Burns victim vows to be suicide bomber while Israelis ask: ‘Was it all worth it?’
(Holly Pickett )
Sabah Abu Halima, who lost her husband and four of her nine children in attacks on Gaza, prays for revenge and dreams of killing herself among Israelis
Sheera Frenkel in Gaza City and James Hider in Jerusalem
Two days after their last soldiers returned from Gaza, Israelis are asking increasingly whether the offensive had achieved anything other than spawning a new generation of potential suicide bombers.
The three-week war enjoyed massive popular support at the time but, with the guns silent, scathing criticism is emerging from the Left and the Right of Israel’s political divide.
The stated goal of Operation Cast Lead was to end Hamas’s constant rocket fire on southern Israel and weaken the Islamists’ grip on the territory. It has failed to achieve either. Hamas kept up its barrage of rockets to the very end of the campaign and has won new recruits for its cause.
In Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, Sabah Abu Halima, her body covered with burns from what are believed to be phosphorus shells, her husband and four of nine children dead, dreams of becoming a suicide bomber.
“I pray to Allah that I will have revenge, I pray and dream of killing myself among the Israelis,” she says. “I hope that on the last day of my life I kill as many of them as possible and make myself a martyr.”
Israel had hoped that its offensive would sow discontent with the Hamas movement, which had promised to turn the coastal territory into “a graveyard for Israeli soldiers”. Nearly 1,300 Palestinians were killed and thousands more wounded, according to local medics, while only 13 Israeli soldiers died — a statistic which allowed Israel to proclaim itself the victor of the war.
The casualties have failed to dent support for Hamas, with many in the hardest-hit Gaza neighbourhoods pledging their allegiance to the Islamists. There have been muted calls for Hamas to show more flexibility in its ceasefire negotiations with Israel and allow time for residents to recover and rebuild their homes but most feel that Hamas has gained political and international legitimacy in recent weeks.
“Hamas has reached a certain standing on the world stage. It is receiving attention and praise for what it did from other Arab nations,” said one Hamas activist.
“Hamas’s political and military leaders are with the civilians. We are with the people. This is the victory of Hamas against the occupation,” said Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman.
Some Israeli analysts tend to agree. “We have not weakened Hamas. The vast majority of its combatants were not harmed and popular support for the organisation has in fact increased,” said Gideon Levy, a prominent commentator for the centre-left daily Haaretz. “Their war has intensified the ethos of resistance and determined endurance.”
Even Cabinet ministers who backed the offensive admitted that it had not achieved anything more than yet another shaky ceasefire with an Iranian-backed group that refuses to recognise Israel’s right to exist.
“Hamas has not been taken out, nor will we be able to take them out,” said Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, the National Infrastructure Minister and veteran Labour Party politician. “Theirs is an ideology and not just a military organisation, and it will remain.”
Criticism is even more scathing from the Israeli Right. “The soldiers succeeded, but the politicians failed,” said Avigdor Lieberman of the nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu Party, which has seen its support grow since the conflict. “They didn’t let the army complete the operation. What was achieved here? Zip, nada.”
Eli Yishai, the Finance Minister and head of the ultra-Orthodox religious party Shas, said that Israel should have kept fighting until Hamas was destroyed. “Now Hamas will rebuild its infrastructure with Iranian money and then they will resume the smuggling and continue firing at Israel. We should have finished the job – pull out the ground forces and continue striking from the air.
“We should have hit thousands more houses and reached a point in which they don’t dare shoot at Israel ever again.”
Gabriel Motzkin, an advocate of Israeli-Palestinian reform, said: “I’d say it was unclear what was achieved.” He pointed out that more than two years after the unpopular war in Lebanon critics label it a dismal failure while advocates claim that it has kept the northern border quiet.
Hamas is believed to have about 1,000 missiles in its arsenal and there is no shortage of fresh volunteers at the Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. “I want to be a resistance fighter to avenge what has been done to my family,” says Yousef, Sabah Abu Halima’s injured 16-year-old son.
“Nobody can guarantee that I will live anyway. The bombs can come back any day. I want to fight and I hope that I can be a member of the armed resistance.”