Pillars of perplexity

Eight days and sleepless nights elapsed with images of murdered and wounded children and civilians being posted over social media networks. “Gaza is under attack” was the first post I read on November 14th 2012 to confirm my expectations about an Israeli military operation in Gaza. When I knew that Israel dubbed this attack “Operation Pillar of Cloud,” I wondered about the “creativity” of the name but chose not to think much of the naming and focus instead on the destruction this operation was inflecting on my hometown. From the minute the operation started, I was glued on Al Jazeera’s live streaming. I refused to watch Western media outlets because they will just make me angrier. Each time Al Jazeera broadcasted a new bombardment, I closely examined the images with the fear to see remnants of my parents’ house in Gaza or the face of my father or my mother sticking out of the rubble. Yet, there was too much destruction to be able to tell the location these attacks and each time, I had to call my mother to make sure they are unharmed.


Although Israel justified the operation by self-defense, attacking someone’s house, schools, or even military is offensive. In the end, this conflict is not between Israel and Hamas or between Israel and Gaza only. In fact, the root cause of the developments in Gaza is the occupation that started with the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 and the displacement of some 771,000 Palestinians who lived, owned properties and had striving businesses of what is called Israel thereafter. Today, Gaza has a population of about 1.5 million, 1.1 (73.3%) of which are refugees who fled the 1948 and the 1967 wars with Israel. The majority of those refugees came from what is known now as Beer Sheva, Ashkelon, Tel Aviv, Sderot and other towns in the south of Israel. This means about 73.3% of the militants who launch rockets on Israel today originally come from the towns where the rockets land.


These fact seem to be regularly ignored and as usual, official western official commentaries continued to present Palestinians, and in this case Gaza, as equally powerful as Israel. Yes, Hamas has a militant wing but it does not even get to the level of a regular army. Hamas’s military wing in military term is a militia with simple arsenal. Israel on the other hand, has a cutting edge military that is ranked as one of the strongest militaries in the world. Israel is also one of the few world’s nuclear power. Thus the killing and destruction practiced by Israel and at its disposal cannot be compared to that of Hamas. Yet, more condemnations were directed to Gaza rockets rather than the usual excessive use of power by the occupier, Israel. These condemnations seemed to me as a Palestinian as a competition to who can show more loyalty to Israel and more marginalization of the Palestinians. In a sense in the western perception, the Palestinians (and particularly Hamas) and Israel are equally responsible but the Israeli occupation and Israel’s excessive military actions are not equally condemned as Palestinian militant activity.


Some argued that the Israeli PM, B. Netanyahu launched such operation to appeal for the voters in the upcoming elections in January 2013. Some even posted charts and tables about correlation between Israeli elections and several military operations in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and Lebanon. The shocking thing is several times the parties who launched these operations were reelected.


Netanyahu’s “defensive” Operation Pillar of Cloud took the life of more than 160 Gazans, more than 50% of which are civilians, and 37 children. Israel blamed Hamas for the civilian deaths and claimed the killing of civilians as collateral damage although it demonstrated its capabilities to assassinate militants as they were driving their cars or motorcycles and even as they were in their office. Several Gaza critics of Hamas responded to the Israel accusations that Hamas used civilians as human shields and this is why so many civilians and children were killed. These critics confirmed that these accusations are baseless and Israel clearly bombed Gaza indiscriminately.


On November 20th 2012, Hamas and Israel approved a cease-fire agreement. The agreement left us in perplexity. Some thought the operation itself served Hamas’s interests rather than Israeli ones. Many Palestinians, including those affiliated with Fatah, expressed admiration of Hamas’s and Gaza’s steadfastness and saw in Gaza a symbol for the Palestinian suffering under occupation. After the second Palestinian Intifada, many rejected the idea of armed resistance against the Israeli occupation and defended non-violence. Hamas on the other hand, argued for all forms of resistance to occupation, including violence. Under Operation Pillar Cloud, Hamas’s rockets hit Tel Aviv and the outskirts of Jerusalem for the first time. Other sensitive targets in Israel, such as Eilat, were in the range. The fact that Hamas’s rockets appeared to push Israeli into a truce made Palestinians believe that violent resistance can be an option. This and Hamas’s capabilities to bear an extensive Israeli attack strengthened the former’s popularity.


Although many Palestinians and Israelis celebrated the end of the operation, they both are cautious about having too much hope. Both Hamas and Israel declared the cease-fire as its own victory: Israel by dealing a severe strike at its enemy, and Hamas by steadfasting hitting the heart of the Israeli proper. Israel signed up for stopping all military operations against Gaza, including assassinations, ease of crossings in and out of Gaza and lifting the six year-old Gaza Siege. Hamas on the other hand agreed to stop rocket fire on Israel. While relieved after eight days of severe tension, many Gazans question the value of the agreement. To them, this agreement required the death of more than 160 persons and left massive destruction while the truce will meet the same fate of previous cease-fires and won’t live for long.


With this perplexity, several observers believe that the cease-fire does not mean the end of the conflict, it does not mean there won’t be other Israeli operations and does not necessarily mean complete halt of Palestinian rockets. Living under this conflict, Israelis and Palestinians have come to realize that violence can be an endless cycle with the chicken and egg type of discussion on whom to blame. Palestinians know that Operation Pillar of Cloud can be a test for the capabilities of Gaza militants. For more than a year now, Israel has been marketing attacking Iran in the West. Israel knows that if it launches a war against Iran, there is a high chance to be hit by its Hamas allies in Gaza. Thus Israel wanted to test, how far Hamas rockets can go and how advanced they have become. In fact, many believe that Israel’s assassination of Ahamd Jabari at the beginning of this escalation was meant to add to the fire. A few hours before his assassination, Jabari received a draft of a permanent truce with Israel and was responsible for its implementation on Gaza’s southern borders. His assassination was explained as Israel’s lack of interest in actual peace in the area.


Additionally, Operation Pillar Cloud is the first wide Israeli offensive after the Arab Spring. The newly elected post-revolutionary regimes were also put to test. As the operation was going on, many were wondering whether these regimes will be any different from their predecessors. In the first few days, Mursi of Egypt sent a high-ranking delegation to Gaza. Tunisia followed suit a few days later and so did Turkey. Medical and other aids flooded from the three countries into Gaza as the Israeli operation was going on. Mursi promised that Gaza is not alone anymore and Egyptians marched to the Rafah borders, protesting the attack. Mursi also played a role in reaching a cease-fire.


While the region has witnessed a strategic change, this does not necessarily mean a military involvement against Israel by any country in the region. The new regimes will demonstrate more solidarity with the Palestinians but will leave the latter more perplexed about a more affirmative role for regional actors.