Alex Stein
Writer, translator and tour guide based in Jerusalem

Who started it – setting the record straight

In a war of attrition, either side can find a chicken or an egg to suit their purpose. As a result, who-started-it debates are often beside the point. But, given a particularly disingenuous timeline that’s being passed around by the likes of Electronic Intifada and Mondoweiss, it’s important to set the record straight.

Ali Abunimah summarizes the timeline as follows:

When there was calm and an effective truce, Israel chose to shatter it, bringing about the current deadly situation. In general, Palestinians fired rockets, or attacked the Israeli army, as a response to Israeli attacks, seeking to avoid escalation and publicly embracing a truce.

The chicken, in this case, supposedly emerged on November 8th. Abunimah quotes the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights’ (PCHR) description of what happened during an IDF incursion into the Strip near the village of al-Qarara north-east of Khan Yunis:

They leveled areas of Palestinian land amidst indiscriminate shooting. A few hours later, they moved southwards to ‘Abassan village. They opened fire indiscriminately and levelled areas of Palestinian land. An Israeli helicopter gunship also opened fire at the area. At approximately 16:30, as a result of indiscriminate shooting by IOF [Israeli occupation forces] military vehicles, 13-year-old Ahmed Younis Khader Abu Daqqa was seriously wounded by a bullet to the abdomen. At the same time he was shot, Ahmed had been playing football with his friends in front of his family’s house, located nearly 1,500 metres away from the area where the IOF were present. Abu Daqqa…died of his injuries.

A serious observer would ask the following questions of PCHR’s account. First, if the IDF opened fire indiscriminately, why was only one civilian killed? Second, why was the IDF carrying out this operation? Was their purpose to kill Abu Daqqa? Or was there some other objective? A closer look at the reports of the clash (not quoted by Abunimah) reveals the IDF’s side of the story; namely, that soldiers were carrying out a routine patrol along the border fence in central Gaza, discovered three explosive devices and neutralized them, before returning fire into an adjacent field. Later that day, a soldier was lightly injured by mortar shells fired at an IDF force on the border with southern Gaza.

It’s true that the events of November 8th did lead to a spike in the violence (there had been few rockets during the previous fortnight; and one mentally ill Palestinian man had been killed by IDF troops when he approached the border fence), which is why it’s important that we try to understand what happened. Given their partisan nature, it’s difficult to fully take either PCHR or IDF claims at face value. But the implication that the IDF deliberately murdered Abu Daqqa in order to engineer an escalation that would give Israel the pretext to assassinate Ahmed Jabari is not credible.

The reliability of Abunimah and the Institute for Middle East Understanding is further called into question by their decision to leave out of their timelines a November 6th explosion along the border fence that injured three Israeli soldiers on patrol. Some “lull” in the violence. But this is the backdrop of their attempts to portray Jabari as a peacenik who was capable of maintaining calm in the Gaza Strip – this in a year when around 700 rockets had been fired at Israel before his assassination (in contrast to 200 in the year following Cast Lead in 2010 and 600 in 2011).

Still, this shouldn’t alter the suggestion I made at the outset; namely, that a ceasefire is a tactical and not a moral arrangement. Both sides will use and abuse moments of calm so as to meet their strategic goals. Events did become more serious after November 8th, although the suggestion that it was a cynically engineered episode or that Israel set out to kill the teenager is blatantly absurd. Unfortunately, though, coming from the representatives of a supposedly non-violent movement (BDS) who can’t bring themselves to condemn Hamas’s use of rockets to target Israeli civilians, it is to be expected.

About the Author
Alex Stein is a writer, translator, editor and tour guide based in Jerusalem. He is one of the founding editors of the Tel Aviv Review of Books. His Substack is