‘All options are open’: Will Gaza join the uprising?

Gaza remains defiant in the face of violent Israeli crackdown on protesters.

Rahaf [Ezz Zanoun/Al Jazeera]
Three-year-old Rahaf Hassan is just one of nearly a dozen Palestinian children in Gaza killed by Israel in a matter of days [Ezz Zanoun/Al Jazeera]

Gaza Strip – Along with his father and brother, 17-year-old Abdullah Hassan rushed to his uncle’s home on Sunday to find a smoking pile of rubble and mangled steel.

“We didn’t see anyone, but I heard a voice from under the home,” Hassan told Al Jazeera.

Situated on the southern outskirts of Gaza City, the Hassan family home was destroyed by an Israeli air strike, leaving dead Abdullah’s pregnant aunt, 30-year-old Noor Hassan, and her three-year-old daughter Rahaf.

Abdullah and the others dug out Yahya, Noor’s husband, and another toddler, from under the home. Both were badly injured.

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After rockets fired from Gaza landed in an empty field in southern Israel before dawn on Sunday, Israel carried out two air strikes in the Strip, claiming to have hit two Hamas arms factories.

Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner, an Israeli army spokesman, said the army “holds Hamas responsible for any act of aggression from the Gaza Strip”.

But the immense crater where the Hassan family home used to stand suggests it was hit directly by the air strike.

Israel's air strikes have killed people and seen homes crushed to rubble but it says its planes target Hamas weapons-manufacturing sites [Ezz Zanoun/Al Jazeera]
Israel’s air strikes have killed people and seen homes crushed to rubble but it says its planes target Hamas weapons-manufacturing sites [Ezz Zanoun/Al Jazeera]

The deadly attack came on the heels of a wave of Palestinian protests triggered by the provocative storming of al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem, the third holiest site in Islam, by extremist Jewish groups.

Long-standing anger over harsh restrictions on Palestinians that touch almost every part of their lives, Israeli settlement expansion and impunity for Israeli soldiers and settlers who kill Palestinians, among other grievances, have boiled over into more than a week of protests and violent responses by Israeli soldiers and police.

It has quickly spread throughout the occupied West Bank and Palestinian communities in Israel.

Since October 1, four Israelis have been killed in attacks allegedly carried out by Palestinians, while at least 68 others have been injured in stabbing incidents.

The Israeli crackdown has been harsh. Gas bombs, stun grenades, rubber-coated steel bullets and live ammunition have been fired on protesters across Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory.

More than 1,400 Palestinians have been injured by live ammunition or rubber-coated steel bullets, according to the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Health.

Israel has violently cracked down on Palestinian demonstrators protesting on the besieged border of the Gaza Strip and Israel [Ezz Zanoun/Al Jazeera]

The violence reached Gaza when protests broke out on the border on Friday. Since then, Israel has killed 11 Palestinians in the coastal enclave.

On Friday, the Israeli army killed seven Palestinians across Gaza as protesters moved towards the border fence. The following day, two Palestinian boys – 12-year-old Marwan Barbakh and 15-year-old Khalil Othman – were shot dead during protests in the border area of Khan Younes.

“We are in the early stages of a new cycle of violence between Palestinians and Israel. After what happened this weekend [in Gaza], I don’t imagine people here are going to sit down quietly,” Mukhaimer Abu Saada, a political science professor at Gaza’s al-Azhar University, told Al Jazeera.

Speaking in Gaza on Friday, Hamas leader Ismail Haniya declared a new Intifada, or uprising, and called for “the strengthening and increasing of the Intifada”.

“It is the only path that will lead to liberation,” Haniyeh said.

According to Abu Saada, the leader’s comments mark a changing point and answered questions about whether Gaza would be able to partake in a prolonged uprising.

Unlike when the second Intifada ended in 2004, Israel has since besieged the Strip from land, air and sea and launched three major wars on the densely-populated territory – in 2008, 2012 and 2014.

The latest war spanned 51 days last summer and left Gaza in shambles. At the height of the war, hundreds of thousands of civilians were displaced.

My message to the resistance: May God let them triumph.

by Majdiya Hassan, Grandmother of three-year-old Rahaf Hassan, killed by Israel

Due to the strict Israeli and Egyptian blockade limiting the amount of construction materials and humanitarian aid that enters Gaza, more than 12,000 homes remain levelled until today.

“The Palestinian resistance in Gaza has made it clear that it is very much ready to be part of the Intifada,” said Abu Saada.

What exactly Gaza’s role in the uprising will look like, however, remains unclear, “because it’s still too early to know”, Abu Saada explained.

According to Benedetta Berti, a security fellow at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies, given the separation between Gaza and Israel and due to the Israeli-imposed siege, “the tools of political protests people in Gaza can use are limited”. 

Border protests like those organised last weekend are an option, however, “Israel’s response has been extremely costly and dangerous” for demonstrators, Berti said.

Abu Sayyaf, a senior member of al-Nasser Salah al-Din Brigades, an armed group with close ties to Hamas, insists that Gaza’s fighters are ready for any potential escalation.

“Other factions should declare a third Intifada,” he told Al Jazeera. “Honestly, the 51-day war on Gaza last summer did not worry the [Israeli] occupiers as much as the operations taking place in the West Bank right now.”

“We salute our heroic brothers in the West Bank and call on them to carry out more operations,” Abu Sayyaf continued. As far as how Gaza’s armed groups will respond, he said: “No decision has been taken yet. All options remain open.”

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On Sunday, hundreds of Palestinians came out to bury Noor and Rahaf Hassan. They marched in central Gaza, carrying Rahaf’s small body through the streets and waving Palestinian flags.

Speaking to Al Jazeera at the funeral, Majdiya Hassan, Rahaf’s grandmother, called on political factions to “do whatever it takes” to avenge their deaths.

“My message to the resistance: May God let them triumph,” she said.

Umm Sabri, another relative, added: “We want to tell the Israelis that our dead are martyrs. We will continue to fight. We will continue to support the resistance.”

Behind her, Noor and the child were lowered into the ground.

Anger is directed at Israeli settlement expansion and impunity for Israeli soldiers and settlers who kill Palestinians  [Ezz Zanoun/Al Jazeera]
Anger is directed at Israeli settlement expansion and impunity for Israeli soldiers and settlers who kill Palestinians  [Ezz Zanoun/Al Jazeera]

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Follow Ezz Zanoun on Twitter: @Ezzpress

Source: Al Jazeera