(AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)
In an interview with Ha'aretz last week, the outgoing head of the IDF in the Gaza Strip, Brigadier General Gadi "Human Shield" Shamni, was at pains to emphasize how different the proposed Israeli withdrawal from Gaza would be from the IDF’s May 2000 withdrawal from south Lebanon. While the unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon was portrayed by some as a victory for Hizbullah, Shamni stressed that if the IDF leaves Gaza it will not be because it is experiencing failures there but, on the contrary, because it has been so successful. "We" - he kept saying throughout the interview - "are winning in this conflict. In the military arena we are winning every day, several times."
Personally, I think that Israel would be doing the right thing in getting out of the Gaza Strip, and that its overarching priority in deciding whether to withdraw should not be "How will the other side spin this?" but "What is in Israel's best interest?". So I would not argue against an IDF withdrawal in principle. Nor would I debate with Shamni over who can better claim to have "won" in Gaza, as such an argument serves no purpose beyond scoring points for the two sides' internal public opinion. The point I would dispute with Shamni is not who has won in Gaza, but the more fundamental one of whether you can ever "win" a military victory at all in an operation like the occupation of the Gaza Strip.
In Victory Of Brutality, Gideon Levy too is at a loss to understand exactly how a military occupation that has left 1.5 million Gazans with nothing to lose and a deep-seated hatred of all things Israeli, translates to "winning":
Winning in Gaza? Winning what? Against whom? It's hard to believe that in this day and age there are still officers in the IDF who talk like this. We've been "winning" in Gaza for 37 years, Shamni even wins a few times a day, but no lesson has been learned. The results of the victory: 1.5 million people imprisoned and destitute, living in subhuman conditions, whose hatred for Israel is only increasing.
To ensure the victory, Shamni introduced an operational routine of an invasion every few weeks using armored forces, straight into the heart of the refugee camps and the slum neighborhoods, on every occasion leaving behind dead Palestinians, many of them innocent passersby. No one is able to explain the point and purpose of this brutal presence, this constant delivering of more and more blows to an already downtrodden population. No one has been called to account for the terrorism that sprouted and will continue to sprout from these futile operations.
In Israel we count only the number of terrorists who are killed, never the terrorists who are born as a result of IDF operations, and the number of the newborn is legion.
Gaza's leading psychiatrist, Dr. Iyaad al-Saraj, agrees with Levy that the most significant product of the IDF's policy in Gaza might just be the creation of a new generation of enemies there. In an interview with Akiva Eldar (scroll down to Palestinian Children In Trauma), he expressed shock, but not surprise, that the most recent suicide bombers (in Ashdod) had been a pair of 18-year-olds from the Jabalya refugee camp in Gaza. Dr. al-Saraj recently carried out a comprehensive study of almost 1,000 young Gazans between the ages of 10 and 19, and discovered that:
- 97.5 per cent were suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome. Some 32.7 per cent of the children had severe symptoms; among the children in refugee camps, that number was 84.1 per cent.
- 94.6 per cent of the Gazan children had attended a funeral.
- 83.2 per cent had witnessed shooting incidents.
- 61.6 per cent had seen a relative killed or wounded.
- 36.1 per cent had been injured by tear gas.
Al-Saraj found that the phenomenon of children unable to smile was rife, and that 13 per cent of children aged 10 to 15 were bed-wetters. He also noted that many children were unable to concentrate in school, expressing the fear that they would go home to find their parents under the ruins of their home.
Photo Album: A child's eye view of life in the Occupied Territories. A collection of news photos - most from the last 30 days - of Palestinian and Israeli children in the Palestinian Territories, with particular emphasis on the Gaza Strip.
Why should these results matter to Israel? Well, whether Israel likes it or not, these children are Israel’s next generation of neighbors. Just as the children of 1967 grew up to organize and fight in the first intifada, Dr. al-Saraj noted that the children of the first intifada grew up to become many of the suicide bombers of the second intifada. And what will the children of the second intifada become? Among the Gazan children he surveyed, al-Saraj found that 25% had no greater aspiration for their lives than to die a martyr at age 18.
In a society where children see their fathers as weak and humiliated by occupying soldiers, and where PA institutions are unable to offer protection, Dr. al- Saraj found that Gazan children looked elsewhere for a sense of strength and community. Inside the family, they found strength in their mothers; outside the family, they found it in …resistance to the Israeli occupation. In contrast to Kuwaiti society, which was demoralized and suffered severe drug problems after its humiliating surrender to Saddam Hussein, it is the ongoing resistance against the occupation that keeps Palestinian society strong.
This is the supreme irony of Shamni’s determination to “win” Gaza by military force. It is precisely the struggle against the IDF’s military operations – which Shamni calls daily victories – that contribute to Palestinian cohesion and unity in opposing Israel. A military strategy based on “winning” small-scale military incursions into refugee camps, which inadvertantly stimulate greater hostility to Israel and give rise to a new generation of militants willing to express that hostility through military action, is not a strategy that serves long-term Israeli interests. Israel needs Shamri's kind of “victory in Gaza” like Pyrrhus needed victory at Asculum.