Over the past few days people on the street, in the press and on satellite TV and radio stations, have been saying that Israel has decided to launch its third war against the Gaza Strip, coming as it does from the two wars of November 2008 and December 2012.
But according to history, this is actually the fifth Israeli war on the Gaza Strip. The first was in October 1956, when I was a child. I knew the taste of fear, but found security in the arms of my mother as she recited the Quran to calm me down. She wanted to block out the sound of the aircraft and artillery shells that we heard day and night during what became known as the Suez Crisis.
The second war occurred when I was a student at the University of Cairo. On the morning of June 5, 1967, like millions of other Arabs, I was certain of an overwhelming victory, and—unlike the rest of them—I was even optimistic about returning to the city of Gaza through Haifa, not the Rafah crossing, though this did not happen.
The first war on Gaza was in October 1956, when I was a child. I knew the taste of fear, but found security in the arms of my mother as she recited the Quran to calm me downBakir Oweida
I am writing this article on the morning of the 10th day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which coincided 41 years ago with October 6, 1973. On that magnanimous day, which corresponds in the Hebrew calendar to Yom Kippur, the Israeli Defense Forces were taken by surprise. With the collapse of the Bar Lev Line, the legend of Israel’s “invincible army” fell apart. I lived the moment of that crossing from defeat to victory, and followed it as a journalist for the Libyan newspaper, Balagh, in Tripoli.
Muammar Qaddafi and his speeches
I still remember how we were surprised by the speeches of the “brother colonel,” Muammar Qaddafi, on the second day of the war on various radio stations, including those in Egypt. He said that what was happening was a “breakthrough war” aimed at a peaceful solution, rather than the liberation of the occupied land. Everyone who listened to Qaddafi that day could not believe what they were hearing. Everyone asked the same question: even if what he said was right, was it not better for him to wait until the objectives on the ground were fully achieved, so that Egypt could negotiate from a position of strength, without any prior casting of doubt, especially from a state that was then a partner in the “Federation of Arab Republics?”
Logically speaking, the questioning of the war by Qaddafi at the time did Israel a service. It could be said it was an unexpected gift to Israel. Gaza was not included in the Ramadan War, but it had hopes that the Egyptian crossing would help it be liberated from occupation. That did not happen either.
Now, the media in and outside Palestine are loudly proclaiming that history is repeating itself, particularly with the launch of rockets from Gaza into Israel as a “gift” from the resistance, led by Hamas, on the anniversary of the Yom Kippur War.
Undoubtedly, these are words intended to lift the spirits, but they are justifiable in the context of the current psychological and propaganda war. But, if one were to ask who was giving the present to whom, and what it was, and for what purpose, it is likely that most people in Gaza would respond with anger. Much of their anger could be excused. What would you expect from those currently under bombardment other than to cling to the hope that the July 2014 war would get them what was not achieved by the Israeli bombardments of Gaza in 2008 and 2012? It would be wrong to expect anything different.
Monopolize the right to be angry
But is it permissible to monopolize the right to be angry as well? No. But the right way to express it differs from place to place. Yes, if I were writing this article from Gaza, I would have been bolder in speaking out about accountability. But the least that must be said is that Palestinian leaders from across the political spectrum and throughout recent history have committed political miscalculations that have forced the Palestinians in the territories and in the diaspora camps to endure more than they could cope with, even more than is required by the duty to resist and liberate their land from occupation.
Is there any hope that Palestinian leaders will stop undermining Palestinians’ legitimate rights—which do not need endorsement from anyone—simply to justify the continued bloodshed?
Is it not strange, at the very least, that Palestinian leaders are maintaining the pretense that a reconciliation agreement was reached, while their intentions are totally different? Why does Hamas not say point-blank that it will never change any clause in its charter and therefore will not engage in any agreement with Fatah? Hamas has the right to do so. In return, Fatah has the right, and indeed a duty, to contain its internal conflicts. Its leaders should rise to meet their responsibilities and put an end to trivial personal feuds, so that it becomes clear to the world that the Fatah movement is one entity, speaking the same language and following the same path.
Is there any hope of this happening? No. Why am I asking this question? Because a reminder may pay off, even if only with a few people. In this context, is there a need to refresh our memory and remember that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not interested in any peace with the Palestinians, and that Israel’s politicians to his right are “outbidding” him in order to fan the rhetoric of war and hatred further? No.
We must remind people that the Israeli street in general is heading towards more extremism, particularly due to the rise in fears over the expansion of what are often called “jihadist movements.” Gone are the times when opportunities were available for achieving security for the region and safety for all. However, some of those who could establish this security, even if by force, have lost interest in doing so. Some of those who had a duty to put the future of their citizens above their own personal reputation have shirked their responsibility. Politicians who claimed they wanted peace have descended into lies and prevarication. Encouraged by a desire for public admiration, leaders have found it too tempting to abandon their principles. So, what can be expected in this region other than conflict and wars? The answer is that nothing can be expected until this situation changes.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on July 13, 2014.
Bakir Oweida is a journalist who has worked as Managing Editor, and written for several Arab publications based in London. His last executive post was Assistant Editor-in-Chief of Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, responsible for the Opinions section, until December 2003. He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com