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RESOLVE: Smoke and fire from the explosion of an Israeli strike rises over Gaza City.
Associated Press/Photo by Hatem Moussa
RESOLVE: Smoke and fire from the explosion of an Israeli strike rises over Gaza City.

Toward ‘a sustained quiet’

Israel | Israel's explosive pursuit of Hamas won remarkable support amid tragedy, reflecting a changing Middle East calculus

Issue: "Into thin air," Aug. 23, 2014

When Israel launched its assault on Gaza July 7, tragedy for residents of the Hamas-occupied area multiplied—even as Israel doubled down on its own resolve to fight.

Before the conflict entered its second month, and a promise of extending an Aug. 5 cease-fire, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Israelis to prepare for a prolonged battle and vowed, “We’ll do whatever is necessary to achieve our goal of a sustained quiet.”

With violence erupting across the Middle East, and assaults by brutal extremists on the rise, Israel appeared ready to dig in for a long fight with clearly defined goals: Put an end to Hamas rocket fire and shut down militarized tunnels leading into Israel. 

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In July Hamas fired more than 2,800 rockets at Israel—one striking near enough to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport to provoke a 48-hour ban on most international flights. Nearly all Hamas rocket launches from Gaza have gone astray or been neutralized by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system, but at least three Israeli civilians were killed.

Facing tepid support from Washington and a violent wave of anti-Semitism in Europe, Netanyahu fought on even without full-on Western backing.

What that meant was more suffering for Palestinians living in Gaza, where the death toll climbed to more than 1,800 as the cease-fire began (Israel claims hundreds of those are Hamas fighters). A longer-term tragedy: The conflict has displaced 485,000 Gazans in July, according to the UN—and without Israel easing restrictions they have virtually nowhere to go. When Hamas seized Gaza in 2007, Israel sealed its borders and has blocked most Palestinians living there from leaving: Few have travel documents even if they did have means to flee. 

As daytime temperatures soared near 100°F in July and August, Gaza City streets became graveyards with the stench of death rising. Power and water to Gaza’s 1.7 million people were cut in the bombing.

“The situation is much worse than during any other conflict before,” said Hanna Massad, former pastor of Gaza Baptist Church and president of Christian Mission to Gaza (CMG), a humanitarian relief organization aiding Christians and Muslims. Members of the church “are breaking down in agony due to the trauma they are suffering from the constant bombardment,” he told ASSIST News in late July. “Many lives will never be the same again.” 

One member of the church, Jalila Ayyad, was killed during an Israeli bombing attack. Ayyad’s son was seriously injured in the same attack. 

In 2010 I sat with Massad in the courtyard of his family home—where he had lived since he was 8 years old—beneath the shade of mango and olive trees planted by his father nearly 50 years ago. Now his house has been taken over by Palestinian neighbors, and “people are running out of food,” he said. The Greek Orthodox and Catholic churches opened their doors to displaced Gazans as homes were destroyed or they received warnings from the Israeli Defense Forces their area was about to be bombed. 

“Fear is everywhere,” said Massad. “Nowhere is safe.”

‘The situation is much worse than during any other conflict before. ... Fear is everywhere. nowhere is safe.’—Hanna Massad, president of Christian Mission to Gaza

Another Christian charity, Seeds of Hope, reported its Gaza office destroyed by a 4-ton bomb on July 23. A new Christian believer connected to its ministry was killed July 20 when his home was bombed. 

“None of these people are fighters, nor did they choose this fight. They are merely civilians, caught in the middle, who now have no place to go,” said Taysir Abu Saada, director of Seeds of Hope. 

Abu Saada once served as Yassir Arafat’s personal driver before he converted to Christianity and authored Once an Arafat Man. He was born in al-Breij, a refugee camp in Gaza, and learned in July that three members of his family living in the camp were killed in bombings.

Despite the suffering, and the international outcry, Palestinians in Gaza increasingly recognize Hamas is mostly to blame for the deteriorating situation. They knew Israel would be forced to defend itself against steady rocket launches from Gaza and shut down the Hamas-built tunnels. They also watched as Hamas walked away from multiple cease-fire opportunities while turning Gaza civilians into targets to win international sympathy. 

Onlookers initially blamed Israel for an aerial assault July 28 that left about 20 dead near al-Shifa Hospital and at the al-Shati refugee camp—including children playing nearby—but likely it came from stray missiles fired by Hamas further south. A Finnish journalist later reported on television seeing a rocket fired from hospital grounds.

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