Despite unprecedented Arab revolutions that suggest a new dawn in the region, Israel presses ahead with its old provocative policies, writes Khaled Amayreh in occupied West Bank.
An uneasy and fragile calm is hovering over the Gaza Strip less than 48 hours after the latest Israeli aggression, considered the bloodiest since the 2008-9 onslaughts that caused widespread death and destruction.
The latest offensive began soon after an anti-tank rocket, fired from the Gaza Strip, hit an Israeli bus travelling on a military road frequented by Israeli military vehicles. A 16-year-old boy was badly injured along with the bus driver who sustained minor injuries.
Soon afterwards, the Israeli army unleashed its immense firepower from land and air on all but unprotected Gazans. A series of air raids and artillery bombardments, which lasted for more than 96 hours, left as many as 19 Palestinians, the bulk of whom innocent civilians, dead. Dozens were badly injured.
Israeli leaders and spokesmen sought to give the impression that the deadly aggression was a morally justified response to the attack on the bus. However, the attack on the bus, which Hamas said was not intended to harm Israeli children, was a response to earlier Israeli attacks that killed innocent Palestinians.
For example, on Friday 1 April, Israel assassinated a 24-year-old member of a Palestinian resistance faction. The next day, the Israeli air force murdered three members of the same resistance group. Similarly, on Tuesday, 5 April, Israeli forces shot dead an innocent Palestinian in Northern Gaza. And on Wednesday, 6 April, at dawn, Israeli forces bombarded Gaza in three air strikes, injuring four people, including two women (one of them pregnant) and a child.
On the same day, 6 April, hundreds of Gazan children participated in a march, appealing to the international community to protect them against daily Israeli raids and attacks. This chronology of events shows that the 7 April attack on the Israel bus was not really thunder on a clear day, and that Israel’s near daily assassinations and provocations invited a Palestinian reaction.
The intensity of the Israeli aggression was meant to communicate the same old message to the Palestinians, namely that Israel has the right to murder Palestinian civilians whenever it deems fit whereas the Palestinians have no right to react, even in self-defence. This is obviously a formula that no Palestinian faction, let alone Hamas, would be willing to accept.
To be sure, Hamas gave every sign suggesting that the Islamist movement was not interested in escalation or, indeed, an all-out war with Israel. However, Hamas and other Palestinian factions also made it clear any calm would have to be mutual. And although the firepower of these factions can’t be compared to Israel’s, nonetheless, Gazan fighters have at least the ability to disturb Israelis who are about to enter a period of several religious holidays.
According to veteran Israeli journalist Danny Rubenstein, the daring attacks on the mostly civilian Palestinian population took advantage of the recent retractions made by South African judge Richard Goldstein of his damning report, issued last year, of the Israeli blitz on Gaza more than two years ago.
Now, Israel apparently wanted to tell Hamas that the rules of the game remain unchanged following the ouster of president Hosni Mubarak, and that it couldn’t count on help from the new regime in Egypt. The latest aggression also seemed to carry a delicate message to the new Egyptian leadership: namely that Israel will not allow recent changes in the Arab world, particularly Egypt, to undermine its long-held strategic advantage over the Arabs.
To the international community, Israel’s message was one of characteristic insolence. Nonetheless, Israel’s bellicosity is likely to boomerang. Egypt, although busy restoring stability and putting its house in order, has sent several subtle but unmistakable messages to Israel that the new post-Mubarak Egypt will not be the same as earlier, which more or less acted at Washington’s — if not Israel’s — beck and call.
For example, new Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil El-Arabi said that Egypt didn’t view Iran as an enemy state. This dealt a blow to Israel’s efforts to mobilising regional forces against Iran’s nuclear programme. Moreover, the new Egyptian authorities have been receiving the leaders of Hamas, while the group’s Egyptian ideological allies, the Muslim Brotherhood, are now assuming unprecedented pre-eminence on the Egyptian political scene.
In fact, the new Egyptian authorities are going beyond improving chemistry with Hamas. According to some news reports, Egypt has already halted construction of the underground steel wall designed to stop weapons smuggling along Egypt’s border with the Gaza Strip. Construction of the 6.2-mile barrier, which generated a lot of bitterness among Gazans, was suspended after the ouster of Mubarak in February.
Some Israeli officials opined that halting the construction of the barrier was not coincidental. The right-wing Israeli newspaper, The Jerusalem Post, quoted an unnamed Israeli official as saying that "there is a new relationship between Hamas and Cairo today. This is likely connected to the upcoming elections and the understanding in Egypt that the Muslim Brotherhood is a strong player and as a result it is important to maintain contacts with Hamas."
Issue No. 1043, 14 - 20 April 2011.
Khalid Amayreh (b. 1957 Hebron) is a Palestinian journalist based in Dura, the Hebron district. He did his university degrees in the United States: BA in Journalism at University of Oklahoma, 1982; MA in Journalism, University of Southern Illinois, 1983. For a long time, his life was not made any easier by the fact that he was largely confined by the powers that be to his home village of Dura near Hebron.
On his life experience as a Palestinian, see: “Reflections on the 1967-war anniversary”, palestine-info, 5 June, 2008.