War on Gaza: Old Questions in Need of New Answers
By Omar Sha’ban
PalThink for Strategic Studies
Despite the fragility of the cease fire declared unilaterally by Israel on Saturday morning, people of Gaza Strip in general, and those who live in Gaza City in particular, were able after 22 days to get out from their places of residence to check on their houses and belongings, on their families and friends. People were in shock with the first sights of huge destruction that was caused by the heavy shelling. Everything, whether on the surface of the earth or underneath, was a target to the Israeli shelling; buildings, hospitals, roads, electrical networks, water networks and even trees.
In the areas and neighborhoods where Israeli ground forces have gone into or through, the damage touched every single object, including TV sets, furniture, windows, doors, bedrooms … nothing was excluded. There were many marks that stated clearly “Israeli army has passed by….”
In some areas, people started to dig under the rubble searching for their family members. As expected, more than 100 bodies were found in just few hours of search. An international worker describing the view of Gaza City, just hours after the cease fire was announced: “It is like the view of an earthquake!!!” Another international worker said: “It is more than an earthquake; it is a volcano whereas earthquakes cause death and destruction but volcanoes cause death, destruction and burning”. Some of the bodies found on Saturday were still smoking indicating that the white phosphorous that was used extensively is still active.
Nevertheless, with big pains and sorrows, people of the Gaza Strip started to ask some of the Old but Big Questions:
a) What is the outcome of the whole thing? What outcome equals or could justify the big sacrifices? Was there any way to avoid what happened? Was this war avoidable or not?
b) If the war was avoidable, who is to be blamed for not making enough effort to avoid what happened?
a. Should Hamas be blamed for not making enough efforts to renew the truce with Israel, be blamed for its poor assessment of the Israel military capacities or for not making enough effort to achieve the national reconciliation?
b. Should we blame the PA in Ramallah that did not make enough effort to reconcile with Hamas, to ease the closure or to take strong position against the Israeli offensives?
c. Should we blame the international community, which put the entire Gaza Strip under unfair and severe sanctions?
d. Should we blame the Israeli occupation that has never ceased killing and destroying Palestinians over the past decades?
e. Or should we blame the Palestinian factions that have never been traditionally responsible for their actions and their outcomes?
c) People might accept big sacrifices if the outcomes will bring an end to their prolonged suffering. People may not know exactly what is good for them, but they are sure that genuine hope requires fundamental changes in their leadership. During the war period and afterwards, Gazans were wondering:
“Where are the PLC members we voted for in 2006 elections?”
“Where are those leaders who wanted to be ministers?”
“Where are those who always appeared on TV praising themselves and their actions?
People in the streets were highly disappointed as they didn’t find those leaders during the crisis. In my assessment the war on Gaza will affect the trust of the Palestinian public on the current political system, mainly the leadership and its traditional techniques. Moreover, Palestinians will be looking at the concept of “resistance” differently. It won’t be easy for the current leadership to sell to their constituency old products of same old people, with the same old methodology. I expect people will be more decisive about their destiny.
d) Which changes, if any, would the war on Gaza bring into Hamas movement? It is clear now that the war on Gaza neither aimed at nor succeeded in taking Hamas out of power. How will Hamas re-shape its relations on the local level with Fatah Movement, the civil society, the media, and the PA in Ramallah, and position itself on the issue of the crossings? These issues are worth following especially as there is big fear among Fatah supporters that Hamas will crack down aggressively against them due to two accusations: Fatah people did not join in the fighting and some Fatah members have shown their “happiness” for the war against Hamas.
e) Who is going to help the affected people in recovering their assets? And how much and how long they need to suffer until the reconstruction process begins? People are fully aware how difficult the reconstruction will be, considering the siege, the shortage of raw materials and considering the political division between the PA in Ramallah and Hamas in Gaza. People are very modest in their hopes and demands; they want to have their assets re-built as they were before the war, nothing less—and nothing more. If Hamas is going to continue to rule Gaza, how will the International community and the PA pour into Gaza their donations and support? Will they bypass Hamas as they attempted after the 2006 elections?
In my assessment, both Hamas and the PA want to use the possible aid to restore their reputation. Hopefully, both will come to realize soon that without reconciliation, they both are doomed to fail in meeting the expectations of the Gazans.
I think the international community should push both sides to reconcile as a prerequisite to enable the flow of aid into Gaza. This condition must be used by the international community to encourage both sides to make serious compromise to allow all forces committed to human rights and humanitarian aid to face the real serious question: “How can the reconstruction process start if the crossings remain closed by the Israeli occupation?”
Omar Sha’ban is an economist and the chairman of PalThink for Strategic Studies.
He can be reached in Gaza Strip at email@example.com