Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

The Death of Israel's Dreams: Concern Is Mounting among Senior Israelis That the War against Hezbollah in Lebanon Is Only the Start of a Much Wider Conflict. So Who Is Using Whom, and Who Will Ultimately Prevail? Lindsey Hilsum Reports from Israel and Gaza on the Spiralling Crisis

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

The Death of Israel's Dreams: Concern Is Mounting among Senior Israelis That the War against Hezbollah in Lebanon Is Only the Start of a Much Wider Conflict. So Who Is Using Whom, and Who Will Ultimately Prevail? Lindsey Hilsum Reports from Israel and Gaza on the Spiralling Crisis

Article excerpt

Omar al-Khatib is by some measures a lucky man. One Thursday evening in late July, he was taking a stroll near his home in Gaza City when his mobile phone rang.

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"It was a number I didn't know," he recalls. "The voice said: 'Hello, Abu Arafat.'" (This is the name by which al-Khatib is commonly known, meaning father of Arafat, his eldest son.)

"I said: 'Hello, who is it?' He said: 'This is Captain Ami from Israeli intelligence.' I said: 'What's up?' He said: 'Go back home, evacuate your house and tell your neighbours, because we're going to bomb it tonight.'"

Eight minutes later, just as he was dragging out the fridge, he heard the familiar drone of an Apache helicopter. Everyone hurtled down the narrow alleyways of the neighbourhood as the missile was launched that demolished Omar al-Khatib's house. It was a precise strike; no other building was damaged. The goods he managed to salvage now lie piled in the garden, and his children play climbing games in the rubble.

Al-Khatib is a haunted-looking man, with a thin face, one eye half closed and the long beard of an Islamist. He is not what you might call an innocent civilian. A black flag flutters in the ruins of his home, symbol of his allegiance to the militant group Islamic Jihad. Realising that the Israelis might be after him, he had already sent his wife and children to his in-laws for safety. Israeli intelligence knew exactly who he was: a smalltime commander of the local military wing--big enough to threaten, but not big enough to kill.

If the aim was to deter, it appears to have failed. Al-Khatib says he is even more determined to destroy the state of Israel. To him and to millions of others, including Arabs who are not members of militant groups, the war in Lebanon is simply an extension of the Palestinian conflict.

"People look to Hezbollah as heroes, the true ones who support the Palestinians, because really we feel we are alone all the time, under the aircraft, the targeting, the killing," said Ghazi Hamad, a Palestinian government spokesman.

In 1982, Israel succeeded in expelling the Palestine Liberation Organisation from Lebanon to exile in Tunis. That same year, Israel's continued occupation of Lebanon inspired Iran to create Hezbollah, the Party of God, specifically to take up the struggle where the Palestinians had left off. Israeli troops did not leave southern Lebanon until 2000. Most Arabs saw the withdrawal not just as a victory for Hezbollah, which had kept up a relentless pressure, but also as a sign that it was possible to end an Israeli occupation by guerrilla warfare. Lebanon first, Palestine next.

While world attention fixes on Lebanon again, the conflict in Gaza continues unabated, the forgotten front in the wider war that Israel is fighting. Since Palestinian militants tunnelled under the barrier into Israel and seized a soldier, Gilad Shalit, on 25 June, the Israelis have launched about 150 shells a day into Gaza.

According to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), 170 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza in the past month, 40 of them children; more than 650 have been injured. Since Israel bombed the local power station in late June, electricity and water are intermittent. Borders are closed, and so commerce is blocked. Occasionally, when Israeli tanks move in to search for Corporal Shalit, people have to flee their homes to take shelter in schools.

"I perfectly understand that the world attention is focused on Lebanon at the moment, but I really implore people to remain conscious of what's going on here," says John Ging, UNRWA operations director in Gaza. "Every day, it's worse. For the people here, the major problem in terms of their outlook is: when is it going to end? The mood is one of desperation, frustration and anger, and it's getting worse and worse."

The Israeli government is well aware that this is one war which is being fought on two fronts. …

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