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The Ballad of Balloons and Fish

Noa Landau
Noa Landau
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Fisherman in Gaza in April.
Fisherman in Gaza in April.Credit: Mohammed Salem / Reuters
Noa Landau
Noa Landau

Coverage in the Hebrew media about what is happening between Israel and Gaza at times seems more akin to Japanese haiku metaphors, surrealistic images, or a secret code that only aliens could decipher, than a representation of reality. For example, on Monday most of the headlines about the recent escalation in Gaza were once again about balloons and fish.

Israeli readers may have accidentally heard how in response to the fires caused by the incendiary balloons in southern Israel, Israel attacked Gaza and once again reduced the fishing zone from twelve miles to six. This is a kind of ritual that repeats itself until it loses meaning, receiving minimal public attention.

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Should our planet survive global warming, in a few hundred years from now, historians studying media coverage of these events will rub their eyes in wonder at the sight of a regional power’s endless preoccupation with restricting the fishing of sardines in response to balloon warfare.

Certainly, this ballad of balloons and fishes does not tell the whole story. This recent conflict is really about money and fuel. What incited these skirmishes is the battle over conditions for Gaza's rehabilitation since the recent round of fighting ended, in particular, how funding will be distributed and how fuel will be transferred.

Since the ceasefire, Israel has further increased restrictions on bringing goods into Gaza, mainly due to public pressure against returning to the status quo without a deal for the return of soldiers’ bodies and civilians being held. Aside from the ongoing and daily impact on the lives of residents of Gaza, which constitutes a form of collective punishment, materials necessary to rebuild the destroyed infrastructure are also being delayed. At the same time, the international community is conducting complex negotiations with Qatar, Israel and Hamas over the nature of the new framework for transferring aid money.

The transfer of fuel to the power station in Gaza was halted in May in order to pressure Hamas. Its resumption, with United Nations mediation and Qatari funding, was announced only on June 27. In recent days, this transfer of fuel has run into trouble once again due to taxation problems. For those interested in the details of the bureaucracy of Israeli control in Gaza, before the recent escalation in May, Israel issued a tax exemption to Qatar on a monthly basis, and then on a weekly basis. The fuel delivery did not receive an exemption and was delayed. And now, after the recent clashes, it seems the problem has been solved and Israeli sources whispered that the transfer of 24 fuel trucks via Kerem Shalom will resume.

The government of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett naturally prefers to avoid a public discussion about the rehabilitation of Gaza. They are eager to prove that “the equation has changed” vis-à-vis Hamas, determined to out-do Benjamin Netanyahu, and have therefore adopted the populist slogan “a balloon will be treated the same as a rocket” - which sounds like a satire about the violation of the principle of proportionality.

According to a statement by the Israel Defense Forces spokesperson's unit, the combat planes attacked a Hamas military camp “located near civilian sites including a school.” The statement even included an aerial photograph which emphasized that only 205 meters separate the military camp from the school.

IDFCredit: IDF

A very strange statement – or perhaps an admission. Is the IDF bragging about an attack so close to a school? Is it an attempt to blame Hamas once again for “hiding” among the civilian population? By the way, IDF spokesman: across the street from the Kirya urban military base in Tel Aviv are the Bikurim and Ironi Alef schools.

The essence of the tension between Israel and Gaza, in recent days and in general, is neither balloons nor fish. That’s only what’s on the surface. But far fewer Israelis are exposed to the complexity of the Israeli policy of closures for the purpose of military and political bargaining. As far as they’re concerned, one morning several Palestinians woke up and decided for their pleasure to launch incendiary balloons into the fields of thorns in the Eshkol region. We will never find a solution for Gaza if we continue ignoring the context.

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