Who Really Won?

Yesterday, Ismail Abdel Salam Ahmed Haniyeh, leader of the Palestinians in Gaza, crawled out of the bunker in which he hid for the last 50 days. Much of the world laughed when he claimed victory in no uncertain terms.

Israel was under pressure to accept a ceasefire. The pressure came from beyond our borders – this is unacceptable; and the pressure came from the calendar – and this is understandable.

The ceasefire was announced to begin at 7:00 p.m. – I saw a few places that said it would begin at 8:00 p.m. If indeed it began at 7:00 p.m., Gaza clearly broke it within minutes.

The final barrage delivered dozens of rockets – including in areas in central Israel and resulted in the death of two Israelis.

All day long, on that 50th day, Gaza pounded us with rockets – over 100 hit in the Eshkol region very close to the Gaza border.

In the end, two interesting things happened around 8:00 p.m. Gaza came out into the streets to celebrate their victory and Israel accepted that this war may finally be over.

The idea of Gaza celebrating was both amusing and informative. It was amusing because once again, Gazans fired into the air to celebrate and once again, gravity defeated them and dozens were evacuated to local hospitals. How hard is it to understand the concept of gravity?

But also, there is something quite interesting in their choosing to celebrate. This is a people that shouted that we were committing genocide and had destroyed nearly all of Gaza. It would take, they swore to the world, decades to undo the terrible damage.

From 1939 to 1945, the Germans committed genocide against the Jewish people. Any Jew was their target – old, young, male, female. Over 1.5 million Jewish children were murdered.

And in the devastation that followed the Holocaust, Jews did not celebrate  – not with guns and not with candy. The first time I think we celebrated collectively was three years later, when Israel was created … recreated, after 2,000 years in exile.

If one were to do a statistical analysis of the casualties of the Holocaust, one would find that babies died in proportional numbers to elderly; men in similar numbers to women. I would guess, young people in their late teens and twenties had a better chance of survival because they were put to work by the Nazis.

Overwhelmingly, Jewish men in their late teens, twenties and even thirties had a better chance of survival than women, children, the elderly.

What we see from the statistics of dead in Gaza, is the opposite – and for a reason. An overwhelming number of men these same ages were killed in Gaza. Children are by far well under-represented, as are women and elderly. In other words, a large number of the dead in Gaza were military age males…connect the dots.

A retrospective of 50 days at war – the longest single operation/war we have ever experienced – shows unequivocally that Israel hit Hamas hard, very hard and yes, Hamas didn’t fall. To the very last minute – and fifteen minutes beyond, Hamas continued to fire rockets, even at Tel Aviv.

Throughout the day, as it became clear that there would be a ceasefire, Hamas bombarded Israel with rockets. In total, almost 5,000 rockets were fired at Israel in just 50 days.

Hamas continued – but not because we didn’t cause them any damage. Instead, it is part of the mindset – as completely inaccurate and twisted as their claiming victory in the end.

During many journeys, someone often asks, “Are we there yet?”

Clearly, even with a ceasefire, we aren’t “there.” For Israel, “there” would be peace and anything short of that goal represents a continuation of war.

It’s been a long time since I believed we would ever get there. The only difference now, post war, is that so many more Israelis now stand beside me in believing that peace is not possible so long as Hamas is the legally elected representatives of the Palestinian people. A poll released today says that 89% of the Palestinians are in favor of firing rockets at Israel. 89% – that tells you so much about the enemy we face.

Someone wrote to me complaining that nothing had been accomplished. I don’t agree with her and think she is being unfair, especially since she lives in the US, not here. I shouldn’t have to explain to her and yet I find myself trying to break through the militant voice she so easily spews out. She demands that Israel destroy Hamas even if it means flattening every building in Gaza. I try to explain that destroying Hamas without destroying Gaza is virtually impossible but like a child she focuses on one while ignoring the consequences of the other.

It isn’t enough, for her, that we did a tremendous amount to push Hamas back. Tunnels were destroyed; their top military leaders removed permanently from the equation. Their rocket arsenals have been seriously depleted.

In January, 2009, during another “operation” to end the rocket fire on southern Israel, I wrote that a mosque cannot be an arsenal and an arsenal is not a mosque. This is true of hospitals and schools as well. The minute UNRWA schools were used to store rockets, they ceased being schools and became legitimate military targets – even Ban-Ki Moon admitted that.

Of course, we were condemned by the UN and France, Germany and and others for daring to destroy these arsenals because of the shapes and sizes of the buildings in which they were stored. But that’s okay, because we value the lives we save more than the voices we would hope to have silenced by not bombing these targets. A German woman lectured me about genocide and I thought I would be ill. There are things that even 70 years does not erase.

In terms of time – that is basically what this war bought us, like the previous operations, it will take Hamas years to recuperate, to get back to the level they were 51 days ago. Is that enough? No – it stinks that we can’t utterly and completely remove Hamas forever from the picture. But Hamas played this brilliantly and did all it could to show the world its true colors. If the world is too blind to see or too filled with hate to admit this, that is their loss, and ours.

Foreign journalists, reluctantly and resentfully, in some cases, ultimately added their voices and pictures to show Hamas firing from civilian areas, hiding behind children, and lying about the number of casualties.

Like many in Israel, I wish we could have finished the job, permanently buried Hamas. Without question, we brought Hamas to its knees and that will have to be enough. If the Palestinians can honor a leader that hid underground while his people took the brunt of the war he waged, that is their loss and their naivete. A victory for Gaza and Hamas? Not by a long shot.

For Israel, day 50 ended in a ceasefire. The signs on the highways warning that you should pull safely to the side if you hear a siren, have turned back into regular highway signs warning you to check your tires, or offering a number to call in case there is an accident. The flags and signs remain – the people aren’t quite as ready as the government to believe this is over.

Benjamin Netanyahu has claimed victory. This is to be expected of a politician and yet, despite the politics of it, he’s right. Ultimately, the victory is ours because as a nation, we did what we could to protect our young and now we stop this war for them. As I wrote many times, we are a nation that builds bomb shelters for our children, not bunkers for our leaders. We put our children in safe rooms, not on the rooftops of buildings that our enemy has warned will be targeted.

In protecting them, they were mostly inside this summer (and sometimes even there they weren’t safe. Our children were awakened night after night and rushed into bomb shelters, or put to sleep there, only to remain there most of the day. Soon, they will start school and, as children do, they will bounce back. The message was delivered, to our enemies, but also to our children. For you, we would do all and despite many political differences, with this I agree with Bibi.

The reality of the Middle East could have been changed in this war, had we been allowed to do what needed to be done. Instead, the history and the future, at least for now, will be the same. We will all bounce back…and then, in a year or two or three…we’ll do this all again in an operation or a war with a different name.

About the Author
Paula R. Stern is CEO of WritePoint Ltd., a leading technical writing company in Israel. Her personal blog, A Soldier's Mother, has been running for more than 5 years. She lives in Maale Adumim with her husband and children, a dog, too many birds, and a desire to write her thoughts and dream of a trip to Italy, Scotland, and beyond.