Gaza: a little context

Gwynne Dyer
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You can see why Hamas doesn’t want a ceasefire in Gaza yet. It is continuing the fight in the hope that international outrage at the huge loss of people being killed by Israel’s massive firepower will somehow, eventually, force Israel to give it what it wants.

Palestinian onlookers and motorists pause to inspect a bomb from the Israeli military lying unexploded on the main road in Deir el-Balah, central Gaza Strip, Friday. — Photo by The Associated Press

Hamas would be quite willing to give up firing its pathetic rockets —which have so far killed a grand total of three civilians in Israel — if Israel ends its seven-year blockade of the Gaza Strip. Dream on.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s goal is harder to define. Domestic political pressure to “do something” about those pesky rockets pushed him into this war, but now he must produce some kind of success in order to justify all those deaths: around 1,150 Palestinians and more than 50 Israelis already.

But what kind of success could it be? He cannot destroy all the rockets — Hamas shows no sign of running out of them — and even if he could, Hamas would just manufacture more of them later unless he physically reoccupied the whole Gaza Strip.

In recent days, therefore, Netanyahu has redefined the objective as destroying all the “terror tunnels” that Hamas has dug to infiltrate its fighters into nearby areas of Israel.

This makes no sense at all.

In order to protect the lives of a few hypothetical Israeli soldiers who might be killed in the future by Hamas fighters using the tunnels, over 40 real Israeli soldiers have already died. Besides, Israel can’t stop Hamas from digging more tunnels after the shooting stops unless it can find a way to ban picks and shovels in the Gaza Strip.

Netanyahu needs a victory of some sort before he accepts a ceasefire, but he cannot even define what it would be. So, as he said on Monday, “We should prepare ourselves for an extended campaign.” Meanwhile, the slaughter of Palestinians continues, and sympathy for Israel shrivels, even in the United States.

It’s not that the Israeli army particularly wants to kill civilians (although it is sometimes very sloppy), but it does prefer to fight a standoff war with artillery and missiles in order to spare the lives of its own soldiers. In the crowded Gaza Strip, that inevitably means killing lots of civilians.

The 1.8 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are living at the same population density as the residents of London or Tokyo: around 5,000 people per square kilometre. You cannot use high explosives in this environment without killing a great many innocent civilians, and Netanyahu knew that from the start, because this is Israel’s third war in Gaza in six years.

So the Israelis are being brutal and stupid, and the Hamas leaders are being brutal and cynical. (Hamas doesn’t really use civilians as “human shields,” as Israeli claims, but its leaders know that Palestinian civilians killed by Israeli fire provide them with a kind of political capital.) But this is not to say that the two sides are equally to blame for the killing. There is a broader context.

Before 1948, only about 60,000 people lived on the land now known as the Gaza Strip. The vast majority of those who live there now are Arab refugees, or the children, grand-children and great-grandchildren of Arab refugees, who fled or were driven out of what is now Israel during the 1948 war. They are not there by choice.

Israel has traditionally insisted that the refugees freely chose to flee, although revisionist Israeli historians have debunked that story pretty thoroughly.

But which story you believe doesn’t really matter. Fleeing your home in time of war does not deprive you of the right to go home when the fighting ends.

Yet the Palestinians have not been allowed to go home, and Israel is adamant that they never will be.

The argument of 1948 still applies: for Israel to remain a state with a large Jewish majority, the Palestinian refugees and their descendants must remain outside it. So most of them are jammed into this narrow strip of territory on the Mediterranean coast — and latterly they have even grown poorer (unemployment is now 40 per cent) because they now live under a permanent Israeli blockade.

Israel imposed the blockade after they voted for Hamas, a radical Islamist party that refuses to recognize the legitimacy of Israel, in the 2006 election. Yes, they are more radical than the Palestinians of the West Bank, most of whom are not refugees.

But there is no going back, and even in the Gaza Strip most Palestinians know it.

The ancestral lands of the Palestinians in what is now Israel are lost as permanently as those of the American Indians.

The “peace” everybody talks about is really just about giving them security of tenure and real self-government in the one-fifth of former Palestine that they still occupy. Unfortunately, that is not even visible on the horizon.

