On July 24 alone, 116 Palestinians were killed in Israeli strikes against Gaza. That was the 17th day of Israel’s war on Gaza, in what it termed as ‘Operation Protective Edge’, which began on July 8. The feared land invasion followed on July 17. Gaza, a small and impoverished strip of land that has been under a hermetic siege for seven years straight, was shelled from air, land and sea. July 27 ushered in a death toll that surpassed the 1,050-mark. Gaza is currently standing in ruins. But will it surrender?
Sentimentalities aside, when a poor place, populated with refugees, and sealed off completely by its neighbours, is under such an atrocious war by a power that is deemed the strongest in the Middle East, surrender may seem like an obvious probability. Gaza’s fighters from Hamas, Islamic Jihad and various socialist and secular groupings are armed with improvised weapons. Comparing the military machines of both Israel and the resistance is even a preposterous notion to compel much research and elaborate infographics: The resistance’s homemade rockets vs the finest state-of-the-art killing technology that US-European-Israeli weapon experts can muster.
But why is Gaza still standing? How can it be that the resistance is still holding on for this long? It did so also in previous Israel-instigated wars — most notably in ‘Operation Cast Lead’ from December 2008-January 2009 and ‘Operation Pillar of Defence’ in November 2012. How often does Gaza’s infrastructure need to be obliterated before the impoverished strip is to wave a white flag? Gaza’s morgues are filling up beyond capacity. There is no room for Gaza’s injured, especially as hospitals were themselves targets of the Israeli military. Schools were too. According to Mohammad Omer, reporting from Gaza, seven UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency), which served as shelters, were bombed on July 24 alone. Dozens were killed and hundreds wounded.
But following every Israeli strike, the resistance would re-emerge from the ruins of Gaza and strike back. Scores of Israeli soldiers were killed as the resistance fought them back, refusing to concede an inch without a fight to death. For those of you who are swayed by Israeli and western propaganda, one thing must be clarified: Palestinian fighters repelling murderous Israeli attacks are not terrorists. Many UN resolutions have clearly-worded language granting Palestinians and all oppressed nations the right to resist, including the use of arms. UN General Assembly Resolution A/RES/33/24 (November 29, 1978) reaffirmed “the legitimacy of the struggle of peoples for independence, territorial integrity, national unity and liberation from colonial and foreign domination and foreign occupation by all available means, particularly armed struggle.”
The Palestinian liberation struggle was singled out on more than one occasion, including in UNGA resolution A/RES/3246 (XXIX) (November 29, 1974), which specified armed struggle for “notably the peoples of Africa and the Palestinian people”. Needless to say, Israel’s terrorism is practised on a massive scale, although spineless western media and their outposts throughout the world refuse to apply such a description. The Massacre of Shejaiya, on July 20, resulted in more than 100 victims — all civilians. Their bodies were piled up on the streets of Gaza’s impoverished neighbourhood in images reminiscent of the Israel-orchestrated massacre of Palestinians in Sabra and Shatilla in September 1982. The destruction is overwhelming and it is everywhere. Palestinians are lamenting that nowhere is safe. Regardless of this, the resolve is strong and the people of Gaza will not surrender.
Gaza’s bravery is almost a distinctive phenomenon. It is unmatched. Yet the resistance movement in Gaza is often misrepresented intentionally at times, and at other times innocuously. In the heat of the information battle that has ensued since Israel unleashed its latest war, many facts and essential contexts have gone missing. Historically, Gaza has been a hub for uninterrupted popular resistance since the ethnic cleansing of Palestine at the hands of Zionist militias and later by the Israeli army, from 1947-1948. An estimated 200,000 of Palestine’s then nearly 800,000 refugees were forced into Gaza, under the most squalid and humiliating conditions.
Despite the shock of war and the humiliation of defeat, Gazans fought back almost immediately. There was no Fatah, no Hamas, and no siege — in comparison to its current definition — and Gazans did not organise around any political factions, or ideologies. Instead, they assembled in small groups known to Gazans as ‘fidayeen’ or freedom fighters. The prowess of those young refugee fighters was on full display in November 1956, when Israel invaded the Gaza Strip and large swathes of Sinai following the Suez Crisis. Egyptians fought the Israeli army with much courage, but the Palestinian garrison based in Khan Younis — a major target in the latest Israeli war — refused to surrender. When the fighting was over, Israel moved into Khan Younis and carried out what is now etched in the Palestinian collective memory as one of the most horrific mass killings in Gaza’s history — a massacre of 124 men and boys in the Rafah refugee camp, known as Al Amiriyah School Massacre.
Palestine’s fiercest resistance today, the Izz Al Din Al Qassam Brigades, was formed by a small group of pupils in the central Gaza Strip. These were poor refugees who grew up witnessing the brutality of the occupation and the abuse it invited into their daily lives. The first young men who started Al Qassam were all killed shortly after the inception of their group, but what they started has since become a massive movement of thousands of fighters.
Resistance in Gaza, as in any historical inevitability, can never be interrupted. Successive Israeli governments have tried extreme measures for decades, but failed. After the 1967 war, Ariel Sharon was entrusted with the bloody task of “pacifying” the headstrong Strip. Then the head of Israeli army’s southern command, he was nicknamed the “Bulldozer” for good reason. He bulldozed homes, thousands of them, to pave the way so that tanks and yet more bulldozers could move in and topple more homes. Modest estimates put the number of houses destroyed in August 1970 alone at 2,000. More than 16,000 Palestinians were made homeless, with thousands forced to relocate from one refugee camp to another. Sharon’s bloody sweep also resulted in the execution of 104 resistance fighters and the deportation of hundreds of others, some to Jordan and others to Lebanon. The rest were simply left to rot in the Sinai desert.
It is the same “terrorist infrastructure” that Sharon’s follower, current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is seeking to destroy by using the same tactics of collective punishment and applying the same language and media talking-points. Just by taking a quick glance at the history of this protracted battle — the refugees versus the Middle East’s “strongest army” — one can say with a great degree of conviction that Israel cannot possibly subdue Gaza. You may call that a historical inevitability as well.
Ramzy Baroud is the Managing Editor of Middle East Eye. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London).