Akram Miqdad, father of Bara-a, 6, cries as he carries his body outside the morgue of Shifa hospital in Gaza City. This is the current face of the bloodstained country. Photo: EPA/MOHAMMED SABER.
Gabriel Haritos, a researcher of International, Political and Economic Relations in the Mediterranean who currently lives in Israel, talks to Neos Kosmos about the harsh reality of the never-ending war in Gaza.
It was almost a year ago when Gabriel Haritos, a doctoral candidate and researcher, decided for the purposes of his work to leave Rhodes and settle in Jerusalem. The Mediterranean, and more specifically, its fascinating history, always enthralled Gabriel, to the extent that it became the main point of his scientific research.
When he took the decision to move to Jerusalem, he knew very well that peace has always been the most fragile entity in the country. But his experience during this last year made him, momentarily at least, forget this millennia proved harsh reality.
All he would live and experience was a multicultural city where everything “was mingling nicely”, as he says. Religions, languages, different cultures were mixing with a Western-style reality creating a vibrant society. Jerusalem did not let Gabriel down.
Yes religion was and remains a very important element that defines the fault lines of this city, but Jerusalem remained in essence a cosmopolitan city.
“The truth is that there is an invisible boundary that those who come here to Jerusalem, even for a day or two, can see. The west side is the West and the east side is the East. But this invisible boundary does not impede the normal flow of life. For example, I would go out in the evening to a bar and this might be a Jewish bar but then the taxi driver who’ll take me home might be Arab. The waiter might be an Arab even in a Jewish bar and vice versa for an Arab place. I have Arab friends who are lawyers and their clients are ultra orthodox Jews.”
And that was the reality that Gabriel lived up until two months ago. Not anymore.
IN the PRESENT TENSE
The first signs of unrest hit Jerusalem in June, when the bodies of three Jewish teenagers were discovered and it became clear they were murdered.
“For 18 days the army was looking at the West Bank to find the perpetrators. The Israeli press was coming out with headlines promoting hatred against the Arabs on a daily basis. Things became worse when a phone call that had been made by one of these children to the Israeli police became public. The teenager was heard saying that he’d been kidnapped, a man speaking in Arabic was heard telling him ‘put your heads down’ and then shots. This recording created an explosive environment in Jerusalem. For those 18 days that followed you could hear screams, laments and public prayers coming from the Wailing Wall. The society was at a boiling point,” says Gabriel.
At that time, the city that he knew changed dramatically. Things got out of hand when the body of a Palestinian teenager was found brutally murdered shortly after. In Israel, many reacted with horror at the deed, while others started calling for revenge over the deaths of the three Israeli teens.
Gabriel lives on the Arab side and within walking distance from the Mosque of Omar. The day the body of the Palestinian teenager was found marked the day that peace proved its fragility in Jerusalem. The city descended into chaos.
Street fighting started outside his house. Rocks and flash crackers were exchanged day and night amidst screams and anti-Jewish or anti-Arab slogans.
And this was the reality Gabriel had to face daily and, as he says, to adapt to, too.
“Humans are very adaptive. After all, even chaos has its rules. When they started I was wondering how it would be possible for me to do simple things, like going to the grocery store. I had to change the way I was doing things, to learn the small but important secrets of survival.”
He figured out that the best time to go out and do the simple, everyday things was while the prayer in the Mosque of Omar was on. He could hear it very clearly from his home. “All the Arabs were there and the Jews did not have anyone to fight with. The end of prayers was the warning sign to start to slowly get back home.”
It did cross his mind to return to Greece but… “when something comes so suddenly you believe that it can stop suddenly too. So you do not take the decision to give up everything easily. I have a research project to complete”.
And the above was not the sole reason that Gabriel stayed in Jerusalem. The war came as another sudden development to stop any thoughts he might have entertained of returning to Greece.
The process of counting hours, observing the situation and making a balanced assessment of it started. He knew that rockets from Gaza had targeted almost 80 per cent of Israel’s territory. The prime target was Tel Aviv and the wider area of the city where the Israeli airport is. And the airport was not a safe place anymore.
“During previous military operations that had happened in Gaza the airport was taboo, it was never hit before. This time, however, the airport proved to be a target. For five hours I would be exposed in an area where I would potentially be a target.”
The other option he had was to go east and fly from Jordan. But the limited information available for the area he had to cross in order to get to Jordan made the trip to that part of the country even more dangerous. “So I decided to stay where I am. No I don’t feel trapped. Not a hundred per cent safe, but secure,” he says.
THE ABSURDITY OF FULL BLOWN WAR…
Gabriel cannot only offer us an on-the-ground account of the societal realities after the break of the recent war in Israel. His scientific expertise, due to his current research subject and the fact that he also served as visiting scholar at the Israeli think-tank Moshe Dayan Centre for Middle Eastern and African
Studies at the University of Tel Aviv, in conjunction with the fact that he is an outsider in terms of religion and ethnicity to those involved in the conflict, puts him in the best position to give us a critical account of the situation.
He declines to enter into the ‘horrors of war’, as he calls the images of death and destruction that we’ve all seen lately.
