Palestinians in Gaza took to the streets on August 26 in celebration. After 51 days of merciless bombardment by the Israeli military, an open-ended ceasefire between Palestinian resistance groups and Israel was announced that appears likely to last for at least the immediate future.
During the assault, homes, hospitals, shops, agricultural infrastructure and schools were pulverised. About 2100 Gazans were killed. An estimated 80% of these were civilians, including more than 500 children.
More than 3000 children in Gaza were injured, including 1000 left with lifelong disabilities. About 1500 children were orphaned. A third of Gaza’s 1.8 million people have been made homeless.
On the other side, Israel lost 64 soldiers and five civilians in the conflict.
Several of the schools flattened by Israel were United Nations-designated shelters, which had communicated their coordinates to the Israelis with guarantees that they were sheltering only civilians. In full knowledge that they were attacking civilians, and only civilians, the Israelis bombed these sites.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used an August 27 TV broadcast to claim victory. However, at a press conference at the Shifa hospital in Gaza City, Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesperson for Hamas, which governs the Palestinian territory, said: “We announce the victory today after achieving our goals. Netanyahu has failed to force Gaza to surrender.
“Yes, we defeated them by our standing and our resistance. We will stand by our people and we won’t leave them.”
Given the level of carnage and destruction wrought on Gaza, Netanyahu’s claim seems the more credible on the surface. But exiled Palestinian writer Ali Abunimah wrote in Electronic Intifada on August 26: “If victory is measured in the number of civilians an army kills and injures, or the number of homes, hospitals, mosques or schools it destroys, Israel is the clear champion once again.
“By that standard, the United States spectacularly won its wars in Vietnam and Iraq.
“But in terms of the political and strategic balance sheet that will determine future relations between Israel and the Palestinians, Israel suffered a clear loss on the battlefield and internationally.”
The Israelis failed in a key stated aim of their assault ― disarming Palestinian resistance groups inside Gaza. This was demonstrated by masked resistance fighters displaying their weapons in the celebrations and in the post-ceasefire military parades.
In fact, despite the preceding nine days of land, sea and air bombardment, when Israeli ground troops entered Gaza on July 17, they were unable to penetrate more than a few hundred metres into the territory.
Suffering a higher than expected casualty rate, the ground troops began pulling out on August 3. The bombardment continued to take a devastating toll on civilians and civilian infrastructure, but without soldiers inside Gaza, there was no chance for Israeli forces to disarm the resistance fighters.
Another stated aim of the Israeli offensive was destroying the network of tunnels under Gaza. Again they failed.
These tunnels serve two purposes: military defence and smuggling goods into the territory, which has been blockaded since 2006.
Palestinian negotiators demanded the lifting of this starvation siege as a precondition for a ceasefire, pointing out that the starvation siege was itself a form of warfare. To what extent the August 26 ceasefire agreement achieves this is unclear.
Al-Ahram said on August 26 that Israel had agreed to “opening all crossings to Gaza, allowing reconstruction of damaged infrastructure, allowing the entry of materials needed for reconstruction and permitting fishing for a distance of six to twelve nautical miles from shore.”
After the ceasefire, trucks began taking supplies through the crossings. However, in his broadcast Netanyahu reiterated the Israeli position that it would not allow materials that could be used to build tunnels or fortifications ― in other words materials needed for reconstruction.
A qualitative gain from the situation that existed before the recent fighting was the relaxation of fishing restrictions. “We carried one thousand kilograms of fish on the boat today,” fisher Faraj Qasem told Ma’an News Agency on August 29.
Under the blockade imposed since 2006, Israeli warships would shoot Palestinian fishing boats if they strayed more than three nautical miles from shore. Under the ceasefire vessels can now fish up to six nautical miles from shore, to be incrementally extended to 12 over the next month.
Another fisher, Muhammad Abu Arab, told Ma’an: “We can hardly wait to be allowed to fish 9 or 12 miles (from the coast). We could not even see these types of fish when we were allowed only three miles out.”
