Gaza: Shock, Awe and Uncertainty 2006

The biggest shock in operation “Autumn Clouds” was the strength of the Gaza Palestinians resolve and Israel’s response. By Liam Bailey

Operation Autumn Clouds was very similar to all Israeli operations against its Palestinian occupants in recent times. Openly disproportionate, indiscriminate against civilians, disregarding of International Law to break their enemies resolve and unsuccessful in their aims. The current truce offers hope that Israel’s leaders may have finally realized killing civilians, especially children in their droves, won’t eventually prompt the Palestinian majority -those not active in the resistance- to say enough is enough and pressure the terrorists to stop attacking Israel… Only compromise on both sides will bring peace.

A lot has happened in Gaza over the last few days… The Israeli Security Cabinet proposed expanding the Gaza offensive in a more determined effort to halt the Qassam attacks Wed. 22. There were 80 rocket attacks in the ten days before the meeting. The day after the meeting; Nov. 23 Israel rejected what was hailed as a landmark truce offer from Islamic Jihad leader Khader Habib. Habib said Hamas and Fatah, as well as several smaller groups had agreed an offer to halt rocket attacks if Israel halts its Gaza offensive, in a meeting with the Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. Haniyeh has since confirmed the report. An explanation for the Thursday rejection was given by Prime Minister Olmert’s spokeswoman Miri Eisin “The suggestion concerns a partial ceasefire, limited to rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, in exchange for a total halt to Israeli operations on all fronts. This is not serious,” Adding, “We want to see quiet in the Gaza Strip.” Israel’s response was understandable given, that the proposed truce didn’t offer an end to suicide attacks.

According to the official Palestinian Authority (P.A) website President Mahmoud Abbas addressed Fatah officials Friday: “We do not need these rockets because they are no match for Israel’s weaponry and because they draw a violent and harsh Israeli response,” And Saturday, despite the rhetoric of Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal based in Damascus, who threatened a 3rd and more violent Intifada unless Israel returned the land gained in the six day war within six months. Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas and P.A President Abbas were again meeting with all factions and resistance groups to discuss a new truce offer. When all groups had reached agreement to halt all attacks from Gaza –including suicide bombings- from 6:00 am Sunday (4:00am GMT) Abbas telephoned Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, late Saturday.

Abbas told Olmert “That all the Palestinian groups are committed to the agreement” and asked that Israel stop all activities in the Gaza strip and “withdraw all forces,” according to Miri Eisin Olmert’s spokeswoman. “The prime minister … told Abbas that Israel would respond favourably, as Israel was operating in the Gaza Strip in response to the violence. With the end of violence, Israel would be happy to withdraw its troops.” Eisin said. The two leaders agreed the mutual truce, which didn’t apply to the West Bank, starting from 6:00am Sunday (4:00am GMT). Israel withdrew all forces in the hours running up to the deadline and according to a spokesperson, Hamas fired its last rockets half an hour before the truce began.

The truce held Sunday, despite two early breeches; rocket attacks by Hamas’ militant wing and Islamic Jihad just hours after the agreement came into effect. The attacks were followed by announcements from the two factions that they were committed to the agreement if Israel observed it. In response to the breeches hundreds of Palestinian security force personnel were deployed to the border with Israel in order to prevent further rocket attacks and Palestinian Prime Minister, Hamas’ Ismail Haniyeh voiced hope on Israel’s adherence to the agreement, calling on all factions to observe the truce. Israel showing extreme restraint meant there were no further Palestinian rocket attacks Sunday. Israel is therefore worthy of high praise because its restraint allowed the ceasefire to take hold from its shaky start.

Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal in Damascus, softened his rhetoric Sunday in response to the strengthening truce, saying: ”if the door is sealed and the horizon is closed (for creating a Palestinian state) then we have to look for another choice.” In an interview on Egyptian television.

Israel’s actions early Monday morning, in my opinion cancelled out the praise for their restraint on Sunday, in that their West Bank raid could well have ended this excellent opportunity for peace. Israeli forces shot dead two Palestinians in an overnight raid in the West Bank town of Qabatiya. One of the dead was a wanted militant affiliated with the Hamas Popular Resistance Committees; responsible for many of the rocket attacks on northern Israel. The other was a woman, shot as she tried to run off with the dead militant’s gun. The killings caused much Palestinian anger, but the feared violent response from Gaza never materialized, only two rockets were fired from the strip, three according to some reports. In a planned speech Monday afternoon, Israeli Prime Minister Olmert offered to release frozen funds and prisoners and reduce check-points if the Palestinians made a similarly serious push for peace. Olmert also said that Israel would “uproot” settlements and pull out of the West Bank as part of a final peace deal. Adding: “I hold out my hand in peace to our Palestinian neighbours in the hope that it won’t be returned empty.”

Olmert’s sudden willingness to make concessions for peace is a reflection of his plummeting popularity over the handling of the Lebanon war. And his months of overestimating the IDF power and underestimating the Gaza Palestinians resolve in two operationally massive failures.

If Israel’s latest operation, Autumn Clouds hadn’t failed so miserably in stopping the rocket attacks from Gaza, I don’t believe Olmert would have been making any such offer. When asked about the planned expansion of the operation an IDF spokesman said last week that there had been 157 rockets fired from the strip in November- attacks which killed two Israelis in Sderot. Despite the 105 Palestinians killed, according to medical staff quoted by the Palestinian maan news agency, since the operation began Nov.1. An operation total that does not tell the misery caused by the deaths of innocent civilians, like the 20 Palestinians killed, mostly children in the inerrant shelling of Beit Hanoun Nov. 8, another example of Israel’s indiscriminate use of its superior weaponry. Attacks like Beit Hanoun were meant to break the Palestinian resolve, but with images of crying fathers carrying their babies –plural- to be buried, the attacks strengthened the Palestinian’s will to resist.

