What the Gaza war meant for Israel

Israelis reflect on the repercussions of war – from moral bankruptcy to declining rights.

Israel Boy Tank
Some Israelis feel the war on Gaza should not have ended without the release of Gilad Shalit [EPA]

Omri Buson says his “blood boils” every time he hears about the negotiations between Hamas and Israel over the release of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. 

From his point of view, Israel should have never ended last year’s military offensive on Gaza without Shalit’s return.

“We needed to hurt them and not have mercy … to destroy every house till [we] found that soldier,” says Buson, who dropped out of law school to open clothing shops in Jerusalem.

He admits that his views have become “very extreme in the last year because of the war”.

But he is not alone. Israeli Knesset members have expressed similar views.

Operation devastation

in depth


The Israeli military offensive named Operation Cast Lead killed more than 1,400 Palestinians, more than 1,000 of them civilians, including 400 children.

Thirteen Israelis were also killed, three of them civilians.

Its declared goals were to “Bring Gilad Home” and to stop Qassam rocket attacks on Israel. It ended after 22 days due to international pressure on Israel.

Despite the high number of civilian Palestinian casualties, most Israelis consider the operation a success because, although Shalit did not “come home”, the rockets stopped.

War against protests

Now, one year since Operation Cast Lead, not only have the so-called red lines for what you can do to your enemy moved dangerously forward, but so have the lines of what the government can do its own people.

Israeli polls and surveys reveal that Israeli society and government are less tolerant than ever of views that oppose the government stance, which is held by the mainstream.

Last month the Association of Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) revealed an alarming trend in its annual survey on the protection of human rights in Israel and the Occupied Territories – the conditioning of rights.

“The realisation of the entire spectrum of rights is now more than ever dependent on what we say or believe, what ethnic group we belong to, how much money we have, and more,” says the ACRI.

“We have the freedom to express ourselves and demonstrate – only if we don’t say anything displeasing; we have the right to equal treatment and opportunities – only if we are “loyal” to the state.”

In the streets, the Israeli security forces are waging a war against protests by Jewish left wing and human rights activists, who non-violently protest against Israel’s separation barrier or against Jewish settlers taking over Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem. 

Many have been arrested and some were attacked by the security forces.

However, right-wingers protesting against the government’s decision to temporarily freeze building in settlements are accorded much more leniency by Israeli law enforcement agencies.

During Operation Cast Lead about 800 Israeli citizens, most of them Arab, were arrested, with criminal charges brought against most of them.

In a recent editorial, the Israeli daily newspaper Ha’aretz called the arrests “an evil omen regarding the state’s attitude toward protesters” and said that as a result, “concern is growing over Israel’s image as a free and democratic country”.

‘Moral bankruptcy’

Right wing protesters have been treated more leniently than those on the left [EPA]

The infringement on the rights of Jewish Israelis comes as no surprise to Neve Gordon, an Israeli political science professor at Ben-Gurion University in the Negev.

“The war itself revealed the moral bankruptcy of Israel because if we look back we see the vast majority killed were citizens including hundreds of children,” said Gordon, who has been under attack for his criticism of Israel and most recently for his call for an international boycott on his country until it ends the occupation of the Palestinian Territories.

“I don’t think it’s good for the morality of the country to kill children.” 

Buson disagrees: “If it were up to me I would close the water and electricity [to Gaza] until they return Gilad. Let them starve and die.”

He says he opposes a prisoner exchange deal with Hamas. “I’d rather Shalit die there than do a deal with Hamas.

“It’s not about one soldier’s life. It’s about deterrence. They need to understand with whom they are dealing. Our deterrence was damaged after the second Lebanon war. Now we got it back.”

‘Lesson through force’

Indeed many Israelis were more concerned about ‘teaching the other side a lesson’ by using overwhelming force, than with the hundreds of dead civilians and the devastating destruction of infrastructure.

For the Israeli political leadership, military and much of the Israeli public, the Gaza war, as Israelis refer to it, was about scaring the other side into submission, so that it will not dare to hurt Israel again. And, many believe, that was what Israel succeeded in doing.

Yehuda Shaul, the co-director of Breaking the Silence, the Israeli human rights organisation that collects the testimonies of soldiers about abuses committed while serving in the Occupied Territories, says: “What I find most disturbing is that the military and most Israelis perceive [the war on Gaza] as a great success. They don’t recognise the price tag.”

“And the fact that the military sees it as a great success means that the second round will be similar,” Shaul adds.

Shaul’s organisation was attacked by the office of the Israeli military spokesperson, but he nevertheless hopes that some Israelis recognise the gravity of their actions.

He points to the poll by Tel Aviv University’s War and Peace Index.

When testimonies from soldiers were published soon after the war, few Israelis believed them, according to the index. But when Breaking the Silence published its report of chilling testimonies in July, the War and Peace Index found that the numbers who believed the testimonies rose from about 20 per cent to 43 per cent.

‘Cast Lead II’

Still, the overwhelming majority of Israelis (76 per cent) saw no need to reinvestigate the operation in light of the testimonies. The pollsters believe that because of the prevailing view that the campaign was moderately or very successful (79 per cent), “the Israeli Jewish public is reluctant to deal with the question of its moral and human cost”.

Some Israelis who supported the war see it very differently.

Marek Glezerman, the director of the Obstetrics and Gynecology Department at Rabin Medical Center, says: “I thought it should be a short operation to stop the rockets.”

“But it turned it to be a full blown war without concern for the other side and that leaves a very bad feeling,” adds the doctor who is a friend and colleague of the Gaza doctor Ezzedin Abouelaish.

Glezerman believes that the quiet from the Gaza Strip is temporary: “The violence will come back. But at what price? It has not brought us closer to peace.”

Meanwhile, some Israelis are talking about when Operation Cast Lead II will begin.

Source: Al Jazeera