By Aaisha Zafar Islam
Residents in the Gaza Strip are by no means new to warfare. A thin strip of land accorded to Palestinians in the 1994, it has a small 11 kilometers of border in the southwest with Egypt, with Israel closing in on it along the eastern and northern borders and the Mediterranean Sea coast along its western side.
Granted autonomy in 1994, as part of the Cairo Agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Gaza Strip is just 41 kilometers long and its width ranges from 6 to 12 kilometers, covering a total of just 365 square kilometers.
With a large number of Palestinian refugees crammed into this small space, Gaza has a population of 1.82 million, one of the most densely populated areas in the world. Limited land space, frequent strife and no room for constructing new facilities – life in the strip is a harsh reality. Its economy relies heavily on Israel.
Gaza: In-fighting and wars
Gaza has been governed by Hamas since 2007 after it wrested with Al Fatah for control over the strip. Hamas had won 74 out of 132 total seats in the January 2006 Palestinian Parliamentary elections. However, Israel, US and the EU refused to recognize this mandate won by Hamas.
A year later, in 2007, war broke out between Al Fatah and Hamas for control over the strip and Hamas emerged victorious in claiming power over the beleaguered land. This move was not welcomed by the world comity, with even Arab states like Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia ignoring Hamas’ stake in the cabinet and recognizing the government formed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank.
Since 2007, Gaza Strip has seen conflicts in many shapes, in-fighting among Palestinian cadres and full-on wars with Israel.
In response to Hamas’ control over the Strip, Israel implemented a territorial, aerial and naval blockade of all supplies coming into Gaza in 2008. Despite Israel’s claims to the contrary, Gaza Strip has limited autonomy as Israel still exercises complete control over the air space, territorial waters and any land movements of goods and people to and from Gaza. The blockade or siege has lasted to this day, with ease of some restrictions coming in 2010, after mounting international pressure.
Gaza War of 2007-08
As 2007 ended, Israel launched Operation Cast Lead against Gaza. This three week war, also known as the Gaza Massacre, or Battle of the Al-Furqan ended in mid-January 2008. Israel claimed to have launched this offensive in response to rocket attacks by Hamas.
These hostilities saw thousands of deaths in Gaza, as Israel launched aerial attacks, followed by ground invasion in January 2008. Death toll on the Palestinian side was reported to be between 1166 to 1417; Israeli side saw 13 deaths in total of which four were a result of friendly fire.
Hostilities of 2012
Four years after the War of 2007/08, Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) started another attack on the Strip, in November. This lasted eight day, seeing more than a hundred civilians die on the Palestinian side. On Israel’s side, four civilians and two soldiers were killed as a result of Palestinian rocket attacks.
2014: Operation Protective Edge
On July 8, 2014, Israel initiated the operation, starting with bombing 200 sites in Gaza, killing 24 Palestinians. By day four, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu had pledged to fighting Hamas with ‘increasing intensity’. By day five, the death toll in Gaza had risen to 50 – in just one day.
In a televised news conference, Netanyahu said:
No international pressure will prevent us from operating with full force against a terrorist organization that calls for our destruction.
Hamas, on the other hand, claimed:
So far Hamas has utilized only a little of what it has prepared for the Zionist enemy. We have prepared ourselves for a very long battle, not for a week or 10 days, as some have said, but for many long weeks.
As we write these lines, Israel has launched another ground offensive on Gaza Strip. Named Operation Protective Edge, IDF launched a ground invasion just a day after harrowing reports and photographs of four young boys who died from Israeli shelling, while playing on the Gaza beach.
A cease-fire proposed by Egypt saw a temporary lull in aerial attacks from Israeli side on July 15, but violence escalated as Hamas rejected the proposal saying it was not consulted. In a report released by the International Crisis Group, Nathan Thrall laid bare the facts:
The world is radically different from the 2012 conflict. This thing is much harder to resolve.
Egypt helped its ally, Israel, achieve a face-saving unilateral cease-fire — that’s what happened. We had an Israeli unilateral cease-fire to which Hamas never agreed, and Egypt helped Israel market it.
Israel was not ready to accept the terms of a ceasefire arrangement proposed by Hamas.
Silent spectators, the real culprits
Each time it is a similar set of events that are played out. Israel starts indiscriminate aerial bombing of the strip, in retaliation to Hamas’ rocket fires into its territory. This is followed by a ground invasion by the IDF, into Gazan territory, to ‘flush out militants’ as more civilians come and die in the line of fire.
The world, particularly the Muslim Ummah, is jostled out of its slumber as long as reports of casualties come in from Gaza, and go back to their usual routines till another round of hostilities and deaths starts making headlines.
The current round of warfare is third in around seven years. As everyone takes to voicing their support for Gaza and the besieged Palestinians, on social media and in street protests, this activism lasts for only as long as the war is making headlines.
There is a renewed call to boycott companies and MNC’s that support Zionism and Israeli government, striking the economic backbone of the Zionist movement. Similar calls were made in 2008 as well. Once hostilities ended, or at least panned out of the news limelight, all resolutions to boycott Israeli/Zionist goods and services were forgotten. Till July 2014.
Israel and its right-wing government, as well as its apartheid policies are to blame for the on-going strife in Palestinian lands. However the world, particularly the Ummah and its hapless leaders cannot be absolved of blame either. Muslim leaders around the world think they have fulfilled their duty to the hapless citizens of Gaza with their rhetoric, just as Muslims around the world, and on social media, think they are doing a service to Palestine by posting and sharing pictures, news items and changing their DP’s showing support for Gaza.
We need to wake up and realize that any half-hearted economic and public opinion pressure we may exert now, will only result in a temporary cessation of hostilities. There will be another trigger some years later, another round of deaths, another flurry of armchair activism – none of which is the permanent solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
What we need is to engage public opinion, think and plan in the long-term, identify decision-makers and lobby for support in the government, let our votes speak for us. We have witnessed many Jews come out against Israeli attacks on civilians in Gaza, we need to differentiate between Judaism and Zionism. Anti-Israel spiels will not get us anywhere, we have learnt that the Zionist lobby is too strong and has supporters in all the right places. Friends of Palestine have a short attention span and can only be goaded into action after they read of deaths and for as long as the death toll rises. We do our Palestinian brethren no service with just words, we feel for them , but feelings alone will not help them till we develop a backbone and up our lobbying game. A war has no ‘right’ sides, it only has casualties. It is time to play the humanity card, we’ve played the Muslim/Arab/Palestinian card for far too long with very little success.