Palestinians have as diverse political differences as any other nation. In many rural parts, the conservative values of Hamas, Palestine’s Islamic resistance movement, have a lot of influence, as well as in more traditionally religious towns like Hebron. In other areas, the more nationalist appeal of Fatah holds sway, or the remnant leftism of the Popular Front.
But this is not the time for such differences.
Right now, as Israel’s blood-thirsty assault deliberately batters the civilian population of the Gaza Strip, there is one value that unifies the entire Palestinian people: resistance, by any means necessary.
With so many Palestinians slaughtered by Israel in Gaza, some 73 percent of whom are civilians, it has been difficult to see any bright spot.
But the resistance, led by the Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, has provided just the morale boost the Palestinian people have needed.Palestinian defence forces have put up a tenacious and stiff resistance in Gaza, to an extent the enemy was not expecting.
Israel did not expect such a high death toll from its ground invasion. But at the time of writing, its army propagandists admit that the resistance has killed 35 Israeli soldiers, with Hamas claiming far more. As Palestinian political analyst Marwan Bishara put it on Al Jazeera Monday, Hamas is stunning and shocking its friends and its enemies.
On Sunday night, the spokesman for the armed wing of Hamas announced that it had captured an Israeli soldier, naming him and giving his ID number (although he did not clarify whether the soldier is alive or died of his wounds after being captured). There were instant celebrations on Palestinian streets in the West Bank, with the families of the 5,271 Palestinian prisoners hoping for an exchange deal.
At first, Israel’s UN ambassador Ron Prosor denied it had even happened. It took Israel two whole days to lift a gag order on the press and admit Hamas was right all along – Oron Shaul was classified as “missing” in Gaza.
Israel did not expect the humble rockets to make much impact on them, but resistance fire towards Tel Aviv airport forced it to shut down for a time, with international airlines cancelling their flights, and leaving many tourists and Israelis stranded. Poor them! Maybe they know now how Palestinian travellers have felt for more than 66 years.
As American journalist and historian Mark Perry put it, this was a “major strategic defeat for Israel”. Those western liberals who constantly argue against the rudimentary Palestinian right to armed self-defence should take note and update their propaganda lines: there is no credible way you can ever make the argument again that the rockets are “ineffective.”
Mahmoud Abbas should take note too, since he initially criticized the rocket fire. He is noticeably silent now, in the face of overwhelming Palestinian public support for the resistance. Even his own ambassador in London, Manuel Hassassian, admitted on the BBC that the rockets were being fired in “self defence” and should not stop until Israel halts its aggression in Gaza.
Over the past few weeks, talking to Palestinians I know, I have not found a single one who does not support the resistance in Gaza. They have provided an inspiring and uplifting example to their people.
Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, at his press conference in Doha Wednesday, said it well: the political wing of the movement, which he represents, is now in the background and the armed wing holds sway. The Palestinian people are united, not around Hamas’s conservative values (around which there are legitimate differences) but around its example of resistance.
As Meshaal also made clear, Palestinian defence forces in Gaza have proven far and away more of a moral force than Israel – a bloodthirsty enemy which deliberately targets Palestinian babies sheltering in UN schools which their families were compelled to seek shelter in.
The body-count alone tells the story: as of Thursday night, Israel has killed 797 Palestinians in Gaza since 7 July (as reported by the health ministry in Gaza). According to the UN, at least 73 percent of the Palestinian casualties have been civilians. At least 185 of the dead are Palestinian children.
It is clear that Israel is overwhelmingly and deliberately targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure – war crimes under international law.
Palestinian resistance factions, on the other hand (contrary to the media propaganda which slavishly follows Israeli army talking points) stress that they systematically target Israeli military sites.
So far, according to the same UN figures, 37 Israelis have been killed, 35 of whom were soldiers actively involved in the invasion of Gaza. Thanks to its unwavering American and European allies, Israel has sophisticated high-tech weaponry: good for wiping out whole civilian families. But when it comes to the battle field, the Palestinian resistance has the upper hand. They have no other option but to defend their homes and families in Gaza. They have nowhere else to go.
The resistance has given Israel a bloody nose: a shock the enemy will not forget in a hurry. It is true that Israel has butchered hundreds of Palestinian civilians: but it does that in Gaza periodically anyway, without global media attention. Western media only notices Gaza when Gaza starts fighting back.
Hamas is in the process of inflicting a historic defeat on the Israeli army in Gaza. It may not be on the same scale as the defeat that Hezballah inflicted on Israel in 2006, but its repercussions are likely to be felt for just as long.
An associate editor with The Electronic Intifada, Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London.