Has Israel Learned the Lessons of Operation Cast Lead?

Hamas is doing everything it can to prove it can do better than Fatah as a ruling party and can thwart the Israeli occupation.

Amira Hass
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Amira Hass

Unlike Operation Cast Lead, in which the Israel Defense Forces shelled crowded places like police stations near schools from day one, this time it’s clear the IDF is trying to avoid heavy Palestinian fatalities.

This conclusion cannot console the family members of those killed and wounded so far. Nor does it allay the fear of what could still happen.

By Thursday afternoon at least four Palestinian civilians had been killed in air strikes an 11-month-old, a 3-year-old girl, a young pregnant woman and a 60-year-old man. Dozens of civilians were wounded.

Although Israel renounced responsibility for the civilian Palestinian fatalities in Operation Cast Lead, it now prefers to reduce the number of bloody spectacles. Such spectacles, which were not shown on Israeli television in 2008-09, were seen all over the world and raised unprecedented protest.

In contrast to the military and PR lesson Israel learned after Cast Lead, it has learned no political lesson this time; it’s sticking to the concept that killing Hamas military and political leaders can subdue the organization.

Hamas is a mass movement and an organization with institutions, internal discipline and laws. Unlike Fatah, it doesn’t depend on a charismatic figure or on the personality of one strong leader. Its policy and debates are marked by continuity, even if senior officials are killed by an Israeli missile or bomb.

Israel’s leaders could have learned this lesson a long time ago had they wanted to. They could also conclude that military attacks on the entire Palestinian population unite it behind its leaders and silence criticism.

The Gazans have many reasons to complain about Hamas, which deserves its reputation as an oppressive ruler. But even Hamas’ opponents are convinced that Israel is not just the occupier but the aggressor as well. So when the attack is over, Hamas will remain, probably stronger.

Hamas is doing everything it can to prove it can do better than Fatah as a ruling party and can thwart the Israeli occupation (a vague term sometimes referring to the entire country and sometimes to the territories occupied in 1967).

To achieve this goal, Hamas didn’t care if it turned the Gaza Strip into a pseudo-state, thus deepening the political and social rift with the West Bank. The ties with the Muslim and Arab world are more important to Hamas than the safe passage to Ramallah.

Palestinians trying to extinguish fire following an Israeli air strike on November 14, 2012 in Gaza City. Credit: AFP