Don't forget Gaza
On the back of Israel's military defeat in Lebanon, Palestinians fear that their blood will be used to bolster public confidence in Olmert's government, writes Khaled Amayreh in the West Bank
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The son of Palestinian activist Zoher Al-Kafarnah, who was killed in an Israeli military strike, cries during his father's funeral in the town of Beit Hanun in northern Gaza
With the UN-sponsored ceasefire between Israel and Hizbullah going into effect, Palestinians are apprehensive that Israel might embark on a fresh rampage in Gaza in order to boost the morale of a conspicuously dispirited Israeli public.
In fact, the Israeli army never stopped murdering Palestinians and destroying their homes for even a single day during the war on Lebanon. Palestinian medical sources revealed this week that more than 187 Palestinians were killed, mostly in the Gaza Strip, since the beginning of July.
According to Riyad Awad, director of the Gaza-based Health Information Centre, the killings of Palestinians is becoming a "macabre daily routine". "Not a day passes without the Israeli army killing an average of five or six Palestinians, mostly children and women and other innocent civilians. Israel feels the world is giving it a mandate to kill and maim at will," he said.
On Monday, the day the ceasefire in Lebanon went into effect, the Israeli army exterminated a mother and her two children in northern Gaza when a Merkava tank fired an artillery shell into their home, tearing their bodies to pieces.
Hours later, Israeli warplanes bombed and destroyed three civilian homes in Jabalya and Beit Hanun minutes after the Shin Bet -- Israel's domestic security agency -- telephoned the affected families, warning them to leave or be bombed immediately.
The bombing wreaked havoc on each neighbourhood, injuring as many 14 innocent civilians, some seriously.
Ghazi Hamed, the Palestinian government spokesman, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the chances of Israel carrying out "another orgy" of terror and murder in Gaza were more than real. "Israel believes, maybe correctly, that the world that said nothing and did nothing while Israel was systematically destroying Lebanon, slaughtering civilians en masse, would behave similarly if Israel did the same in the Gaza Strip."
Hamed believes that any fresh Israeli campaign in Gaza would not necessarily seek to achieve specific political or security goals. Rather, a fresh slaughter would pay a domestic dividend for a now beleaguered and much-humiliated prime minister and defence minister. "You know nothing would enhance the collective Israeli mood like murdering Palestinian children and shedding Palestinian and Lebanese blood," said Hamed.
Another goal of a renewed strafing of Gaza would be to punish Palestinians for their solidarity and identification with Hizbullah during the war. To be sure, Palestinians, relentlessly savaged and starved by Israel, did express satisfaction at seeing the Israeli army take a beating at the hands of Hizbullah fighters. Hizbullah's leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, whose portrait is ubiquitous throughout the West Bank and Gaza, has fast become the most popular political figure among Palestinians.
Many Palestinians, especially within the resistance camp, dream of emulating Hizbullah in the level of deterrence it presented the Israeli army. At present, the main means available to Palestinians to disturb Israel are homemade Qassam projectiles. These, however, are mainly a psychological weapon creating collective anxiety among Israelis living in the vicinity of Gaza.
Indeed, Palestinian resistance and political leaders realise, at least privately, that the situation in Gaza and Lebanon are very different, since Lebanon is, in the final analysis, a sovereign state while the Palestinians are effectively prisoners languishing under a military occupation that controls nearly every aspect of their lives. Hence, Palestinian guerrilla groups will continue to opt for low-profile resistance, aiming not so much to defeat Israel militarily -- a goal clearly beyond their capacity -- but rather to make the occupation costly for Israel.
Meanwhile, efforts to strike a prisoner swap deal between Israel and the Palestinians have yet to yield substantive results as Israel, badly bruised by the war in Lebanon, is refusing to permit any linkage between the demanded release of a captured Israeli soldier, Corporal Gilad Shalit, and Palestinian political and resistance detainees languishing in Israeli jails, many without charge or trial.
A Palestinian government official this week described the Israeli posture with regard to the Shalit affair as "arrogant, insolent and condescending". "They want us to free Shalit in return for a vague and noncommittal promise to release an unspecified number of Palestinians from Israeli detention camps," said the official, who asked for anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media.
On Monday, 14 August, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the parents of two Israeli soldiers captured by Hizbullah fighters five weeks ago (the incident Israel used as justification for its pre-prepared war on Lebanon) that his government would negotiate with Hizbullah for the release of the soldiers. The remarks, which drew sharp criticism from some on the grounds that Olmert could have done this without launching a war that led to the death of over 100 Israeli soldiers, indicated that the Israeli government might eventually agree to swap Palestinian detainees and hostages held in Israel for Shalit.
For the time being, however, Israel is striving to free Shalit either through a lopsided deal with the Palestinian Authority -- which is unlikely given the adamant rejection of both Hamas and Shalit's captors to such a deal -- or by finding the soldier's whereabouts through intensive intelligence efforts, as indeed the Israeli army has been trying since Shalit's capture on 25 June.
Finally, with the Hamas-led Palestinian government barely functioning, due in part to the abduction by Israel of many of its ministers and dozens of Palestinian lawmakers, Fatah and Hamas leaders have been meeting in the Gaza Strip in a renewed effort to form a government of national unity.
There are many Palestinians, of various political backgrounds, who have come to the conclusion that a government of national unity is probably the only thing Palestinians can do to save the Palestinian Authority (PA) from disintegration and collapse. Last week, Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh pointed out that Palestinian leaders ought to seriously study dismantling the PA, which he suggested was becoming a national liability.
Haniyeh argued that there was no point "in deceiving ourselves and giving the world an erroneous impression that there is a Palestinian national government when the Israeli occupation army is killing every shred of authority and abducting ministers and lawmakers and forcing officials to go underground." The tacit call to dissolve the PA drew unexpected support from the Tunis-based Fatah Chief Farouk Qaddumi who argued that there was no point in maintaining an "Authority that has no authority."
PA President Mahmoud Abbas rejected the call as "out of the question for the time being". However, it is increasingly clear that should a government of national unity fail to end Israel's US-supported blockade and give Palestinians fresh hope for freedom from occupation, demands for dissolving the PA would be too overwhelming to be resisted, even by Abbas.