Jonathan Zausmer
Jonathan Zausmer

Distracted: Rockets from Gaza for Dummies

Israel didn’t just blink, it fell into a deep slumber of apathy. The government of Israel, riddled with thoughtless politicians, with a chorus of sycophants misled by a paranoid prime minister facing charges of bribery and breach of faith, is unable to govern, to budget and to lead. No wonder then that it was caught off-guard. And the ground is shaking. Yet there is no awakening. As the saying goes in Hebrew, they fell asleep standing up. All the signs were there. All the red lights were blazing. And in the Middle East, when you are not paying attention, you will  pay a very high price. 

One need not be a genius to understand that almost all the internal conflicts of a serious nature that have taken place from the nascent nation state to modern days have their origin in religious fervor, the city of Jerusalem, and specifically, the Temple Mount, known in Arabic as the Holy Sanctuary. The mufti of Jerusalem, the de facto leader of Arab residents of Palestine at the time, used this tool to fire up hatred during World War II ultimately turning to Himmler and Hitler as as allies. Decades later in late 2000, Marwan Barghouti used the temple mount as the launching base for the second intifada following the failure of the negotiations between Arafat and Barak hosted by Clinton at Camp David. Then too, bad decision-making by the government of Israel allowing Arik Sharon to swagger up there and claim ownership by his presence was the perfect trigger to five long years of terror, hatred, murder and assault of innocents, believing that the State of Israel would crumble. It did not. The intifada ended in complete and total victory for Israel, crushing the Palestinian attempt at slaughter and destruction under the leadership of Yasser Arafat. 

Backdrop

To understand the current situation of massive rocket fire from Gaza upon innocent citizens in Israel, one has to review some facts. 

  • Palestinians and their leadership are split both geographically and ideologically. In the West Bank the population is led and governed by the Fatah group who back in 1988 recognized Israel’s right to exist. In Gaza, following an Israeli withdrawal, the area of Gaza was overrun completely by the Hamas organization. A minor civil war took place and Fatah leaders were either murdered, imprisoned or fled to the West Bank. The rivalry between these two major groups is viscous and merciless. Some say worse than the bitterness between Israel and the West Bank leadership now controlled by Mahmoud Abbas of the Fatah faction, who succeeded Arafat.
  • The Hamas organization is an Islamic supremacist ultra-religious Palestinian faction, highly militarized and financed by Qatar, Iran and other states. They are in full control of the citizens of Gaza. They reject Israel’s right to exist and see their mission as conquering Israel and evicting Jews from the State of Israel, thus reclaiming Palestine. Hamas is entrenched with deeply anti-Semitic roots, educating their children with propaganda and a violent disposition to Jews. Their main source of weaponry is rockets, mortars and tunneling in order to destroy civilian Jewish residents both nearby and further afield deep in Israel, as part of a strategic methodology. A population  of some 2 million souls are entrapped within the Gaza enclave and cannot enter Israel for work or other needs, due to the security threat this presents. 
  • Hamas controls Gaza with an iron fist, and any challenge to their regime is crushed. However they allow other fanatical factions such as the Islamic Jihad, to pursue attacks on Israel, using them as a proxy to create havoc, when needed. Hamas was the main organization responsible for suicide bombings during the second intifada.
  • Democracy for Palestinians has failed at every turn, thus any and all attempts to create and respect the results of elections have failed. One of the main sources of dispute between Hamas and the Abbas regime is Abbas’s refusal to honor the national vote for  Hamas representatives in the Palestinian National Authority (the PNA) who would have been a majority. Thus Abbas has been the head of the Palestinian Authority without elections since 2005. 
  • Abbas has tried to keep the peace between Israel and the Palestinian west bank in order to restore the economy and recover from the dire results of the second intifada, however he has lost support due to this. All attempts at a full peace arrangement with Israel have failed with both sides to blame

So how then did the current situation arise?

The backdrop is once again the Old City of Jerusalem and the temple mount. During the current fast of Ramadan, many Palestinians made their way to pray at the Al Aqsa mosque at the Holy Sanctuary. The police took a more extreme position of caution at the main entrance to the city, blocking off access to the Damascus Gate, a gathering place for locals and those Muslims who come to visit the holy sites. This caused friction and unnecessary tension. 

Not far from the Old City of Jerusalem in Eastern Jerusalem, once under Jordanian rule before the Six Day War, many Palestinian families lived in a suburb called Sheikh Jarrah. However, there were also Jewish families that lived there long before until 1948 when Jerusalem was divided after the war of Independence. This suburb and the entire area of Jerusalem was recaptured following Jordan’s mistaken decision to attack Israel in 1967.

Sheikh Jarrah is a highly charged environment for Jews and Palestinian Arabs alike. In 1948 a terrible atrocity occurred there when Jewish  Nurses and Doctors passed through the suburb on the way  to the Mount Scopus hospital nearby. The convoy was attacked and a massacre of medical staff took place with bodies burned and worse atrocities. 

After 1967 and until the present Israeli-Jewish settlers have managed to seize back properties once owned by Jews before 1948, thus evicting Palestinian families living there and creating tension. This tension has worsened over the years and at this time became a devastating flashpoint for conflict. 

Palestinian elections were declared to be held on the 22 May 2021 which would have included Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza, however Mahmoud Abbas feared a humiliating defeat and cancelled the elections using a fake excuse. This enraged Palestinians of all factions.

Israeli elections. At this very time, concomitant to the unrest in Jerusalem, an outgoing government is currently in charge, with a leader, Mr. Netanyahu under serious charges; and an alternative government is about to be formed. This new government would have wide Israeli Arab support if formed even though in the past the Arab parties in Israel have neither supported or joined a government since the inception of the Knesset. The reasoning for this is that a large section of Israeli Arab citizens wish to be a full part of the economy, the decision making process and rule of law with all the rights and obligations. This situation is anathema for Hamas and is viewed as Palestinian capitulation. 

A lesson for Israel in strategy. The confluence of massive dissatisfaction by Palestinians with the Abbas regime, the disruption in Jerusalem and the Holy Sanctuary during Ramadan, the friction at Sheikh Jarrah and the willingness of Israeli Arabs to be a part of the “Zionist” government was identified by Hamas leadership as a unique opportunity to gain support and backing from the entire Palestinian population which had been deeply divided, to create havoc within Israel and to disrupt any attempt by Israeli Arabs to support a new government. Thus with the correct dose of inflammatory polemic, followed by full scale rocket attacks, Hamas hopes to disrupt trust, support the new generation of Palestinian youth within Israel and in the West Bank, attempt to create an upsurge within Israel itself and destroy the Israeli government about to be formed before it gained any traction. 

A full blown rocket fest which creates Palestinian national unity, disrupts government formation in Israel, locking down Israeli citizens in their homes and reminding the world that Hamas is a force to be dealt with as opposed to an aging Mahmoud Abbas and a corrupt Palestinian leadership, was the skilled reasoning and fast thinking of Hamas leadership. 

The government of Israel was caught off guard, asleep on its feet.

Note: As there is a large body of information condensed into this fairly brief overview please feel free to ask questions in the comment section and I shall try to briefly reply, however no doubt others will contribute more facts, information and opinions.

About the Author
Originally from South Africa, Jonathan made aliya in the seventies, and lived and worked on a kibbutz for several years. He has a graduate degree in business from Boston University and is a managing partner of an Israeli based business. He was a co-founder of the Forum Tzora peace action group and participates in the Geneva Initiative workshops. He is the author of the book “Valley of Heaven and Earth”.
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