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How protests against Israel (and Flagman) saved lives in Gaza

Ali Abunimah


Carlos Latuff

EI, August 23, 2011

Israel appears to have backed away from an even more massive assault on Gaza – for now – largely because of protests in Egypt and the broader sense that Israel "lacks legitimacy" to carry out more aggression despite assured diplomatic cover from the United States. This is an enormous victory for people power, and as a result lives have undoubtedly been saved.

In recent days Palestinians in Gaza, hearing the sounds of Israeli warplanes, explosions and drones all around them at all hours, worried that Israel was preparing to launch a massive assault on Gaza similar to "Operation Cast Lead" in 2008 which killed more than 1,400 people, injured thousands and laid waste to civilian infrastructure.

Israel’s unprovoked attack on Gaza following Eilat operation

Beginning on 18 August, Israel launched an unprovoked series of air raids and extrajudicial executions in Gaza, as reprisals for the Eilat attack earlier that day in which unknown assailants killed 8 Israelis including two soldiers, according to official Israeli accounts.

Despite its initial accusations, Israel has provided absolutely no evidence that the Eilat attack had anything to do with Gaza. Nonetheless, Israel went on a killing spree which took 14 lives in Gaza, including a 2-year old child, a 13-year-old boy, a doctor and several members of resistance factions.

Prior even to the Eilat operation, Israel had continued its wanton-killing-as-usual in Gaza, with the execution-style murder of Sa’d al-Majdalawi, a mentally disabled teenager, who was shot ten times in the head by Israeli occupation forces on 16 August.

Yet despite the horrifying toll, Israel has backed away from an even bigger assault as it agreed on a truce with Palestinian factions who had been firing rockets back at Israel in response to the Israeli air raids on Gaza.

One Israeli civilian was killed in the city of Bir al-Saba ("Beersheva") as a result of a Palestinian retaliatory strike.

So far the truce appears to be holding.

Israel "lacks legitimacy"

Israel’s cabinet "voted yesterday to refrain from any action that could lead to an escalation in the south and to cooperate indirectly with the truce Hamas declared on Sunday," Haaretz reports today.

The newspaper adds:

What emerged most clearly from Netanyahu’s and Barak’s statements to the cabinet was that Israel lacks the international legitimacy needed for a large-scale operation in Gaza. The diplomatic crisis with Egypt further constrains Israel’s freedom of action.

"The prime minister thinks it would be wrong to race into a total war in Gaza right now," one of Netanyahu’s advisors said. "We are preparing to respond if the fire continues, but Israel will not be dragged into places it doesn’t want to be."

Several Netanyahu aides detailed the constraints on Israeli military action, most of which are diplomatic.

"There’s a sensitive situation in the Middle East, which is one big boiling pot; there’s the international arena; there’s the Palestinian move in the Untied Nations in September," when the Palestinians hope to obtain UN recognition as a state, one advisor enumerated. "We have to pick our way carefully."

The newspaper acknowledged that military deterrence – the inability of Israel to defend effectively against retaliatory rocket fire from Palestinian resistance factions – played a lesser but nonetheless significant part in halting the escalation.

People power stopped the Israeli attack

What is clear is that the "diplomatic" constraints on Israel are not driven by world governments which remain largely silent and complicit in face of ongoing Israeli crimes.

Rather it is governments being forced to respond to people power – especially in Egypt, where tens of thousands of people rallied outside the Israeli embassy in Cairo, in protest at Israel’s killing of five Egyptian military personnel during the Eilat operation, and Israel’s attacks on Palestinians.

The protest produced a new popular hero, Ahmad al-Shehat – the so-called #Flagman – who scaled the 22-story building in which the embassy is located and replaced the Israeli flag with Egypt’s.

My own assessment during the events was that despite its belligerent rhetoric, killing spree and threats – including a gruesome one by war minister Ehud Barak to decapitate people – Israel would not go much further, as I explained in several tweets on 20 August:

Ali Abunimah’s Twitter

Israel wants to "retaliate" for misery it brought on itself by its unprovoked attack on Gaza, but I don’t think it wants major escalation
Aug 20 via Twitter for MacFavoriteRetweetReply

Ali Abunimah’s Twitter

Israel’s prime concern now is to preserve treaty with Egypt & keep Egyptian military junta onside. Major attack on Gaza will make that hard
Aug 20 via Twitter for MacFavoriteRetweetReply

Ali Abunimah’s Twitter

I hope I am right about this, but with Israel you never know. It’s consistently shown itself capable of insane, cruel and pointless violence
Aug 20 via Twitter for MacFavoriteRetweetReply

Ali Abunimah’s Twitter

Arab Regime support/Camp David Treaty gave Israel free hand in past. Today, "the street" is a real factor restraining Israel.
Aug 20 via Twitter for MacFavoriteRetweetReply

Ali Abunimah’s Twitter

Some tweeps say 20,000 people outside Israel embassy in Cairo now. How many will be there if Israel invades Gaza?
Aug 20 via Twitter for MacFavoriteRetweetReply

Ali Abunimah’s Twitter

Right now – thanks to collaboration of Abbas PA – West Bank is quiet. What if it rises up? Many uncertainties for Israel.
Aug 20 via Twitter for MacFavoriteRetweetReply

Ali Abunimah’s Twitter

Israel is caught between needing to show its own people dead Arab bodies and the reality that it is strategically more constrained than ever
Aug 20 via Twitter for MacFavoriteRetweetReply

Israel is terrified of nonviolent people power

As the Haaretz report demonstrates, Israel’s war leaders reached much the same conclusions that Israel is tightly constrained. And while the protests in Egypt were the most immediate factor, we can infer that the broader region context does not favor Israel’s usual wild behavior.

Since the mass Nakba day protests by Palestinian refugees at the Israeli-controlled frontiers with Lebanon and Syria, Israel has been terrified of similar mass nonviolent protests breaking out within the West Bank.

In June, top Israeli military officials warned that the army could not stop mass protests of even a few thousand people. As Haaretz reported:

"A non-violent protest of 4,000 people or more, even if they only march to a checkpoint or a settlement, and especially if the Palestinian police does not deter them, will be unstoppable," one IDF officer claims. "Such a great number of determined people cannot be stopped by tear gas and rubber bullets."

Another high ranking IDF official serving in the territories claimed that "if we are to face protests similar to those in Egypt or Tunisia, we will not be able to do a thing."

So not only actual protests, but even the mere threat of mass, nonviolent, popular protest can constrain Israeli occupiers.

And no doubt, the broader international solidarity campaign, including the flotillas to Gaza, efforts to bring Israeli war criminals to justice through universal jurisdiction, and the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign are forcing Israeli leaders to internalize that their actions "lack legitimacy" and carry consequences.

Despite a solid wall of official international complicity, for Israel, killing Arabs is no longer as cost-free as it used to be. This is thanks to popular action.

But we can never be complacent: the message for all engaged in popular solidarity work and protest for Palestinian rights is: onward! Not only do these actions bring justice and equality closer, in the short term they can even save lives.

:: Article nr. 80749 sent on 24-aug-2011 11:45 ECT


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