Thanks to April Cumming for today’s guest post on the situation in Gaza.
The images playing across the screens of the world today and over the previous week are nothing new; children are rushed to hospitals, with bloodied limbs and screaming parents by their sides. Grief-stricken widows with palms to the air offer up a plea to the heavens for some reason, some explanation. A densely populated street scarred by the bombing of yesterday, littered with car parts, crumbled walls and crimson stains on charred earth.
This is the Gaza Strip and this is the entire world for thousands of captive Palestinians, hemmed in by the ever-tightening UN Armistice line to one side, and the glittering Mediterranean Sea to the other. The bountiful waters are, of course, off-limits to the Palestinians who would once have fished there.
The response of the international community is also nothing new, with calls for a ceasefire, strong condemnation, and yet no meaningful sanctions against an occupying force that day by day restricts even the basic human rights of many innocent people.
This shattered land, once part of a united Palestinian territory, now exists in isolation of the West Bank. The former, ruled by Hamas, and the latter ruled by Fatah.
Israel overtook the territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, from Jordan and Egypt respectively, in the Six Day War of 1967, and has maintained control of them from this time. The threat of violent retaliation in response to occupation coming from the territory of Gaza has allowed an increased use in military interventions while at the same time drawing attention away from the continued expansion beyond the UN sanctioned borders.
Over the course of the three aerial bombardments of the strip, starting in 2008 with Operation Cast Lead, The Israeli military has succeeded in destroying vital domestic infrastructure in a manner deliberately designed to intimidate and undermine beyond the targeting of military strongholds. Water infrastructure has been disabled, sanitation has been destroyed, schools and hospitals have been damaged, and the cumulative effect of this is to wipe out any chance of a stable and sustainable state infrastructure to be developed. In a report to CNN a spokesman for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) explained that this current bombardment alone more than 500 homes in Gaza have been destroyed or severely damaged, more than 3,000 Palestinians are displaced and hundreds of thousands have been affected by damage to water infrastructure. Electricity has been cut from major areas of Gaza City, and at least one major line was struck, repaired and promptly struck again. Nine UNRWA schools have been damaged. Fatalities, including the young, continue to mount.
Is it any wonder that generations of citizens who have known nothing but this intimidation and whom have never looked an Israeli in the eye as an equal vote for a pro-retaliation administration? Only when both the Israelis and the joint Hamas-Fatah Palestinian body come to the table as something approaching equals will this rancorous relationship be addressed meaningfully.
One positive step was taken in the formation of a coalition between Hamas and Fatah in advance of the peace talks that took place in April. This showed that both the moderate West Bank representatives and the more territorial Hamas are willing to provide a united front for finding a peaceful resolution, and gives an indication of their recognition that diplomatic means are always favourable to military intervention. This was not reflected in the Israeli response. Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid stated that Hamas’ joining the Palestinian government would be “a game-changer” and that Abbas had violated Israel’s trust by reaching the agreement with Hamas. “Hamas is a jihadi terror organization that is proud of killing civilians – women, children, the elderly – just because they’re Jewish.”
I have never met a Jewish person who believes that the current situation is just or sustainable. It is not Judaism but Zionism and apartheid that fuels the endless violence and the hatred that comes from Hamas is a product of this. Without understanding and communication this barrier cannot be crossed. The use of binary oppositions, ‘us vs them’, is so common on both sides of the divide that it has become part of the everyday language and lives of the civilians who toil under a brutal and manipulative leadership. They are the victims in the occupation and they exist, to a greater or lesser extent, in Israel, Gaza and The West Bank.
All lives are damaged and this rhetoric will continue to burn hatred and misunderstanding into the hearts of civilians on both sides of the wall. There is no small voice of calm, only the soaring oratory of the hawkish premier and the bitter resentment and retaliation of an angry, oppressed people. Nothing but the withdrawal of Western support from Israel, and a push towards the re-establishment of the UN agreed 1969 Armistice line, will start the process of reconciliation. The United Nations established this boundary and agreed to monitor it and ensure it was upheld. The armistice enforcement led to the signing of the separate Tripartite Declaration of 1950 between the United States, Britain, and France. In it, they pledged to take action within and outside the United Nations to prevent violations of the frontiers or armistice lines. This has not happened.
Following this, a space for compromise must be created by UN-agreed peace brokers. I believe this will only be possible with a more moderate Israeli government, as they hold the upper hand. Hamas will not approach the table as moderates as they are not equals; therefore the concession and hand of peace must be made first from the side with most power. The window of opportunity for peace, for all of those who wish for it, is closing rapidly.