The horrifying pictures that emerged Sunday evening from the home of the al Dalou family in central Gaza are liable to be the Palestinian version of the Lebanese village of Kafr Qana. Just as the pictures showing the results of the Israeli bombing of Kafr Qana in July 2006 changed the face of the Second Lebanon War and turned world public opinion against the Israeli operation, in the same way the bombardment of the house in Gaza and the killing of all 12 of its residents is liable to elicit Arab, European and, above all, American pressure on Israel to stop the aerial attacks immediately.
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Among those killed in the house were five women, four children and three men. Al Jazeera television repeatedly broadcast the pictures of the bodies of the four children, who were 2 to 5 years old, lying next to each other in the hospital in Gaza on Sunday.
The live broadcasts from the house focused on documenting the attempts to rescue survivors from the ruins, but the cameras recorded only the discovery of another body there. Those pictures were broadcast all over the Arab world, on the eve of the arrival of an Arab League foreign ministers’ delegation, which was supposed to bring with it a cease-fire agreement. We can assume that just as in 2006, when Hezbollah retracted its intention of agreeing to a cease-fire in the wake of the Kfar Qana incident, this event too will only cause Hamas to toughen its positions toward Israel, in light of very sympathetic Palestinian and Arab public opinion.
One indication that the campaign in Gaza is starting to get into trouble, as far as Israel is concerned, is the constant increase in the number of casualties among Palestinian civilians. Even before the al Dalou family, reports about casualties among children, women and the elderly have been increasing over the past two days, while harm caused to militants from Hamas or other organizations has been relatively limited.
There are several reasons for this: Hamas, of course, operates from within a civilian population and conceals its arsenals in built-up areas. The same is true of missile launchers, rockets and more. In addition, most Hamas militants make sure not to remain above ground most of the day. They stay in the network of tunnels built by Hamas beneath the Gaza Strip in recent years and, in effect, are at very low risk compared to the vast majority of the Gaza population. And the process of launching the rockets is extremely quick and is sometimes done by remote control, so that the ability to strike at those militants is very limited.
And still, no matter what the reason, the harsh pictures from Gaza of small children who are wounded or killed arouse very unpleasant feelings. On Sunday afternoon, for example, it was reported that aside from the al Dalou family, 14 Palestinians had been killed in Gaza so far that day. Among the dead were five children and three women, including Tamer and Jumana Abu Asaifan, two babies who were killed in a bombing in Jabalya; 9-year-old Tasneem Abu Nahhal; a 52-year-old woman, Nawal Abed al Ali; 18-month-old Eyad Abu Khousa; and a woman named Saadiyya al-Theib.
One possible explanation for the growing number of strikes against the civilian population is the decline in the number of quality targets available to Israeli intelligence and the Israel Air Force. In the afternoon, there was a report of the assassination of the head of the Hamas rocket program, Yahye Rabiya – of whom nobody in the Gaza Strip had ever heard and whose name for some reason was not even mentioned on the lists of those killed in Gaza.
But the attacks on empty facilities belonging to Hamas -- or what used to be called “bombing real estate” -- can also attest to a certain frustration in the Israel Defense Forces in light of the continued firing of rockets even more intensively, despite the innumerable aerial strikes and bombings in Gaza.
Another problem with which Israel has to contend is the fact that it is doubtful whether the large number of casualties among Gaza’s civilian population actually leads Hamas leaders to reconsider the firing of rockets. Perhaps even the opposite is true. Apparently the many pictures of women and children killed in the present campaign (a total of 67 dead so far, including the organizations’ militants) help to create especially supportive Palestinian and Arab public opinion for Hamas.
On the Internet and on the social networks, there is a clear call to take revenge against the Israelis and to bomb Tel Aviv, as though firing missiles at Gush Dan, the Tel Aviv metropolitan area, will solve the problems of the Strip’s residents. Hamas at this stage seems to be intoxicated by the support it is receiving from the public and especially from the Palestinian media, which cast no doubt and ask no questions, even for a moment.
Wrapped in the warm embrace it is receiving from Arab countries, Hamas seems to be in no hurry at all to end the fighting and is continuing to present very inflexible positions in the negotiations being conducted via Egypt regarding a temporary cease-fire.
At this stage it looks as though the organization sees Israel’s threats of a ground operation as empty posturing. A similar attitude was heard from the Hamas leadership a few days after the start of Operation Cast Lead in December 2008. Then, too, Hamas did not believe that Israel would enter the Gaza Strip on the eve of elections, and when the ground operation began, the Hamas members fled from the fighting and left the population to absorb the fire.
It appears that the organization’s leadership has not learned the lessons of that campaign. Thus, tracking the Hamas media and the arrogant words of the organization’s leaders sometimes gives you a feeling that Hamas is about to conquer Israel at almost any given moment. The most recent proclamations of the organization’s military arm, Iz al-Din al-Qassam, included claims of firing a missile that landed north of Herzliya, sinking an Israel Navy ship, downing an IAF F-16 and more.
The problem is that while Hamas members are claiming credit for nonexistent achievements and are continuing the “fighting” while they are hidden in fortified tunnels, the residents of the Gaza Strip will continue to be the ones to pay the price. And the bombing Sunday in the center of Gaza is just another painful example of that phenomenon.