Gazans fear another Israeli military offensive is imminent, as Israel flexes its military muscle and Egypt joins the band, beating the drums of war.
In November 2013, the Israeli military simulated a ground incursion into Gaza. The move came weeks before Israel stepped up its threats against the Gaza Strip.
I have received two inquiries from overseas friends during the past few days regarding the high-pitched Israeli threats against Gaza, and Hamas in particular. The last one was asking for confirmation that Israeli TV channels warned foreigners in Gaza to immediately leave, in anticipation of military action. The people here are accustomed to such intimidations. However, the explicit statements of Israeli officials, the latest of which is Netanyahu’s ‘to teach Hamas a lesson very soon’ threat, drew attention to the prospect of a war targeting the unarmed, before proceeding to the armed citizens of Gaza.
Both Israel’s 2008-2009 and 2012 offensives were said to be aimed at removing the threat of the firing of crude rockets into Israeli territory. However, this goal was never achieved: on the contrary, the assaults only resulted in many casualties, the majority of them being civilians. Up to 82% of the 1,400 and 103 out of the 156 Palestinian deaths killed during Operation Cast Lead and Pillar of Defense respectively were civilians.
The low-flying Israeli drones are a permanent source of fear for the Gaza population. Israel, as it did in Operation Pillar of Defense one year ago with the extrajudicial targeting of Hamas’s armed wing leader Ahmed al-Jabari, may launch a new offensive with a drone-propelled attack. Many here consider drones, locally known as ‘Zannana’ (which means the buzzing [of a plane]), is more than just a spying machine, but an everyday teaser and TV watching ‘spoiler’ as satellite TV signals are jammed. Nowadays, they are ‘buzzing’ in an increasingly abnormal fashion. They serve as reminders of previous Israeli wars.
Iron Dome repositioning
Moreover, deploying the rocket-intercepting Iron Dome system brings the bunker mentality to mind, characterizing the state of Israel in any approach to aerial warfare. A month ago, Israel redeployed three missile batteries near the southern cities of Beersheba, Sderot and Ashdod, part of the military’s “preparation for a possible escalation,” according to the Israeli defense minister. However Hamas, who governs the Gaza Strip, has recently asked Palestinian factions to maintain the Egypt brokered cease-fire agreement secured in November 2012 after Israel’s eight-day offensive.
By internationally campaigning for an upcoming war against the blockaded Gaza Strip, Israel is attempting to humiliate Hamas, by blaming certain Gaza factions for the escalating wave of violence. This comes after the killing of six Palestinians from Gaza since December 20 – when Israeli troops shot a Palestinian who was near the northern Gaza border dead, allegedly in retaliation to Palestinians’ launching of a mortar round that hit southern Israel – which marked the start of the current unrest.
As usual, in the meantime, Gaza’s militancy is being inflated as being on par with Israel’s. The Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, Ron Prosor, recently complained to the Security Council and to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon over two Gaza rockets that haphazardly hit the Negev, causing no physical injuries or damage.
The people of Gaza – isolated
To Gazans, the year-long rule of Egypt’s deposed President Mohamed Morsi constituted a kind-of breather in the midst of a suffocating seven-year-long blockade.
Restrictions were eased on the Rafah crossing, an undreamt-of move that Gazans enjoyed, albeit temporarily and not fully. I myself enjoyed traveling outside Gaza just 30 days before Morsi’s ouster. I was a member of a delegation of three professors and some 30 youths who were selected for a training course in teaching Arabic for non-Arabic speakers, part of the Islamic University of Gaza (IUG) programme in the city of Al-Arish in northern Sinai.
Before we headed to Egypt, the coordinator of the course told us that as a Gaza delegation, it was a miracle to get approval to enter into and stay in Egypt for a week. However, on the day of our departure, we had to wait five hours at the Egyptian passport administration for our passports to get stamped. We were eventually permitted to pass, but an IUG professor was turned away, ostensibly for security reasons.
Under Morsi’s rule, some 50,000 Palestinians born to Egyptian mothers, mostly from the Gaza Strip, enjoyed being granted Egyptian citizenship, while 3500 others were on the list. Those who did acquire such nationality were exceptionally ecstatic, after having felt underprivileged with the Palestinian passport–not a treasure to be in possession of, especially when it comes to traveling to Arab countries. However, the joy was short-lived: with the rise of a new authority in Egypt, some were stripped of their Egyptian citizenship, and the feeling of rejection was redoubled.
After the ousting of Hosni Mubarak, the uninterrupted flow of smuggled goods and basic materials like fuels and building materials allowed for a relative uptick in the economy and a sense of normalcy in the lives of the Gazans. When the military seized the reins in July 2013, the tables turned again. Seven months have passed now, many jobs have been lost and the unemployment rate is expected to rise further.
Gazans trapped in politics
The once cordial Hamas-Morsi relations didn’t fundamentally change the status quo in Gaza. And now, despite Hamas’ outspoken statements denying interference in Egypt’s affairs and the unrest in the Sinai Peninsula, Egypt cannot help but point fingers at Hamas, only adding to the woes of the non-partisan people of the beleaguered enclave.
The Arab peoples’ focus on their own political upheavals has added to the Gazans’ fear of being trapped in a new Israeli military escalation.