Escalating Conflict in Gaza and West Bank: Analyzing the Multi-Faceted Situation and Regional Ramifications

— By Amit Sengupta
Amit Sengupta is a journalist and teacher based in Delhi

“You cannot continue to victimize someone else just because you yourself were a victim once — there has to be a limit.”

― Edward Said

When it comes to the current ultra-right and ultra-orthodox regime in Israel, everything is possible. Even while there is a strong division in Israel, among ordinary citizens, on the fate of the war, the regime, led by a discredited extremist, seems to have yet again stretched its brief with a madness only last seen in the Gulf War (with no WMDs) by George Bush. Indeed, even while a large section of Israelis are of the opinion that, first, the hostages in the hands of Hamas should be released, and a dialogue or mechanism should be worked out to get them out of their imprisonment in Gaza, Benjamin Netanyahu has gone ahead and done what the world just could not imagine any rationale government, with the most minimum sense of sanity, would do.

He has bombed a hospital in Gaza killing 500 people, and the death count is going up fast. This is nothing but a ghastly international war crime against innocent people, including little children and babies, and the entire course of events thereby will now find a different ethical and strategic paradigm in the Middle-east, and in global diplomacy.

The al-Ahli al-Arabi hospital in Gaza has been bombed. This massacre has occurred when just about 10 per cent of the thirsty and hungry people here seem to have access to drinking water. Many have been compelled to drink the salty waters of the Mediterranean sea. Gaza is already trapped in darkness with no electricity, fuel and food, all roads blocked, and even the Rafah border with Egypt has been shut, with thousands waiting with legitimate papers to cross over.

Convoys of trucks carrying emergency medicine, food etc, are waiting at the Rafah check post. The crisis has reached an unprecedented magnitude and if the world does not act fast – the number of the dead and dying would go up in a tragic graph. Besides, hundreds of babies and patients would be gasping for breath – dying for no reason – other than that they live in Gaza, their original homeland.

Huge protests have burst out like a tidal wave in Lebanon, Iran, Jordan, Yemen, Syria, and in the West Bank. They have spread across several embassies in Turkey, France and inside other European countries. The eagerly-awaited Joe Biden summit in Amman, Jordan, has now been cancelled, because the Arab nations and the Palestine Authority president in the West Bank, are refusing to join the talks, after the gruesome bombing of the hospital. That Biden had already worked out a plan with Israel to start humanitarian aid in trapped Gaza seems to have been scuttled till now – adding to the suffering of the people.

In this deadly flux, this is back to a dark, black, square zero. In this zero-sum-game, clearly, as of now, no one is winning. Only the number of the dead seems to be growing on both sides, plus tragedy and mourning and funerals, with the loved ones of those kidnapped by Hamas, crying their hearts out in Israel. The latest reports say that these families seem to have lost all hope in Benjamin Netanyahu and his discredited regime.

Until the bombing of the hospital, strategies and tactics were unfolding in a pace fast, especially for Israel, and its ardent supporters such as the Americans and the West. Amidst the latest and chaotic spiral between heightened hyperbole and bitter realism, let us enter the paradigm of impartial objectivity, based on evidence, and do some basic fact-checking.

Another big warship and air-craft carrier has been sent to the conflict zone by the Americans. Clearly, the influential arms lobby in the US is all set to reap the harvest of yet another prolonged bloodbath of innocents and combatants, despite the opposition by the Left and socialist block within the Democrats. The 350,000 odd restless forces stationed on the border of ‘Gaza under siege’ seems as of now poised for an attack, but their top brass seems wary of going into a dark and unknown abyss, that is, the labyrinthine inner maze of lanes, dead-ends and tunnels which entrap the complex mappings of this 325 sq km cloistered ghetto with about 2.5 million people surviving in close proximity. They have already razed 1,000 plus buildings, and killed around 3,000 people in Gaza, including, apparently, more than 500 children.

It’s a stated fact that children and the old are the first casualties in a war – and they continue to die whatever be the circumstances. In this year itself, Israeli security forces have killed around 280 people, including 40 children. If not war, which they often cannot understand, children die due to hunger or malnourishment, and lack of medical care in hospitals. The patients, especially children and the old, are currently trapped in a twilight zone in the beleaguered hospitals in Gaza, with no fuel, no electricity, no water, no food, and, perhaps, no medical supplies. Will they die, all of them? And if this is not a war crime, what is it?

As of now, the Hamas is lying low. This too is a predictable pattern in the madness. After the carnival of butchery it has organized inside Israel, it is waiting for the cards to reopen. More than playing cards, they seem to be playing a chess game. It knew exactly, surely, that the siege of Gaza was inevitable. It also knows now that thousands more of Palestinians will die once the war machine gets into full flow.

As of now, the Hamas seems to have killed 1,300 Isrealis, Nepalese, Americans, Canadians, among others — mostly Israelis. This includes the murder of around 260 revellers, mostly youngsters, in a dance and song concert which went into the wee hours at the border of Gaza. They killed with hate and precision, randomly and in an organized manner — those who were pretending to be dead were shot dead as well. Some were lucky; they feigned dead and escaped – very few.

