Hamas’s armed wing. He has evaded Israeli assassination attempts in the past (one in which his son was killed). His killing signaled a clear escalation on part of Israel, and a deadly reminder to Palestinians that they can be squashed like ants at a moment’s notice when and where Israel pleases, so long as Israel is never held accountable. Israeli officials have named this latest deadly assault “Operation Pillar of Cloud”– a reference, noted Ben Soffa, to a manifestation of God. (“Why not just go the whole hog & say it’s a divine act?” he continued.)

The sky continues to rein terror on Palestinians in Gaza tonight, as my mother fearfully conveyed over Skype this morning. The city was in flames as night fell. And everyone in the besieged territory will be watching carefully to see how Hamas will respond to this latest Israeli escalation, which is sure to pose a challenge to their leadership there. They cannot risk or afford another full scale assault politically speaking, but a non-response will be viewed as a sign of weakness.

The timing seems remarkably similar to Israel’s war in Gaza four years ago, called Operation Cast Lead: we are fast approaching winter, during a lame duck U.S. Congress following a U.S. election and prior to an Israeli one. Benjamin Netanyahu surely wants to stack his deck (“bodies for ballots“, as Yousef Munayyer put it). But that’s where the comparisons end. This time around, the Arab Street has awakened. A new government in Egypt that is not helping to enforce the siege on Gaza in collusion with Israel as Hosni Mubarak’s was,and the new FM is planning on visiting Gaza on Friday in a show of solidarity and a clear message to Israel. Hamas’s leadership is no longer based in Damascus. In addition, a U.N. vote on upgrading Palestine’s status in the U.S. to a non-member observer state is fast approaching. Israel has already threatened to annul the Oslo accords—already on life-support—in response (which may be a welcome move by many Palestinians). In reality, all this could mean very little on the ground except to put the extent and ferocity of any impending Israeli attacks in check.

It bears reminding that however this latest episode is parsed to pieces and blame is issued—rockets, retaliation, escalation, deterrence, and all the other familiar buzzwords—the Gaza Strip is still under siege, is still under effective Israeli control (over borders, air and sea space, population registry, and taxation) and thus occupation (contrary to Gil Troy’s opinion in these pages). Palestinians in Gaza cannot do something as simple as visit family in the Ramallah, pray in Jerusalem, study in Bethlehem, love and live together in Jenin, and vice versa. Exports like fish and furniture and produce, once vital to the economy, are still banned from leaving Gaza. Aid dependence has skyrocketed as a result of a siege policy whose tenants intend to deprive Palestinians of not of food, but of freedoms, development and prosperity and leave them perpetually teetering on the edge of humanitarian crisis. So instead of talking about deterrence, perhaps the focus should instead be on granting Palestinians their freedoms; on letting them live free of constant Israeli terror and control.