More bloodshed will never resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict
Bloomberg October 11, 2023
(Bloomberg Opinion) — There is no justification for violence against civilians — not by militants and not by governments. The surprise attack by Hamas, as its fighters surged across the border with Gaza and into Israelis’ homes and neighborhoods, taking hostages and leaving more than 1,000 dead, has shaken the nation to its core, and shocked the world.
On the other side of that border fence? That’s where families are trapped in a tiny coastal enclave by a land, sea and air blockade enforced by Israel and Egypt since 2007. They are now experiencing the terrifying but familiar thunder of thousands of airstrikes from the powerful Israeli military. At least 750 Palestinians have also died since Tel Aviv began its retaliation. So why is the world not as shocked by their plight?
There are at least 2 million people in Gaza — most of them civilians — yet the West risks seeing only Hamas. Israel must of course defend its citizens and borders. But as depraved and savage as Hamas’s attacks have been, the response must not be to further devastate innocent Palestinians. One set of war crimes does not justify committing another against an already long-suffering people.
In Gaza’s thin strip of land you will find doctors and nurses, physiotherapists and cancer specialists. Academics and their students. Artists, archaeologists, poets and journalists, with no end of material to fuel them, and schoolteachers whose classrooms have been struck multiple times with missiles launched from Israeli warplanes and drones, their young pupils living with unimaginable intergenerational trauma. Those born since 2008 are now living through their fourth all-out war.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant ordered a “complete siege” on Gaza, saying authorities would cut electricity and prevent the entry of food and fuel. “We are fighting human animals and we are acting accordingly,” Gallant said. When you block these essentials, hospitals cannot operate, an already poorly nourished population is weakened, and many people die. What Gallant is ordering amounts to the war crime of collective punishment.
For their part, Hamas militants have followed suit — threatening to kill non-combatant hostages if Israel keeps bombing civilian areas in Gaza without warning. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s response: “What we will do to our enemies in the coming days will reverberate with them for generations.” I have covered two wars in Gaza — 2012 and 2014 — and Netanyahu’s words can mean only one thing: The use of extreme military force in densely populated areas to target militants, as if the inevitable deaths of thousands of civilians is acceptable collateral damage. It is not. There is no safe place to evacuate to, despite what the Israeli military tells Gazans. The bombs are falling everywhere.
Even before this latest outbreak of violence more than 200 Palestinians and nearly 30 Israelis have been killed so far this year. As the UN Middle East envoy Tor Wennesland told the Security Council on Aug. 21, that makes 2023 the deadliest year since 2005. “The lack of progress towards a political horizon that addresses the core issues driving the conflict has left a dangerous and volatile vacuum, filled by extremists on both sides.” Given what unfolded over the last few days, Israel and its allies would have done well to heed his warning.
It is not just Gaza. Israel has maintained a military occupation of the West Bank, where some three million Palestinians live, since 1967 — an act that is viewed as illegal under international law. In July alone, the Israeli Defense Forces launched a sustained attack on the Jenin refugee camp, killing at least 12 Palestinians and wounding 100 more. That assault may constitute a war crime, according to UN experts, including Francesca Albanese, special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian Territory.
So often, these outbreaks of violence between Israel and militants in the West Bank and Gaza are written about as if they came out of nowhere. All evidence points to the contrary. Since 2021, three respected human rights groups — Human Rights Watch, the Israeli-run B’Tselem and Amnesty International — have described Israel’s actions as meeting the legal test of apartheid: the widely recognized system of institutionalized racial segregation enforced in South Africa from 1948 to the early 1990s. Each of their reports lays out in deeply researched detail Israel’s system of oppression and domination over Palestinians, including territorial fragmentation, segregation and control, dispossession of land and property and denial of economic and social rights.
Israel has rejected all these claims. Its foreign ministry released a response on Jan. 31 last year to the Amnesty report, calling it antisemitic and saying it “denies the state of Israel’s right to exist.”
Yet anyone who has traveled on “sterile roads” in the West Bank, walked down Al-Shudada Street in Hebron where Israeli settlers can drive without restrictions and Palestinian residents can only enter on foot to access their homes, or watched Palestinians forced to line up for hours in narrow walkways to pass through Israel’s military checkpoints, knows what racial segregation looks like.
As do the Palestinians of Gaza, hemmed into what has been called the world’s largest open-air prison — 41 kilometers (25 miles) long and between 3.7 to 7.5 miles wide — and able to access medical care or travel for work or academic opportunities only through a cruel and arbitrary permit system.
There is only one way to end this violence, and it is not with more bloodshed. Indeed, the more severe Israel’s military response, the more it will stoke the fires of vengeance, retard hopes of a rapprochement between Israel and its neighbors, and turn global public opinion against it — all goals that Hamas would applaud. Instead, Israel’s allies and enablers — starting with the U.S. — need to convince Netanyahu to end the military occupation and enter negotiations for a lasting peace that gives Palestinians a real homeland and Israel a secure future. Anything else is just history repeating. And failing.
Ruth Pollard is a Bloomberg Opinion editor. Previously she was South and Southeast Asia government team leader at Bloomberg News and Middle East correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald.