The Palestinian struggle can be seen on three levels. The first is stopping the IDF from entering the Gaza Strip. The second is lifting the siege on Gaza, and the third is the creation of a unified Palestinian state comprising the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
The resistance (Hamas and other organizations) attained victory on the first level in Operation Solid Cliff (called “Operation Defensive Edge” in English). Not a final victory; far from that. Such a victory would be the creation of a Palestinian state that is truly independent and not “demilitarized” with Israeli aircraft criss-crossing its skies at will. This victory lay in the fact that the resistance succeeded in stopping Israel’s large and strong army at the entrance to the Strip and even forced it to withdraw from there. The whole story is told by the generals who for days and nights sat in bewilderment at Hamas’ fighting, under pressure from the inflamed Israeli public, and decided not to penetrate into the interior of the Strip. The generals explained afterwards that going into the Gaza Strip would have caused hundreds if not thousands of Israeli soldiers to be killed and wounded. So it was indeed a victory for Palestinian deterrence. And Hamas also had the upper hand in the last stage, the stage of attrition. Their mortar shells, which our experts kept telling us had been depleted, came down in a heavy barrage on Israeli communities around Gaza. The IDF Chief of Staff’s failure to visit a shelled community summed up the situation.
The final failure was in the war of attrition. The south of Israel could no longer endure the terrible hardship it was suffering after 50 days of Solid Cliff. Most residents left the south. It suffices to hear the words of those residents to understand that they were at the end of their tethers. But in later days a new dimension was added to their statements – one spokeswoman described it thusly (approximately – I’m writing from memory): Israel, she said, has a strong army and excellent soldiers, so why don’t we try for once what we haven’t tried so far – to talk with Hamas in order to make peace. A regional council head spoke in a similar spirit (again from memory): I don’t care about the government or Hamas; the residents will not return here as long as there’s no guarantee of real peace. For that we have to talk with the enemy. These words certainly express the feelings of many residents. Is this the beginning of a change, with the public freeing itself from crude propaganda and anti-Arab incitement and beginning to understand that the only way out is the way of peace, even peace with the enemy? Time will tell.
The last accord of the campaign was correctly described by Barak Ravid (Haaretz 26 August 2014): “Binyamin Netanyahu’s behaviour in the 50 days of the war in Gaza showed how far removed from reality were the declarations and promises he scattered around. The Prime Minister who spoke out the strongest against Hamas concluded the confrontation in the weakest position. All he wanted was to reach a ceasefire at nearly any price. When the opportunity came to do that he took it and ran.”
By the end of the campaign the tables were turned, and “deterrence” – the Holy of Holies in the Israeli military lexicon – was among the victims: it is now mutual. Does anyone now imagine that Israel will again unthinkingly enter the West Bank and arrest 500 Hamas people (Operation “Brother’s Keeper”). Will Israel respond arrogantly to Palestinian fire by casually throwing the safety-catch? Certainly not. Every time something like that happens in the future the leadership will respond with “serious deliberation” as Netanyahu likes to put it, knowing that unlike in the past, it will be no stroll in the park this time. And the exultation of the Palestinian resistance was not for nothing, contrary to what we are told in Israel. It made important achievements, and its voice will now be heard differently in negotiations. It has become a force that must be reckoned with. In this campaign it forced Israel into shelters, harmed its economy, interfered with international flights and inflicted painful losses on the IDF. In the next negotiations it will undoubtedly obtain at least a substantial loosening of the siege. All due to the courage and daring of its fighters, as even the Israeli media acknowledge to some extent. It is hard to admit the fact that force and violence are nearly always an important component in achievements made in struggles for national liberation.
At his news conference on 28 August 2014 Netanyahu of course ignored Hamas’ achievements in the campaign. He claimed, without any basis or evidence, that Hamas had been defeated and requested a ceasefire. Netanyahu had to contend with the bitter taste the campaign left in Israelis’ mouths, even a sense of failure. He had to contend with harsh criticism against him, as reflected in a headline in Haaretz: “Go back to selling furniture!”
Netanyahu had two replies – the first he repeated over and over: we struck a hard blow on Hamas, from which it will not recover soon. We destroyed their infrastructures and their houses. (And what he did not want to say: we killed over a thousand Palestinians, the large majority of them civilians, including about 500 children.)
Indeed he spoke the truth. The Strip has been destroyed in large part and hundreds of thousands of refugees are now searching for what remains of their property among the ruins. But how can one take pride in such destruction? Is there anything there that looks like military victory? It was all “war from a distance”. The pilots got into their planes and bombed. There was not a single air battle, not one aircraft rose to intercept them. Israel’s pilots faced no danger.
