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A Hilltop View of the Attack on Gaza

New America Media, Q&A, Sandip Roy, Interview with Jamal Dajani Posted: Jan 06, 2009

Editor's Note: Isreal's attack on Gaza is "like shooting into a chicken coop with a shotgun," says Jamal Dajani, senior director of Middle Eastern programming at Link TV. Dajani, who is currently in the Israeli town of Nahal Oz, describes the conditions on the ground from his vantage point overlooking the Gaza Strip. He spoke with NAM editor Sandip Roy. Read Jamal Dajani's latest blog from Gaza.

Where are you right now?

I am just outside the area behind operations of the Israeli army near the town of Nahal Oz. From where I am I can see the bombardment of Gaza and the advancement of Israeli ground forces. I am standing on a hill and can see rockets being fired, helicopters dropping bombs on Gaza. I can see Israeli military machinery going in.

What military operations are you seeing?

I can see Israeli frigates off the shore of Gaza, so bombardment is coming by sea as well. The ground troops are pushing in slowly. So far they have divided Gaza into three sectors of operations. But there is very little advancement on the ground as far as I can see. They have been pounding the hell out of the Strip.

What has been the impact of the assault?

Today is the tenth day of the assault. Israel managed to defeat all Arab armies in six days in 1967. In 10 days Israel has not defeated Hamas. The Israelis have learned a lesson from the 2006 war in Lebanon in 31 days they were not able to defeat Hezbollah. So they are approaching cautiously. They have called up 10,000 reserves. But they dont want to repeat what happened in Lebanon.

The Israelis were dropping leaflets on Gaza warning people about the attack. Did that have results?

This is a ridiculous thing. Someone faxed out a copy of the leaflet and Ive seen it. There were two kinds of leaflets. One was asking everyone to move away from the advancing position of the Israeli armies. But if everyone vacates, they will be trapped in one corner of the most crowded place on earth. On the other leaflet, there is a phone number that people can call to rat out Hamas and its rocket-launching sites. People are calling, but to mock the Israelis from all over. Someone called in and said, I have some information for you about terrorist cells. When they asked what are the names of the terrorists, the caller said, Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni.

What are your sources telling you about conditions in Gaza?

My source in one of the Gaza hospitals said they have been treating the injured on gurneys. They are leaving people whose injuries are not life-threatening on stairwells. The number has surpassed 500 killed and more than 2200 injured.

But Hamas remains defiant. Im really surprised by people in Gaza and how steadfast they have been. A Hamas spokesman said they wont surrender even if Israel drops a nuclear bomb on them.

What about the humanitarian situation?

In Gaza the hospitals are operating on generators. The city has been in darkness. Two days ago Livni said there was no humanitarian crisis. But Gaza is in a humanitarian crisis. Very little food and medical supplies are being allowed in. The Rafah border is still closed. So there is tension between the Palestinian and Egyptian government.

What about the tunnels through which Gazans got supplies?

Israel said part of their bombardment was to cut off the tunnels. There are no reports that every single tunnel was destroyed. There are many tunnels. This is how people in Gaza survived for the past few years.

What has this meant for the Fatah-led government?

Israel just gave Mahmoud Abbas the kiss of death. For months and years, Palestinians have been seeing Abbas shaking hands with Olmert and Livni and kissing them on the cheek. What do they do? They launch a massive offensive on Gaza and stab him in the back. People on the ground see it as war against their brothers and sisters and cousins, not as war against Hamas. Peoples families and in-laws live there. So they are blaming Abbas for collusion with Israelis. We will see what will happen in the end. I will be surprised if Abbas survives.

Already splinter groups in Fatah are speaking up. Faruq Qaddumi, the executive secretary of Fatah in Tunis, has condemned the Palestinian National Authority that is comprised mainly of Fatah members.

Do Palestinians feel Abbas hasnt been able to deliver?

I personally went through 11 checkpoints just to maneuver around the area. Movement is restricted by Israelis and you see the settlers being waved through the checkpoints because they have yellow license plates versus the green and white Palestinian license plates.

If you live in a small village and have a job in Ramallah and your work starts at 9:00, you will have to leave at 4:00 a.m. for a trip that would have taken 15 minutes by car. Thats what Abbas has achieved on the ground.

Have you seen evidence of Hamas having captured any Israeli soldiers?

Hamas has said that on Al Aqsa TV. Israel denies this. Hamas was saying they have killed five Israelis. Israel has admitted to the killing of one soldier and one grievously injured. Hamas engaging is in its own propaganda. They said they have two soldiers. But there is no confirmation.

Remember the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit who has been held by Hamas since 2006? His parents were angry when Olmert turned down a prisoner exchange deal with Hamas. He is still somewhere in Gaza. His fate is hanging in the air. Now the possibility of him being killed by an Israeli attack is not farfetched. Dont believe what they are saying about surgical attacks. Its like shooting into a chicken coop with a shotgun. Anywhere you hit something, the building next door collapses on top of people.

How are you able to communicate?

My fear is the cellular system might soon collapse. I am calling people and texting. Luckily many of the phone companies are not actually based in Gaza. So you cant just cut their wires. If I take this phone and go a few miles, I will be in the center of Gaza and we can still have this conversation because my carrier has coverage throughout the area. Internet is still up. Some stringers are still working there.

How are you getting information?

Al Jazeera has a crew inside one of the few stations who are in Gaza. Theres also Ramattan Studios, where you can rent a camera and hire cameramen. Then there are the bloggers and other individuals who are communicating through email.

But I cant verify information. I can only tell stories based on secondary sources. I can only hear from people inside citizen journalists and what I watch on Al Jazeera.

Whats been the reaction you have seen in Israel?

The peace camp in Israel is against the war and had a demonstration inside Tel Aviv and got into a scuffle with the right wing. Yesterday 100,000 people demonstrated in an Arab town in Israel, and many Israelis joined them. But even in good times, peace camp numbers are low in Israel. And its all about numbers.

But you have to realize if you are not on the battlefront its different. In Tel Aviv this could be another country, just something you watch on the news. On New Years Eve it felt like mini-Time Square in Jerusalem. Tel Aviv on any weekend is throbbing with young people going about their daily lives. The Hamas rockets might hit some towns closer to Gaza. But this is not like the war with Lebanon when Hezbollah was hitting towns like Haifa and a million Israelis fled from north to south.

Where do you see this heading?

Israel wants to end Hamas militarily and politically. But Hamas is very defiant. They want to go to hand-to-hand combat. Right now Israel is advancing and collecting in where Israeli settlements used to be. These are sparsely populated areas. Now they will have to go after Hamas in places like Rafah city. Here the roads are so narrow, tanks cant get through without destroying homes. Some of these roads are only 10 feet wide. They will have to cut through house to house to go after Hamas. Probably some of these roads are booby-trapped. At that point we will have a bloodbath.

These are not two countries fighting its a nuclear power versus a militia. Thats all there is. In a house-to-house battle, Hamas has the advantage. They know their alleyways. They are willing to fight to death. This war wont be over in the next 24 hours. The only way it will be over is if the international community stops Israel.

Related Articles:

Indonesia Awaits Obamas Gaza Plan

Irans Support of Hamas Unnerves Egypt

Hamas is Not Iran's Puppet

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