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Israel Lost the War in Gaza but the Struggle for Justice Goes On

Palestinians gather in the streets of Gaza City

There is one clear reason to celebrate the ceasefire deal Israel and the Palestinian resistance reached today: 51 days and nights of relentless Israeli massacres and destruction have come to an end in Gaza.

With reports that Israel has agreed to reopen Gaza’s borders, Hamas announced victory and Palestinians, especially in Gaza, are celebrating. Among many Israelis, meanwhile, there is a feeling of bitterness and defeat.

“What Netanyahu and his colleagues have brought down on Israel, in a conflict between the region’s strongest army and an organization numbering 10,000, is not just a defeat. It’s a downfall,” wrote Haaretz’s Amir Oren in a stunning admission of how much Israel has been set back.

Some observers are treating the latest events with understandable caution.

“I do not feel in a rejoicing mood, only glad that no more people and children will die,” Gaza writer Omar Ghraieb wrote to me.

In addition to the more than 2,100 killed, “so many people got injured, houses got bombed, towers got leveled and life got deformed,” Ghraieb adds. “I would rather just watch closely what awaits Gaza.”

Indeed, Israel has a long history of violating almost every agreement it has ever signed with Palestinians, from the 1993 Oslo accords to previous ceasefires in Gaza.

Israel agreed to open the crossings as part of its November 2012 ceasefire deal with the Palestinian resistance, but reneged. This time Israel knows the stakes are much higher if it violates those terms again.

Ceasefire terms

The reported ceasefire terms “include opening all crossings to Gaza, allowing reconstruction of damaged infrastructure, allowing the entry of materials needed for reconstruction and permitting fishing for a distance of six to twelve nautical miles from shore.”

Opening the crossings – closed or severely restricted due to Israel’s nearly eight-year-long siege – was a key resistance demand supported across Palestinian civil society.

After a month, reports say, talks will resume to discuss additional Palestinian demands: the reopening of Gaza’s airport and seaport.

Palestinians gather in the streets of Gaza City in celebration of the announcement of a permanent ceasefire on 26 August. (Ezz al-Zanoun / APA images)

There are still details that are unclear: who will monitor the crossings and guarantee that Israel abides by the agreement to open them? What role will be played by forces loyal to the Israeli-allied de facto Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas?

It will also be critical for Gaza civil society to be vigilant and to ensure that reconstruction is not controlled by corrupt forces tied to the Abbas PA that have profiteered from Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.

Israel lost

As I have noted before, if “victory” is measured in the number of civilians an army kills and injures, or the number of homes, hospitals, mosques or schools it destroys, Israel is the clear champion once again.

By that standard, the United States spectacularly “won” its wars in Vietnam and Iraq.

But in terms of the political and strategic balance sheet that will determine future relations between Israel and the Palestinians, Israel suffered a clear loss on the battlefield and internationally.

At a basic level, Israel has made concessions to Palestinians that it was not even willing to discuss before its escalation and bombardment.

A month ago, I argued that Israel was being defeated in Gaza as it was in Lebanon in 2006.

That assessment stands. It’s an assessment that can now be found in Israel’s mainstream media. Haaretz diplomatic correspondent Barak Ravid was scathing, writing that Netanyahu “saw his chance to run away from Gaza, and he took it.”

“The Egyptian cease-fire proposal that Israel accepted on Tuesday did not deliver a single achievement,” Ravid wrote, and actually represented a “regression” from Israel’s position before the war.

Ravid explains: “That regression is encapsulated in the 69 Israeli fatalities, 2,000 Palestinian fatalities, the bulk of them innocent civilians, thousands of projectiles on the communities in the south, hundreds of missiles on the center of the country, deserted communities, the loss of trust in the IDF [Israeli army] and the government among the residents of the south, economic damage amounting to billions and diplomatic and PR damage that is impossible to quantify.”

Israel’s limited invasion of Gaza early on in its assault was met with fierce resistance.

Dozens of Israeli soldiers were killed in battles with well-prepared and courageous Palestinian fighters.

The heavy losses convinced Israeli military leaders that total reoccupation of Gaza would entail further losses it could not bear.

And after dropping the equivalent of an atomic bomb on Gaza, Israel was unable to stop Palestinian resistance groups from firing missiles at Israeli targets.

Since Israel’s ground invasion entered only a few hundred meters into Gaza, it is reasonable to assume that a significant part, if not the vast majority, of resistance assets remain intact and ready to use should Israel invade again.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon understood this and signed a ceasefire deal without putting it to a vote in an extremist and deeply split cabinet.

Justice minister Tzipi Livni, who was foreign minister during Israel’s 2008-2009 invasion of Gaza, supported the ceasefire but warned against allowing Hamas to have too many political achievements.

The heads of councils of Israel’s southern settlements that were within range of most of the resistance rockets also slammed the ceasefire deal.

“Any concession to Hamas is a surrender to terrorism,” Ashkelon mayor Itamar Shimoni said, according to Haaretz..

“The residents of [the] south wanted to see this campaign resolved, but that will probably not happen,” Shimoni added.

