9 years after Israel's deadly 2014 assault on Gaza, terror and impunity reign

9 years after Israel's deadly 2014 assault on Gaza, terror and impunity reign
Nearly a decade after thousands of Palestinians were killed in Operation Protective Edge, Israel's incessant violence continues unabated. But a growing international solidarity movement gives hope to Palestinian resistance, writes Shahd Abusalama.
7 min read
13 Jul, 2023
Israel's 'Operation Protective Edge' in 2014 killed more than 2,000 Palestinians in Gaza and displaced nearly a third of the population. [Getty]

On 8 July 2014, Israel launched its fourth and deadliest assault on Gaza in less than 8 years, code-named ‘Operation Protective Edge’.

I have experienced the collective punishment of Gaza since my birth in Jabalia refugee camp, but this was the first time I experienced my family’s horror from a distance, for the 51 days that will forever remain imprinted in my mind.

Every anniversary, we grieve how the Israeli occupation repeatedly turned the festive times around the Holy Month of Ramadan, Eid and summer holidays into a bloodbath. My family’s first day of Eid al-Fitr was turned into a funeral: my uncle Muhammed Abu Louz was killed, leaving behind a widow and two children.

The onslaught of summer 2014, which I followed with utter shock and rage from Istanbul, refreshed memories of Israel’s “Summer Rains” of 2006 that turned the holiday into a living nightmare for school children like me. Bombs dropped all around us like rain, to use Israel’s metaphor.

"Israel's continuous impunity for its violations of international law and human rights is sustained by Western support and biased media coverage"

These deadly assaults from land, sea and air have been a ritual for Israel, integrated into its horrendous strategy of “mowing the lawn”, which dictates perpetual violence against Palestinians to break our will for liberation and resistance, and to reinforce its apartheid systems.

The summer of 2014 witnessed this terror most explicitly and intensively.

The oft-cited statistics of casualty tolls fail to convey what Palestinian civilians truly suffered; still, their lopsidedness is revealing of the power imbalance between the coloniser and the colonised.

2,251 Palestinians were killed, including 551 children and 299 women; 11,100, including 3,436 children and 3,540 women, were injured, leaving thousands with permanent disability; 18,000 housing units were destroyed in whole or part, displacing roughly 30% of the population and evoking the traumatic memory of the 1948 Nakba amongst the mostly-refugee population of Gaza. 

Concurrently, 71 Israelis were killed: 67 soldiers, and four civilians.

Despite the indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks that characterised this Israeli offensive, Israel’s then-army-chief Benny Gantz boasted with shameless impunity that under his command, “parts of Gaza were sent back to the Stone Age” when he was running for PM in 2019. 

It is evident that Israeli settlers and troops did not evacuate Gaza in 2005 in order to free us from their domination, but rather to experiment with remote occupation that offers maximum control with minimum responsibility towards the occupied.

Israel’s so-called disengagement from Gaza set off a new strategy for the Occupied Territories. As Israeli professor Ilan Pappé put it in his book Gaza in Crisis, “controlling the Gaza Strip from the outside while carving the West Bank into manageable Bantustans seemed the best solution for the ‘Palestinian problem’”.

Israel’s ability to enforce and sustain such a “solution” for years demonstrates the criminal nature of this Western-backed settler-colonial state, which has survived on the negation and demonisation of indigenous Palestinians.

The plight of Palestine children alone shows the gravity of Israel’s culture of impunity.  According to Defence for Children International, most children killed in “Protective Edge” were twelve or younger.

Amongst them were the four Bakr children, aged 9-12, who were killed in daylight while playing football on Gaza Beach. As one of the defining moments of the 51-day assault, the four boys became an iconic story of Palestinian children’s lives during the post-2005 remote but deadly occupation of Gaza.

The crime took place in full view of a hotel filled with foreign correspondents reporting on the so called “conflict”, generating multiple firsthand visual and written accounts of the attack, widely circulated across mainstream (and social) media.

With the case involving Israeli soldiers armed with drones, reputable in the global arms trade for high precision, against children armed with a ball, Israel was pressured to investigate the crime. 

"The anniversary of the 2014 summer onslaught on Gaza comes at a time of continuing Israeli violence and impunity from Jenin in the occupied West Bank to the Gaza Strip. It reminds us of Israel's incessant capacity and willingness to wreak havoc"

Eventually, Israel’s claims that the drone operators mistook the boys for “Hamas militants” were enough to close the investigation and absolve itself of responsibility. Nine years later, despite the overwhelming evidence of war crimes, the Bakr family is still fighting for justice.

Israel’s continuous impunity for its violations of international law and human rights is sustained by Western support and biased media coverage

As Diana Buttu noted, Western mainstream coverage failed to expose the devastating impact of the 2014 attack on Gaza, constructing Israel as a state acting in “defence” against “irrational Islamic ISIS-like actors” and legitimate Palestinian resistance against their occupying force as “terrorism”.

In one notable example on 8 July 2014, while Israeli bombings killed 23 Palestinians, including seven children, and Israel suffered no casualties, a BBC headline read: “Israel under renewed Hamas attack,” deflecting from Israeli crimes. 

Palestinians and activists were quick to condemn the hierarchy of death and the skewed coverage that deflected from Israeli crimes. The headline was later rephrased to “Israel step up plans to stop rocket attacks from Gaza,” invoking Israel’s designation of Gaza as a ‘hostile entity’ while obscuring the immediate and long-term impact of settler-colonialism, military occupation, blockade, and periodic onslaughts on Gaza, uninterrupted since Israel’s establishment in 1948, long before Hamas’s foundation in 1987.

The ideological battle maintaining Western support for Israel rests on perpetuating militarism, racism, and in particular Islamophobia. Israel’s repression of the Palestinians is not sealed off from the rest of the world by its apartheid wall.

The connections are many, and those chains of complicity have been exposed by many human rights organisations, including Amnesty and the UN. The growing international resistance to Israel’s systems of domination, together with the grassroots media exposure in recent decades, has increasingly put Israel and its allies at an impasse to justify its crimes and to defend its self-image of democracy and morality.

A growing international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is causing Israel great reputational and material losses. Amid international inaction, Palestine Action in the UK offers hope, with ordinary people consistently putting their bodies on the line to shut down Israel’s largest private arms factory Elbit Systems that notoriously markets its weapons as “battle-tested”.


While Elbit disturbingly celebrated unprecedented profits in 2014, including contracts with international partners in Switzerland and across Latin America impressed by its use of killer drones against civilians in Gaza, Palestine Action has cost them a heavy price with successful shutdown of two Elbit sites in Oldham and London and losses estimated in millions.

The anniversary of the 2014 summer onslaught on Gaza comes at a time of continuing Israeli violence and impunity from Jenin in the occupied West Bank to the Gaza Strip. It reminds us of Israel's incessant capacity and willingness to wreak havoc.

To prevent future deaths and realise justice in Palestine, we need a coherent anti-racist international movement that firmly opposes Israel. Without dismantling its apartheid and settler-colonial regime, there will be no peace to either Palestinians or Israelis.

Shahd Abusalama is a Palestinian academic whose Ph.D at Sheffield Hallam University explored the historical representations of Gaza in colonial, humanitarian and Palestinian documentary films, which will be published by Bloomsbury under the title of “Between Documentary and Reality”. Shahd is an artist, activist, and the author of Palestine from My Eyes blog, also published as a book in ltaly in 2013. She is also a co-founder of Hawiyya Dance Company which showcases Palestine’s folkloric Dabke and music to UK audiences and beyond to amplify anticolonial and antiracist causes.

Follow her on Twitter: @ShahdAbusalama

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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.