By Joharah Baker
What is so formidable about the conflict in the Gaza Strip is the sheer tenacity and sustainability of both the Israeli resolve to destroy and its Palestinian residents to endure. This is a place where 1.5 million people are packed in an area of 360 square meters, or more roughly, just larger than twice the size of Washington DC. Completely severed from the West Bank and Israel, Gaza has bore the brunt of Israel’s continued military assaults on the Palestinians over the past six years regardless of its August 2005 dismantlement of Jewish settlements there and Israel’s “withdrawal” from its territories.
Besides the fact that an alarming two-thirds of Gazan families live below the poverty line with an approximate 45 percent of the population unemployed and living in overcrowded refugee camps, over the past six years of the Aqsa Intifada, the Strip has been continuously targeted by Israel’s military establishment, resulting in the deaths of over 2,300 Gazans, more than half of the total number of Palestinians killed since the uprising began.
Hence, the recent events in the Gaza Strip can only been seen as a continuation of Israel’s overall policy of killing, bombing and destroying the land, infrastructure and people of Gaza.
Four days ago, Israel began yet a new operation, dubbed “Operation Rain Man” in the Strip, ostensibly to crush the Palestinian movements responsible for launching homemade rockets from Gaza into Israel in addition to securing the safe release of Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalit who was captured by Palestinian groups last June 25.
Since Thursday, Israel has managed to kill 23 Palestinians in both air and land operations. Several of those killed were members of military groups, including Hamas’ Izzedin Al Qassam Brigades. A number of innocent civilians also lost their lives in the operation including a 15-year-old bystander. Several dozen others were wounded in the raids.
While Israeli forces pulled out of the northern Gaza Strip area of Khan Younis and Jabaliya following their three days of destruction and killing, Israeli political and military establishments are now saying a much wider and comprehensive operation into Gaza is on the horizon. The latest pretext for this move? Israel says Hamas has smuggled in $6 million worth of arms over the past week alone from Egypt. Israeli military intelligence official Brigadier General Yossi Baidatz even claimed that Hamas is smuggling in anti-aircraft missiles into the Gaza Strip, which he said, could pose a threat to Israeli aircraft and thus justifies an expanded military operation.
Hamas, no doubt, has vehemently refuted these claims, calling this an Israeli ruse meant to further their destructive plans to bring down the government and beat Gaza’s armed resistance factions into the ground. One Palestinian information ministry spokesperson said the recent Israeli escalation is a “dangerous threat to the entire situation and smells of death and blood.”
Israel is obviously pulling out all the stops where the Gaza Strip and Hamas are concerned. As part of its campaign against the movement and the government it now controls, Israeli transportation minister Shaul Mofaz is also calling on his government to ban the return of Interior Minister Saeed Siyam to the Gaza Strip after the latter’s shuttle visit to Iran and Syria, claiming Siyam was seeking financial support for Hamas from the two countries.
In the meantime, like in any other conflict, it is the ordinary citizens who pay the heaviest price. According to a United Nations estimate, the Gaza Strip has incurred $30 million worth of damage since last July, including home demolitions, leveling of land and the bombing of bridges, roads and the main power plant. Since then, Gazans have been forced to make due with only eight hours of electricity a day since the alternative power sources cannot handle supplying electricity to the entire Strip all at once.
With the month of Ramadan drawing to an end and the Eid Al Fitr just around the corner, the residents of Gaza have little time to think about what color shoes to wear on the Muslim holiday. While Israel may continue to use the excuse of the captured soldier, the less-than-deadly homemade rockets – only five Israelis have been killed by Palestinian rockets over the past six years – and the alleged smuggled weapons, to carry out its operations in Gaza, Palestinians know better. Israel understands that the heart of Palestinian resistance and resolve lies in the Gaza Strip. For years it has tried to annihilate the ironclad spirit of the Gazans, but as history has proven, it has failed.
If Israel chooses to invade Gaza by land and air – which seems increasingly likely – this may be the Gaza Strip’s biggest test of endurance yet. If the Palestinians know what is best for them and are to survive Israel’s onslaught, then now is the time to put their differences aside and band together. Instead of resorting to name-calling and accusations, Hamas and Fateh should be strategizing on how to confront the real enemy – the Israeli occupation.
-Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Programme at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org