The constants and variables of Gaza, then and now

Between Israel’s latest assault and the one from four years ago, there are always constants and variables.

Much of the rebuilding taking place over the past four years in Gaza was undone during Israel's latest assault [EPA]
Much of the rebuilding taking place over the past four years in Gaza was undone during Israel's latest assault [EPA]

Gaza wakes up to a new dawn and a new day, blessed with fresh new hope. Gaza rises after a brutal eight-day Israeli assault, where, as usual, women, children and the elderly bore much of the loss. A ceasefire was announced on November 21 between the resistance and Israel, putting an end to Israel’s intensive bombing and the threat of ground invasion. Under this truce, Israel is obligated to stop targeted killings, stop cross-border incursions, and ease the movements of goods and people.

Full of destruction, mourning, and hope, Gaza woke up to a similar day four years ago after operation Cast Lead. Operation Cast Lead started with Israel targeting several sites in Gaza simultaneously, leaving more than 200 killed in one day. After a week of intensive bombardments, it started a ground operation that proved nothing but deadly to the civilian population.

Palestinians remained steadfast for 23 days without electricity and water. However, this time Israel’s “Pillars of Defence” was limited to larger scale bombings, though the targets were almost the same (infrastructure, civilian houses, empty lands, security compounds).

But in those four years, there are many constants and variables that are moving the course of events between not just Palestinians in Gaza and Israel, but in all of Palestine.

Resistance and deterrence

The constant: Israel, through these intensive strikes, aimed to terrorise the Palestinians in Gaza, getting them to blame Hamas, and turn them not just against them but against the resistance. However, that goal has yet to be achieved.

The variable: Palestinian resistance was more organised this time around, and more effective. Rockets reached Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Be’er Sheva. One can’t say that there was a balance of power, since Israel has advanced missiles that can accurately hit the targets and inflect massive destruction. Also, Israel has the Iron Dome, which is able to intercept rockets, while Palestinians do not. But any counter-defence Israel faces from the Palestinian resistance does have major effect on the decision making in Israel.

The resistance, among other things, did help to end the Israeli aggression sooner than intended. It protected the Palestinians from a deadly ground invasion, and Israel a heavy price that it wasn’t ready to pay. As a result, in any future assaults, Israel will think twice before carrying them out, knowing that the Palestinians and the Palestinian resistance will defend themselves with the simple means they have. 

Governments versus the people

The constant: The world’s response to Israel’s crimes is almost unchanged. On one hand, the governments of the United Kingdom, United States and their allies fully endorsed Israel’s “right to defend itself” and blaming the victim for not submitting to its oppressor.

On the other, we saw the people in many parts of the world taking to the streets and protesting against Israel and their complicit governments. During these four years, solidarity has intensified, such as the flotillas that attempted to break the siege on Gaza, along with the increasingly effective boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaigns.

The variable: Israel this time does not have its best friend in the region to cover for its crimes. Hosni Mubarak, who kept the borders closed throughout the 23 day massacre on Gaza in 08-09, has been replaced with a more Gaza-friendly Muslim Brotherhood. Newly elected Egyptian president Muhammad Morsi made sure the borders were not shut down this time around. He also took a symbolic gesture and recalled their ambassador to Israel.

Despite Egypt brokering the ceasefire, its role as a regional power is not yet fully-realised and it may take quite a while for it to be. Arab officials from Tunisia, Qatar and Egypt visited Gaza during the assault, but with almost no effect worth mentioning. But for the first time, an Egyptian youth delegation entered Gaza during the assault.

Internally, the Palestinian Authority’s reaction was almost the same: Empty condemnation, reaffirming the need to go to the UN to upgrade the Palestinian status.

Yet, the Palestinians of the West Bank went out in protests against the Israeli attack as well as the PA’s collaboration. The protests went violent as clashes erupted between Israeli occupation forces and Palestinian protesters, leaving two dead. This wave of protests across the occupied West Bank ultimately shows that the political, geographical and Israeli divide was not successful at cutting the ties between the two occupied Palestinian territories.

The media

The constant:Israel embarked on its large-scale public relation campaign aiming to disseminate Israeli propaganda and crowd support for its assault. Israeli spokespersons like Avichai Adraee, Ofir Gendelman and Avital Leibovich occupied different online and offline platforms used lies and spin to justify the attacks launched in Gaza (the same faces in 2008-09). 

In Cast Lead, Israel blocked foreign journalists from entering Gaza; this time it let them. However, Israel in both assaults targeted media agencies and killed journalists (this assault killed three). Internationally, the mainstream media, mostly American and the British, continued to offer skewed coverage, perpetuating the Israeli narrative.

The variable: The most salient part of the “narrative conflict” was that this time Palestinians had an upper hand on online platforms. One of the lessons Palestinians learned from Operation Cast Lead was that they must be the sole representatives of their own narrative, since mainstream media may listen and then spin or not listen at all. And here comes the crucial role of alternative media (or social media) which gave the Palestinians the freedom to recount their story.

Although social media platforms – such as Facebook and Twitter – existed during 2008-09, Gaza at that point was kept in the dark, with very few voices being heard.

However, in 2012, we find the situation to be entirely different. The internet and social media as a means of reaching out to the world came to prominence. During this assault, we were given minute-to-minute updates from Palestinians on the ground, not just from Gaza but from all of occupied Palestine. Photos, videos, sound clips and live streams from Gaza not only countered Israeli lies but also exposed atrocities committed. And largely, this cornered the Israeli narrative and in the process made the Israeli crimes less likely pass by unnoticed.

Though Israeli hasbara was highly utilised, this time around the Palestinians definitely came out ahead in forming – and informing – a new narrative.


One thing which is constant is that Israel is still occupying Gaza and keeping it under tight siege. The ceasefire spared the Palestinians a deadly confrontation but didn’t eliminate it (Israel already killed two Palestinians since the ceasefire took effect). As much as this lull can last, as long as Israel keeps oppressing the Palestinians with impunity, the attacks and violations will not cease and future assaults are still possible.

Gaza, just as it did four years ago, will focus on rebuilding what Israel destroyed again. It took Israel eight days to destroy what Palestinians in Gaza had been rebuilding for four years. And rebuilding isn’t limited to infrastructure, facilities and homes, but rebuilding the lives shattered by the loss of loved ones and trauma. The wounds left by the assault will remain with families of the 163 Palestinians killed – including 42 children, with an additional 450 children wounded.

The final constant, which will never change, is that Gaza always lives. The resilience and steadfastness was not broken by Cast Lead, and won’t be broken by “Pillars of Defence”. History has taught us that between the coloniser and the colonised, the latter are always the wildcard.

Lina Al-Sharif is a Palestinian blogger based in Qatar.

Follow her on Twitter: @livefromgaza

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