The strangest aspect of the Gaza war

Click photo to download. Caption: Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal (pictured)—safely ensconced in Doha, Qatar, far from the battlefield—said the Palestinian terrorist group “dazzled the world with her victory” in its recent war with Israel. Credit: Trango via Wikimedia Commons.

By Lawernce Grossman/JNS.org

The strangest aspect of the 50-day war between Israel and Hamas-controlled Gaza came at its close, when the losers enthusiastically claimed to be winners.

Even before the cease-fire was officially announced Aug. 26, Gazans were celebrating in the streets over the Hamas “victory.” Khaled Mashaal, the group’s leader—safely ensconced in Doha, Qatar, far from the battlefield—gave an identical assessment, telling reporters that Hamas had “dazzled the world with her victory.” It was, he went on, “only a milestone to reaching our objective,” the elimination of the state of Israel.

A public opinion poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research soon after hostilities ended demonstrates that this triumphalist mood pervades Palestinian society. Seventy-nine percent of West Bank and Gaza Palestinians believe that Hamas won, 94 percent say they are satisfied with Hamas’s performance, and 78 percent are happy with its defense of Gazan civilians. Seventy-four percent of Gaza respondents and 70 percent of the West Bankers would favor a similar armed struggle against Israel in the West Bank.

Reality is quite different. Hamas secured none of the goals it announced during the war it launched on July 8 with barrages of rockets and mortars on Israel—not an end to restrictions on the movement of goods and persons into and out of Gaza, not the release of Hamas prisoners in Israeli jails, and neither a seaport nor an airfield on Gazan soil. Israel’s sole concession, expansion of the fishing rights of Gazans from 6-12 miles offshore, was a return to the understanding reached after the last war in 2012. Furthermore, the depletion of much of the Hamas rocket supply and the destruction of 34 tunnels leading from Gaza into southern Israel will severely hamper Hamas’s ability to fight effectively, should it initiate a fourth war since its violent seizure of Gaza from the Palestinian Authority in 2007.

If the results of the war belie the celebratory Palestinian reaction, the comparative human and material costs to Gaza and to Israel render it utterly nonsensical. Although evoking fear in the Israeli populace, the Hamas projectile offensive killed just six civilians, the low number due largely to Israel’s early-warning system, public shelters, and Iron Dome interceptors. Sixty-four Israeli soldiers lost their lives, almost all during the ground invasion. Compare that to the official Palestinian count of 2,139 dead in Gaza, most of them civilians because Hamas deliberately fired from homes, schools, hospitals and mosques. That’s a more than 30-to-1 ratio of Gazans to Israelis dead, without even factoring in the many thousands injured, displaced, and left homeless in Gaza. And the economic losses Israel sustained—including direct and indirect damage, lost days of work, and a drop in tourism—pale in comparison to the devastation the war brought to large parts of Gaza. The casualties and destruction mounted as Hamas violated 11 cease-fires and rejected the Egyptian proposal offered earlier in the war that became the final, and so far lasting, end of the war.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was surely right when he said, “Everything that happened could have been avoided. We could have avoided the 2,000 martyrs, the 10,000 wounded, the 50,000 homes.” But that same Palestinian public opinion poll indicating strong approval of the war also shows that were elections held now, former Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza would trounce Abbas by close to a two-to-one margin—and the results would be even more lopsided in the West Bank than in Gaza. Abbas’s free-falling poll numbers suggest that the Palestinian people actually welcome the losses he considers avoidable.

How are we to understand such cognitive dissonance, the celebration as a victory of what, by any objective criterion, was a clear defeat? Abdullah Hamidaddin, a Saudi-born intellectual now living in England, has provided a cogent explanation in the pages of Al-Hayat, translated into English on the Critical Muslims website. “In the heart of every terrorist is a trivialization of life,” he writes, “his own or the innocents’ or both.”

Lawrence Grossman

The tragedy is that this perspective has spread beyond the terrorists themselves into the larger Muslim world. As Hamididdin puts it, “It is almost as if they are thrilled about human loss. … All celebrate death in their own ranks… as much as they celebrate death in the ranks of their enemies—the Israelis.” He charges that this love of death, while not authentic to Islam, has infiltrated the faith to the point that it is now “built into the DNA of our culture” so that “in a way we all belong to ISIS (Islamic State).”

Westerners will find this insight into Muslim thinking difficult to comprehend, but unless it is recognized, confronted, and counteracted, the conflict of civilizations revealed by the actions of Islamic State, Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and Hamas will only widen.

Lawrence Grossman is director of publications for the American Jewish Committee (www.ajc.org).

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Posted on September 8, 2014 and filed under Israel, Opinion.