The Gaza aftershocks

Dina Ezzat , Tuesday 7 May 2024

Nabil Abdel-Fattah, Al-Moqawama wal-Horiya: Gaza wa-Sardiat Al-Botoula wal Ebada (Resistance and Liberty: Gaza and the Narratives of Heroism and Genocide), Cairo: Merit Publishing, 2024, pp300

Al-Moqawama wal-Horiya: Gaza wa-Sardiat Al-Botoula wal Ebada


It is impossible to look at the current Israeli war on Gaza in isolation from the wider and older context of Arab-Israeli relations and, more significantly, the state of political and economic affairs in Israel and the Arab world. It is equally impossible to assume that the postwar situation, in any of these contexts, will be in any way similar to what it was before.

 These are the two key points that political scientist Nabil Abdel-Fattah approaches in his just published, thorough analysis of the situation, Al-Moqawama wal-Horiya: Gaza wa-Sardiat Al-Botoula wal Ebada (Resistance and Liberty: Gaza and the Narratives of Heroism and Genocide).

 While essentially an collection of articles the author had been publishing since the start of the war on Gaza in several dailies and news portals, their final compilation offers a rich take on the state of the Palestinian cause, essentially after the June 1967 military defeat of the Arab armies in what led to the full military Israeli occupation of all of historic Palestine and other neighbouring Arab territories, and how we might expect them to be when the current Israeli war comes to an end.

 Abdel-Fattah acknowledges that the 1967 defeat and the current Israeli war on Gaza, labelled Iron Swords in Israel, both occurred at a moment of established Israeli power – economic, political and military. This power, he says, is not just a function of solid and unwavering Western support, which is always pushed forward by the agents of Christian Zionism. It is also a function of the commitment of subsequent Israeli regimes to promoting economic and military advances on a parallel track to that of the recognition of personal liberties and rights – for the Jews of Israel but not the Arabs living within the borders that Israel established on its creation on the rubble of the Palestinian Nakba in May 1948.

 Israeli power, Abdel-Fattah says, is also, in a sense, a function of the failure of Arab regimes that have been ruling since the May 1948 Nakba, but especially after the Nakssa of June 1967, to live up to the expectations of their peoples who were hoping for economic advancement, political liberties, personal rights and military might. Adding to both factors, he argues, there is an undeniable sense of supremacy that has always dominated in the collective Israeli mindset, especially after the June 1967 war.

 One thing the resistance operation of October 7, 2023 – carried out under the Toufan Al-Aqssa (Al-Aqssa flood) banner – challenged is the assumed inevitability of Israeli supremacy, both inside Israel and elsewhere across the world, especially in the West. Whatever destruction Israel has inflicted on Gaza in the days and months since that date, it cannot deny that despite the limitation of its resources, the Palestinian resistance movement, Hamas, gave it a rare shock, perhaps the first such shock since the 1973 October War.

 It is not just Israel that woke up to a tough challenge to its assumed supremacy, the author argues. The Arab regimes that have for decades, especially since the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty of 1979 and the Oslo Accords of 1993, accepted the power of Israel as a fact, have been put in a situation where they need to reconsider the path of their relations with Israel – especially on the front of normalisation at the expense of the Palestinian cause, “which has been largely overlooked for decades”. This, Abdel-Fattah argues, is not just about the morning of October 7, 2023, when Hamas attacked Israel, but also during the subsequent months when the resistance movement demonstrated considerable strength in facing up to Israeli military might.

 The current war, Abdel-Fattah says, forcibly brought back the Palestinian cause to the top of the regional political agenda – in a way that has not happened since the first Palestinian Intifada, which started in December 1987, leading to the Madrid Peace Conference in October 1991 and the Oslo Accords in September 1993, which eventually led to the end of the first Intifada, before it picked up again in September 2000. Today, he argues, the Arab countries cannot continue to assume that the Palestinian cause has withered away. Nor can they count on the old way of doing Palestinian-Israeli negotiations.

 This, he argues, also applies to the Palestinian Authority. Things have changed – almost “once and for all,” as he puts it. “There is a new awareness of the Palestinian cause… especially among the younger Arab generations… who have been largely influenced by the horrific images they saw on social media.”

 This new awareness, Abdel-Fattah argues, is shared at the international level that has been mobilised by the same shocking images seen as compelling evidence for something that Israel had done for a long time with impunity: violating international law, war laws and international humanitarian law. “It is interesting, however, that the rules of these laws were the base and core of the slogans that were held high by the wide demonstrations that have unfolded across the world against this war on Gaza.”

 According Abdel-Fattah’s book, those horrific images, especially of devasted, shattered and maimed Palestinian children, have been partly behind the decision of South Africa to address the International Court of Justice to request the enforcement of provisional measures relevant to the violation of the 1948 Genocide Prevention Treaty. Today, he wrote, the world cannot just leave behind the powerful image of the hearings of the ICJ that were put on air for the world to watch.

 Meanwhile, Abdel-Fattah argues, when this war ends, it will be hard for Arab countries to look away from some deeply layered questions: the space of political Islam, in view of the perceived heroism of Hamas, at least in certain quarters of the Arab public opinion; the knowledge that internal Israeli politics and social dynamics are in fact very weak and dysfunctional; the unlikelihood for any regime to claim public legitimacy strictly on lip-service basis to the Palestinian cause; and the inevitable changes that occurred in the Arab political mindset which might prompt more pressing calls for political liberties and economic advancement.

 Above all, the author concludes, whether they like it or not, the Arab countries will have to accept the fact that the management of the Palestinian cause within the framework of the Oslo process is very hard if not impossible to bring back to the table. This, he argues, includes the role and legitimacy of the Palestinian Authority that seemed to be the most marginalised of all entities during the atrocious war on Gaza, which generated new realities and new concepts for Palestinians, Arabs and the world at large.

 This war, Abdel-Fattah says, has not just revealed the weak foundations of the management of the Palestinian cause, the assumed Israeli supremacy and the political choices of most Arab regimes. It has also put the Western world face to face with its double standards, if not outright hypocrisy, on matters of international law and international humanitarian law. All in all, over 300 gripping pages, Abdel-Fattah makes the point that October 7 was a moment of revelation at which many established facts were legitimately thrown into question and many new questions raised.


* A version of this article appears in print in the 9 May, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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