This killing was done against an unarmed civilian population. Slaughter of civilians from the air, civilians without defensive weapons. The former IDF Chief of Staff , Dan Halutz, has described this kind of war: he feels a slight jolt on the wing of the aircraft when a one-ton bomb is dropped onto the population below. There must be something twisted and disturbed about Israeli society and its spokesman Netanyahu who can take pride in such a war. But these are typical colonial wars we learned from the Americans (who “share our values”), who specialized in this kind of war in Vietnam and other places – wars “with no boots on the ground”, as they put it.
The second “achievement”, according to Netanyahu, was the West’s support for Israel. He explained that Israel enjoyed the help of the West, which for 50 days gave Israel a free hand in its war against the Palestinians. Those words were said in reply to the claims of the parties of the “moderate Left” and the liberal centre, who had warned that Israel was losing the support of the US, for there was no longer any shared language between Netanyahu and President Obama. But on this issue Netanyahu was right. He knows what the moderate Left does not want to know: without American help or agreement Israel conducts no war – including Operation Solid Cliff. And so Netanyahu was not alarmed even when Obama said at the beginning of his term that “settlement must stop”, nor did was he alarmed at Obama’s words of admonishment during the current military campaign. He understands that Obama must talk out of both sides of his mouth; sometimes he has to appease his Arab clients. In Operation Solid Cliff, Obama only got excited once, when it looked like an Israeli soldier had been captured. Then he discovered the barbarism of war – among the Palestinians. When it came to the murder of over 2,000 Palestinian civilians, he settled for a mild rebuke.
Still, the faith in America of what here we call the “Left” has not been shaken. To understand the role of the US in the region and the use of Israel as a guardian of its interests would require a very profound ideological revision. And any in-depth examination of the question of Israel’s dependence on American imperialism will naturally raise unpleasant questions about the Holy of Holies: the source and the character of Zionism. And so the Right and the Left will continue with their sterile debate about who is the best guardian of relations with the US.
Peace is made with enemies. Israel knows this, but Israel also knows that true peace requires withdrawal from the Occupied Territories. And so Israel represents Hamas as a “murderous organization” which is unwilling to make peace. Israel represented Fatah in exactly the same way, back in the day. Moreover, not only is Hamas unwilling to make peace; its objective is the destruction of Israel. Again, the same was said about Fatah. The demonization of Hamas is certainly succeeding, one result being the rabble’s call for “death to Arabs”. How sad that the liberal centre, the moderate Left and even part of the radical Left have accepted the official propaganda about Hamas. In any case, at the beginning of Operation Solid Cliff they supported the war against the “murderous organization”. They are unmoved by the simple fact is that Hamas, for all its shortcomings, nevertheless represents a people that is living under occupation and Israel is the occupying, oppressing and belligerent side in this war. Even when they spoke against the war, they always stressed that first we must destroy/degrade/defeat/put an end to Hamas. It is regrettable that all those good people never made an effort, even a small one, to learn anything about Hamas outside the box of official propaganda. They could have learned something, for example, if they had read the words of Professor Menachem Klein, one of the world’s top experts on Palestinian politics, who is a research fellow at Oxford University and also served as a political advisor to Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami.
In the newspaper Kalkalist on 20 July 2014 Klein explains that Hamas is not a “murderous organization” and it does not hold to “the destruction of Israel”, but like Fatah before it, it has eschewed all kinds of bombastic declarations. Klein explains that the Hamas Charter was composed in 1988, but as early as the Palestinian Authority elections in 2006 it was abandoned and Hamas conducted its electoral campaign in disregard of it. Mere participation in those elections was a contravention of the Charter. By then Hamas had recognized the authority of the Palestinian Authority in Gaza “in order to prevent a civil war”. And Klein reminds us that Hamas was not born as a terrorist organization but as a multifaceted social movement, and that is how it should still be seen today. To all this we must add that Hamas joined the national unity government with the Palestinian Authority under conditions of negotiations with Israel for the creation of a Palestinian state. As we know, Israel is doing all in its power to break up the Palestinian national unity government. In case the words of Prof. Klein do not suffice, I will conclude with the words of the leader of the political bureau of Hamas, Khaled Mashal himself. In an address to Israelis, he said (Haaretz 29 August 2014) the following: “You need to understand that there is no security as long as the occupation goes on. We are not enemies on account of religion, we respect every religion. Our enemy is the occupation.”  Those words are a good reply to the demonization of Hamas. But more than that: his words can serve as an excellent basis for negotiations and the realization of peace – on condition that we truly aspire for peace and are willing to return the Occupied Territories.
1. Haaretz, 28 August 2014: “Meshal: Hamas will go back to war against Israel if upcoming truce talks fail”. http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/.premium-1.613015