It might not look like victory. Dozens of dead children among nearly 100 civilians killed. Hundreds more injured, some condemned to a life of struggle from terrible wounds. Houses flattened. Bridges, offices and stadiums blown to bits.
However, as life returns to what passes for normality on the streets of Gaza — once again clogged with people and traffic even as the Israeli drones continue to buzz overhead — many Palestinians regard the ceasefire that put an end to more than a week of incessant bombing and shelling as an Israeli surrender document.
The victor, they say, is Hamas, which faced down Israeli aggression and has emerged from years of diplomatic isolation to be embraced, if tentatively, by the leaders of a new Arab world. The lesson learned is that standing up to Israel delivers results that years of concessions under US peace plans and drawn-out negotiations have not.
Western leaders, from US President Barack Obama to British Prime Minister David Cameron, rushed to blame the bloody upsurge of violence in Gaza on Hamas and other armed groups firing hundreds of rockets into Israel, but Palestinians have a different take. The common view in Gaza is that the conflict was a war of choice by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Mkhaimer Abusader, a political scientist at Gaza’s Azhar University, said there was a widespread belief that Netanyahu ordered the killing two weeks ago of the top Hamas military commander, Ahmad al-Jaabari, to provoke a confrontation and launch a military operation in order to make himself look strong in the run-up to elections in January.
Opinion polls showed many Israelis favored an invasion of Gaza to follow the air and sea bombardment. That Netanyahu ultimately did not order one is regarded in Gaza as evidence that he was deterred by the scale of resistance by Hamas and other armed groups, even in the face of much larger Israeli retaliation, which surprised Palestinians.
“Palestinians were very happy to see rockets landing on Tel Aviv and Jerusalem for the first time. It may be crazy, but there’s admiration that Hamas was able to manufacture long-range missiles and deter Israel,” Abusader said. “Palestinians believe the Israelis were begging for a ceasefire. The conclusion Palestinians reach is that the way to get results is resistance, is to make the occupation costly to the Israelis.”
The ceasefire deal may not have got Hamas all that it wanted, but there is a commitment by Israel to ease the blockade that was imposed to break the Islamist group, and to end the kind of “targeted assassinations” that killed al-Jaabari. There is plenty of skepticism that Israel will deliver or that the truce will last, but the crisis has shifted the diplomatic ground by breaking the international isolation of Hamas imposed by the US and Europeans.
Change was in the offing — driven by the Arab spring — not least in Egypt, where there is a new government more openly critical of Israel than its US-allied predecessor. Israel has alienated its only real friend in the region, Turkey, over the Israeli military’s attack on the Mavi Marmara flotilla to Gaza in which eight Turks were killed.
It was no coincidence that the first stream of regional political heavyweights to visit Gaza in more than a decade was led by the Egyptian prime minister and the Tunisian and Turkish foreign ministers. Scenes of Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu shedding tears in a Gaza City hospital over dead children and saying he stood in “solidarity with the Palestinian nation’s suffering,” were read in Gaza as evidence that they were no longer on their own.