Autumn Clouds was the continuance of Operation Summer Rains. Between the two, 400 Palestinians had been killed since Summer Rains began Jun 2006 as the biggest military operation in Gaza since the Israeli disengagement ended Israeli military rule in Gaza Sep. 2005. Disengagement however didn’t end the occupation as far as the Palestinians were concerned.

“Israeli troops surround Gaza, its aircraft fly over it and it has closed the crossing to Egypt” -splitting families and- “stranding hundreds of people.” “Some of those who shelled these Qassam rockets are … provoking Israel, but Israel is very much provoking them because of all kinds of occupation and terror actions against Palestinian civilians. Do not forget the Beit Hanoun massacre,” Mohamed Edwan head of the Palestinian president’s press office told World Peace Herald. Disengagement was presented as a change in Israel’s strategy toward the occupied territories, unfortunately that was as far as it went. The disproportionate violence continued, as did the Palestinian rocket attacks.

Israel fired between 7000 and 9000 heavy artillery shells into Gaza, killing 80 Palestinians in six months between its withdrawal in September 2005 and March 2006. Palestinian rocket attacks are estimated at 1000 for the same period. A further 5100 Israeli artillery rounds were fired tit for tat between the end of Mar. 2006 and the end of May 2006, with 800 Qassam rocket attacks. Operation Summer Rains was sparked off by a cross border raid Jun. 25 in which militants from several Palestinian groups, including Hamas’ military wing killed two IDF soldiers and captured Corporal Gilad Shalit.

Within hours of operation summer rains starting several Palestinian civilian population centres were targeted. Bridges were destroyed effectively splitting Gaza in two and Gaza’s only power station was destroyed leaving the population without power, in the re-processing plants this meant no clean water. Dealing with the trauma of almost constant bombardment and frequent ground force incursions, both killing many Palestinian civilians. While an international boycott of the elected Hamas government placed them in extreme poverty, combined, I believe, to leave Palestinians with only one thing; their religion to believe in, their religion to get them through.

Like Operation Autumn Clouds, Operation Summer Rains failed to achieve its aims of ending the frequent Qassam rocket attacks launched against Israel from the Gaza strip, and freeing captured Israeli corporal Gilad Shalit. The rocket attacks continuing, –before the truce- despite Israel’s increasing retaliation, for me, was a sign that the operations, like all Israel’s disproportionate actions in the last 20 years, were not diminishing the Palestinians resolve. So, perhaps Olmert has finally realized that Israel could send every IDF soldier into Gaza, under the heaviest bombardment and artillery shelling of the conflict and the Gazan’s resolve would remain intact. Rockets would still land in Israel. The Palestinians would still fight by whatever means available for the return of their holy land. The right of their brothers, descendants of those cruelly expelled by Israel 1948-49 to return to an independent Palestinian state. And to ensure that the thousands killed in the decades of conflict haven’t died in vain.

According to Ghazi Hamad, a PA spokesman, Hamas’ response to Olmert’s speech Monday was “This is a conspiracy. This is a new manoeuvre. Olmert is speaking about the Palestinian state without giving details about the borders.”

During his Monday afternoon speech Olmert also said that in return for his concessions, Palestinians would have to “renounce violence, recognize Israel’s right to live in peace and security and give up their demands to allow refugees from the 1948 Mideast War to return to their homes in what is now Israel.” Hamad responded: “The Palestinians cannot give up on the issue of the refugees. It is something approved by U.N. resolutions and it is a main part of the Palestinian cause.” The same stumbling blocks, -official borders and right of return- that have effectively ended all previous efforts for peace.

There will be no peace in the Middle East till Israel is ready to compromise and make firm commitments about Palestinian state borders. Firmly committing to returning the land it gained in the 1967 six day war would certainly be a step in the right direction. If Israel did this perhaps the Palestinians would in return compromise on some of the terms of the right to return, i.e. only direct descendants of those expelled in 1948-49 would have the right and only returning to the Palestinian state. Israel can’t grant full right of return while maintaining a Jewish state, because of the predicted influx of Arabs into Israel. A recent poll however, suggested most Palestinians wouldn’t return to Israel; only to an independent Palestinian state, if that can ever be established.

As I detailed in my last article, Israel currently has no incentive to make any sort of compromise. Only the UN, which –largely because of the U.S- has failed miserably in the past, can motivate Israel into such a compromise, but only along with a change in U.S policy towards the Jewish state. I have come to believe a new resolution ordering Israel to return the land taken in the 1967 war. Create an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza as most of the Palestinian militant groups call for. And allow Palestinians directly descended to those expelled in the 1948 war to return and live peacefully in the newly formed Palestinian state. Along with a U.S threat to stop acting as a shield, financially and militarily unless Israel follows the resolution to the letter. Is possibly the only way to achieve a peaceful resolution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

An earlier version of this article was published by Arabic Media Internet Network and OhmyNews International.


1 Comment

  1. January 9, 2009 at 9:02 am

    […] Israeli occupation. And as for the 8 years restraint, does Miss Shalev think we have forgotten Autumn Clouds and Summer Rains, not to mention all the prolonged air-only operations, arrest raids and mini-incursions into Gaza […]

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