Israel-Gaza conflict: As ceasefire holds, both sides mull who won

A ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza appears to be holding after a bloody and costly seven-week-long conflict. Now the inevitable discussion of who won the war has begun, the CBC's Derek Stoffel writes.

'We are still standing,' Gazans declare as Israeli and Hamas political leaders claim victory

Now that the Israeli air raids have stopped, Baraa Abu Dagga and his family are waiting for the construction men to come rebuild their house.

"It’s really hard and bad here," the 18-year-old said, reached by telephone in Khan Yunis, a city in the southern Gaza Strip. "There’s nothing to do but wait, wait for help. We can’t do anything else."

The Abu Dagga family's home was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike three weeks ago, during the 50-day war that saw the most intense fighting between Gaza militants and Israel’s military. Baraa and his family all hold dual Palestinian-Canadian citizenship. The 18-year-old spent six years living in Hamilton, Ont., but returned to Gaza to be with his family.

“Everybody’s happy that there’s a ceasefire now,” Abu Dagga said.

An open-ended ceasefire took effect on Tuesday. After several truces that did not hold during this seven-week-long conflict, there is still much skepticism, especially among Israelis, that this one will bring quiet to Gaza and Israel. But, so far, it is holding.

And so, the inevitable discussion of who won the war has begun.

The Israeli television and radio stations have trotted out the experts to make their assessments. The political leaders on both sides of the conflict are, of course, claiming victory.

Palestinian-Canadian Baraa Abu Dagga and his family are waiting for the construction men to come rebuild their house in Gaza after it was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike. (Courtesy of Baraa Abu Dagga)

Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday Israel had secured a "great military and political" victory over Hamas. "I can say that we dealt a heavy blow to Hamas and terrorist groups."

In Gaza, Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh told a rally of thousands of supporters Wednesday night that the gains achieved by his group were "multiple, multiple" times more than the outcome of previous conflicts with Israel in 2012 and 2008-09.

"Those whose blood was spilled and the martyrs were the fuel of this victory," Haniyeh said.

Thousands of Gazans celebrated the end of the ceasefire on Tuesday night by pouring out onto the streets of Gaza City, some firing celebratory gunshots into the air.

'They got what they wanted'

Hamas's declaration that they won the war after so many Palestinians were killed in the conflict irked some in Israel’s security establishment, which pointed to the destruction of most of the tunnels used by Gaza militants to launch attacks on Israeli territory. Much of the militants' rocket supply was either destroyed or depleted in the fighting.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced strong criticism in Israel over the country's costly conflict with Palestinian militants in Gaza, in which no clear victor has emerged. (Nir Elias/Reuters)

Yet, there are some Israelis who grudgingly agree with the Palestinian assessment.

“I think that they’re right, they have a victory,” Moshe Green told me while taking a break from shopping in Jerusalem’s main market. “They got what they wanted. What did we get out of it? I don’t know.”

A public opinion poll released Thursday by the left-leaning Israeli newspaper Haaretz found that 54 per cent of Israelis feel there was no clear winner in the war, while about a quarter felt Israel prevailed and 16 per cent said Hamas achieved a victory.

"I don’t think that any declaration who won what is important," said Yaakov Amidror, a former national security adviser to Israeli prime minister Netanyahu. "What is important is how the future will look like."

The ceasefire deal agreed to by Hamas and Israel is ambiguous, leaving much of the hard work for future negotiations. Israel will ease some border restrictions, allowing limited humanitarian aid and construction materials into Gaza.

Israeli officials say there are safeguards in the agreement to monitor where there construction goods are used, given Israeli concerns that cement and concrete could be diverted from rebuilding homes and instead used to reconstruct the tunnels destroyed by Israel’s army.

A new round of talks, brokered by the Egyptians, should take place in the next month or so, if the ceasefire holds.

The discussions are expected to deal with the difficult issues, including Hamas's demand that Israel and Egypt end their blockade of Gaza’s borders. Palestinians in Gaza use the word "siege" to refer to the various restrictions Israel has imposed on the coastal region, particularly on the movement of goods and people. 

Israel wants assurances that Hamas and the other Gaza militant groups are disarmed.

'We are still standing'

Medical officials in Gaza say 2,143 Palestinians were killed during the war, the majority were civilians, according to the United Nations and human rights groups. Sixty-four Israeli soldiers died, along with five Israeli and one Thai civilian.

Back in Khan Yunis, Baraa Abu Dagga told me his family is focused on rebuilding their home now that the rocket fire and airstrikes have stopped.

But he, too, couldn’t help but take a run at the who-won-the-war assessments that fill the newspapers and broadcasts around the region.

“We won the war," he said. "[Israel] bombed our houses, but we are still going on. We are still standing.”

The Gaza war in numbers

  • Palestinians killed: 2,143 **
  • Israelis killed: 69 (+1 Thai migrant worker) *
  • Israeli targets struck in Gaza: 5,263 *
  • Rockets fired into Israel: 4,564 *
  • Rockets exploded in Israeli territory:3,641 *
  • Rockets destroyed by Iron Dome: 735 *
  • Buildings destroyed in Gaza: estimated 10,800 **
  • Buildings damaged in Gaza: estimated 50,000 ** (including 277 schools, 270 mosques and 10 hospitals)

* - Source: Israeli military ** - Source: Palestinian sources


Derek Stoffel

World News Editor

Derek Stoffel is a former Middle East correspondent, who covered the Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya and reported from Syria during the ongoing civil war. Based in Jerusalem for many years, he covered the Israeli and Palestinian conflict. He has also worked throughout Europe and the U.S., and reported on Canada's military mission in Afghanistan.


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