Breaking out of the Gaza cage: Why the 7 October attack is not Israel's 9/11
The airing of outright fabrications and disinformation regarding the events of 7 October in Gaza, by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu echoed by US President Joe Biden, was not a blunder but a deliberate act of propaganda. It is meant to justify a barbaric and total Israeli war without restraint to exact an unbearable price paid by the Palestinian population of Gaza, the main objective of this war.
In other words, to justify the unlawful use of violence and intimidation against Palestinian civilians in the pursuit of political aims. Isn't that the very definition of terrorism?
The counter-objective should therefore be to limit their ability to bomb Gaza without restraint, by exposing and protesting the crimes of Israeli war and sustaining solidarity with the Palestinians in Gaza. For two decades, Gazzans have received no quarter, living with a crippling siege and frequent Israeli onslaughts; and today, they are being subjected to cruelty no human is able to tolerate.
The combined astonishment and outpouring of emotion since the shock events of 7 October, which challenged Israeli arrogance and Arab frustrations, make it difficult to write dispassionately about the 'Al-Aqsa Flood' operation and the ensuing onslaught against Gaza. Without a doubt, this day will be remembered by the younger generation, and will alter their perception both of the occupier's supremacy and of the dignity of victims of the occupation, as well as the possibilities for resistance against occupation.
Days later, even as the occupation is still struggling to recover from the shock attack, Israeli officials have been racing to announce their perpetration of war crimes in Gaza, openly declaring their intentions to commit more. The Israeli administration blatantly disregarded the statement by the UN Secretary-General that imposing a total siege, including cutting off water and electricity, would violate international humanitarian law. Preventing access to water, medicine, and food has been recognised as an unacceptable weapon in war since the Middle Ages, but Israel has become accustomed and entitled to acting above the law.
The attack by Al-Qassam Brigades on 7 October on the military bases and towns in the so-called 'Gaza Envelope' represents a turning point in the relationship between the Palestinian resistance and Israel. The planning, implementation and power (both real and projected) behind it will preoccupy analysts for years. That morning, not only were concrete fortifications along the border blown up; but so were the mental fortresses built atop misconceptions and stereotypes.
"The real surprise, for Israelis, Palestinians and Arabs alike, was the ability of the Gazan resistance to produce and smuggle in the military equipment necessary under a stifling siege in an exposed, flat strip of land with no mountains or valleys"
The Israelis had allowed themselves to become complacent, despite the suffering they have visited on an indigenous people suffocating under two decades of an inhumane and illegal blockade and despite the far-right government's growing complicity in attacks on Al-Aqsa Mosque, to the point that plans had been devised to divide the Al-Aqsa site and allocate separate prayer times for Muslims and Jews. They rested on their laurels even as they permitted the escalation of settler attacks on Palestinians and their property and the government announced its intention to annex vast swathes of the West Bank.
Israeli or otherwise, no one should be shocked by the Palestinian reaction. Israeli self-reckoning has started and will be an ongoing process, but it will not lead to the correct conclusions about the relationship of the occupier to the reality lived by those living under occupation. Instead, it will seek internal and incomplete answers to questions about maintaining the occupation, such as: Who was responsible for the intelligence failure? Why were there not enough soldiers? Why were they so late to respond?
The real surprise for Israelis, Palestinians and Arabs alike came from the ability of the Gazan resistance to produce and smuggle in the military equipment necessary under a stifling siege in an exposed, flat strip of land with no mountains or valleys. The only people not taken aback by this are those in the know. Most people who have moved past the romantic image of paragliders sailing over the borders have begun to wonder about how the necessary manufacture and training was pulled off and about the number of tunnels that exist.
Regardless of differences in attitudes and backgrounds, or even hostilities between one another, Palestinians, and Arabs in general, have the right to feel some renewal of confidence in view of the perseverance, diligence, determination, and imagination demonstrated by the resistance in such impossible conditions.
Israel has now launched a war on Gaza, so this is no longer the issue of a standalone military operation. Israel has publicly declared that it will continue to commit crimes against humanity, which will only increase in scale and severity. It is razing entire neighbourhoods in the Gaza Strip, the world’s most densely populated area, largest refugee camp, and biggest open-air prison. It is attempting to erase the memory of the video footage spread far and wide by the resistance and, through wreaking death and destruction in Gaza, restore its prestige in the eyes of its people and its intimidating image in the eyes of the Arabs, both foes and regimes that pursue normalisation.
But there is more that can be read into its actions. The relentless and continuing barrage of bombardment after exhausting all targets is an expression of confusion and hesitation about what to do next, and is a tactic that obscures the lack of a plan and a strategy. Furthermore, the green light from Washington and the European governments has encouraged Israel to proceed without sound calculation.
The extensive bombing seeks to drive a wedge between the idea of resistance and the people by prohibitively increasing the cost of resistance and the sacrifices made by the people of Gaza, in the hope that continued suffering imposed upon them will mobilise them not against occupation but against Hamas.
The indiscriminate bombing, the dehumanisation of caged Palestinians, and threats to deprive them of water and food are shameless expressions of blatant racism. When Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant described the Palestinians as "human animals," he was not speaking out of uncontrollable rage. Rather, he was plainly expressing this belief and rationalised acts based on this belief. The opportunity had arisen to "legitimately" express this belief against the backdrop of shock, unsuppressed anger, and unconditional Western solidarity with Israel, which made allusions to having suffered its own 9/11.
