15th May 2021
Palestinian youths contemplate the consequences of Israeli bombardment of Gaza
There is not an equivalence of blame, firepower or destruction in the current conflict in Gaza. One of the world’s most powerful armed forces, the Israeli Defence Force, is bombarding Gaza City. The city is the main centre, with a population of about 500,000 on a strip of land of 140 square miles which is home to 2m people. Israel has been illegally occupying Gaza since 1967 and effectively blockading since 2008, controlling airspace and access by sea to prevent legitimate supplies of food, medicine and machinery.
Gaza City has been described as an open air prison. While notionally governed by Hamas, as part of the Palestinian Authority, the extent to which Israel controls the lives of those in Gaza and the occupied West Bank amounts to the behaviour of an occupying force.
The outbreak of violence this week erupted when the Israelis implemented the further forced removal of Palestinians from East Jerusalem and effectively attacked the al-Aqsa mosque, which has been the centre of Islamic worship in Jerusalem for hundreds of years.
The Palestinian death toll has risen to 137, including eight killed and fifteen injured in an Israeli attack upon the al-Shati refugee camp, early on Saturday morning.
The Israeli regime continues to be deaf to calls for a ceasefire or any mediation. With the Egyptians being prepared to broker a deal, the response of the Israeli Defence Minister, Benny Gantz, was trenchant, stating,
“Israel is not prepared for a ceasefire. There is currently no end date for the operation. Only when we can talk about complete quiet can we talk about calm.”
Response in the West has been typically biased, seeking to express concern over the scale of the Israeli ‘response’ while condemning Hamas rocket attacks into Israel. Foreign Office Minister, James Cleverly, has described the Hamas rockets targeting Israel as “acts of terrorism”, suggesting that Israel has an absolute legitimate right of self defence. Quite whether the UK government sees the same absolute legitimate right extending to the Palestinian population remains unstated.
The response of the United States has been to use its veto to block a unified United Nations Security Council statement on the situation, in spite of the warning from Tor Wennesland, the UN’s Middle East envoy that,
“The cost of war in Gaza is devastating and is being paid by ordinary people. Stop the fire immediately. We’re escalating towards a full scale war.”
Attacks upon Arab-Israeli communities across Israel are escalating as right wing Jewish groups destroy Arab homes and businesses. This represents a new dimension to the conflict. While the Israeli regime has effectively operated a system of apartheid in relation to Arab-Israeli’s, an estimated 20% of the population, a degree of peaceful co-existence has prevailed, as long as Arabs do not challenge their status as second class citizens.
This weekend marks the anniversary of the nakba, the Arab word for catastrophe, marking the day in 1948 when the birth of the Israeli state meant the dispossession of Palestinian land and 700,000 Palestinians had to flee into exile, in the surrounding states of Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Prime Minister, is not known for backing down. He is also in the middle of coalition negotiations following recent elections in Israel, seeking to form his fourth administration. Fanning the flames of conflict and playing the ‘strongman’ card in the face of what he characterises as Palestinian violence may be, in Netanyahu’s view, his best chance of hanging onto power.
Netanyahu claims that the Israelis are targeting Hamas commanders and is trying to pass off the operation as a purely military exercise to combat ‘terrorism’. The increasing death toll of innocent civilians, women and children, clearly non-combatants by any stretch, gives the lie to Netanyahu’s claims.
The Israeli regime regularly drums up both domestic and international support by demonising those who question its policies and flagrant disregard for international law and UN resolutions, as presenting an existential threat to Israel. The real existential threat however, is not to the Western backed and massively armed state of Israel, it is to the largely defenceless Palestinian people themselves and their hopes for a state of their own.