by SAMAH SABAWI*-
Robust and complex discussions are being centred on one simple question: who can claim victory in the war on Gaza? The terms of the ceasefire reveal that neither Hamas nor Israel got what they wanted. So how much was lost and how much was gained and who – if anyone – has emerged a winner?
Hamas was able to establish deterrence, displaying an incredible level of resilience and strength, even when equipped with primitive weapons. It was able to force Israel to agree to ease the siege by allowing for the easier flow of goods, humanitarian aid and reconstruction equipment, narrowing its security buffer zone to allow Palestinians more access to their farmland, and extending the fishing limit off Gaza’s coast to 9.6 km. Egypt is said to have agreed to open the Rafah crossing, on the condition that Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas take over responsibility for administering it. Above all, Hamas’s biggest and most significant gain was an increase in popular support and admiration from Palestinians across the political and factional divide, as it became the epicentre of Palestinian resistance. Needless to say, it is hard to tell if this support will be maintained in the days and months to come.
On the downside, Hamas was not able to fully lift the siege; it didn’t get the seaport and airport the Palestinians wanted, nor was it able to broker the release of Palestinian prisoners. Further, there was great loss of human life in Gaza: 2,142 people were killed by Israel – most of them civilians – including more than 490 children. 540,000 people became displaced as Israel deliberately destroyed homes and apartment buildings. Gaza’s infrastructure and economy lay in ruins and almost half of the city is reduced to rubble. Hamas also prompted criticism from human rights groups and international observers for firing indiscriminately at Israel and for its extra-judicial killings of those accused of collaboration.
On the Israeli side, the world’s fourth most powerful military was not able to maintain its ground operation in Gaza, and failed in its stated objective to remove Hamas from power – or to even to weaken it. We will never truly know if Israel destroyed all the tunnels as it claims it has. Israel was not able to bring an end to the unity deal between Fatah and Hamas. It lost the public relations war as images of its brutality in Gaza were broadcasted around the world. It lost 69 lives, nearly all of them soldiers. In return for all of these losses, Israel got an agreement from Hamas to stop the firing of rockets into Israel – something which was agreed upon several times before, without the need for this massive display of savagery. In fact, Israel has achieved very little, save for making its list of war crimes against the Palestinians grow even longer.
As happy as we need to be that the two parties have reached an agreement and that the bombs have stopped falling, we have to acknowledge that the ceasefire is only a Band-Aid solution for a larger problem. Israel’s policies of ethnic cleansing and dispossession of the Palestinian people, which began more than 67 years ago, rapidly continue today with no accountability. For more than 50 days, we have witnessed Israel being given total impunity for acts that trample on the international rule of law, the lives of humans and the livelihood of Gaza. Meanwhile the Palestinians were left to fend for themselves under the nonchalant gaze of the international community.
A fundamental change is needed and it is on the way. If there were a victory to be claimed, it would be first and foremost a victory for the Palestinians of Gaza, who have shown incredible patience, steadfastness and sacrifice in the pursuit of their freedom. To a lesser degree, it is a victory for people of conscience around the world: from those who stepped out of their tribal loyalties and said “not in my name,” to those who stepped out of their factional line and said “together we stand” – people in the global Palestinian solidarity movement from various walks of life. A victory can be claimed by the millions who marched in protests around the world, who put together creative actions at seaports, erected messages on billboards, draped the Palestinian flag off high bridges and projected it on Parliament buildings. This is a victory for those who occupied the rooftops of arms factories and those who danced in flash mobs in malls. This is a victory for the Boycott Divestments and Sanctions movement, which saw a huge increase in support from artists, academics, politicians and unions.
So who really won the war on Gaza? The Palestinian cause did.
– Samah Sabawi is a playwright, poet, political analyst and human rights advocate. She has written and produced the critically acclaimed plays Cries from the Land and Three Wishes as well as having co-authored the book Journey to Peace in Palestine. She is also Policy Adviser to Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian policy network.