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Opinion: What Happens When the Fighting Stops? - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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As mourners comfort each other over the passing of their loved ones, they often wish that the loss will be “the last of sad times.” But they are not aware that, in doing this, they unintentionally overlook the fact that sadness at the calamity of death only ends when life itself does.

They are not aware, either, that the countdown to the end of someone’s life starts from the moment of their gestation. Such mutual consolation over the shock of death seems to be a way of trying to cope with this painful reality, whether this is realistic or not.

Persistent intransigence often causes more tragedies for people already facing danger and pain, as is the case with the continuing inferno of the Gaza war, where helpless people are enduring enormous torments.

But, I must say here that the space for opinion should be wide enough to accommodate all opposite and different views, regardless of what is being discussed. For a long time, many issues have led to a disagreement between pundits and commentators in the Arab media. The past four years have witnessed a proliferation of events which have spilled over regional borders: from Tunisia to Egypt, to Libya, and from Iraq to Syria, through Lebanon, also reaching Yemen and Bahrain, and now Gaza, where war is raging. The expression of opinion about these developments has become so fiery that it has gone beyond all reasonable bounds.

Words such as “accusation of betrayal” or “outbidding” are now in common use. But the question is: Is there any cause for this? No. Each party should respect the acceptable bounds of difference in opinion. The Palestinians critical of the policies of Hamas, or any other Palestinian group, should not flout the legitimate right of a people on any land to resist foreign occupation.

On the other hand, the proponents of Hamas, or other parties, should not go too far in trying to belittle those who hold opposite opinions, or go even further and accuse others of betrayal while praising themselves. It would be better for them to think twice and remind themselves that Palestine is a homeland to all Palestinians, irrespective of their different views or stances, as long as the basis of their difference is their loyalty to the homeland and keenness to make a better future for succeeding generations.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is preparing his people for a prolonged ground war, with air and sea support. What is the reason for this? It is to dismantle the infrastructure of Hamas’s weapons and rockets, namely the destruction of what is left of a network of tunnels stretching from eastern and northern Gaza toward Israel and westwards toward the sea.

I was surprised during the first week of the war by this talk about the tunnels. The most likely reasons for it is that the Israeli media machine has been blowing the issue of the tunnels out of proportion, as part of the propaganda war. It has long been said that truth is the first casualty of war, a rule with no exceptions.

Israel has now stepped up its ground offensive, turning a deaf ear to criticisms from the rest of the world over the gruesome scenes of killing and the rising death toll in Gaza, particularly among children. Tel Aviv’s attempts to justify its barbarism caught my attention. It claimed that both Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad launch their rockets from these tunnels.

When I investigated the matter further, I was surprised to be told that many Gazans were themselves surprised by the presence of these tunnels. Someone told me: “There may be a tunnel under my house that I am not aware of.” Another told me that Israeli military analysts claim there are 3,000 well-built tunnels linking Gaza to Israel, but up until a week ago Israel had only been able to destroy 35 of them.

When I asked my interlocutor if this was an exaggeration, a part of the propaganda war, he answered in the positive. But I told him that if it was true that Hamas, within seven harsh years of ruling besieged Gaza, could build half this number of tunnels without Israel being able to stop them, this in itself would be a success. It would be a success that the movement, and every Palestinian, would have the right to be proud of, given the injustice done to them, which goes so far as to deny them the opportunities to fulfil their potential like other human beings.

The argument that the resources used to build these tunnels could be far better utilized over, not under, the ground is also a sound argument. But I would not wade into its details on this occasion.

The question now, in brief, is: Where is this prolonged war going? For a start, former and current Israeli politicians are aware that, by prolonging the duration of wars, they give credence to the political doctrine of the Hamas movement. But now they would even bolster its principle which says, in a nutshell, that the conflict is not one over borders, but an existential one.

It is clear that the ferocity of Tel Aviv’s assault this time carries a message to a “fierce” adversary, as Netanyahu described Hamas. I will take a risk and offer my analysis of this message, which I admit is based mostly on speculation.

The message, in brief, is that if the adversary has exceeded the limits of its role, it will pay a heavy price. The price, this time, is nothing less than getting Hamas, with its weapons and sister organizations, completely out of the tunnels of Gaza.

What follows after that is either a possible agreement between the two Palestinian and Israeli right-wing camps, or the return of the authority expelled from Gaza, which has been silent about this expulsion for seven years, in order to rule over the debris that remains of the territory. What about the reconstruction? There would be no problem. In either scenario, there would a long line of contractors. As southern Lebanon and Beirut were reconstructed after the 2006 war, Gaza can be rebuilt when the dust of the 2014 war has settled. In the interim, Gazans would have no option but to persevere, endure the pain, and exchange condolences.

But I hope some people will not be overoptimistic and believe that it is the last of sad times, or even the last war. I am sorry to say that it is the destiny of this region to bear witness to the pain of lengthy wars that have erupted during different periods since the time of the Old Testament. But this story too has many details. Maybe I will be able to discuss them at a later point.