Escalation in Gaza
Bodies for Ballots
Yousef Munayyer takes a careful look at the history of casualties between Israel and the Gaza Strip.
They say when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. But when you are a politician and all you have is a hammer, you must convince voters every problem looks like a nail. This is the only thinking that can explain Israel’s behavior in escalating bombardment of Gaza.
The Israeli spin machines are out in full force in the hopes of convincing Israelis and the rest of the world that the attacks on Gaza are in self-defense. But anyone following the situation closely and over time will tell you that cannot be the case.
Gaza is a tiny territory where 1.7 million Palestinians, most of whom are refugees, are denied the right to return to their homes simply because they are not Jewish. It is from this besieged territory that militants have fired mostly rudimentary projectiles at Israel. While Israeli officials are quick to rattle off the numbers of projectiles fired from Gaza, rarely do they tell you what they fire into Gaza, what the effects of this fire is and what the fallout from it is.
For example, in 2011, the projectiles fired by the Israeli military into Gaza have been responsible for the death of 108 Palestinians, of which 15 where women or children, and the injury of 468 Palestinians, of which 143 where women or children. The methods by which these causalities were inflicted by Israeli projectiles breaks down as follows: 57 percent, or 310, were caused by Israeli aircraft missile fire; 28 percent, or 150, where from Israeli live ammunition; 11 percent, or 59, were from Israeli tank shells; while another 3 percent, or 18, were from Israeli mortar fire.
Through September 2012, Israeli weaponry caused 55 Palestinian deaths and 257 injuries. Among these 312 casualties, 61, or roughly 20 percent, were children and 28 were female. 209 of these casualties came as a result of Israeli Air Force missiles, 69 from live ammunition fire, and 18 from tank shells. It is important to note that these figures do not represent a totality of Israeli projectiles fired into Gaza but rather only Israeli projectiles fired into Gaza which cause casualties. The total number of Israeli projectiles fired into Gaza is bound to be significantly larger.
For context, consider this: more Palestinians were killed in Gaza yesterday than Israelis have been killed by projectile fire from Gaza in the past three years.
But the Israelis are also keeping another issue quiet. If you follow the dynamics of fire you will learn two things. First, the vast majority of projectiles from Gaza result in no injuries or deaths. Second, most of them are fired during “flare ups” which are initiated, more often than not, by Israeli strikes which cause significant casualties. Hamas has in the past worked to clamp down on factions firing projectiles, like Islamic Jihad and others. But when Israeli strikes target these organizations and kill and injure Palestinians in Gaza, it ignites responses that lead to flare ups.
In short, what this means is that if it chose to modify its strategy, Israel could have likely dropped the number of projectiles it saw coming from Gaza significantly. Israel could coordinate with Hamas through third parties like the Egyptians; positive things like truces and prisoner exchanges have happened in the past. But the strategy Israel chose was not one of restraint or diplomacy.
The problem Gaza presents for Israel is that it won’t go away—though Israel would love it if it would. It is a constant reminder of the depopulation of Palestine in 1948, the folly of the 1967 occupation, and the many massacres which have happened since them. It also places the Israelis in an uncomfortable position because it presents a problem (in the form of projectiles) which cannot be solved by force.
Israel does not like to admit it doesn’t have the military might to accomplish something. But when it comes to relations with Palestinians, and with Gaza in particular, there is no military solution.
Israel has tried assassinating Palestinian leaders for decades but the resistance persists. Israel launched a devastating and brutal war on Gaza from 2008 to 2009 killing 1,400 people, mostly civilians, but the resistance persists.
Why, then, would Israel choose to revert to a failed strategy that will undoubtedly only escalate the situation? Because it is far easier for politicians to lie to voters, vilify their adversaries, and tell them ‘we will hit them hard’ than to come clean and say instead, ‘we’ve failed and there is no military solution to this problem.’
With Israeli elections around the corner, the right-wing Israeli government chose the counter-productive path of escalation even though civilians would pay the price and their domestic opposition rallied behind them.Trading bodies for ballots is an equation Israeli leaders are happy to be engaged in, especially since all the ballots are Israeli and the bodies are almost always Palestinian.