He meant that they wanted the war to go on until victory was reached – an end to rocket fire from Gaza. But even the most hawkish and hard-headed Israeli analysts knew that such victory is a mirage.

Earlier this week, Ynet columnist Ron Ben-Yishai, who is close to Israel’s military and intelligence establishment, lamented that “What was supposed to be an operation or a military campaign has turned into a war of attrition.”

Such a “war of attrition is ultimately worse for Israel than for Hamas,” Ben-Yishai argued, “even though Hamas is drawing fire and suffering serious damage, at rates far, far higher than Israel.”

The reason, he claimed, is “Hamas plays the strengths of the weak, and as long as it can launch rockets and mortars, it puts on a façade of a fighting force that does not surrender.”

“It also doesn’t need much to inflict damage, losses and pain on Israel,” Ben-Yishai argued. “One mortar that kills a four-year-old boy is enough to deliver a hard emotional blow to Israelis. That’s how an asymmetrical war goes.”

There’s an element of racism in this – the idea that Israelis value life more and are therefore more sensitive to individual deaths.

If that were true, Israel would show its concern for life and set an example by not killing so many Palestinians, especially not so many Palestinian children.

But there is also a historic reality that in anti-colonial wars, the natives have had less to lose than their occupiers and far more to gain, and have been willing to make enormous sacrifices to achieve their liberation.

One can only stand in awe of how many people in Gaza said that despite the unbearable pain and losses, they just weren’t prepared to surrender.

“Surviving this aggression is a new life. Living through 51 days of continuous missiles and bombs is a victory,” Gaza writer Malaka Mohammed, currently a student in the UK, told me.

“Being forced to leave your home more than seven times and going back in the next day is a victory; staying strong and resilient after running over the corpses of your neighbors and friends as well as relatives is a victory,” Mohammed adds.

“Living in Gaza and being the first line of resistance against siege and aggression is nothing but a victory,” she said.

That resilience, born from a love of life and an unshakeable commitment to dignity and liberation, is indeed something Israel could not defeat even with its most horrifying weapons.

Writing just yesterday, Ben-Yishai observed:

It is absolutely clear that all parties now want a ceasefire as soon as possible. The problem is that Hamas cannot agree to a ceasefire without any achievements to present to its people and to the citizens of Gaza … Similarly, the Israeli government cannot justify the fighting and casualties if it agrees to give Hamas this achievement and if it cannot prove that Hamas will be unable to rebuild after the fighting ends.

The alternatives Ben-Yishai proposed were even more bombardment and total occupation of Gaza.

By signing the agreement, Netanyahu admitted there was not going to be an Israeli victory and conceding to key resistance demands was his only option.

Netanyahu also had to bring Israel’s aggression to an end, not least because of the mounting damage to the country’s economy. Among the worst hit sectors is tourism, with the number of visitors to Israel plunging to the lowest level since 2007.

But the internal political battles within Israel and Israel’s own predilection to inflict as much suffering as it can get away with on Palestinians means that it has a strong incentive to undermine whatever limited terms it has agreed to now.

The hardline commitment in Israel to keeping Gaza besieged and subjugated also means that the talks reportedly set to begin in a month will face enormous obstacles.

Battle for justice goes on

Refaat Alareer, the Gaza writer and educator who lost his brother in the Israeli attack, also sees today’s agreement as “a symbolic win over a barbaric colonial power – one step for Gaza and a giant leap for Palestine.”

Alareer adds:

It is a victory because Gaza did not kneel, because Gaza proved Israel can be deterred and isolated, because Gaza exposed the hideous face of apartheid Israel and that of the US that never stopped sending weapons to Israel, and because more and more people are now uniting all over the world and are more determined to end this injustice by all effective means.

This is a victory because it united Palestinians and pro-Palestinians from all over the world to fight for Palestine. It’s a victory because the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign is now more powerful and more effective.

It is a victory because a lot more people have decided to engage in the active support of Palestine, by being part of BDS, rather than only sending prayers and good wishes.

Alareer reminds us that as Palestinians in Gaza begin – hopefully – the arduous road to physical, emotional and mental recovery from the unspeakable horrors Israel has inflicted, the work of justice cannot take a break.

He reminds us too that Israel could not perpetrate such hideous atrocities without the support and complicity of so many governments, companies and other institutions around the world. The struggle to maintain Israeli occupation and racism is global, which is why the struggle to defeat them – especially BDS – must be global too.

A ceasefire is not enough. Rebuilding Gaza is not enough. Even ending the siege would not be enough. It would only be the start.

We have to say never again. Never again must Israel be allowed to massacre Palestinians as it has in Gaza in 2006, 2008-2009, 2012 and 2014 – the years since it decided to turn Gaza into a giant open-air prison.

It is crucial to understand that such violence is the price of a “Jewish state” in Palestine.

The only way to stop the massacres is to escalate our work for justice.

An end to Israeli apartheid and colonization and the founding of a country for all its people – where refugees, no longer excluded by racist laws, return to their land – is the only monument worth building for so many people whose lives were violently stolen.

Originally published on electronicintifada.net

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