Al Ahram Weekly
15 – 21 January 2009

The Palestinians refuse to succumb to defeat in the face of flagrant Israeli war crimes. Saleh Al-Naami reports from Gaza

In an interview with Yediot Aharonot’ s online edition in Hebrew, Israeli Colonel Mikey Sharbit spoke of the “ferocious” resistance the Israeli occupation army has encountered in Gaza. Speaking from his hospital bed after being injured in northern Gaza Sharbit, who previously served as an artillery commander in the 2006 war on Lebanon, denounced the Israeli media’s disregard of the competence of Hamas’s fighters and the nature of the ground war the Israeli army has experienced in the past two weeks.

“It’s a war of ghosts,” he said. “We don’t see the fighters… they emerge as if from underground. We move on the ground with the feeling that beneath us an underground city of ghosts is moving too.”

Such statements illuminate the gap between what Israel’s political leaders are saying and what its military commanders are experiencing since the war started on 27 December. The latter insist that Hamas’s Ezzeddin Al-Qassam’s Brigades have not been affected and remain capable of pursuing the battle for the foreseeable future. Even Rony Daneyl, Israel’s Channel 2 pro-war military commentator, told audiences this week that he is prohibited by the army from referring to the problems it has encountered on the ground and which have deterred it from advancing almost three weeks after the start of the war and despite the hundreds of tons of missiles the Israeli air force has showered on the Palestinians.

Such comments are being made amid growing evidence that Israel is routinely using weapons banned by international treaties. Hassan Ashour, director of Gaza’s Dar Al-Shifa Hospital, the Strip’s largest, is horrified. Speaking to Al-Ahram Weekly, Ashour described the injuries and wounds sustained by the killed and injured arriving at the hospital as “absolutely unusual”. Ashour cites Mads Gilbert, a Norwegian doctor who previously worked in Iraq following the US invasion and who joined Al-Shifa’s medical staff last week to help out.

“The doctor told us that what he saw on the bodies of the Palestinians in the hospital showed evidence of chemicals, similar to those the US army used on the Iraqis in 2003.”

Palestinian medical sources tell the Weekly that Israel is “clearly using white phosphorous” in its strikes on densely populated Gaza. Severely deformed corpses and the “charred bones of the bodies” all point to the use of white phosphorous. International rights groups’ in Israel, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, confirm the charges.

As the Israeli occupation army pursues its war on Gaza into a fourth week it has failed to provide evidence of any significant military achievement, let alone the destruction of Hamas. Instead it continues to take revenge on innocent civilians.

Last Thursday a pilotless Israeli drone fired a missile that targeted two 15-year-old boys, Mohamed Elian and Siyah Abu Soweirah, as they were playing football west of the Al-Nasseryat refugee camp in central Gaza. Mohamed’s head was blown from his body. Siyah’s skull was broken in two, spilling his brains on the ground. Following the attack the Israeli army claimed it had “liquidated” two Hamas fighters. There is nothing new to such cynical claims. Palestinian medical sources report that of the 1,000 Palestinian killed so far, 80 per cent are civilians, 35 per cent of them children.

Israel says 13 soldiers have been killed during the ground offensive. Hamas says the figure is much higher.

Meanwhile, Israel’s political elite is becoming increasingly aware of the futility of a military campaign that is nowhere near its objective of eradicating Hamas. Arguments are now raging to resort to even tougher measures to resolve the war quickly. Former Israeli deputy prime minister Avigdor Leiberman, head of the Yisrael Beiteinu (Israeli is our home) party, said on Tuesday Israel should treat Hamas the way the US treated Japan in World War II, when it dropped atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Leiberman, who spoke to students at Bar Illan University, said “this is the only solution and means we won’t need to reoccupy Gaza”. It is a discourse criticised by Israeli commentators such as Aureet Dghani of Maariv. The war on Gaza, she wrote, shows that Israeli society knows only the language of war. Israelis run to war because they “hate peace and believe that power is the only option to achieve objectives. Wars run in our blood… we have ignited a war two and half years after the last war we got ourselves into. How can Israel claim it is a peace loving society?” she asked.

Frantic diplomatic initiatives are afoot to try and stop the bloodbath. Egyptian talks with Hamas did not seem to be realising a breakthrough yet after the movement, together with several Palestinian factions, expressed serious reservations over the original text of the initiative.

Egyptian negotiators included amendments to accommodate some of Hamas’s demands.

Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine have originally said the terms would effectively end Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation. Particularly subject to the reservations of Hamas and other resistance factions was the nature and mandate of the international security presence expected in Gaza according to the original text of the initiative. Moreover, Hamas and the factions took exception to the 10-15 year extended truce that Egypt is hoping to secure. Especially disturbing to Hamas is that the end to the blockade imposed on Gaza is not made simultaneous to the conclusion of the agreement but left pending “subsequent discussions”.

Wednesday, Hamas spokesman Osama Hemdan said in Beirut there had been “some progress” after the Egyptian side attempted to address Hamas’s reservations.

“The only exit for us,” said Hemdan, “is a cessation of Israeli hostilities, Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, an end to the blockade and the opening of border crossings,” he told Al-Jazeera.

Walid Al-Modalal, a Palestinian professor of political science, told the Weekly that current diplomatic proposals for a ceasefire “aim to deprive Hamas of any political gains once the war ends”. Palestinian, Arab and Western parties which reject Hamas’s control of Gaza, he continued, were “betting on Israel’s ability to remove Hamas from power when it started the war.”

“Now that Hamas has showed steadfastness these same parties want to deny the movement any leverage with the Palestinian people. By pressuring Hamas to accept a ceasefire without gains they want to damage Hamas’s standing with the Palestinian people and show them that they paid an enormous price for nothing.”

Arab states are sharply divided over the situation in Gaza. On Tuesday Qatar called for an urgent Arab Summit to be held in Doha next Friday. So far 14 Arab states have agreed to attend though both Cairo and Riyadh have announced their refusal, preferring instead to attend a consultative economic summit in Kuwait next Sunday. The absence of Egypt and Saudi Arabia will cast a heavy shadow over Doha tomorrow.