Gaza 2014: Old Israel in a New Middle East
By Mosab Qashoo
The military operations undertaken by both Israel and Gaza bear many resemblances to what occurred in 2008 and 2012. Military might is still just as disproportionate, with Israel dropping hundreds of tonnes of explosives in 1,600 bombings and Hamas firing 1,500 non-explosive projectiles and rockets. Similarly, while it is unjust to compare casualties, the enormous gap between the over 265 Gazans and the 2 Israelis killed is telling. Of course Israeli weaponry is ever advancing with the assistance of US tax dollars. Despite the loss of its tunnels into Egypt and its severed relationship with the Syrian regime, Hamas has launched rockets farther than ever before and has sent surveillance drones and SCUBA divers into Israel. Interestingly, both Hamas and the Israeli government have implemented new tactics meant to warn civilians of impending attacks. Many news networks have focused on so-called “warning rockets” or “roof tapping”, very friendly sounding words that, no doubt, were crafted and injected into the conversation by Israeli Hasbarists. This media sculpting is very skillful, considering that these “warning rockets” are likely more powerful than Hamas’ most advanced rocket. Not to mention that most of these smaller bombs hit less than a minute before a massive bombing, giving Gazans little time to move to a slightly safer location, and certainly not enough time to gather family photos, identity documents, money or other valuables. They also announced their ground invasion in advance, though there is little Gazans could do to prepare. Hamas has provided slightly more meaningful warnings through text messages and TV broadcasts hours prior to launching rockets, a reasonable time for Israeli citizens to take care of their business and get into their bomb shelters. It is as if there is a side battle of who can appear to be giving the most warning to the other side.
The use of social media is a much loved topic in most news outlets. In this instance, the interest lies not in the use of social media to allow for citizen journalism or political participation, but instead for its application in military scenarios. For example, Israel now has a smartphone app that warns Israelis of approaching rockets and projectiles. On July 14th, Hamas hacked into the most watched Israeli TV station during prime time and also managed to send blanket text messages to Israeli cell phones in order to convey, in Hebrew, a message stating that Israeli children are not more important than Palestinian children, and that their projectiles would continue as long as Israel continued to target Gazan children, houses, hospitals and schools. Hamas may have learned to focus its media message on the Israeli public rather than the international community from Hezbollah during its conflict with Israel in 2006, the idea being that Israelis will hear these messages and encourage their government to tone down aggression.
While social media is a “sexier” topic, the biggest media story is the traditional news coverage in Egypt. In 2008, Hosni Mubarak knew that he could tap into sympathy for Palestinians in order to gain favor with the Egyptian people. While it was (and continues to be) actually complicit in the strangulation of the Gazan population, Egypt presented itself as a protector of the Palestinian people. In 2012, a government genuinely sympathetic to Hamas was in brief control of Egypt, and the Rafah crossing was opened. The current regime, having just squelched Hamas’ relative, the Muslim Brotherhood, currently displays a vitriol towards Hamas that even Israel has not matched. They have obliterated the tunnels and allowed only very few gravely injured people to leave Gaza for medical attention. Egypt continued this behavior by colluding with Israel to draft a “cease-fire”, that was in effect a proposed demilitarization of Gaza with no concessions or release of the Israeli grip on the territory, all without consulting or even warning Hamas prior to public announcement.
With Egypt acting in lockstep with Israel, it no longer can serve as a mediator as it did in 2008 and 2012. Mahmoud Abbas and the PLO are also out of the picture, despite the recent Hamas-PLO unity deal. Many hypothesize that Israel is acting so severely in order to break up this political unity but Abbas and his political establishment have made it clear that their unity deal has no tangible effects. During the first several days of Israeli bombing of Gaza, PLO officials attended coexistence conferences in the Israeli resort city of Herzliya and in Tel Aviv. In a more extreme example, the new Minister of Health of the unity government, who had been a Fattah appointee, returned to Gaza from the US a full nine days after the bombing campaign began. Given the vast number of casualties and the overall medical crisis in Gaza, his prolonged absence demonstrates an extreme disregard. When he attempted to enter at Rafah, he was greeted by a barrage of stones and shoes thrown by those who had lost homes, limbs and family members. Some Palestinians believed that Fattah only engaged in the unity government in order to make it appear that its failure to resolve the “Palestinian Question” was a result of its relationship with Hamas, rather than its corruption and declining local and international relevance.
With Egypt and the PLO out of the picture, I predict that this latest bout will be resolved by Turkey and possibly Qatar. Both countries maintain a good relations with Hamas and a relationship, albeit strained, with Israel. Neither country needs the kind of international (read: US) backing that the traditional arbiters, Egypt and Jordan, have enjoyed. Their regional interests are very different from those of Egypt or Jordan, who share physical borders with Palestinian territories, and therefore are impacted by the security situations there. Qatar may well benefit from a partner located where Gaza is on the map. Their backing of the Muslim Brotherhood helped pave the way for a port in Sinai with exclusive Qatari access. Now that the Brotherhood has been destroyed, Qatar could conceivably propose a peace plan wherein they maintain control over Gaza’s nautical border. Turkey tried to widen the moderate Islamist bloc in both Egypt and Syria, but has failed to do so. Taking a Hamas government under its wing could strengthen its bloc against the now dominant fundamentalist UAE-Saudi bloc. With these new players with radically different agendas, we could see a whole host of new options on the table, not only to end this latest flare up, but also for more permanent solutions moving forward.
"Mosab Qashoo grew up in an agricultural village outside of the West Bank town of Qalqilia, his youth bookended by the first and second intifadas. He studied Information Technology, Industrial Engineering and Conflict Management at the Arab American University in Jenin and An-Najah University in Nablus, where he was involved in student activities on campus, as well as non-violent international activism across the West Bank.
"Now based in NYC, Mosab is also a farmer/writer and founded Palestine Farm Project, which uses visitor farmstays and skillsharing to create cross cultural unity and support a sustainable agricultural economy in the West Bank."