Five Lessons Learned from the Israeli Attack on Gaza
This article was published by the online journal Theory & Event (Volume 18, Issue 1 Supplement, January 2015) and appeared on Project Muse.
Several months on, the dust has still not settled in Gaza, as people continue to sift through the rubble, mourn their loved ones, and try to reconstitute their shattered lives. The toll is familiar but hard to fathom: over 2,000 dead (including at least 500 children) and 11,000 wounded, not to mention billions of dollars in property damage. The world has moved on to new “crises”, but while the memory is still fresh, we owe it to the victims to reflect on the conflagration that took place in Gaza last summer. Here are five lessons that I have taken away from the conflict.
1. The security pretext for the Israeli offensive was a complete fabrication
If anyone thought for a moment that the periodic assaults on Gaza (2006, 2008–2009–2012, and now in 2014) had anything to do with Israeli security, the latest offensive has put that idea to rest. The successive attacks on Gaza demonstrate that after every “decisive” Israeli blow to the Palestinian militants, they simply rebuild their military capabilities and develop them more fully and upgrade them considerably. Anyone who thinks that the tunnels that Israel destroyed during the 2014 invasion will not be rebuilt within a matter of months is frankly delusional. The tunnels that will be dug again in the direction of Egypt will be used to provide much needed supplies for the population, as well as to resupply the militant groups. The tunnels that will be rebuilt in the direction of Israel will be used to carry out attacks on Israel--but only if there is a political decision taken to that effect. The only thing that has prevented Hamas and other groups from using the tunnels, which existed at least since 2005, to launch attacks against Israel before this current offensive is the political will to do so, rather than any Israeli security arrangements. Incidentally, these obvious facts also show why the separation wall that Israel has built to encircle the West Bank, cut it off from Jerusalem, and seize more Palestinian land has nothing to do with security, since Palestinian resistance groups can, if need be, scale the wall, dig tunnels underneath it, or otherwise bypass it.
2. The Israeli “disengagement” from Gaza in 2005 was merely a way of prolonging the occupation by other means
The “disengagement plan” undertaken by then Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon in 2005 was designed to continue the occupation of the Gaza Strip in a way that was more sustainable for the Israeli military establishment. The plan always called for maintaining complete control over Gaza’s airspace, territorial waters, borders, and entry and exit points. Israel also remained in charge of the electricity grid, water supply, and other infrastructure, such as telecommunications. The disengagement allowed the Israeli army to avoid basing large military units in Gaza to guard several heavily fortified settlements, with a total of around 6000 Israeli settlers. Relieved of this onerous duty, the Israeli military is now free to rule Gaza by remote control, cutting off water and power periodically, preventing people from exiting and entering at will (even at the Egyptian border), blocking basic supplies and everyday needs, and killing combatants and non-combatants alike with regular air strikes. In addition, with predictable regularity, the Israeli military unleashes its entire arsenal on innocent civilians in Gaza, leaving thousands dead and wounded each time. The withdrawal of Israeli settlers from Gaza in 2005 has actually allowed Israel to tighten its military grip. The most recent offensive and the previous three attacks would have been unthinkable had a single Israeli settler remained in the Gaza Strip.
3. Israel requires a war every two or three years to test its arsenal
Like a shark that cannot survive when it ceases to swim, the Israeli military, armed to the teeth, and developing new armaments all the time, requires a war to test its capabilities. Israeli military technology is widely exported all over the world and to remain credible, it must be battle-tested. The Israeli military-industrial complex comprises some 150 companies with combined revenues of more than $3.5 billion annually. This is a large and growing sector, which registered a 20 percent increase in exports from 2011 to 2012.1 Gaza is a testing ground for Israeli military technology, including its hyped latest product, the “Iron Dome.” As if to confirm this proposition, much of the media coverage for that missile defense system reads like an advertisement for military hardware. Even news sources like the BBC produced graphic images during the offensive showing the allegedly impressive performance of the “Iron Dome.” That is why the people of Gaza say that they are targets in a high-tech firing range. As one mother sheltering in a Gaza hospital told a western reporter, Palestinians feel as though they are on the wrong end of a computer game.2
4. Israel cannot tolerate Palestinian unity
Israeli officials expressed displeasure with the Fatah-Hamas Palestinian unity government even before the government ever saw the light of day in June 2014. Palestinian unity means cohesion and strength, and that is a cause of alarm for Israeli politicians. Moreover, given that in Israeli official discourse, there are “good” Palestinians and “bad” Palestinians, Israel can’t tolerate the reality that there is a unified sense of purpose and common cause among Palestinians. As long as Palestinians were divided, a frequent pretext by Israeli spokespersons for not talking to them was that they were too divided and didn’t speak with a unified voice. According to the tired cliché, Palestinians are not “a partner for peace.” One of the goals behind the attack on Gaza was evidently to strain the Fatah-Hamas relationship and raise the level of tension between the two groups, leading to a new rift in Palestinian politics. At least in the short-term, that goal does not seem to have been achieved, but only time will tell whether Israel succeeds in this regard.
5. The “Dahiya Doctrine” is alive and well in the Israeli military establishment and is being implemented in detail in Gaza
After the Israeli war on Lebanon in 2006, Israeli military commanders articulated the “Dahiya Doctrine,” named after the Beirut southern suburbs, which were devastated by Israeli airstrikes. Major General Gadi Eizenkot, formerly head of the Israeli army’s northern command, told the Israeli newspaper Yedi’ot Aharonot in March 2008: “What happened in the Dahiya quarter of Beirut in 2006 will happen in every village from which Israel is fired on.” He went on to say: “We will apply disproportionate force on it [the village] and cause great damage and destruction there. From our standpoint, these are not civilian villages, they are military bases.” Eizenkot affirmed: “This is not a recommendation. This is a plan. And it has been approved.”3 Eizenkot is now deputy chief of staff of the Israeli military (and may become chief of staff). By the admission of its own top military commanders, Israel deliberately targets civilians. In both Lebanon and Palestine, it does so in the deluded belief that killing and wounding civilians will put pressure on resistance movements to stop fighting. In Palestine, it also does so to make life miserable for Palestinians in the false hope that this will induce them to emigrate or agree to permanent status as a subjugated and disenfranchised population living within the borders of the Israeli state. This is confirmed by the statements of senior Israeli political leaders, such as the Deputy Speaker of the Israeli Knesset Moshe Feiglin, who called during the offensive on Gaza for the wholesale destruction and depopulation of Gaza, leading to the eviction of Palestinians from their homes and their permanent “elimination” from their homeland.4 In other words, Israel intentionally strikes civilians in order to accomplish political ends. This, by the way, is the dictionary definition of terrorism.