Hamas claims to have won the most recent round of fighting in Gaza. Its public demonstrations and flag waving may have been more muted than in previous rounds, but its nevertheless claims to have dealt a killer blow to the Zionist enemy.
Forget the almost 15,000 homes which have been destroyed, the 1,500-plus fatalities, many of whom were women, children and innocent civilians, or the fact that undeveloped, poverty-stricken Gaza has become even less developed and even poorer. It points to the fact that it has engaged the might of the Israeli army, continued to fire rockets over the border into Israel, disrupting normal life, causing panic, and boasts of killing upward of 60 Israeli soldiers. At the end of the day it has forced Israel, even indirectly, to enter into cease-fire negotiations.
In its eyes, and in the eyes of tens of thousands Gazans and Palestinians around the world, this is a victory.
As for those Palestinians who don’t see this self-inflicted devastation as a victory, they remain silent out of fear. Or are silenced.
The Israeli government, and in particular Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, also claim victory. They conveniently ignore the fact that the rockets and missiles continued to fly into Israel even after the end of the ground campaign, disrupting normal life, causing damage and civilian fatalities. Israel has, so the official narrative goes, severely damaged the military capability of Hamas, destroyed most, if not all, of the tunnels from Gaza into Israel (about most of which it would appear we had little, if any, prior knowledge), and dealt Hamas a blow from which it will be unable to recover.
As for those Israelis who don’t exactly see this as a victory – either because they argue that Israel should have continued its ground battle and completely destroyed Hamas, or because they understand that military confrontations between the two sides will never solve anything as long as serious negotiations aimed at long-term conflict resolution don’t take place – they too (especially the latter) have adopted a self-imposed silence, as the Jewish public rallied around the government in this time of war. Unity is the word for as long as the fighting continues, saving criticism of the government for the return of political normality to the country.
While Israel will point to the structural damage inflicted upon Hamas and its leadership, Hamas will point to the fact that it successfully held out against the Israeli army and that, perhaps more important than any other factor in its eyes, negotiated a cease-fire with a mortal enemy that refuses to recognize them as being anything else than a terror organization.
Each side sells its own narrative.
The winner, the killer punch on this battlefield is the single picture of a destroyed school or hospital along with dead children and women, innocent civilian collateral casualties.
No amount of proof that Hamas is responsible for hiding its missiles behind women and children, or of the human damage inflicted upon Israelis by the unceasing firing of missiles, forcing them to evacuate their homes, can counteract the intensity of emotions aroused by these pictures.
Just as there is no such thing as proportionality in war, neither is there rationality or logic in the way that the message is disseminated. The media battlefield is as important as the missiles and the tanks. Even if, in the eyes of the international community, Hamas has come over as a ruthless terrorist organization, hiding behind women and children, carrying out public executions of their domestic enemies on the fabricated grounds of collaboration with Israel, and is associated in many minds with the scary terrorist fundamentalism of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, it remains the winners of the media and cyber war.
Instead of winners, we have a lot of losers.
Economically, Gaza is the big loser.
Take out your calculators and start number crunching. Tens of thousands of dollars for every one of thousands of missiles fired by both sides. The cost for the Palestinians of a devastated infrastructure and the need to reconstruct thousands of homes over a period of many years just to get back to the situation they were in two months ago. The cost to Israel of the damage caused by missiles, the call-up of 80,000 reserve soldiers, thus disrupting civilian life, along with the immense cost of a ground operation involving expensive and sophisticated military technology.
The end figure, however it is calculated, runs into the hundreds of millions, even the billions of dollars, which exceeds most of the aid and assistance poured into the region over a period of 20 years. If just 20 percent of that amount had been invested in improving the conditions inside Gaza prior to the conflict, the Gazan economy and its public services would have been somewhere else today. Instead it has been bombed back into a situation from which it will take many more billions and many more years just to return to where it was – with few, if any, significant political gains on the way to statehood and independence.
Politically, Israel is the big loser.
Are we safer today than we were two months ago? The disruption of normal life inside Israel has marked a significant change for the worse in the country’s security posture. The days when Israel’s wars were fought out in the territory of the neighboring countries, while the home front was safe and secure and life continued as normal, are behind us. The days when we only engaged (militarily or as part of a negotiation process) with the governments of neighboring countries are also behind us as we are forced into direct confrontation, and indirect negotiations, with Hamas and Hezbollah, who have become strong at the expense of the weakening of states.
If we have to run for shelters in Tel Aviv, then we are fighting a battle which we could never have dreamed of following the Six Day War and Yom Kippur War. The missiles may not threaten the existence of the state, which remains strong, but they do threaten the security and safety of the citizens of Israel in a way which would have previously been considered inconceivable. And, as such, we are the losers.
There are no winners out there.
That will only come about if and when serious negotiations aimed at long-term conflict resolution take place. This requires leadership, which is sorely lacking on both sides.
Lacking such diplomatic efforts, the latest cease-fire signals no more than a brief respite (maybe three to four years at the most) until the next round of military confrontation, in which both sides will continue to lose.
The writer is dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Ben-Gurion University. The views expressed in this article are his alone.