The case of Hisham Abu Hawash, a Palestinian on hunger strike, has sent a strong message to Israel’s establishment and proves to be a significant victory for Gaza’s armed resistance.
Hisham Abu Hawash, a Palestinian held in administrative detention — held without a charge — finished his 141 day hunger strike, on the verge of death and has now recovered from a coma. Israel, after refusing demands by the United Nations and Egypt to negotiate a deal in order to end the hunger strike and guarantee Abu Hawash’s release, gave in on Tuesday after threats from Gaza’s armed groups to strike Israel if Hisham was allowed to die in Israeli custody. Hisham Abu Hawash will now be released on the 26th of February, an announcement made by his lawyer which sparked celebrations from Palestinians across the occupied territories.
In reaction to the news that Israel had been defeated by Abu Hawash and had given in to his demands for release, far-Right Israel Knesset member Itamar Ben-Gvir attempted to storm the hospital where Hisham was being held. Ben-Gvir declared that Israel had bowed to terrorism and wanted to see the death of Abu Hawash. After entering the hospital, accompanied by religious extremist Israeli settlers, the Israeli MK was confronted by Palestinian citizens of Israel who blocked him from entering the political prisoners room.
Out of this scenario, one thing has become abundantly clear, Israel is easily pressured by the armed wings of Palestinian political Parties in the Gaza Strip, along with allied armed militias in the West Bank. What the UN and Egypt could not achieve, was achieved by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) by threatening strikes on Israel. This sends a very strong message about the current stage we have now entered in the Palestine-Israeli conflict.
Israel has not had a “deterrence capacity” — Israel’s phrase for its ability to scare its opposition into submission — in Gaza since late 2018. Israel has since attempted to win back its ability to bomb Gaza into submission but continues to fail dramatically at doing so, with its last attempt to do so, in May 2021, proving an embarrassing failure.
By 1999, following the Oslo Accords signed between the PLO and Israel, it was clear to all Palestinians that Israel did not intend to allow for a Palestinian State within the 1967 borders and that the Israeli government would not accept UN resolution 242. In 2006 when Hamas won the Palestinian legislative elections in a landslide victory, it was also confirmed that the West and Israel would not allow Palestinian democracy as they began aiding the Palestinian Authority (PA) to overthrow Hamas.
Splitting the Palestinian territories from each other with two separate governing forces, Fatah’s PA in the West Bank and Hamas’s Authority in Gaza City, it was clear that the solution with Israel could no longer be achieved through the internationally accepted negotiation route. But the problem of the mid to late 2000’s and beyond had been that the military forces of the Palestinians were also not a viable option to achieve justice and liberation of their homeland.
This began to change (I would argue) in 2017. This is not only the year when Hamas adopted a new Charter, which is much more pragmatic than its first charter of 1987, but it is also the year that Iran took over as the primary donor to the resistance movement, from Qatar. The reason for this was because Doha was under enormous pressure from Saudi Arabia and its Persian Gulf allies, due to the blockade introduced against it. Eventually, Qatar again took over from Iran as the top donor to Hamas, but due to the growing alliance between Doha and Tehran, there seems to now be a good balance between both of Hamas’s primary donors.
Iran only began arming Hamas following the 2008-2009 bombardment of Gaza by Israel. In 2012 this backing by Iran seemed to have succeeded at somewhat strengthening the armed resistance in Gaza, but Hamas and its allies were nowhere near to matching the power of Israel’s military. In 2014 this was proven, as Israel ravaged the Gaza Strip for 7 weeks, completely devastating its civilian infrastructure. Although Gaza had been badly battered, the armed resistance was far from defeated and through the following years this armed resistance would continue to build its arsenal and develop new tactics.
By 2017 the current leader of Hamas in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, had been elected to power and ushered in a change in tactics. His emphasis on the strategy of the armed struggle arguably turned him into a strongman figure matching the respect commanded from the likes of Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah following the war last May. A number of strategic escalations under his command have now turned the rules of engagement on their head between Israel and Gaza.
Up until late 2018, Israel would consistently strike Gaza as and when it chose. Israel could get away with killing members of the armed groups in Gaza and even Palestinian civilians with its airstrikes. Now, Israel rarely ever chooses when to start a conflict with Gaza, and if it does, it is eventually pressured into withdrawing. Since May’s conflict, the rules of engagement have been dictated by the ‘Joint Room’ of Palestinian resistance factions, meaning that they have decided when the time has been right to engage and threaten escalation, forcing Israel to react accordingly. However, Israel is hesitant to even kill civilians in Gaza at this point for fear of the retaliation from Gaza’s armed groups.
The capabilities of Hamas, PIJ and other armed factions have improved since 2014 and this has set up a circumstance under which Israel is now clueless on what to do with Gaza. Israel could not even enter Gaza during the May 2021 war, it has no capability of destroying the military infrastructure of Hamas and has no idea how to stop the rockets from firing.
During the bombardment of Gaza on New Year’s Day, in response to two rockets fired into the sea by Hamas, the Palestinian resistance announced that they had not only tested rockets into the sea during the Israeli attack, but also fired SA-7 surface-to-air missiles at attacking Israeli fighter jets. Following this embarrassment, not being able to hit anything but open training grounds for the armed groups, Israel was faced with the decision to escalate by allowing Hisham Abu Hawash to die, or to release him.
The decision by Israel to opt out of going to war, was the smart option for them as the government of Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid could have fallen apart if they engaged in warfare with the Joint Room of Palestinian resistance factions. The power-sharing government between the two, cost both Bennett and Lapid much of their core supporters who vehemently opposed the alliance. It was a bold move taken to oust former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but it has put the current Israeli government on shaky legs and this means that any conflict, interpreted as a military defeat or set-back by the Israeli public, may pressure ministers or even Parties to withdraw from the coalition government.
This predicament for Israel’s government has further empowered the Palestinian armed resistance who now hold the card of embarrassing the Israeli government into collapse, sending the political system into limbo. Hisham Abu Hawash has now become yet another example of how improving the power of the armed resistance in Gaza and uniting it with the West Bank, paves the way to Israel giving concessions and shows the PA, run by Mahmoud Abbas, to be ineffective in its collaboration with the occupying power.
The only thing that the armed resistance does not possess is international legitimacy, but with the inevitable fall of the Palestinian authority, the groups fighting for the Palestinian people will at least become the only option.