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A rush to exercise
In November 2013, the Israeli military for the first time ever hosted a multi-national military exercise; Greece, the US and Italy arrived to carry out the Blue Flag 2013 drill in the Negev simulating a ground incursion into Gaza. The move was described as the largest-ever aerial manoeuvre shared by international forces. A similar drill was also jointly organised by Israel and the US in July 2013.
I have received two inquiries from oversees friends during the past few days regarding the high-pitch Israeli threats against Gaza, and Hamas in particular. The last one was asking for a confirmation of Israeli TV channels warning foreigners in Gaza to immediately leave, in anticipation for military action. The people here are accustomed to such intimidations; however, the explicit statements of Israeli officials, the latest of which is Netanyahu’s ‘to teach Hamas a lesson very soon’ threat, drew their attention to the prospect of a war targeting the unarmed, before proceeding to the armed citizens of Gaza.
Both Israel’s 2008-2009 and 2012 offensives were said to be aimed at removing the threat of the firing of crude rockets into Israeli territory. However, this goal was never achieved: on the contrary, the assaults only resulted in the majority of the casualties being civilians. Up to 82% of the 1,400 and 103 out of the 156 Palestinian deaths killed during Operation Cast Lead and Pillar of Defense respectively were civilians.
The low-flying Israeli drones are a permanent source of fear to the Gaza population. Israel, as it did in Operation Cast Lead one year ago with the extrajudicial targeting of Hamas’s armed wing leader Ahmed al-Jabari, may launch a new offensive with a drone-propelled attack. Many here consider that a drone locally known as ‘Zannana’ (which means the buzzing [plane]) is more than just a spying machine, but an everyday teaser and TV watching ‘spoiler’ as satellite TV signals are jammed. Nowadays, they are ‘buzzing’ in an increasingly abnormal fashion; reminders of previous Israeli wars, where drones relay the code sound over the smoky patches of the Gaza skies.
Iron Dome repositioning
Moreover, deploying the rocket-intercepting Iron Dome system brings the bunker mentality to mind, characterizing the state of Israel in any approach to aerial warfare. A month ago, Israel redeployed three missile batteries near the southern cities of Beersheba, Sderot and Ashdod, part of the military’s "preparation for a possible escalation,” according to the Israeli defense minister. However Hamas, who govern the Gaza Strip, has recently asked Palestinian factions to maintain the Egypt brokered cease-fire agreement secured in November 2012 after Israel’s eight-day offensive.
Effectively, internationally campaigning for an upcoming war against the blockaded Gaza Strip, Israel is attempting to humiliate Hamas, by blaming certain Gaza factions for the escalating wave of violence. This is notwithstanding its condoning of the killing of six Palestinians from Gaza since December 20 - when Israeli troops shot a Palestinian who was near the northern Gaza border dead, allegedly in retaliation to Palestinians’ launching of a mortar round that hit southern Israel - which marked the start of the current unrest.
As usual in the meantime, Gaza’s militancy is being inflated as being on a par with Israel’s. The Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, Ron Prosor, recently complained to the Security Council and to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon over two Gaza rockets that haphazardly hit the Negev causing no physical injuries or damage.
The people of Gaza - isolated
To Gazans, the year-long rule of Egypt’s deposed President Mohamed Morsi, constituted a kind-of breather in the midst of a suffocating seven-year-long blockade.
Restrictions were eased on the Rafah crossing, an undreamt-of move that Gazans enjoyed, albeit temporarily and not fully. I myself enjoyed travelling outside Gaza just 30 days before Morsi’s ouster. I was a member of a delegation of three professors and some 30 youths who were selected for a training course in teaching Arabic for non-Arabic speakers, part of the Islamic University of Gaza (IUG) programme in Al-Arish city in northern Sinai.
Before we headed to Egypt, the coordinator of the course told us that as a Gaza delegation - it was a miracle to get the approval to enter into and stay in Egypt for a week. However, on the day of our departure, we had to wait five hours at the Egyptian passport administration for our passports to get stamped. We were eventually permitted to pass, but an IUG professor was turned away; ostensibly for security reasons.
Under Morsi’s rule, some 50,000 Palestinians born to Egyptian mothers, mostly from the Gaza Strip, enjoyed being granted Egyptian citizenship, while 3500 others were on the list. Those who did acquire such nationality were exceptionally ecstatic, after having felt underprivileged with the Palestinian passport, not a treasure to be in possession of, especially when it comes to travelling to Arab countries. However, the joy was short-lived; with the rise of a new authority in Egypt, they were stripped of their Egyptian citizenship, and the feeling of rejection was redoubled.
After the ousting of Mubarak, the uninterrupted flow of smuggled goods and basic materials like fuels and building materials, allowed for a relative uptick in the economy and a sense of normalcy in the lives of the Gazans. When the military seized the reins in July 2013, the tables turned again. Seven months have passed now, many jobs have been lost and the unemployment rate is expected to rise further.
Gazans trapped in politics
Above all, the once cordial Hamas-Morsi relations didn’t benefit the status quo in Gaza. Aside from Hamas’ outspoken statements denying interference in Egypt’s affairs and the unrest in the Sinai Peninsula, Egypt cannot help but point fingers at Hamas, only adding to the woes of the non-partisan people of the beleaguered enclave.
The Arab people’s focus on their own political upheavals has added to the Gazans’ fear of being trapped in a new Israeli military escalation.