Other Palestinian demands, for the reconstruction of Gaza’s seaport and airport, and the release of prisoners of war and political prisoners, are to be discussed in a further round of negotiations in a month.
There is a high possibility that Israel will grant no further concession, and renege on those that it has made. This reflects the unchanged fact that Palestinians live under Israeli occupation.
The Israeli state exists on historic Palestine, something obscured in the Western narrative on the conflict.
European Jews were encouraged to migrate to Palestine after Britain invaded the country in 1917 and issued the Balfour Declaration on establishing a Jewish homeland.
This gave a boost to the Zionist movement, which believed Jews should leave Europe for Palestine. However, Zionism remained a minority current among European Jews, who rejected its anti-Semitic assumption that Jews did not belong in Europe.
The Nazi Holocaust boosted the number of Jewish settlers. But they were still only a third of the population when the UN approved a US-backed partition plan in 1947, which left Palestinians only 43% of their country.
The US provided arms, including warplanes, to the settler militias who used Palestinian rejection of partition as a pretext to seize 78% of the country. They violently expelled 80% of the population to establish the state of Israel in 1948.
Palestine is a geographical term. Israel, on the other hand, refers to an ethnically exclusive state. Under Israel’s “Law of Return”, Jewish people from anywhere in the world are encouraged with bribes such as subsidised housing to “return” to a country that neither they nor their ancestors ever lived in.
On the other hand, Palestinians driven out in 1948 and their descendants have no right of return.
Western material support built Israel into a military superpower. In 1967, it seized the remaining 22% of Palestine ― the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza.
However, as these territories conquered in 1967 contained much of the expelled Palestinian population, Israel now ruled a country with roughly equal populations of Palestinians and Israeli Jews. To avert what Israeli politicians call the “demographic threat” of a Palestinian majority, Israel has maintained ambiguous borders.
Palestinians from outside Israel’s 1967 borders have no rights to citizenship. However, Israeli Jews, who enjoy full citizenship rights, have a right to live in the West Bank.
Freedom of movement for Palestinians in the West Bank is severely restricted as much of it is taken up by Jewish-only settlements and criss-crossed by Jewish-only roads. Palestinians cannot even cross such roads except through check-points that are arbitrarily opened or closed.
Not surprisingly, Palestinians have opposed this denial of their rights. Resistance has taken a number of forms, armed and unarmed.
Since the signing of the Oslo Accords 1993, there has been a “peace process”. This is officially based on the concept of a “two state solution”, whereby Israel would return to it's pre-1967 borders and a Palestinian state would be established in the West Bank and Gaza.
However, Israel has never intended to allow a Palestinian state to be established.
Since 1993, Israeli settlements in the West Bank have more than doubled and the Apartheid Wall has been built, further restricting Palestinian freedom of movement. Palestinian East Jerusalem and other neighbouring parts of the West Bank have been annexed into the Israeli municipality of Jerusalem.
Israel’s allies, the US and European Union, are the arbiters in the peace process. This means the endless rounds of negotiations revolve around how much of the remaining 22% of Palestine should be given to Israel and how much “security control” Israel should have over whatever is left.
The breathtaking pro-Israel bias of the Western powers, and the Western media, reflects the important role played by Israel in the Western imperialist global system.
Huge levels of military aid ― more than US$4 billion a year ― allows Israel to project power on behalf of the West in the oil-rich Middle East and beyond.
Israeli military and intelligence advisors are also active throughout the Third World, often in situations where it would be politically inexpedient for direct involvement by the US. The Israeli arms industry is a high-tech part of the global military-industrial complex.
Israel has suffered a political defeat carrying out its latest assault on Gaza. The international movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign ― modelled on the international solidarity movement that helped end the similar Apartheid regime in South Africa ― has grown steadily in the past decade. It has been fuelled by Israel's periodic bloody assaults on Gaza.
During the latest assault, a large role has been played by social media, allowing Palestinians to bypass the hostile global media.
Despite the political establishment in Western countries remaining wholeheartedly committed to Israel, public opinion is increasingly on the Palestine's side.