So what is next? If the savage bombardment continues to decimate the densely populated Gaza Strip to the point that Israel declares its "mission accomplished", yet after that, Al-Qassam commander emerges to assure the people that Hamas and the resistance will prevail, he will also be able to declare the failure of the Israeli assault and build upon the events of 7 October.
Is this not exactly what happened in Lebanon in 2006 with far fewer casualties on the Israeli side? An official investigative committee will be formed to hold Netanyahu and his government to account for their negligence and failed intelligence. Protests will erupt, demanding consequences for a right-wing government with no military expertise, and which was asleep at the watch. Israel's Iron Sword offensive will be said to have failed because Israel, after the Al-Aqsa Flood and the devastating response, will be right back to square one.
Some claim that a ground invasion to end Hamas' control over the Gaza Strip could be the solution to the Gaza 'problem'.
But how? The Israeli agencies had no idea about the capabilities of the resistance and what they were planning before 7 October, so could they have any better idea of what awaited them if they embarked on a ground invasion or commando operations within the Gaza Strip in areas suspected to host Hamas infrastructure or resistance leaders?
"Israel is unlikely to end the war and a return to the drawing board, and is at present acting like a dangerous and wounded beast. Therefore, every possible action must be taken to restrain it and prevent it carrying out a full-scale genocide"
Of course not. Therefore, this decision is a considerable risk, potentially career-ending, for whoever makes it, as well as for the lives of many soldiers. Right now, an emergency government has been formed in Israel, so everyone bears the responsibility for the next steps. Ultimately, this may lead to a ground operation, the nature of which has not been determined yet.
The Israeli leadership has not yet found an exit from their current predicament. Moreover, if they fail to achieve their goals through a swift and covert operation, which is unlikely, the ongoing crimes they are committing in Gaza will continue with a green light from the United States and the European powers. Israel is unlikely to end the war and a return to the drawing board, and is at present acting like a dangerous and wounded beast. Therefore, every possible action must be taken to restrain it and prevent it from carrying out a full-scale genocide and population transfer.
Western Politicians and the mainstream media are acting as though Palestinian or Arab civilians do not exist – instead they are simply beings undeserving of humanity, only abstractly human. However, they are certainly seen as civilians because the only "innocent civilians" in this region are Israelis.
The scenes aired by Western mainstream media channels don't show the suffering of the Palestinian civilians and their losses, and the governing institutions in Europe and the US, as well as Russia and China (who do not so much as pay lip service to human rights nor do they implement them), are not mentioning the injuries inflicted on Palestinian women and children in these airstrikes, let alone treating them as individuals. Over one thousand Palestinian civilians have already been killed by Israeli bombardment. If Israel is allowed to continue with the massacres it is perpetrating, this number could reach many more thousands.
Here I want to emphasise the severity of the mistake of the resistance in killing or abducting civilians. Further, the release of the civilians (why they were taken is unknown) is urgent, given the damaging rumours circulating on this issue, and that the resistance has enough officers and soldiers captive to conduct negotiations with the occupation to free Palestinian prisoners in exchange.
Furthermore, the presence of civilians, some foreigners, does not increase the capacity to negotiate - it diminishes it. Nor will it deter the airstrikes. This is because at this stage, Israel is not that bothered whether the hostages are killed or survive;, if the hostages are killed during the war, Israel and its allies will weaponize this against Hamas. Hamas would thus be better off releasing the civilians – it is a moral and political burden and will do them strategic damage. I realise that those pulling children out from under the rubble in Gaza are not in any state of mind to engage in this debate. However, the political leadership understands the essence of strategic burdens.
The West's immediate and official alignment with Israel has spared no thought for supposedly minor details like the occupation, the siege, the settlements and the assaults on the holy sites. In fact, the solidarity seemed almost instinctive, taking place within a framework of "us" versus "them" (Arabs, Muslims, Orientals...), as if "us" represents a European-US-Israeli alliance that suffered a sudden collective attack on 7 October. This logic has also generated a comparison with 9/11 even though there are no grounds for comparison: Hamas has never carried out, since its establishment, a single armed operation outside Palestine, on foreign soil.
Moreover, the Palestinians who paraglided over the border and those who broke through it were entering regions their parents and grandparents had fled, seeking refuge in the Gaza Strip, and know these villages by their original Arab names. Furthermore, they have been subjected to an inhumane blockade and regular Israeli airstrikes for decades.
The comparison with 9/11 is provocative in the extreme, as is the fact that we are constantly being forced to bring up the background of occupation and its protracted violence, and it feels as though in mentioning it, we are trying to justify and defend ourselves and having to begin the argument from scratch every time. It feels as though we are living in two different worlds.
The ordinary Israeli is taught to ignore the occupation to maintain a "normal" life. They must suppress any awareness of the reality of the mass expulsion of 1948, the settler colonialism, and the occupation since 1967. Whoever cannot do this must bid farewell to any semblance of normality in their daily life. The reality of settler colonization and occupation is that the state of exception becomes the rule, and the exceptional is the ordinary.
Hence, becoming aware of the reality will make an Israeli's life miserable and lead them either to turn against the occupation, emigrate, or live in internal conflict. Alternately, they will become more extreme and fanatical to attempt to justify the reality to themselves in a particular type of cognitive dissonance. But for US or European journalists they have no excuse to ignore the reality of the occupation when they ask with feigned ignorance for Arabs to condemn 'Palestinian terrorism' as though the issue started with this. We are growing weary of constantly plunging into a duplicitous dialogue with those who pretend not to know, do not want to know and do not listen.
Dr. Azmi Bishara is a Palestinian intellectual, academic and writer.
Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.
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