From Gaza Throughout the Arab World: Operation Pillar of Defence and the Need for Change

Author ········· Sarah Kanbar
Published ······ Online, December 2012
Section ·······  Current Affairs

The recent Israeli bombardment of Gaza, now termed “Operation Pillar of Defence,” has left over 170 Palestinian casualties after eight days of violence and a ceasefire brokered by Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi. The offensive, bearing striking similarities to 2008’s Operation Cast Lead, follows a history of Israeli aggression against Palestinians, as well as reveals the shortcomings of agreements between Israel and other Arab nations. Many leaders and media outlets in the West maintain Israel’s right to self-defence, with complete disregard of Palestinian suffering. Yet the history of Israel’s relationship with Palestinians is no different than Israel’s relations with other Arab nations. This analysis will then show that the Palestinian quest for rights is not only a reflection, but a reality of the greater struggle of the Arab world for justice and equality. Bringing about change to the region will require a re-assessment of the relationship that Arab leaders maintain with Israel, as well as the agreements that have been made to keep peace in the area.

Operation Pillar of Defence began after the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) carried out the extrajudicial assassination of Ahmed al-Ja’abari. Al-Ja’abari was a figure who, as Israeli writer Aluf Benn wrote, served as a “subcontractor” for Israel. Working as part of Hamas’ military wing, he was responsible for overseeing stability in the region. Furthermore, al-Ja’abari assisted in the release of Gilad Shalit in exchange for Palestinian prisoners. Although very clear instances of aggression by the IDF happened in the days prior to al-Ja’abari’s assassination, as was the same with 2008’s Operation Cast Lead, Operation Pillar of Defence coincides with upcoming presidential elections in Israel. From the standpoint of Israel, as Noam Sheizaf noted, a claimed “victory” can assure the Israeli population that the current administration is taking full measure in protecting Israel from outside attacks and maintaining the status quo.

In response to the attacks on Gaza, President Morsi stated that Cairo “would not leave Gaza on its own.” The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and Palestinian Authority (PA) called for international intervention and the Arab League even scheduled an emergency session in which they asked that all state-members “observe a moratorium on all forms of normalisation with Israel.” The Arab League ministers further asserted that there needed to be unity between the Palestinian factions and praised the efforts of Egypt in working with Palestinian leaders to “end the aggression and alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian people.”

Regardless of these statements by Arab leaders, the PA attacked protestors in Ramallah who had been showing solidarity with Gazans. While Morsi also received praise from the West, and many Gazans were appreciative of the shows of solidarity by Egyptian officials, Egypt’s policy towards Israel has not changed. The Rafah border is still largely closed off and continues to be maintained by the Egyptian military, albeit aid has been able to trickle through the border. Indeed, the ceasefire between Hamas and Israel, which was orchestrated by Morsi, does not tackle the root issue: the treatment of Gaza as an open-air prison and its illegal occupation by Israel. Instead the text of the agreement addresses violence between Israel and Palestinian factions and the transfer of goods, notwithstanding the enigmatic statement that “Other matters as may be requested shall be addressed.” What these matters are, and when they will be addressed, is unknown. This ceasefire will serve its purpose in placing a temporary hold on further violence, which for many Palestinians is an inevitable reality. If Israel’s goal is to maintain the status quo, then they can claim success with another ceasefire, as it helps resume the normal course of action. Furthermore, the treatment of Gaza and those residing within, the audacity that the state of Israel has in utilising practices such as calculating the caloric intake of Gazans, and even the constraints the Israeli government places on the economy so that it is “on the brink of collapse without quite pushing it over the edge” are not addressed. Indeed the practices by the state of Israel are akin to torture; mercilessly beating the body, but giving enough of a breath to have to endure the next round.

The relationships between Israel and other Arab nations have not been markedly different. While agreements have been made with neighbouring countries, they have only placed a lull in violence, and not addressed the role that Israel plays in the region. Greater conflicts like the July 2006 War, where Israel coined its “Dahiya Doctrine,” are seemingly inevitable considering Israel has a historic record of breaking ceasefire agreements. Egyptian and Palestinian activists also acknowledge the necessity for finding a lasting peace and are now calling for a break from the Camp David and Oslo accords because these agreements have not mended relations and Israel still is able to exert control through influence. Moreover, the Palestine Papers have shown the complete failure of the “peace process” and the upper hand that Israel maintains with the support of the West, as well as the PLO and PA factions’ readiness to relinquish Palestinian rights.

Yet support across the greater Arab world towards the Palestinian struggle has been continuous. Palestinians protested across the West Bank against Israel’s attacks on Gaza. Egyptian activists forcibly let themselves into Gaza through the Rafah border, and were able to supply medical aid to the Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. Protests also occurred in Beirut, and shows of solidarity from Syria and Bahrain spread across social networking websites. These displays of unity towards Palestinians serve as a reminder of how the creation of the state of Israel—and to a larger extent, the involvement of the West in partitioning the modern Arab world—has affected all Arab peoples. Palestine continues to be a manifestation of these experiences and intricate histories that span from the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 to the direct negotiations between Israel and Palestinian leaders in 2010. With Palestine gaining non-member observer status at the United Nations, the future of the peace process is uncertain. Arab leaders would be well advised to examine closely how past agreements undercut lasting stability in the region, and the potential role they could play in arranging a lasting peace, justice, and rights to the Palestinians within historic Palestine and across the diaspora.

Sarah Kanbar, Kalimat's Current Affairs Editor, was born into a Lebanese household in Southern California. She received her BA in History from the University of California, Berkeley with an emphasis on the relationship between the US and Middle East. During her studies at Berkeley, she conducted research on the experiences and lives of Arab-Americans in New York City during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Taken from her thesis, her chapter "Rooted in our Homeland: The Creation of Syrian-American Identity" has been published in the text American Multicultural Studies. She continues to write about the experiences of Arab immigrants and her own background as an Arab and Muslim American. •