Palestinian youth tell the human stories behind the numbers in the news

Palestinian youth tell the human stories behind the numbers in the news

Concerns spread that tensions between Gaza and Israel may erupt into war

Al-Orjwan Shurrab | 06-02-2018

This week marked the latest flare-up in the exchange of rockets and missiles between Israeli forces and resistance factions in Gaza. The Israeli army attacked what it called a Hamas “observation post” Thursday night, and a rocket from the Strip followed the next day. Both Israeli and Palestinian observers are speculating about a possible war, even though no one seems to want it. 

"Although neither Hamas nor Israel seeks an escalation, the Gaza rocket launches and Israeli retaliations makes the scenario of a coming war more likely,” wrote Avi Issacharoff for the Israeli Walla website.

The last “episode” in the exchange occurred January 13, when Israel targeted a tunnel under construction along the Gaza-Israel border—much like the attack that began the escalation in late October. In that incident, 12 men affiliated with Hamas and Islamic Jihad were killed when Israeli forces destroyed another tunnel. In response, rockets were fired into Israel by Islamic Jihad and Salafi factions, which operate independently of Hamas.

However, while Avigdor Lieberman, Israeli minister of defense, told another Israeli newspaper he knows Hamas does not desire a new war, he declared his forces will attack three to four sites in the Gaza Strip for every rocket fired.  

"Israel is aware of the fact that Hamas is not responsible for the firing of rockets, but it is trying to force Hamas to enter a new confrontation," observed Saleh al-Naami, a Palestinian journalist and expert on Israeli affairs. "Israel uses rockets fired from Gaza to justify its bombardments of Qassam and Hamas positions in order to maintain its policy of deterrence.” 

Al-Naami added that although Hamas is trying to avoid a confrontation, and thus preserve the ongoing attempt at reconciliation with Fatah and the Palestinian Authority (PA), it cannot control all of the parties involved. In part, this is because the PA now is responsible for Gaza under the fledgling unity government. In addition, he said, Hamas would pay a heavy price in internal support if it did not respond to Israeli bombardments.

Al-Naami believes Israel also is not ready for another war with Hamas, since it is preoccupied with Iran and protection of its northern border. The only parties that will benefit from this escalation, al-Naami concluded, are Palestinian factions who want to undermine the attempted reconciliation between the two main parties.

Speaking at the Herzliya conference in Israel this month, Gadi Eizenkot, chief of general staff for the Israeli military, called the escalation with Hamas irresponsible. He noted that the poverty of the 2 million residents in the Gaza Strip compares poorly with the notable prosperity in the Israeli settlements.

To date, 25 Gazans have suffered moderate to serious injuries from the Israeli bombardments, and another three men were killed, according to the Ministry of Health. 

Two of the fatalities were Mahmoud al-Autl, 29, and Mohammed El-Safadi, 25—resistance fighters who were killed in an Israeli attack in the eastern Gaza Strip December 9 in retaliation for a rocket launch that caused no injuries.

"Mahmoud never told us about his work with Al-Qassam Brigades (the military arm of Hamas). But I'm a mother. I felt what he didn't say, and I was always afraid of losing him," al-Autl's mother said. "I never thought of preventing him from doing his duty toward this land. All mothers love their children, but if we prevent our children from protecting the land, who else will resist and free Palestine?"

Al-Autl graduated from university with a degree in education. However, he couldn’t get a job in the field. Instead, the youngest son in a relatively poor family worked with his father to sell home appliances. Although no one in his family claimed an affiliation to a political party, he joined Al-Qassam in 2009, working in a field control unit that maintains security for the Gaza border with Israel and works to prevent extremists from firing rockets. Al-Autl is survived by a wife and a son.

In contrast, Mohammed El-Safadi joined the Qassam Brigades to follow in the footsteps of his brother, who was killed in 2011.  When he was accepted into the Qassam’s field control unit after the 2014 Israeli war on Gaza, it was the happiest moment in his life, several friends said.

"Mohammed loved us," Mohammed's sister, Farhana, said. "But several months before his death, I felt he was about to be killed, just as Mahmoud [his brother] was."

El-Safadi lived with his mother; his father died when he was young. He studied management in college and worked for three months for the government, but was not paid.  He is survived by a wife and a 1-year-old child.

It has been a week since Israel last bombed a tunnel and there has been no rocket fire from the Strip, indicating that Hamas has re-imposed restraint on the small Salafist groups. However, no one knows how long that will last. In addition, Adnan Abu Amer, another Gaza expert on Israeli affairs, believes Hamas may be forced into more direct acts of resistance as the people become tire of protesting the U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital; to date, no change in that decision has occurred. Instead, Hamas may look to other tactics to keep the issue center stage.

Another concern, said Abu Amer, is that Hamas may begin to see a strategic advantage in allowing tensions with Israel to escalate. As economic conditions continue to worsen in Gaza, making life more difficult for residents, politicians may try direct the people’s anger at Israel instead of their struggling government.

As if anticipating an unwanted war, Israeli officials have said they are working to destroy all of the tunnels from Gaza by the end of 2018. Meanwhile, work continues on the "underground wall," separating Gaza from Israel—scheduled to effectively be complete by the end of this year. This means, however, that Israel won’t want escalation until it finishes.

Ultimately, though, said Abu Amer, everything is pointing in one direction—and while it may not be full-out war, it could look a lot like it.

This article first appeared on The New Arab.

Posted: February 5, 2018

Mentor: Pam Bailey

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