What Gaza's Escalation Tells Us About Israel's Policy Towards the Besieged Enclave
November 19 2019

Israeli observers conceded that the killing of Islamic Jihad commander Bahaa Abu Al-Atta has achieved nothing for Israel in terms of security or otherwise. It provoked rocket bombardments of southern Israel that caused no fatalities, while Israeli bombing of the Gaza Strip killed 34 people, at least 16 of them civilians.

Armed resistance has evolved into a retaliatory and deterrence system to Israel’s continued brutality. It has also become an approach that challenges the status quo in a manner that Israel has proven susceptible to, compared to any kind of genuine dialogue, which its current Prime Minister systematically dismisses.

So why engage in targeted assassinations if Israel knows full-well that al-Atta’s successor would perform the same activities, if not more? Why do this when his death will turn him into a hero and garner support for militarism? Israel’s action means that Islamic Jihad will be working harder to strike back after this provocation. Consciously acting on a failed assassination policy underlines Israel’s deep cynicism in its relationship with Gaza.

Benjamin Netanyahu has emerged as the main political beneficiary from this brutality. He has distanced the Joint List members of the Knesset from joining a political establishment that assaults their brethren in Gaza, and has created momentum to pressure Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz to submit to his authority.

Netanyahu’s malevolent timing in launching this assault constitutes yet another blow to a critical moment of intra-Palestinian efforts to hold national elections as a pathway to restoring unity. Preventing any attempts at Palestinian reconciliation has been an integral part of Netanyahu’s legacy. Israel had a multitude of options to neutralize Al-Atta’s actions other than his assassination, which eventually led to the IDF again pounding the besieged Strip. One simple alternative was to cease Israel’s use of live ammunition against non-violent Gazan protesters—this has been Islamic Jihad’s proclaimed motivation for firing rockets. Another would have been to honor the cease-fire agreement with Hamas and further ease the Gaza blockade.

Israel’s insistence on perpetuating Gaza’s problems while periodically battering the enclave to “mow the grass” highlights a political calculation to continue Gaza’s torment. This appeases a vindictive base rather than advancing a genuine solution that could contribute to uprooting endemic problems.

In this latest escalation, Israel admittedly did everything possible to avoid inflicting damage on its long proclaimed archnemesis, Hamas, while simultaneously targeting Islamic Jihad affiliates and wiping out entire civilian families. This decision conveys the Israeli government’s cynical policy; it is keen on perpetuating Hamas’ rule in Gaza, finding no shame in bringing to light the solid transactional relationship that it has developed with Gaza’s ruling authority, while simultaneously continuing to use Hamas’ name as a boogeyman to smear and dehumanize Palestinian victims of the conflict. The decision also proves that when Israel doesn’t desperately provoke Hamas with violence, the latter demonstrates pragmatic restraint, contradicting the widely propagated false notion that Israel’s crushing of Gaza is an act of self-defense against Hamas attacks.

Careful consideration of how this escalation concluded is important. Despite calls from the Islamic Jihad’s base to avenge the killing of its senior commander, the top leader of the movement, Ziad al-Nakhala, set three  terms for a cease-fire: halting assassinations, ceasing use of live fire against civilian protesters at the March of Return, and complying with the latest cease-fire agreement on easing the blockade.

Palestinians in Gaza can predict with certainty that Israel will not honor any of the aforementioned demands. The blockade’s end seems  distant in spite of anti-blockade recommendations from Israel’s own army and intelligence. Shooting unarmed protesters has become routine.

Last week’s events show that Israel has a preference for prioritizing electoral expediency over reason. Gaza has become a stage where Israel displays its military capabilities internationally. Perhaps next time the Gaza front flares up, the international community may reconsider who are the assailants and assaulted in this conflict.

About The Author: 

Muhammad Shehada is a Palestinian writer and analyst from Gaza.

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