“This is a very abnormal situation,” he says. “From a scientific point of view, before a war starts all parties look and judge accordingly what they want and what they can achieve. The ‘why you do it’ and the ‘what you are trying to achieve’. Hamas began to cast its rockets to 80 per cent of a neighbouring country, which it does not recognise has the right to exist, after the murder of the Palestinian boy. In essence this was a way for Hamas’ military wing to express its solidarity to the Palestinians who live in Israel. That was their claim back then but this in reality was a superficial rationale.”
The actual reason, as Gabriel says, is the fact that the agreement signed between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas’ political leadership, an agreement for reconciliation and cooperation, last April, did not satisfy and was opposed by Hamas’ military wing.
“The military arm of Hamas began to thirst for resources as Egypt closed the passage in Sinai. After the Arab Spring, Hamas is regarded by Egypt as ideologically aligned to the Muslim Brotherhood, which is currently outlawed in Egypt. The military arm of Hamas had two objectives when it started firing rockets. Initially it was to show its strength to the political wing of Hamas.
But then as they began firing rockets to the major urban centres the thing got out of control. It was the first time that Hamas’ rockets exceeded even Tel Aviv. The first time they hit Haifa near the border with Lebanon they even got up to Mitzmpe Ramon in the middle of the Negev desert. Hamas even fired three amphibious assault drones. All this is very impressive for an organisation. On the other side Israel had to cope with the internal outcry and it retaliated. In other words, it was drawn into what the military wing of Hamas wanted.
According to Gabriel the second objective of Hamas’ military wing was to cancel the Fatah – Hamas agreement. It wants for Gaza to remain as it is and for the passage from Gaza to Sinai to reopen. Fatah is the organisation that runs the West Bank while Hamas runs Gaza.
“If you follow the media statements made from Hamas to the Palestinians, the alleged objective it puts forward is the liberation of Palestine. And I’m asking as an independent observer … is it possible to free a country by throwing rockets here and there? No matter how powerful they are you need an army, you need the boots to touch the ground. So this objective is beyond its capacity. An unattainable one for that matter,” adds Gabriel.
As he says the same applies for Israel too. “When Hamas started bombing Israel, the main objective for Israel was to bomb the points from which the rockets were fired in Gaza. Let’s be realists on this one. No country will stay idle, when it is attacked left, right and centre. No country will tolerate one third of its population to live in a shelter. For this reason the international community initially did not object. Gaza is the most densely populated area in the world and it is impossible not to have many victims when bombs fall. Indeed, Israel sent messages to the population of Gaza to leave their homes before bombing.
But the big question which remained and still remains unanswered is where these people will go. However, with regard to Israel’s objective, there was no other way to do it. But when the Israelis began their military operation on the ground a second objective was developed. They argued that the purpose of the ground operations was to destroy all the tunnels. These tunnels started from Gaza and they were used for the movement of weapons but not only that. They are leading close to Jewish settlements located close to the Strip. And again as an observer I pose this question, ‘how can you destroy all the tunnels without at the same time destroying what is above them’. So it is absolutely clear that we have two warring sides which have set objectives above their capacity to achieve them and this is the big problem. Who will give in first?”
THE UNKNOWN ‘X’
The absurdity of this war is not only verified by the fact that both parties set unattainable objectives, according to Gabriel Haritos. It extends to the fact that at the moment and despite the horrific consequences for Palestine and the global outcry against Israel, both sides show no sign of waiving their hostilities. As for the innocent victims from both sides, unfortunately they are cynically regarded as ‘collateral damage’.
“Definitely the ceasefire is a development that brings some hope. It gives time for a compromise to be found. But the question is what this compromise will be. What the starting point will be for the solution will be determined by what Hamas will do. Does Hamas, and I mean the military wing of the organisation, want to remain isolated? Will the Sinai passage open and who will control it? Israel asks for the complete disarmament of the Gaza strip and Israel is the more powerful player in this conflict. Will Hamas give in to this demand?”.
This is not, however, the only ‘unknown X’ of the situation. Gabriel looks beyond the current absurdity of war. He focuses on the future that this war constructs in the societies of Israel and Gaza, which he describes as “bleak”.
“The Israeli leadership should be very alarmed about the events that occurred in the country between the Jewish and the Palestinian population, even before the start of the operations in Gaza. I mean the hatred and polarisation on behalf of both sides. For 18 days groups of 15 and 16-year-olds, Jews and Arabs, were throwing rocks at each other. What we see is two generations that haven’t learned to live together. These generations of Jews and Arabs were born and raised shortly after 2000 when we had the second Intifada. They grew a mutual distrust against each other. This trauma accumulates and one thing is certain, one day it will erupt. In 20 years these teenagers will be the politicians of the country. They are the people who will be responsible of this society.
That’s why I feel the implications of these recent developments are far more serious and damaging for the community.”
And Gabriel is so right. This war might come to an end but the divisions that it created have scarred the multicultural community of Jerusalem and beyond for many years to come. These scars will be carried into the future by those who are seen as the hopeful future, the children and the teenagers of today.
And it comes as a grim realisation of the ‘immortal’ words of Franklin Roosevelt that “wars are not paid for in wartime; the bill comes later”.
source: neos kosmos