Israel’s deadly ceasefire game

Israel purposefully protracted the ceasefire negotiations to inflict more destruction on Gaza.

In late August Israeli air strikes destroyed much of one of Gaza's tallest apartment and office buildings [Reuters]

On August 25 Israel hit a 13-storey residential tower that housed at least 70 families, striking with five missiles over an hour. Israel could have destroyed the entire building with one missile in a few minutes, if it wanted to; after all it wiped out an entire neighbourhood in less than one hour on July 29.  Israel’s deliberate choice to slowly decompose the tower was psychological torture to its residents, to punish them and submit them. It is this same strategy of protraction that Israel used during the uncountable ceasefires and humanitarian lulls it declared during its war on Gaza. 

Ceasefire make-believe

On July 8, Israel launched Operation Protective Edge with the accusation that Hamas was responsible for the death of three Israeli settlers in the West Bank. Israel bombed and shelled the entire Gaza Strip for over a week, killing at least 182 civilians and destroying 1660 civilian buildings.

Inside Story – Gaza truce: Is there a winner?

On July 15, Israel and Egypt came with a unilateral ceasefire proposal omitting most of the Palestinian people’s demands. The resistance was not involved in formulating the terms, revealing Egypt’s bias as an unfair mediator. Hence the proposal was rightfully rejected. Both Israel and Egypt expected this outcome and tried to corner the Palestinian resistance and the unity government that was negotiating on its behalf.

With the rejection of the ceasefire, Israel claimed in front of a biased international community that it had fulfilled its commitment to restrain itself.

A day later, Hamas and Islamic Jihad offered the Israeli government a 10-year truce with ten basic conditions centred around lifting of the illegal blockade and the release of Palestinian prisoners part of the Gilat prisoners’ swap in the West Bank that were re-arrested by Israel.

The demands of the Palestinian resistance were realistic, humanitarian in nature and in accordance with international law. Israel rejected the proposal, mobilised 72,000 reserves and invaded the Gaza Strip with tanks and a new narrative: The goal of the invasion was to destroy the cross-border tunnels.

The Israeli ground invasion that lasted two weeks was a strategic defeat. Entire neighbourhoods were levelled to the ground, water and power plants were hit, civilians were used as human shields, UN schools where displaced families sought refuge were shelled, whole families were massacred. The Israeli crimes were horrendous to the extent that the UN called for an investigation into possible Israeli “war crimes” and crimes against humanity.    

Militarily, Israel was expected to be the stronger party with its warplanes, nuclear heads and tanks. But in its first face-to-face confrontation with the resistance since 2008, Israel was surprised by fierce well-prepared freedom fighters, who were ready to protect their land at any cost. Suddenly, Israel’s top field commanders of the Golani brigade were killed and its world-renowned Merkava tanks blown to pieces. Israel’s loss was so substantial that it had to apply the Hannibal directive and kill its own combatants rather than have them abducted. The warning sirens in Israel’s major cities disrupted the citizens’ daily lives, reminding them that occupation comes with a price.

On July 18, Abu Obaida, the spokesperson of the Qassam Brigades, stated that despite Israel’s advanced weapons, supported by aerial and navy attacks, its army can hardly advance on the ground as its troops remained on the outskirts of the strip.    

Destroying livelihoods

Two humanitarian lulls took place as Israel’s senseless slaughter cost the lives of 2,000 Palestinians. International outrage filled the streets of hundreds of capitals around the world, denouncing Israel as the perpetrator and the murderer of children running on the beach. Almost every European capital witnessed protests urging their governments to support Gaza at a time that the EU adopted a resolution condemning the firing of rockets from Gaza and called for the disarming of Hamas as Israel has the right to defend itself.

Hamas claims victory as Gaza residents survey damage

On August 1, the US and UN announced an agreed 72-hour ceasefire, while giving Israel carte blanche to proceed in its ground offensive. But even with these beneficial terms, Israel could not contain itself and destroyed more homes and civilian buildings while supposedly trying to demolish tunnels. However, it turned out that Israel was actually “hannibaling” one of its own soldiers, and killing more than 130 Palestinians with him.

Unfortunately, the Palestinian Authority (PA) was heading the negotiation table, willing to accept less than what the Palestinians demanded and deserved. More ironic was the fact that the PA was overseeing talks regarding the resistance, a term unfamiliar to them for over three decades. The Palestinian Authority is too blind to see that Oslo has been buried in the Gaza carnage.

As Israel was protracting the talks, and the absence of a real mediator, Mohamed Deif, Qassam Brigades Chief Commander, stated on July 29 that if the siege is not lifted, the Palestinian negotiation team should return home.

On August 5, all Israeli soldiers withdrew at the start of a 72-hour ceasefire. Five days later, as Israel didn’t refrain from bombing and killing, another Egyptian proposal for a 72-hour ceasefire was agreed upon.

In an unexpected game changer on August 8, Abu Obaida ordered the Palestinian delegation to leave Egypt as Israel was protracting the talks and killing more Palestinians. For the first time, it was the oppressed that dictated when and how to negotiate. A Palestinian seaport and an airport were among the demands to provide Palestinians in Gaza a secure and dignified passageway independent of Israel and Egypt.

On August 13, the ceasefire was extended for another 120 hours. By then it was clear that Netanyahu had failed to achieve his political objectives and the image he created before embarking on his aggression had collapsed.

In the periods between each ceasefire, Israel was no longer attacking military targets. Instead it was hitting the livelihood of Palestinians. Factories, food centres, agricultural land and water supplies were being destroyed, with the idea to “starve” the Palestinians into submission. Many residential buildings were also struck down, slowly but surely. The Israelis perhaps hoped that delivering this collective punishment would break the Palestinian people and push them to revolt against the resistance.

But as an open-ended ceasefire was reached on August 26, Israel triumphed as the military victor over Gaza’s apocalyptic destruction. And yet it lost the war it fought to readjust politics and break the Palestinian resistance and unity government.

All Palestinian resistance factions are aware that the role of armed resistance is to survive all Israeli attempts to destroy them and their call to the right of return for all of Palestine. Their continuing existence after three deadly Israeli wars and hundreds of assassinated Palestinian resistance members is a victory. Hamas’ objective was never to kill a large number of Israelis but to expose the injustice of Zionism. An oppressed people’s objective is to disturb the occupier’s sense of normalcy and its commitment to obliterate those it occupies.

The only military and strategic objective Israel achieved was to reinforce its image as a colonial entity. On the Palestinian side, armed resilience and resistance are still present. Israel will now have to cooperate with the unity government, which includes Hamas. This shows that Islamic parties have reached a certain level of political maturity with regard to power sharing.  

And even though Palestinians can claim the moral and political victory in this war, they had to sign the ceasefire agreement with their blood. 

And as Palestinians persevere in the face of ethnic cleansing, home demolitions, murders of children, white phosphorus bombs, racism, and humiliation, Israel needs to understand that its incremental destruction strategy is failing.

Hanine Hassan is a PhD candidate at Columbia University. Her research focuses on the long-term effects of humiliation as a tool of oppression by Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Follow her on Twitter: @Hanine09