Despite Daily Agonies, Is there Still a Space for Optimism?



How did the Palestinians Experience the Last Days of 2008 and the First of 2009?

At a time when people around the world were busy preparing for the year’s biggest celebrations; the New Year count down, in Gaza people were busy counting the piles of dead bodies after the Israeli government launched a massive attack just five days earlier. The military operation is thought to be the biggest since 1967 and has taken the lives of almost two hundred people only on the first day of the attack. While the declared Israeli target is Hamas movement and its infrastructure, Palestinian sources say that civilians are the primary victim of those attacks, perhaps that explains Israel’s declaration moths ago, which considered Gaza as a whole an “enemy entity”.


In June, Hamas and Israel have agreed on a ceasefire that was due on the 19th of December, few days before the end of the truce Hamas declared that it doesn’t intend to renew the ceasefire, as Israel continues the blockade of Gaza. On the Israeli side, Tsibi Livini the Israeli Foreign Minister continued her public relations campaign advocating Israel’s “right to defend itself” in the face of Hamas rockets. After days of the beginning of the attack, one wonders whether Livni was preparing the world for the attack or seeking legitimacy to the means it used.

The situation in Gaza prior to the military attack was anyhow catastrophic, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) described the situation as “a profound human dignity crisis”. The consequences of the blockade continue to be “profound, pervasive and difficult to reverse” and the obtainment of the basic daily needs have been consuming to people to the extent that many express a “sense of being trapped, physically, intellectually and emotionally.” [1] 

Despite the Israeli official statements, no one was prepared to such a wide scale operation. Samah Tayeh, a university student from Gaza says “No body expected the massacre that we are living now; on the 27th of December we woke up just like any other day and headed to our schools and jobs. I personally was at my university preparing myself to enter an exam when the bombing started very close to my campus, we were terrified; many of my female classmates fainted”. She assures “In the same area there are schools of children, those were in their classes when the attack started, this shows that people did not anticipate this coming”. Baha’ Inaya, a Gazan Engineer describes the ground situation “Bombing is still going on by Israeli forces, all means are used including F-16 fighters, helicopters and rockets. At the beginning, the targets were mainly stations of security forces, but later the operation expanded and targets also included police stations, societies, organizations and other infrastructural facilities. Those targets are just in the middle of residential areas; because of the nature of the surface in Gaza and the high density of population the casualties are obviously civilians”.

Between fears of death and fears of starvation Gazans spent most of last week indoors, waiting helplessly for what would come next. Reda Al Khoudari another citizen of Gaza says” when the planes are flying over and dropping bombs you don’t know where the next target is going to be, each site including civilian ones is a target.  There is almost no one in the streets except for those going to buy necessities or those going to pay condolences to families of martyrs. Imagine that in my neighborhood alone there are twelve condolence houses”. Indeed, even though Palestinian political leaders including Hamas regularly bet on people’s steadfastness, frustration has got to many Palestinians both in West Bank and Gaza. Reda comments “From what I see, I think the morale of people is quite down, maybe we are just stubborn and do not want to show it, but deep inside there is a feeling of bitterness and frustration”.  Samah Tayeh says “I cannot think of a way to describe the psychological situation of Gazans, it is constantly going from bad to worse, five days including the nights under this aggression, people are extremely tensed and all they’re doing is anticipating where the next bomb is going to fall”, she continues “This war was not only a military one it was also psychological; the Israeli occupation forces have since the very beginning attempted to frighten people through warning messages on mobile and land telephones or using notifications asking people to evacuate their houses, many families are homeless and have no where to go, while children, women and old people are in panic”.

With the accumulated shortages in basic supplies, fuel, electricity, water and medicine, Gaza’s hospitals and medical facilities are unable to cope with the new offensive. Hospitals are running out of space and supplies and operation rooms are overwhelmed with casualties. Dr. Wael Ka’dan, Director of the Medical Services Administration in the Palestinian Red Crescent, states that “the situation is tragic, to say the least … it is hard to specify any particular need; we are in need for everything, from food and shelter to medicines and various type of relief items”. When asked whether their teams are capable of dealing with intensity of the military operation he said “Our teams are working now with all their capacity in various locations and under the shelling, thus the delivery of aid to those in need is still extremely difficult, a ceasefire will definitely ease our mission. Our biggest fear is the launching of a ground operation; such operations are normally even broader; it might completely paralyze our movement”.  

