The conflict between Gaza and Israel has so far resulted in the deaths of 1,000 Palestinians and some 35 Israelis besides leaving countless injured and throwing the entire population on either side into a state of mental trauma. What sparked off this bloody confrontation was neither an ideological affront nor a territorial violation. The tragic escalation started with a minor incident. Three Israeli teenage hitchhikers were killed by Palestinian youths and, in retaliation, a young Palestinian was burned to death by Israelis seeking revenge. There is no knowledge of when this gory feud will end.
About 1.8 million Palestinians reside in the Gaza Strip, about 11 km wide and 51 km in length situated on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean. Gaza city is the most densely populated area in the world with a population of 0.51 million. Gaza fell to British forces after World War I and later, as a result of the Arab-Israel War of 1948, it came under the administrative control of Egypt. It was captured by Israel in the Six-Day War of 1967 but, in 1993, it was transferred to the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) as a result of the Oslo Accord in return for the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) recognising Israel’s right to exist in peace. In 2007, Hamas took over the political authority of the Gaza strip. The state of Palestine is a sovereign state and has been granted the status of ‘non-member observer state’ by the United Nations, amounting to its de facto recognition as the sovereign state of Palestine.
The Palestinians at present are the most unfortunate people on earth who are not only internally riven by dissention but have few Muslim friends in their immediate neighbourhood who can lend them moral or material support. In addition, they are geographically between the devil and the deep sea, virtually keeping them locked in the siege of a hostile enemy that can, at will, impose an economic blockade and cut off their supplies, making them inaccessible to the rest of the world. Besides, there is a vast disparity in the military strength of the two and, therefore, their conflict can hardly be termed as “war”, which connotes armed confrontation between evenly poised sides. This disparity has been highlighted by Noam Chomsky, one of the most sane and objective analysts of the US, who says that, “Israel uses sophisticated assault jets and naval vessels to bomb densely-crowded refugee camps, mosques and slums, to attack a population that has no air force, no air defence, no navy, no heavy weapons, no artillery units, no mechanised armour, no command and control and no army, and calls it a war! It is not war, it is murder!” Another critic, Dan Sanches describes the disparity in arms between the Israeli war machine and Palestinian scrap metal projectiles by saying, “They [the Gazans] are like fish in a barrel, being blasted by a shotgun from above. The fish spitting water at the gunman and the US media calling it a ‘shooting battle.’”
Fate runs counter to the Palestinians. Egypt, being their immediate Arab neighbor, has always had cordial relations with the Palestinians since the time of Jamal Abdul Nasir who even provided them military aid to fight for their just cause. That support continued until Hosni Mubarak came to power. The Mubarak regime’s policy towards Gaza was generally repressive. It sided with Israel in its draconian siege of Gaza in 2006 and was fully complicit in Israel’s brutal offensive against Gaza in 2009. After the downfall of Mubarak, the Palestinians had expected that the Rafah Crossing (through which it received supplies) would be permanently opened allowing free passage of people and goods, thus eliminating the need for the tunnels connecting Gaza to Egypt. However, the Military Supreme Council of Egypt did not change the policy of the previous regime towards Palestine but only partially and for limited hours opened the Rafah Crossing. The Palestinians did not feel appeased. After the Egyptian presidential elections, the Palestinians had high hopes that with the support of the Muslim Brotherhood their long-standing grievances would be redressed, the blockade would end, Camp David Accords would be revisited and trade with Israel would be boycotted. Nothing like that happened during the rule of Morsi who remained involved in striking a balance between the policies of the previous regime and the wishes of the military high command. Thus, under him, the Brotherhood failed to rise up to the expectations of the people on internal and external fronts. Instead of according whole-hearted support to the Palestinians, Morsi followed a pragmatic line of commitment to international agreements, forging a special relationship with the US and maintaining diplomatic ties with Israel. The Palestinians again felt disillusioned with the new Muslim Brotherhood regime during which the blockade against Gaza was tightened, most of the tunnels were closed and even the traffic on the Rafah Crossing was brought to the minimum. The Brotherhood did not even dare to condemn the atrocities committed by Israel, regarded as manslaughter and genocide by human rights organisations all over the world.
After the military coup of July 2013, Egypt’s new ruler, al Sisi came to power. He is dead set against the Muslim Brotherhood and has therefore no soft corner for Hamas. In order to establish his legitimacy, especially in the eyes of Israel and the US, al Sisi shares all information with Israel and, in the present crisis, has not opened the Rafah passing point, even though hundreds of people are being killed in Gaza. It is anticipated that as long as Sisi remains in power, Hamas’ relationship with Egypt will continue to deteriorate. In this background, Hamas has rejected the recent Egyptian proposal of a ceasefire, suggesting demilitarisation of Hamas and, by implication, allowing Israel to continue its brutal attacks against the innocent and un-armed people of Gaza (since no conditions have been imposed on Israel). Israel is prepared under the terms to accept a ceasefire while Hamas has vehemently rejected it. Most of its allies including the Arab League, some of the Gulf States, its partner Fatah and even Iran have favoured a cease-fire.
The Arab-Israel conflict will remain unresolved as long as it is set in existential terms, meaning either Israel’s destruction or the Palestinian Arab’s exile and political non-existence. Unless both sides perceive that neither can be eliminated, they will not be ready to adopt a national framework involving a two-state solution in which Israel and Palestine partition the land and live in peace. The present predicament that unwittingly overtakes the Palestinians does point in no uncertain terms that it is the only way out of the present, uneasy co-existence. If not adopted now it will eliminate one or both sides through a process of attrition that has already taken a heavy toll on human life, besides causing un-ending torture. Presently, the Palestinians are devoid of a visionary leader and suffer the structural malfunctioning of their government. As and when such a leadership takes control of their affairs, they will be steered out of their present difficulties. Living in a perpetual state of egregious hatred, doubt and mistrust is worse than hell.
The writer is a former member of the provincial civil service and can be reached at email@example.com