Despite all the rhetoric about the Palestinian issue, such as it being “the Arab’s first cause”; the central, principal, existential and mother of causes; the initiator of revolutions and coups; and the justification for astronomical military spending, and so on; despite all of this, we, as Arabs and for more than 70 years, have never seriously fought against Israel. Our wars with it were always brief and we always deployed in them more propaganda and speeches than dedicated military planning. We never prepared long or well for them and we never showed patience or endurance. Most of those wars were waged against us rather than us waging a jihad. Even the 1948 and 1973 wars, which were initiated by the Arabs, were brief, confused and with limited political objectives; they were nowhere near decisive liberation wars.
In order for the picture to be clearer, let us compare the Bosnian war (1992-1995) with the entire canon of Arab-Israeli wars. The Bosnians fought with the determination of a full “independence war”; they had to either win completely or be defeated completely. They dedicated all their effort, sacrifices, men and women for that war. They did not consider the problem of the balance of power nor did they pay much attention to the unfavourable international or regional circumstances. They suffered bitterly due to being let down and being conspired against. Yet, they made use of what was available to them, whether it was a little or a lot. They dealt with whoever was prepared to help them irrespective of motives and irrespective of sincerity or insincerity. Diverse parties that rarely converge rallied around them: the Saudis, the Turks, the Iranians and even the Malaysians from the far end of the globe all played a role. What mattered for them was victory. Had they hesitated or had they given priority to the “wisdom” of those who advised them to “accept whatever little your Serbian enemy was willing to throw to you and then negotiate with it”, they would have today become an oppressed minority that negotiates with a racist Serbian entity that hates their guts.
This is what the Divine has ordained would happen with any people who seek “full freedom”: Algeria, Vietnam, Ireland and Nazi-occupied Europe are all examples. Freedom comes at a cost; its price involves blood and death. This is not mere rhetoric but a recurrent political and historical analysis.
The Palestinian is the only one who has not fought a long war for freedom since his historic revolution in 1936, which was almost decisive; until the war raging in Gaza right now. This is because the Palestinian handed over his cause to the Arabs and the Arabs have their own reckonings and rulers and their rulers have their own interests and priorities. Whenever they lost a war with Israel they would abandon Palestine and its people to their own fate and return to their own countries to renovate them and protect whatever remained in order to continue ruling. They would be content with sending the Palestinians promises, speeches and poems. What mattered for them was for the party to survive and for the leader to survive and for whatever remained of the homeland to survive so that the regime would stay in power.
The Ramadan 1435 (2014 CE) War is a different type of war. It is a purely Palestinian war from start to finish. This is something we have not seen before. The Arabs are standing completely aloof. In fact, most of them have shown displeasure and impatience. However, the Palestinian has been able to impose his decisions on all. This is how Hamas leaders Khaled Meshaal and Ismail Haniyeh appeared, taking pride as they spoke confidentially, spelling-out new conditions and describing a new reality. They have revived the Palestinian issue.
Everything in this war is new, including the weapons that entered Gaza; how did they enter despite the siege? Thousands of rockets entered a small country that is besieged from the land, sea and air. This fact alone is a miracle. Some people thought the tunnels were for bringing in rice, sugar and diesel as well as a few machine-guns and some explosives. They were closed, destroyed and filled with water. Yet, tons of explosives came through and so did hundreds of rockets. Smuggling 7 metre-long Grad rockets was a miracle. How did they pass through? Did they come through the tunnels or by sea? Hamas possesses hundreds of them; how did they do it? No one can believe that it benefited from the year that deposed President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood were in power in Cairo. Is it possible that Egypt lowered its gaze during that time allowing the rockets to cross the border? Really? Everyone knows that Morsi did not have a free hand in terms of military and intelligence affairs. Israel and its intelligence must be busy trying to resolve the riddle in order to prevent it from recurring. However, if Hamas under siege was able to smuggle all these weapons, something that the late President Yasser Arafat was unable to do and was punished severely for merely trying despite heading an organisation with extensive international contacts and resources, then the movement can do it again.
The distinguished combat performance of its men and the huge network of tunnels that extends for miles under Gaza and the borders with Israel and Egypt were used brilliantly to inflict unprecedented losses on the enemy; they will be used and reused whenever the enemy invades. All of this proves that the movement wasted no time while ruling in Gaza. The Israelis acknowledge this performance and are apprehensive. This could be the biggest deterrent that will prevent Israel from invading the Strip and reoccupying it. Perhaps Hamas wants Israel to do just this in order to engage in a long war of liberation, a war that will inevitably spill over into the West Bank which is also boiling and might end up overturning everything established post-Oslo.
Another significant accomplishment made by this stubborn Palestinian combatant has been the national unity shown by the people of Gaza and their readiness to sacrifice; their readiness to die rather than return to a humiliating life under an inhumane siege. The Israelis are left with nothing but the complete destruction of the whole of Gaza. However, who can finish off a million Palestinians?
The other new and important thing is that the Palestinian today is, unlike in previous Arab wars, the one imposing ceasefire conditions. He has nothing left to lose. He is not concerned about an Israeli threat to bomb or occupy Cairo, Amman or Damascus. At one time that was the weak point of the Arab armies when they were defeated. With the stubborn Palestinian combatant Israel has lost that sharp edge, for he has been under occupation, anyway, whether in Ramallah or in Gaza. In the meantime the Israeli moves freely and does what he wills across the West Bank. Direct occupation is not in the Israeli interest and the Palestinian combatant knows this very well and is using it for his own good. This is truly a new fact.
The new thing, above all, is that the Palestinian is ready for a long, long fight. This is a strategic transformation. If he could maintain this solid fighting doctrine, he will change the rules of the Arab-Israeli conflict. He will be a stronger negotiator and will gain the respect of the world, which respects only the strong and despises the weak.
Had the late Bosnian leader Alia Izetbegovic surrendered earlier, having been wounded severely and having seen his people die in their thousands in massacres perpetrated in front of the entire world, even under formal European protection, then US President Bill Clinton would not have moved in August 1995 against Europe’s wishes and led NATO to bomb the Serbs and force them to come to the negotiating table to accept the independence of Bosnia Hercegovina.
No one will bomb Israel. But should the Palestinian hold fast this time, the peace negotiations, which failed several months ago despite the eagerness and optimism shown by US Secretary of State John Kerry, will get more serious and will cover the real causes of the of the war in Gaza; and will cover the occupation and the siege not only in Gaza but in the West Bank too. At that moment, the Arabs would have to join the stubborn Palestinian combatant, aiding and supporting him, and should forget everything they said and did or did not do during this time of Arab decline.
Translated from Al Hayat newspaper, 27 July 2014
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.