Israel’s Lesson to Palestinians: Build More Rockets?
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Eman El-Hawi, a smart and perky 24-year-old business student from Gaza got teary when she told our delegation about what she witnessed during the eight days that Israel pounded Gaza. “I saw the babies being brought into the hospital, some dead, some wounded. I couldn’t believe Israel was doing this again, just like four years ago. But at least this time,” she said with pride, “we struck back.”
The fight was totally disproportionate. Israeli F-16s, drones and Apache helicopters unleashed their fury over this tiny strip of land, leaving 174 dead, over one thousand wounded, as well as homes, schools, hospitals, mosques and government buildings damaged and destroyed. On the Palestinian side, crude Qassam rockets left six Israelis dead and caused little damage. But for many Palestinians, it was a perverse kind of victory.
If the Israeli government was trying to teach the Palestinians a lesson with this latest pummeling, the unfortunate lesson many learned was that the only way to deal with Israel is through firepower. We asked people why this round of violence lasted only eight days, unlike the 22-day attack in 2008. Some credited the Arab Spring that has created a new wave of pro-Palestinian public sentiment that governments have to respond to—especially in Egypt where the cease-fire was brokered. But others believed the Israelis backed down because Palestinian rockets had reached into the heart of Israel.
“It’s not that we want to kill Israelis but we want them to know we are not helpless,” said Ahmed Al Sahbany, an engineering student. “We want them to know that when they attack us mercilessly, when they treat us like animals, we will fight back.” A rap song by a West Bank group called “Strike, Strike Tel Aviv” that came out during the fighting was a hit among many of the Palestinian youth.
Many young people we talked to were dismissive of peace talks with Israel. They say the Palestinian Authority leadership in the West Bank has been talking to the Israelis for 18 years and all they have achieved is a new brand of apartheid, with bypass roads, separation walls, expanding settlements, Jerusalem ethnically cleansed, 500-600 checkpoints, and the continued siege of Gaza.
This latest round of attacks is just a continuation of the daily attacks we live with here in Gaza every day,” said youth leader Majed Abusalama. “Israeli soldiers shoot at our fishermen and confiscate their boats just for fishing in waters that belong to us. Israeli soldiers shoot at our farmers when they try to farm their lands that are close to the border, lands that belong to our farmers—our land!” In fact, a week after the ceasefire, our delegation visited a group of farmers in Rafah who were still unable to farm a good portion of their land. One of them, hobbling around in a cast, had just been shot in the leg, without warning, for venturing too close to the fence that separates Israel and Gaza.
Raji Sourani, a lawyer and director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, a group that meticulously documented the crimes committed during the 8-day war, lost his normally calm demeanor when speaking to our delegation about Obama and the US Congressional support for what they called Israel’s right to defend itself. “How can Obama say Israel is defending itself when we are the real victims? We are the target of this dirty war, just like we were the last time in 2008, just like we are every day,” Sourani shouted. “The Israelis practice the law of the jungle with full legal immunity and no accountability.”