Of Palestine and Gaza, All That Remains !

Of Palestine and Gaza, All That Remains !

MONTEGO BAY, Jamaica, June 22, 2024 - In the January/February issue of Prospect Magazine, historian Avi Shlaim explores how Israel has brought Gaza to the brink of humanitarian catastrophe. Shlaim points out that Israel has repeatedly inflicted death and destruction on Gazans, but in retaliation for Hamas’s terrorist acts, it now raises the spectre of something even more alarming: ethnic cleansing.

On January 7, 2009, during the height of Operation Cast Lead, Shlaim wrote an article in The Guardian titled “How Israel brought Gaza to the brink of humanitarian catastrophe.” This marked Israel’s first major assault on the Gaza Strip following its unilateral withdrawal in 2005. Major military offensives followed in 2012, 2014, 2021, and 2022, alongside numerous smaller conflicts and significant casualties during the 2018 border protests known as the March of Return. According to Shlaim, the current war is the sixth significant Israeli assault on Gaza, and by far the most lethal and destructive, raising fears of a second Palestinian Nakba.

The historical context is crucial for understanding Israel’s actions in Gaza. The establishment of the state of Israel in May 1948 resulted in a monumental injustice to the Palestinians, with three-quarters of a million Palestinians becoming refugees and the name Palestine being wiped off the map. While Israelis refer to this event as “The War of Independence,” Palestinians call it the Nakba, or catastrophe. This event marked the beginning of an ongoing process of dispossession and displacement of the Palestinian people from their homeland, a process that continues to manifest in the actions of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) in Gaza today.

Historical Context

The United Kingdom was the original sponsor of the Jewish state, dating back to the Balfour Declaration of 1917. By 1948, however, the United States had supplanted the UK as Israel's principal backer. Despite British officials' resentment of American partisanship, they themselves had enabled and empowered the Zionist takeover of Palestine.

The conditions that gave rise to the Nakba were rooted in British policies, yet no British government has ever accepted responsibility for the resulting Palestinian suffering. Since 1948, Western powers, led by the US, have provided Israel with massive moral, economic, and military support, as well as diplomatic protection. The US has used its veto power in the UN Security Council 46 times to block resolutions unfavorable to Israel, and it gives Israel around $3.8 billion in military aid annually. This support is not conditioned on Israel's respect for Palestinian human rights or international law, allowing Israel to act with impunity.

Operation Cast Lead (2008-2009)

In December 2008, Israel launched Operation Cast Lead, breaching a six-month ceasefire brokered by Egypt. This operation was less a war and more a one-sided massacre. For 22 days, the IDF targeted Hamas but also inflicted severe casualties on the civilian population. In total, 1,417 Gazans were killed, including 313 children, and more than 5,500 were wounded.

The majority of the casualties were civilians. An independent fact-finding mission led by Richard Goldstone, a South African judge, found both Hamas and the IDF guilty of war crimes, but the IDF’s violations were far more severe. The mission concluded that Israel's actions were a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate, and terrorize the civilian population of Gaza, and to severely diminish its capacity to provide for itself.

Subsequent Conflicts and Blockade

Following Operation Cast Lead, Israel continued its pattern of military offensives, with major assaults occurring in 2012, 2014, 2021, and 2022. Additionally, the blockade imposed on Gaza has severely restricted the flow of food, fuel, and medical supplies, inflicting collective punishment on its residents. The blockade has crippled Gaza’s economy, leading to widespread poverty, misery, and unemployment. These measures have resulted in immense suffering for the civilian population, effectively turning Gaza into an open-air prison.

Current Conflict (2023-2024)

The current conflict erupted on October 7, 2023, when Hamas launched a devastating attack, breaking through the fence surrounding Gaza and attacking Israeli settlements, resulting in the deaths of about 300 soldiers and over 800 civilians, including those at a music festival. In response, Israel launched an intense bombardment of Gaza, targeting not only Hamas but also civilian infrastructure, residential buildings, schools, mosques, hospitals, and UNRWA food depots. By the end of November, the death toll had risen to over 15,000, with more than 30,000 injured. An estimated 6,150 of the dead were children and 4,000 were women. This level of civilian casualties and destruction has led some to fear that Israel is on the verge of committing genocide.

The situation is further complicated by Israel’s orders for northern Gaza residents to move south, displacing nearly half of Gaza’s population. As the military offensive moves into southern Gaza, refugees are again being ordered to relocate, amounting to a forced transfer of civilians—a war crime. This has led to speculation that Israel may be planning a permanent transfer of Gaza’s population to the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, although Egypt has strongly objected to this plan.

Political Implications and Future Prospects

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declared his intention to keep indefinite security control over Gaza, although there is no desire in Israel to fully reoccupy the territory. Netanyahu faces significant opposition at home for his handling of the conflict and is embroiled in a corruption trial, making his political future uncertain. The future governance of Gaza remains a pressing question. While the US and EU favor the return of the Palestinian Authority to Gaza, this is seen as unrealistic given the Authority’s weak governance and lack of legitimacy.

The current conflict underscores the absence of a military solution. The only viable path forward is a negotiated political compromise, akin to the Northern Ireland peace process, requiring international intervention. A new international coalition, including the UN, US, EU, Arab states, and members of the global south, is necessary to facilitate humanitarian relief, reconstruction, and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state encompassing Gaza and the West Bank, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Conclusion

As the conflict in Gaza continues, the international community must push for an immediate ceasefire and a long-term political solution. The ongoing violence not only devastates the lives of Palestinians but also threatens regional stability. It is imperative that Israel, the US, and other global powers commit to a peaceful resolution that respects the rights and sovereignty of the Palestinian people.

The enduring conflict between Israel and Gaza is not merely a battle between two sides but a protracted struggle of an occupied population against a powerful military force. Understanding the historical and political complexities is crucial for any meaningful resolution. The international community's role is not just to mediate but to actively ensure that international laws are upheld and human rights are protected.

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