Against a modified backdrop of Shakespeare’s play “Romeo and Juliet”, altered to evoke symbolism of the political differences between Hamas and Fatah, journalist Donald Macintyre notes the absence of reconciliation. The prologue to “Gaza – preparing for dawn” (OneWorld Publications, 2017) is deftly constructed to give the reader insights into the social, political, economic and humanitarian aspects of life in the besieged enclave.
From the early attempts at Zionist colonisation, to the present circumstances, Macintyre has woven historical information, political manipulation and the repercussions of Israeli violence against Palestinians into a fast-paced narrative. The timeline followed by the author allows the reader to place Israeli aggression within the political context, highlighting aspects which also portray international complacency when it comes to the colonial entity’s violations of international law. After the Nakba in 1948 and the 1967 war, the author states, settlement expansion “convinced many Palestinians that Israel felt no real pressure to end the occupation.”
For Palestinians, the Oslo Accords consolidated this dynamic. Macintyre calls the Accords “a historic compromise” by the Palestinian leadership, a term very much favoured by PLO Secretary General and former negotiator Saeb Erekat in his attempts to condemn Israel while refraining from crossing any boundaries that could result in a rhetorical shift. Further observation by the author on the absence of Palestinian freedom as enshrined in the Oslo Accords is the manipulation of such a concept: “By conferring a measure of autonomy in the Occupied Territories without the promise of a state, Israel was transferring to the Palestinian leadership responsibility without power.”
Applied to the rest of the book, power becomes ambiguous, particularly within the context of Gaza. Blockaded, subjected to several forms of political aggression, isolated, bombarded and disregarded to the point of becoming a focal definition of the term “uninhabitable”, Macintyre looks at the ways in which Gaza became a source of both focus and alienation, depending upon the actors involved. One such example is the dispelling of discourse which is now becoming a regular occurrence when discussing the coastal enclave. Now designated as “uninhabitable” by the UN, Macintyre reminds us that at the time of Israel’s disengagement from Gaza in 2005, the World Bank had deemed the territory unsustainable. Disengagement itself also requires attention to refrain from discussing it within a colonial framework; the author points out that it marked the beginning of the blockade on Gaza and was also the prelude to Israeli aggression, including the three military offensives from which the Gaza Strip has been unable to recover psychologically, economically and socially.
There is enough background in the book to portray the context in which Hamas gained both in relevance and popularity. However, there is less analysis as to why the Middle East Quartet refused to engage in diplomatic talks with Hamas unless the movement compromised its ideals. Macintyre quotes an EU diplomat who stated that the international community was amenable to the elections in 2006 as a means to eliminate the movement politically, but “there was no plan B for if they would actually win. Everyone said they would lose.” The diplomatic narrative is clearly portrayed, yet there is little explanation of how ostracising Hamas would lend Israel additional impunity for its violations against Palestinians under the pretext of security concerns.
As the book discusses overt aggression against Palestinians in Gaza, starting with Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s security narrative is exposed, with the author showing the collusion between Israel and the international community, notably the US. It is here that Macintyre becomes more explicit: “The Tel Aviv government was reflecting not only Israeli but US policy, which was not to try and prevent a large-scale military assault by Israel on Gaza, but to do everything to justify it once it happened.” Yet, Israeli brutality, from a political and psychological perspective, is also, at times, obscured. Macintyre refers to an account by an Israeli sergeant about a group of conscripts laughing – during dinner – at the recollection of a murdered Palestinian woman whose limbs were “smeared on the wall”. The soldiers’ reaction as described by the author does not take into consideration the crude disregard for Palestinian lives which sustains Israel’s colonial violence: “You have to assume that the young conscripts’ semi-hysterical laughter was a nervous reaction, a manifestation of delayed shock.”
Atrocities committed during Operation Protective Edge are also tinged with normalisation of violence that suits the Israeli endeavours for impunity. The murder of the Bakr children who were playing on the beach and, according to the IDF, mistaken for Hamas naval commandos, is recalled by the author thus: “There is no reason to doubt that this was indeed a case of mistaken identity, although as with the Samouni case in Operation Cast Lead the outcome casts serious doubts on the usefulness of the IDF’s visual surveillance.”
Another instance of leniency towards Israel is Macintyre’s discussion of the colonial entity’s granting of a travel permit to one of its victims, Mohammed Badran, whose father was a communications specialist for Al-Qassam Brigades. Badran was left “blinded and disfigured” following an Israeli air strike on his home. Children, the author says, are not responsible for their parents’ political choices. This he claims, “was implicitly recognised by Israel when it granted a permit for Mohammed Badran to travel abroad for treatment, first in Jordan and then in Spain.” The statement, however, ignores the proven premise that Israel is founded upon various forms of aberrant, macabre violence and out of its thousands of victims, it only seeks to compensate anyone on the rare occasions which serve it well for propaganda purposes.
The same goes for the tunnel network for which Hamas is routinely vilified. Lack of employment opportunities in Gaza have contributed towards a shift of jobs directly associated with Hamas, including the construction of the tunnel network. Recognition of this fact also prompted a statement from the author that the tunnels “also pose a genuine security threat to Israel.” Resistance and resilience are not threats; they are responses to the security threat that is Israel per se against Palestinians in their own land.
The book is highly informative and written in an engaging style, navigating the humanitarian repercussions of diplomacy and impunity well, particularly through the shared experiences of Palestinians in Gaza and the obstacles which hinder the fulfilment of their dreams. The political interpretations of Palestinians in Gaza are well brought out and reflect the vacuum in which resistance and dependence battle each other, both within the context of survival.
While Macintyre does not hesitate to describe the impact of Israel’s violence and how this affects the daily lives of Palestinian civilians, the instances where such violence is normalised has an impact on the overall achievements of this book. The absence of hesitation, for which Israel is notorious when it comes to its continuous violation of international law, would have been portrayed more effectively without attempts to occasionally indulge in a narrative which sets back the book’s purpose, that of defining the precarious political and humanitarian situation in Gaza.