Friday, January 16, 2009

Gaza Day 21: 1,148 Palestinian Dead, 5,200 Wounded; Lull in Fighting

Different news sources are quoting different casualty figures now. China’s Xinhua claims 1,148 dead and 5,200. Attacks seemed to be tapering off, Wednesday. Yet it was just the calm before the storm. Hamas launched more rockets. Israel put the third phase of Operation Cast Lead into effect driving directly into Gaza city. And now they are publically intimating they may simply pull out of Gaza as unilaterally as they assaulted it.

In Gaza, Hamas is vowing revenge publically, while privately it seems to be considering the issue of relevancy. Given the damage to the economy and infrastructure, what will be their standing vis-a-vis Fatah? The main quantity of Hamas’ soldiers remains intact, though heavily attritted. Morale and cohesion are suffering. Israel seems to be taking direct aim at the psychology of Hamas in this third phase of the attack. Its leadership has also lost key figures, such as Siad Siam, Salah Abu Shreh, Mahmoud Watfah, and others. What will they do when Israel simply decides they are not worth bloodying further?

Israel has by now “won” in every conventional sense of the term as a military operation. What it has lost, and stands to lose further, though, are international relations and long-term security if their victory comes at the cost of world sympathies, sanctions, and increasing hostilities from other states or non-state actors spurred on by the violence they have inflicted.

Israel is now considering unilaterally ending the offensive, though it may thereby make concessions of convenience to the Egyptian-backed ceasefire plan. What Israel would leave on the table is any actual formal agreement with Hamas. Instead, Israel may make a security agreement directly with Egypt, which has its own security concerns with Hamas, as it is linked with the Egyptian radical movement Muslim Brotherhood.

Gaza Casualties to Population Growth and Health

In 2008, Gaza had an estimated population growth rate of 3.42%. For a population of 1.5 million, that is approximately 51,300 more people year-over-year. Thus the losses suffered in this offensive account for 2.24% of their annual growth rate killed, and 10.13% wounded. From a cold, statistical point of view, the war has set back Gaza demographically only by a week or a month of their net gain of healthy population. 0.347% of their overall population has been wounded. About 1 person in 288. The rate of death is 0.077%, or 1 in 1,306.

Yet the 5,200 wounded in Gaza cannot just be written off. Each one represents a family and a family of friends, neighbors, business or political associates. Those casualties will be a “carried” cost for the Palestinian community for decades. Scarred mentalities. Crippled bodies. Raw or hollowed-out emotions. Plus this is only those who have been physically and directly harmed. Add to these numbers those who will suffer from post traumatic stress disorder, or other long-term latent physical or mental illnesses due to the war. They will emerge over years, and will only be discovered over time. Also consider the price paid by the surviving witnesses to the carnage.

The Price of Throwing Stones

After reporting that the rocket fire had died down, more rocket attacks were conducted Thursday and Friday, though the overall trend is at a far reduced rate. Twenty-four rockets were fired at Israel on Thursday, 15 January 2009. One hit Be’er Sheva, critically wounding a 7-year-old boy, and wounding four others moderately or seriously; another landed in the same town, damaging a car. On Friday, 16 January 2009, 15 rockets hit Israel, wounding five people. The attacks were spread across southern Israel, from Ashkelon to Ashod, Eshkol and Kiryat Gat.

It is very easy to paint Israel as the evil-doers, bombing civilians and hitting U.N. targets. They are indeed culpable for acts of war that result in the deaths of innocents. Yet there is an instigatory responsibility Hamas cannot pretend did not occur. It assassinated Fatah leaders and members when it took over Gaza. It continues to inflame hostilities with Israel. It promises death and triumphalism. It began a program of cross-border attacks at Israel: 3,000 rockets were fired at Israel in 2008 alone. Provocations continue to this day.

As the Australian stated of phase three of Operation Cast Lead, “But the vigour with which the [Israeli] attack was pushed home suggests that it was also, and perhaps primarily, intended to impress on Hamas that challenging Israel bears a price.”

Arab and Muslim Reactions: Hot and Cold

Other Muslim and Arab states are starting to weigh in at the Doha conference this week. Qatar and Mauriania froze their ties with Israel. Syria declared its own peace initiative with Israel “dead,” and instigated for other leaders to be more active in opposition of Israel and support of Gaza. “Khaled Meshaal, Hamas's Damascus-based leader, told the opening session of an emergency conference on Gaza his group would not accept Israeli conditions for a truce and would fight on until the offensive ended.”

Many Arab and Muslim states, in particular Egypt, meanwhile, remain cool towards Hamas. Egypt in particular has their own security concerns with the porous, tunneled border and the threat of escalating extremism. It is all very well for states not adjacent to the fighting to instigate for further violence. Egypt, however, is far more likely to side with Israel to end the fighting once sufficient damage is inflicted to Hamas, both its leadership, and its rank-and-file.

Yet what will happen if Israel simply unilaterally withdraws? How much support can Syria garner if their main condition—withdrawal from Gaza—is met without further discussion? Because it would effectively pull the rug out from underneath their position. The situation would return to a status quo ante, albeit with many latent hostile feelings all around. The Israeli incursion would simply have been a punitive expedition. Not to make light of the deaths and injuries, yet it is the nationstate equivalent of “beatings will continue until morale improves.”

To turn the words of Shakespeare on their ear, Israel seems to be asking for Hamas to cry uncle, and let slip the doves of peace. Though their punitive offensive may produce some short-term advantages and defensive benefits, it remains extremely unlikely their offensive will in any way achieve their long-term end-goals of mutual, peaceful coexistence.

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