Nabil Amr
Palestinian writer and politician

A War Without Evacuation Ships

The Palestinians have fought two major wars: one went on for 88 days and left both sides with a high number of casualties. However, it led to the withdrawal of the Palestinian revolutionary forces from the South and Beirut, before they left Lebanon altogether.

The Israelis called the 1982 war ‘Operation Peace for Galilee.’ Its declared objective was not to root out the PLO, since that is impossible, but the last step in ensuring that the Palestinians cannot pose a military threat on any of the three fronts bordering Israel. In Jordan, this had been achieved by 1970. On the Syrian front, this was accomplished by limiting, containing, withdrawing, and splitting the Palestinians. In Lebanon, it was achieved through their dispersal in different Arab countries, which left them merely sheltered there, nothing more.

Because the objective was not ending the PLO but removing it from Lebanon, massive ships to evacuate the Palestinian fighters and their leader, Yasser Arafat, were brought in to evacuate them. Arafat chose exile in Tunisia to signal his dissatisfaction with the Assad regime, which Arafat had accused of hijacking independent Palestinian decision-making.

The Palestinians could not fight on any of these three fronts. To put it briefly, as the door to a military solution was shut the door to a settlement was opened to Arafat. Without getting into how long this process took, this is what happened.

The current war on Gaza is the most significant war the Palestinians have fought since the 1982 Lebanon War. In the interval between these two great wars, many others with a smaller geographical scope and of lesser intensity broke out.

Besides the difference in time and place, the difference between the two wars is that no evacuation ships like those that the Americans had provided through the efforts of their envoy, Philip Habib, were provided. At the time, NATO took responsibility for their safety from the moment they set sail to the moment they arrived. As for Yasser Arafat, who believed his being able to raise his sign at the end of any war to be tantamount to victory, he claimed that leaving his most important strategic base of operations and support was merely a departure from one arena to another. However, he did not explicitly recognize that he had gone from combat territory to the territory of peace.

The PLO deliberately emphasized that the occupied territories were its “only alternative” as the PLO put its weight behind the First Intifada that brought it to power over some parts of the country.

No evacuation ships were brought in to remove the fighters who performed a legendary feat on October 7th and are not fighting the most crucial defensive war in history. This war against the region’s smallest and most densely populated zone is being waged by one of the strongest armies in the Middle East and the world, and one of the planet’s most badly equipped forces is defending it.

Instead of ships like those that had carried Arafat’s fighters from Lebanon, aircraft carriers were brought in to protect Israel from any threats that it would be exposed to and deter the region from intervening. Detering intervention is aimed at leaving Israel free to remain focused on its war on Gaza and prevent the outbreak of a regional war, which the US wants to avoid now and in the future.

The goals of Israel’s war, which is being supported so forcefully by the Americans that they should be considered participants, raise the risk of genocide and put Gaza at risk of being totally destroyed. No one can know the extent of the destruction until the dust settles. Without the evacuation ships, the fighters only have one option: remain steadfast and resist.

This war is unique in that neither side has the luxury of retreat. The resistance fighters are not going to raise a “white flag,” and the army on the offensive is not contemplating a change in the agenda, an image of victory that convinces the Israeli public and removes its sense of defeat.

The 1982 war ended with the evacuation of Palestinian fighters from South Lebanon and Beirut. Decades later, they are back and working as security forces and employees after having arrived on the broken wings of the Oslo Accords.

As for the war of 2023, no one knows what will happen once it ends, but there will be no evacuation ships or white flags.