[Column] The horrors of Gaza

Posted on : 2023-12-11 17:24 KST Modified on : 2023-12-11 17:24 KST
Any solution to the current crisis must put Palestinians at the center of decision-making
Smoke rises from the vicinity of Khan Younis in southern Gaza, where the IDF has begun staging a ground war, on Dec. 6. (EPA/Yonhap)
Smoke rises from the vicinity of Khan Younis in southern Gaza, where the IDF has begun staging a ground war, on Dec. 6. (EPA/Yonhap)
By John Feffer, author and director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies

The greatest horror of the war between Israel and Gaza is that it shouldn’t have happened in the first place. Israeli intelligence received a 40-page document a year before the Oct. 7 attack that provided precise details of the plan of the militant Hamas organization to breach the security wall between Israel and Gaza.

Although the document was widely distributed among military and intelligence officials, the Israeli government did not act. It did not send reinforcements to the border. It did not modify the border wall itself. It dismissed the warnings of an intelligence analyst who reported in July on a Hamas training exercise that closely mirrored the details in the 40-page document. And then, two days before the Oct. 7 attack, two Israeli commando companies were redeployed away from the Gaza border to the West Bank.

This extraordinary news has not brought down the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, even though the Israeli leader has long argued that only he and his far right-wing policies keep Israelis safe. By failing to disrupt the plans of Hamas, his government in fact put thousands of Israelis in harm’s way. Then, on Oct. 7, the government dragged its feet in response to the attack. And it has jeopardized more Israeli lives — particularly those of the hostages that Hamas took during its incursion — by launching an indiscriminate and violent attack against Hamas and Palestinians in general in Gaza.

Whatever popularity Netanyahu had before Oct. 7 has largely disappeared. According to a poll in November, only 4 percent of Israelis trust their prime minister. For some time, Netanyahu has also faced numerous charges of corruption, for which he could receive as much as a 10-year prison sentence. Remaining in office doesn’t provide him with immunity. But Netanyahu’s manipulations of the judicial system, which mobilized public sentiment against him prior to Oct. 7, could help him evade prosecution in the future.

On top of his failure to keep Israeli citizens safe, Netanyahu now faces international condemnation for the ongoing attacks in Gaza. The Israeli Defense Forces have killed Hamas fighters and innocent civilians alike. According to the Gaza Health Ministry, over 17,000 Palestinians have died so far in the two-month conflict, with another 6,000 people missing. Almost 70 percent of those who have died are women and children.

The Palestinian death toll is already more than 10 times the number of Israelis killed — 1,200 — on Oct.7.

The high death toll in Gaza results from a number of factors. First of all, Israel is dropping enormous bombs on crowded neighborhoods. It has blocked all but a trickle of humanitarian aid from making it into the country, putting an even larger number of Gazans at risk. In the Jabalia refugee camp alone, an estimated 100,000 people face starvation. Hamas, too, has contributed to the high casualty rate by embedding itself in the civilian infrastructure, but that’s no surprise for an organization that combines paramilitary operations with political governance and the provision of social services.

Although the Israeli military has warned Gazans to leave areas under attack, the residents of Gaza have nowhere to go as Israel expands the scope of its operations. The only reasonably safe place would be over the border in Egypt. But the Egyptian government has cooperated with the Israeli authorities by effectively sealing off Gaza. The border closure is a reminder of just how low a priority the Arab world has accorded Palestinians, even as various countries like Saudi Arabia pretend to lobby on behalf of the dispossessed.

Netanyahu faces international condemnation. Calling the Israeli prime minister “the butcher of Gaza,” Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan has predicted that Netanyahu will suffer the same fate as Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic. The Colombian government has promised to bring formal charges of war crimes against Netanyahu at the International Criminal Court.

Hamas, too, will face charges of war crimes for the horrifying murders on Oct. 7. But Israel, as a state, should face considerably greater penalties for its conduct. True, Israel is not a member of the ICC. But because Palestine became a member in 2015, Israeli actions there are prosecutable in the international body.

Israel claims that, for security purposes, it must eliminate Hamas as a threat. But with its indiscriminate attacks, Israel is radicalizing a new generation of Palestinians who no longer believe in engaging with Israeli authorities.

The United States wants the Palestinian Authority (PA) to replace Hamas as the government in Gaza, with the 88-year-old Mahmoud Abbas remaining as the leader. But according to a former PA official, “a staggering 87 percent of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza believe that the PA is corrupt, 78 percent want Abbas to resign, and 62 percent believe that the PA is a liability.” Not surprisingly, support for Hamas has significantly increased in the West Bank since the latest war began.

Pressure on Israel to abide by a ceasefire is also increasing. UN Secretary-General António Guterres recently invoked Article 99 of the UN Charter in declaring the war in Gaza to be a threat to world peace. The United States and United Kingdom are so far opposing a humanitarian pause in the conflict, but the EU is increasingly on the side of the Arab world in demanding that Israel stop the carnage.

The Netanyahu government, unfortunately, has nothing to lose by continuing its attacks. It can’t sink any lower in the polls, and the vast majority of Israelis support the current effort to destroy Hamas. Although some members of the US Congress want to put conditions on US military aid to Israel and hundreds of synagogues and Jewish groups in the United States have urged the Biden administration to support a ceasefire, the US president shows no signs of abandoning Netanyahu. Israel has faced firestorms of international criticism in the past and, even in the face of US lobbying, refused to modify its policies in the occupied territories.

Palestinians are caught in the crossfire between a desperate Hamas and a determined IDF. A ceasefire can save their lives, provide an opportunity to rebuild their neighborhoods, and offer them eventually an opportunity for some degree of self-governance. Right now, ordinary Palestinians are powerless to the point of erasure. Any solution to the current crisis must put Palestinians at the center of decision-making. They must be given the chance to shed their victim status and become architects of their own lives.

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