Intellectuals gather in Gaza to discuss effects and consequences of Israel’s November assault

In a lovely winter afternoon last month, a friend of mine and I went for a short visit at Dr. Eyad al-Sarraj’s house. Al-Sarraj, as many already know, is a Palestinian intellectual whose outspoken criticism of Yasser Arafat landed him in one of the Palestinian Authority’s jails in 1995.

Over orange juice, he informed us of an idea that had been maturing in his mind since the end of Israel’s eight-day attack on Gaza. Wars, he told us, are worthy of being thoroughly studied and built upon. He laid out many names whose work we have always read or heard about and said that he had invited them to Gaza. These names included Azzam Tamimi, Nasser Abdulkarim, Sara Roy, and Richard Falk among more than two dozen other names. Some, who were unable to make it to Gaza, like Falk and Roy, spoke to us via Skype.

Being a firm believer in the role of young people in building healthy societies, Dr. Eyad asked us whether Diwan Ghazza, an informal group of young people working together on strengthening the readership and intellectual community in Gaza, would be willing to help organize a two-day conference on the consequences and future prospects of Israel’s November assault. The group enthusiastically agreed.

The conference was primarily organized by TIDA for Research and Strategic Studies, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), PalThink for Strategic Studies, Diwan Ghazza, and Al-Zaytuna Center for Studies and Consultations. Sponsors included the Palestinian Media Production (PMP) and PalTel Group.  

The conference, dubbed War on Gaza 2012 “Consequences & Future Prospects,” focused on six basic themes: the war on Gaza from the Arab and Palestinian perspective, from the European and Israeli political perspective, the perspective of International Law, and the military, media, and socio-economic perspectives.

Diverse audience

According to a brochure distributed to the public, the conference sought to study “the effects and consequences of this war [Pillar of Cloud] in the context of the ongoing conflict between the Israeli military occupation and the people of Palestine, in order to draw conclusions and make recommendations on the future of Gaza, in terms of its national and international relations, development, and reconstruction.

Although the above statement deals with Gaza as though it was a “country” with its own separate national and international relations, and despite several shortcomings, the conference itself was not short of successful.

The conference kicked off officially on 22 February with a 90-minute opening ceremony. 23 and 24 February saw full days of presentations, discussions and finally conclusions and recommendations. The audience was quite diversified and included politicians, academics, students, and activists. Commenting on this, TIDA organizer Ibrahim al-Nabahin said that it was among the conference’s “objectives” to have a diversified audience in terms of “age groups, political parties, and institutions.”

During the final ceremony, de facto Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh addressed the audience together with Eyad al-Sarraj and Nihad al-Sheikh Khalil, a teacher of Modern and Contemporary History at the Islamic University of Gaza. Al-Sheikh Khalil read out a summary of conclusions and recommendations which have been collaboratively reached by the participants.

Conference’s conclusions

Militarily, it has been agreed that the Palestinian resistance was able to deter Israel from achieving its goals in Gaza and that it emptied it of its “military supremacy” myth. Politically, there has been consensus on that the emerging regional environment is supportive of the resistance and that shaping any political agenda must take into account the regional changes. Further still, it was concluded that despite the West’s “absolute support” for Israel, it has become increasingly critical to Israel’s “aggressive” policies which cause “embarrassment” to its supporters.

Legally, the conclusions of the conference were identical to the conclusions of human rights organizations which revealed that Israel had used disproportionate force against the vastly civilian population of Gaza, thus violating international law.

However, local media does not seem to have done an excellent job because of different shortcomings associated with the scarcity of qualified human resources as well as flaws in speech formulation and delivery.

Economically, no counter-claims seem to have been made to the fact that international donors follow policies which are supportive of the “peace process” in ways that totally disregard, and even contradict, the Palestinians’ right to self-determination. Israel, the conference concluded, systematically tries to isolate the Palestinian market from enjoying any international transactions while at the same time maintaining the Palestinian economy’s dependency on that of Israel.   

Eyad al-Sarraj referred to the conference an attempt at “self-criticism” and called for the Palestinian “private sector” to “expand their support” for this kind of initiatives. He also added that the conference was entirely funded by local sources without the need of international donations.

Haniyeh spoke extensively about Israel’s November offensive calling it a “military and political victory.”  He also said that the conference is “an expression of the importance with which the people of Gaza regard such studies” and added that it should be held “every year” in order to keep pace with the various changes that take place in the regional and international environments.

Israel works tirelessly to impede intellectual progress in Gaza and incessantly  destroys educational facilities. Just in November, 240 facilities were damaged with 25 of them sustaining major damage.