When Netanyahu is addressing American audiences, he gives lip-service to a “two-state solution” that includes an independent, demilitarized Palestinian mini-state, but everybody in Israel knows that he is really determined to avoid it. Israel is therefore effectively committed to penning in and controlling the Palestinians forever.

When their objections to this situation get too violent, they have to be disciplined. That is what is happening now.

Just like 2009 and 2012.

Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist whose articles are published

in 45 countries.

Organizations: Hamas

Geographic location: Israel, Gaza Strip, United States.It London Tokyo West Bank Palestine

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Recent comments

  • seanoairborne
    August 03, 2014 - 18:17

    Gwyn Dyer is in "Dyer" need of a frontal labotomy!!! Here's a guy that sits in London spewing his so-called journalistic expertise to 45 leftoid newspapers across the world and pontificates, ad nausium, on the troubles in Gaza as if he were writing a term paper for his high school class. He says that Israel is just using the tunnels for an excuse to carry on a brutal war against an innocent agrarian (where have I heard this pap before?Oh yeah,Vietnam) people that just want their land back, that Israel stole from them in 1947, (a red herring) returned to them. In that case they ought to be rocketing England. It was Great Britain who devided up the spoils of War in 1947, not Israel! What a fool Dyer must think his readers are! It's in the Hamas Charter, from when they took power, that their whole mission in life was revealed and conveniently is ignored by guys like Dyer who, like to come across as experts on an issue, only to make damn fools out of themselves to the truly informed . Dyer, like a lot of his fellow lefty chumps, don't like mention the fact that it is written in the Palestinian Charter that Israel must destroyed and the Jews slaughtered and run into the sea for there to be any peace! That spoils their narrative!!Palestinians don't want peace, they want to kill anybody that's not a Muslime, especially Jews, and to eventually take over the entire Middle East. They are succeeding too because of the Gwyn Dyers of the world who like to drone on with a lot of poppycock about geo political issues that have nothing to do with what's really happening on the ground in that part of the world! Simply put, they like to hear themselves talk! But what's really appalling to me is that the support for Palestinian Terrorists is so great in this part of the world it boggles the mind! People don't mind defending a people that practice Honor killings on their own daughters for simply going out on a date with someone that's non-Muslime, or is of a different race (after all we must not forget that most Palestinians are die hard Muslimes first) ! And how about genatile mutilation on their own women and forcing them to walk around dressed in tents in 120 degree temperatures while denying them the right to even drive a car, or in a lot of cases,go to school? Anybody (especially females) who supports these barbarous murderers against Israel is nothing but an empty dress. With an empty head. Just like old Gwyn Dyer!! LONG LIVE A FREE AND PEACEFUL ISRAEL....SHALOM!!!

    • Abdul Saieed
      August 04, 2014 - 08:39

      Please don't talk about Islam. It's very obvious that your understanding of it has been filtered through the right-wing media in the same way that grass has been filtered through the digestive system of a cow. You are just embarrassing yourself.

    • John Q Public
      August 04, 2014 - 09:56

      @Abdul Saieed Your comment is an example of what some people do when the truth cannot be denied. Honor killings and mutilation are facts of life in the Arab world and they are inflicted on Arabs by Arabs. In the eyes of most civilized countries and people the acts are abhorrent, sickening and morally despicable. You could not "shoot" the message so your comments were simply made to try and "shoot" the messenger. That is cowardly!

    • Abdul Saieed
      August 04, 2014 - 11:01

      John, I could not, nor should not, be able to say that all Jews delight in the slaughter of Palestinians while chanting "death to Arabs;" or that all Christians are a bunch of gun-wielding, pedophiles who make a hobby of bombing abortion clinics and protesting funerals of AIDS victims. That would be stupid and wrong. Reducing an entire people, a people just as diverse as any other group, down to one stereotype (as elequently demonstrated by this Seanoairborne and his ilk) is in and of itself abhorrent, sickening, morally despicable – and racist. This kind of dehumanization allows the Times of Israel to print "When Genocide is Permissible," and an Israeli scholar to suggest using rape to deter "terrorists" while the slaughter of innocents continue with nary a peep from those in your "civilized" world.