Potential Political Scenarios

Politically there are now a number of factors that might determine what the Palestinian political scene in 2009 will look like. Perhaps the most important determinant is the Palestinian internal divisions, those divisions were clear during the crisis in Gaza and might be accentuated by the end of Abbas’s mandate this January.

In addition, if the upcoming Israeli elections in February bring more extreme actors into the political setting as many are predicting, a progress in peace talks in the short-term might be very tough indeed. The new American administration will likely also be a major factor on the scene. Many believe that President-Elect Obama’s latest appointments, whom many view as too pro-Israel, reveal the administration’s stand toward the Palestinian-Israeli issue. Saed J. Abu-Hijleh, a lecturer in Political Geography at An-Najah University in Nablus, explains “Obama’s choice of Rahm Emanuel, an ardent Zionist and a staunch supporter of Israel, as his White House Chief of Staff has sent a very negative message to the Palestinians and Arabs, raising the frustration and diminishing the hopes for a changed US policy in the region“. But regardless of that, the question of whether peace in the Middle East will be a top priority for the new administration remains open, Ahmad Al Nimer, a student from Nablus, fears that the “Palestinians will only hear promises of an independent state. The new American President has more important things to do, like the economic crisis”.

In the light of the latest events, the whole talk about a Palestinian-Israeli settlement seem improbable. Palestinians both in West Bank and Gaza have been even before the 27th of December critical about the resumption of peace talks, precisely because of the continued occupation and severe blockade. Now, the Palestinian-Palestinian unity is certainly the top priority on the national agenda, Mohammad Sabaaneh, a cartoonist from Jenin, believes that “there is clear popular refusal to this internal division, however we cannot yet talk of an organized movement with a clear national agenda.”  He blames “the Palestinian left camp for not being able to steer this inherent aspiration for unity, with lack of a serious leadership and the declining confidence in our leadership I consider it unlikely to see a solution any time soon”. Prof. Abu-Hijleh predicts that “2009 will witness a strong resurrection of Palestinian civil society involvement in the political process”. He also predicts “a delay in the Presidential and legislative elections”.

In Gaza, Baha’ Inaya points outIf common interests did not unite us maybe blood will. It is not the first time Gaza is targeted, yet the situation brings up the necessity of an evaluation; we need to revise our national agenda and the tools used in resistance. Israel is using all its power to impose its agenda, what are we doing? I think that Hamas needs to seriously revise its position“. Reda Al Khoudari also has a similar opinion “I don’t think that internal politics will get any better; the past experiences proved that while politics divides, resistance unites us“. Samah thinks that the current crisis might actually be a reason for unity “I think that the Israeli attack will bring us all together as it demonstrated that resistance is our only choice to get our rights back”

 A Change in 2009?

Despite all these complications, is a change possible in 2009? Are Palestinians still optimistic? Prof. Abu-Hijleh is rather pessimistic “I believe that the year 2009 will be a decisive year for Palestinians on all levels: politically, economically, socially, and culturally. Things will get much worse before the international community realizes it has to effectively intervene to exert pressure on Israel to stop its Apartheid policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians. US and Israeli involvement will continue to institutionalize the division between the West Bank and Gaza jeopardizing Palestinian initiatives for national reconciliation and unity. More US money will be injected in the West Bank in support of the PNA to sustain the diminishing credibility of Abbas.”

Baha’ Inaya believes that “Israel is making the best benefit from this situation and therefore I don’t think it is interested in completely eradicating Hamas; neither as a military power nor as a popular political force”. Reda isn’t sure she will witness a change “I don’t know if I will live to see the year 2009” she slightly smiles and continues “with the situation on the ground, I find it hard to make predictions, the tension is making it so hard to think of anything else but the bombing. After this I imagine that something new might come up, maybe an international force will enter Gaza”. Samah concluded saying “How can one predict any good at the beginning of this New Year while we are sleepless and experiencing this fear, I think we got into a phase where there is no going back”.

Samah asked to pose a question to the reader “I keep hearing on TV and radio about democracy and human rights and I was always wondering whether those sophisticated terms are only applicable in rich countries where people know nothing about poverty and wars against humanity or are we also eligible to those rights?”


One Response to “Despite Daily Agonies, Is there Still a Space for Optimism?”

  1. Very good article Mira… salaam min Falasteen 🙂

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