After the ‘Day of Rage’ observed internationally on July 25, the violence inevitably spread through the West Bank, as 6 Palestinians were killed in clashes with the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF). Till Saturday, 856 Palestinians and 40 Israelis have lost their lives. Ever since Israel’s ground offensive, ostensibly to destroy the myriad tunnels (along with basic supplies medicine and petrol, the tunnels have been used to funnel and transport weapons and rockets to Hamas) that lead out of Gaza, the death toll has dramatically escalated, and risks spiralling out of control as the Israel’s offensive shows no sign of ending.
On July 25, the latest ceasefire proposal, pushed forth this time by the United States, was rejected by Israel, prompting American Secretary of State John Kerry to go to Paris to meet his Qatari and Turkish counterparts — seen as being partial to Hamas — to draft yet another proposal. While we have seen this violence occur every few years — 2012 and 2008 before that — what has been different this time round is the allegiances. The Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas’s traditional ally and benefactor, has been on the run. Ever since General Sisi’s coup in Egypt, a domestic crackdown on the Brotherhood has resulted in Egypt being almost as hostile to Hamas as Israel has. Turkey, previously seen as the go-to mediator for any conflict in the Middle East, has seen its foreign policy turn in on itself. Rocky relations with Israel ever since Israeli troops stormed a Turkish flotilla in 2010 has meant that Israel — and by extension, the United States — has been on keeping Turkey’s role as a mediator to a minimum. Qatar, also suspected to be close to the Brotherhood, faces a similar problem. While on the other side, the United States is hardly be trusted to be a ‘neutral observer’. Hence, because regional powers have an interest in one party ‘winning’, the need to end the conflict as soon as possible is not as urgent.
‘Winning’ for either side in this case, is a next-to-impossible notion. No matter how many bombs Israel pounds Gaza with, hostility will not end. For Hamas, cynically, the high death toll has worked in its favour, allowing people both in the West Bank and internationally, to sympathise with it. Yet, it is unpopular with its own people given that it has abjectly failed to provide any services, development or jobs to the besieged people of Gaza. Most polls predict that if elections were to take place in Gaza today, people would choose Fatah over Hamas. Having lost its strongest ally in Egypt, Hamas is also more isolated than ever. Reports of using human shields and hiding rockets in UN schools haven’t helped either.
In fact, there are no winners in this conflict, only losers: the Gazans more than anybody else. Even during peacetime, life in Gaza is appalling. No one can come in, and no one can go out. Gaza’s economy has imploded, since goods can neither be imported nor exported. More than half its working population is unemployed. Its water supply has slowed down to a trickle. There’s sewage in the streets. Once the bombings started, IDF has been keen to tell everyone that they have issued warning calls telling residents to evacuate. The questions Gazans have been asking themselves is: evacuate to where? 1.8 million people live in the world’s largest open-air prison. There is no escape.
The international community can do a lot more than it has thus far. The Arab League has largely remained criminally silent; so has much of Europe. Both have acted in varying capacities as mediators before, and they should try to do so again. At the same time, criticism towards either side ought to be kept civil. The disgusting levels of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism that have risen since the offensive began do not help anybody.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 28th, 2014.
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