The next logical step would have been to move forward and conquer the entire Gaza Strip, some 45 km long and an average of 6 km wide, with 1.8 million inhabitants. Four times larger than Manhattan island with about the same population.
But the Israeli army detested the idea of conquering the Strip for the third time (after 1956 and 1967). The last time it left, the soldiers sang "Goodbye Gaza, and not to see you again!" Predictions of military casualties were high, many more than Israeli society was ready to suffer, in spite of all the patriotic hyperbole.
The war deteriorated into an orgy of killing and destroying, with both sides "dancing on the blood," blessing every bomb and missile, completely oblivious to the suffering caused to the human beings on the other side. And still without any realizable aim.
IF CLAUSEWITZ was right about war being but a continuation of policy by other means, then every war must have a clear political aim.
For Hamas, the aim was clear and simple: Lift the blockade on Gaza.
For Israel there was none. Binyamin Netanyahu defined his aim as "Calm in return for Calm." But we had that before it all started.
Some of his cabinet colleagues demanded to "go to the end" and occupy the entire strip. The army command objected, and one cannot fight a war against the wishes of the army command. So everyone stood around waiting for Godot.
What brought about the final ceasefire agreement?
Both sides were exhausted. On the Israeli side, the feather that broke the camel's back was the plight of the settlement around the Gaza Strip, called the "Gaza envelope." Under the unceasing barrage of short-range rockets and -- even worse -- mortar shells that cost next to nothing, the inhabitants, mostly kibbutz members, started to move quitetly to safer regions.
That was almost sacrilege. One of the founding myths of Israel was that in the 1948 war, in which the state was born, Arab villagers and townspeople ran away when they were shot at, while our settlements stood firm even in the midst of hell.
That was not entirely so. Several kibbutzim were evacuated by order of the army when their defense became impossible. In several others, women and children were sent away, while men were ordered to stay on and fight with the soldiers. But on the whole, Israeli settlements stood fast and fought.
But 1948 was an ethnic war for territory. Land evacuated was lost forever (or at least until the next war). This time, the whole rationale was different.
LIFE IN the "envelope" became impossible. Sirens sounded several times within the hour, and everybody had 15 seconds to find shelter. The clamor for evacuation became open and loud. Hundreds of families moved away. The myth was abandoned and the government was compelled to organize a mass movement. That did not look like victory.
The Palestinian side underwent a terrible ordeal. About 400 thousand people had to leave their homes. Whole families found shelter in UN buildings, several families in a room or in a corner of the courtyard, without electricity and with very little water, mothers with 6, 7 or 8 children.
(Imagine what that means: A family, poor or wealthy, has to leave its home within minutes, unable to take anything, no clothes, no money, no family albums, just to gather the children and run, while behind them the home collapses. A whole life's work and memories destroyed in seconds. The young men were long gone, living in secret underground tunnels, preparing for the crucial fight.)
It is almost a wonder that under these conditions, the Hamas government and command structure did function. Orders passed from hidden leaders to hidden cells, contacts were maintained with leaders abroad and between different organizations, while spy drones circled overhead and killed any civil leader or commander who showed his face.
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