During the 8 days of the latest war in Gaza, six Israelis were killed. In comparison approximately 180 Palestinians were killed
After eight days of intense Israeli air attacks, the people of Gaza celebrated in the streets when the truce between Hamas and Israel was declared.
Many in Gaza view recent developments as a victory. Unlike the 2008-2009 Gaza war, named Operation Cast Lead by Israel, when Israel launched a unilateral ceasefire, this truce was reached after an agreement between Hamas and Israel. In addition, besides being a mutual ceasefire, it contains conditions that Gaza's border crossings will be opened for travel and the transport of goods.
The day after the ceasefire was announced, Shahd Abusalama, a 21 year old student and blogger from Gaza city, was having dinner with friends in a restaurant. When asked if she believed that the ceasefire will hold, or if the terms of it will be met, she responded: “Tonight we just celebrate. We try to enjoy this moment, we deserve a little joy.”
Shahd Abusalama points to the impact of social media and the support that she and Palestinians in Gaza received via Facebook and Twitter as another important difference between this war and the previous war in Gaza. This broke through the isolation that many Gaza residents felt in 2008-2009. It became evident when she saw the dramatic increase in visitors to her blog, Palestine From My Eyes. The number of visitors rose from a few hundred to over 20,000 a day during the eight days that shook Gaza in November. In addition to the swell in numbers of visitors to her blog she was contacted and interviewed by a number of news outlets in the United States and Europe.
The Israeli army worked hard on Twitter. After Hamas leader Ahmad al-Jabari was killed in an extra-judicial execution, the IDF tweeted a picture of him with the caption ‘eliminated’. Hamas responded by writing that they had “opened the Gates of hell”. This social media war drew a lot of attention. Soon a number of other actors battled it out through their tweets. An Israeli journalist from the Jerusalem Post angered many when she tweeted a call for pet-owners in southern Israel to contact her with stories on how their pets were affected by siren warnings for incoming rockets. The Group Anonymous claims to have hacked numerous official Israeli websites. Israel's Deputy Prime Minister, Silvan Shalom’s Twitter account was hijacked.
Referring to the fact that Twitter hashtags, #Gazaunderattack and #PrayforGaza trended much more than those supporting Israel, Shahd Abusalama believes the Palestinians won the fight on social media. She states: “It was wonderful. This time we knew that we were not alone.” She continues, ”During Operation Cast Lead, we had electricity for only a few hours per day, this time we had electricity most of the time. This meant that we could share our stories and make our voices heard”.
She describes the eight days as one long nightmare. She barely slept, her days and nights were intertwined, accompanied by continuous explosions from the bombs and missiles delivered by fighter jets and helicopters, warships and tanks. Painful memories remerged from the 22 days of bombardment four years ago when 1400 Palestinians were killed. Just like then, the numbers of Palestinians killed accelerated quickly.
To prevent these individuals from being reduced to faceless statistics, Shahd published each person's name and age on her blog. Under the heading “because we are NOT just numbers,” she listed Hamas leader Ahmad al-Jabari first. The day he was killed, the Hamas military chief received a draft proposal for a longer truce with Israel just as the current truce agreement negotiated by Egypt, in cooperation with the Israeli citizen Gershon Baskin, Jerusalem Post columnist, who also participated in the negotiations that led to the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange last year.
The fact is, before the assassination of al-Jabari, there were far-reaching plans for a ceasefire. This raises several questions regarding Israel's motivation to launch Operation Pillar of Cloud.
Next on Shahd Abusalama's list of dead is Mohammed al-Hams, 28, followed by Rinan Arafat, 7, and Omar al-Mashharawi who was only eleven months old. Numbers 54 to 62 list members of single family, al-Dalou. Four children in this family were killed. Among them were Yousef, ten years old, and one-year-old Ibrahim. Circumstances surrounding this attack are unclear. The IDF declared it a mistake, then reported the presence of a military target in the house. But the target, Yahiya Abayah, was not among the dead. The father of the family, Jamal al-Dalou, denies that any such person was ever in the house. He told The Independent, “I have been forced to bury so many members of my family. How can I find words for it? I can ask how they could do this, but there will not be an answer. They don´t care about people's lives.”
Whether or not military targets were present in the home should not have any bearing on the legal status of this strike on this family’s house. It was a family home and as such it was inevitable that civilians would be killed. In an article from the Huffington Post, Sherine Tadros, a journalist from Al Jazeera English and one of the two international reporters on the ground during the last Gaza war, asked whether the presence of what Israel claims is a legitimate target justifies the killing of ten civilians. She also questioned many journalists who uncritically accepted Israel's statement that they had a military target in the house, forcing them to soften their initial more indignant reports of the attack on the al-Dalou home.
Shahd Abusalama explains that many Gaza residents view the ceasefire as a victory for the Palestinian resistance led by Hamas. She believes that the firing of rockets from Gaza is justified because Palestinians have the right to defend themselves against Israel's continued occupation of the Palestinian territories and ongoing colonization of the West Bank. To the objection that both states and armed groups are prohibited under international law from targeting civilians, Shahd Abusalama responds that the firing of rockets must be viewed from the asymmetrical nature of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. “We have no advanced weapons, and they use civilians as targets the whole time.”
International laws make no such exemptions. The targeting of civilians, whether with rockets against Sderot and Ashdod, or the bus bomb in Tel-Aviv, constitute a grave breach of international law. The attacks also reinforced current popular support among many Israelis for the Israeli operation. Unlike the Palestinians of Gaza, many Israelis opposed the ceasefire.
The asymmetry Shahd Abusalama points to is indisputable. The lack of proportion when Israel, a strong military power, uses F16s, Apache helicopters, drones and naval vessels to target the geographically tiny but densely populated and militarily inferior Gaza Strip, is reflected in the number of deaths. Four years ago during Cast Lead, 13 Israelis were killed compared to the 1,400 Palestinians killed in Gaza. Since 2006, when Hamas won the Palestinian parliamentary elections, a total of 47 Israelis have been killed by fire from Gaza. The number of Palestinians in Gaza who have been killed by Israeli fire during the same period is 2,879. During the 8 days of the latest war in Gaza, six Israelis were killed . In comparison approximately 180 Palestinians were killed.
Shahd Abusalama believes that the agreement honours the Palestinian victims. “These people, our martyrs, have not lost their lives for nothing, because the agreement is supposed to open the borders and break the siege”. She goes on to explain that support for Hamas has strengthened in Gaza. “This suffering has united the people of Gaza. The support for Hamas has increased, but it is a victory that is shared by all Palestinian groups and all Palestinians”.