New Internationalist

Who won the ‘war’ in Gaza?

The ceasefire between Israel and Hamas was officially just for a week, set to end on 25 January. There is no certainty about what will happen next. People in the Gaza Strip are certainly desperate for the ceasefire to continue - they have seen enough blood spilt, most of it civilian, including the blood of almost 300 children killed by the Israelis during their 22-day onslaught on Gaza.

Even before the bodies of dead Palestinians were dug up from underneath the shattered, rubble-strewn streets of Gaza, both Israel and Hamas were loudly claiming victory. Hamas Prime Minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, claimed the war had ended in 'a popular victory for Palestinians', and other Hamas leaders claimed the Palestinian resistance was unbowed, while Israeli PM Ehud Olmert confidently reiterated that the Israeli military campaign in Gaza had 'more than achieved its stated goals'. The fact that an estimated 82 per cent (or 1062) of the victims in Gaza were civilians had no tangible effect on either leader's bombastic claim of having beaten the other.

According to the Israeli press, Hamas presented Israel with four conditions to the week-long ceasefire; the immediate withdrawal of Israel troops from Gaza, resumption of humanitarian aid into Gaza, the free flow of trade into and out of the Strip, and the opening of Rafah Crossing in the southern Gaza Strip in order for Palestinians in Gaza to secure freedom of movement without having to enter Israel. Hamas claimed that, if these conditions were met, the ceasefire could be extended for up to a year.

The Israeli troops have already withdrawn to the Gaza border, and some humanitarian aid has entered Gaza this last week - but, although hordes of international journalists have crossed over Rafah into Gaza this week, the Rafah Crossing is still closed to Palestinians, bar a few critically injured civilians being transferred to Egyptian hospitals. And the only free trade coming into Gaza at the moment is through the hastily reconstructed tunnels in on the Gaza/Egyptian border in Rafah. Neither Israel nor Hamas would dare to be seen as yielding to the dark side in order to preserve the ceasefire, so the grim likelihood is an uneasy truce that will continue for a few months before rupturing into violence in the face of mutual mistrust and hatred.

For Hamas, civilian deaths are an inevitable part of the Islamic national struggle against the Zionist oppressor, and every 'martyr' dies in the name of Palestine. For Israel, its obsession with national security justifies the overwhelming number of victims in Gaza being civilian 'collateral damage'. These dangerously entrenched positions encapsulate their mutual obsession with defeating their mutual enemies: each other.

But ask any Palestinian civilians in Gaza who won this 'war' and they will instead tell you who lost. Gaza is hanging onto a semblance of normality by a fragile thread, and people are physically frightened about what could happen next if the ceasefire implodes. My friend Mona lives in Tal Il Hawa, which was one of the brutally bombed areas of Gaza City. She says she, her husband and their three young kids are lucky to be alive. During the worst attacks in Tal Il Hawa, the streets surrounding her house were on fire, and her roof was partially destroyed by an Israeli rocket.

'They say the war in Gaza is over,' she tells me over the phone. 'And here we are, alive, but back to having no electricity, no cooking gas, no fuel, and no certainty. We have nothing left to stand on. This was a war against the civilians here - and we lost.'

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