Then the main slaughter started on the blood-splattered morning. In the communes called Kibbutz, inside drawing rooms, bedrooms, courtyards, streets – children, women, mothers, grandfathers, soldiers. They abducted around 150 people, some of them snatched away forcibly at gun-point, from the arms of their loved ones. Are their kids also in the list of the kidnapped? So what will they do with the children? And with the women and elderly people? With the soldiers of the Israel Defense Force (IDF) – if any? And the American nationals? Use them as human shields, as the Israelis would use Palestinian civilians earlier – as human shields and public spectacles in the deliberate degradation of an entire community and society, under siege and brutalized day after day, for decades?

So how many have been abducted? First, the reports said 100. Then it climbed by 50. Soon after, the Israelis stated that they have recorded 120 kidnappings. Now, a report said, 199. In all probability, the number could be many more. In such circumstances, the conflict and all forms of solution, even temporarily, acquires a complete different colour.

So how many Palestinian prisoners will be swapped for the abducted Israelis. One for 1000, as it was last time, with Israel releasing 1,000 Palestinians for one Israel soldier?

If the Hamas harms innocent human beings, even disarmed soldiers, it will be a war crime.  Besides, they will be totally discredited in the eyes of the world, especially those who want a free Palestine. The idea of a free Palestine, thus, will be weakened decisively. You can’t become a mirror-image of your enemy. And there are rules, in all kinds of wars, including in guerilla wars. The life of ordinary human beings and civilians is of paramount importance. And Hamas should also know – that it has the responsibilities of is an elected body. Despite being branded as a terrorist outfit by the West.

As for Israel, despite the shrill rhetoric of eliminating Hamas and Gaza forever, will they enter the maze of tunnels, bylanes and alleys, and sacrifice the ‘precious’ lives of the Israeli soldiers? Will it be a suicidal move for a regime and race which finds every soldier and human being of its race – precious? (The defense minister has called all the people of Gaza – “human animals” – whatever it means!) Especially after 6 million or more Jews were murdered in cold blood by Adolf Hitler and his Nazis in the gas chambers and concentration camps!

Last time they exchanged 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for one Israeli soldier. This time – how many?

Meanwhile, significant things are happening all over the world, including inside Israel. For one, most people on the border of Gaza are not moving out. They are waiting stoically, coping with the lack of electricity and drinking water, with scant food and no fuel. So why are they not moving out amidst the bombs, the rubbles, the killings, and the fear of mass death? This is because if they move out, it will all be so easy for Israel! They will now occupy this last bit of tiny strip which belongs to the Arabs all for themselves – for their future, first world lifestyle. That is, except for the West Bank, where too they have used Israeli settlers to oust the original inhabitants of the land. If the people leave, they will have a free run of Gaza as well!

Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden has started speaking a different language.  “What happened in Gaza, in my view, is Hamas and the extreme elements of Hamas don’t represent all the Palestinian people,” he told CBS. He and the American establishment are now saying that the invasion of Gaza is not really a right move, and that water, electricity, fuel, food and drinking water should be restored to the people out there. One top American official said that drinking water pipelines have already been opened.

This only proves that Israel has already piped down from its initial, aggressive, strategic position, under American and world pressure. The UN has said that it is virtually impossible to transport 1.5 million people in such a short notice, and the Red Cross and other aid organizations have ratified this position.

The Iranian foreign minister has said that if Gaza is attacked it will create an “earthquake”. The conflict zones with Hezbollah and the guerillas in Syria has already been reopened. Saudi Arabia has quickly shifted its stand and is not really dying to forge an accord with Israel, as brokered by the US. Surely, Bahrain, Morocco, Sudan and the UAE will follow.

Observers believe that even if Israel enters and conquers Gaza, it will be yet another major headache to control this volatile and hostile territory of which it has little or no knowledge. It will be a case of everyday war, infinite war, and relentless counter-insurgency and fidayeen attacks. It will become a sheer impossibility to govern Gaza.

As ‘Foreign Affairs’ has commented: “Even if Israel does succeed in toppling Hamas, it will then be faced with the challenge of governing the territory it abandoned in 2005 and then mercilessly blockaded and bombed in the intervening years. Gaza’s young population will not welcome the IDF as liberators. There will be no flowers and candy on offer. Israel’s best-case scenario is a protracted counter-insurgency in a uniquely hostile environment where it has a history of failure and in which people have nothing left to lose…”

“In a worst-case scenario, the conflict will not remain confined to Gaza. And unfortunately, such an expansion is likely. A protracted invasion of Gaza will generate tremendous pressures in the West Bank, which President Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority may be unable—or, perhaps, unwilling — to contain. Over the last year, Israel’s relentless encroachment on West Bank land, and the violent provocations of the settlers, has already brought Palestinian anger and frustration to a boil. The Gaza invasion could push West Bank Palestinians over the edge.”

Besides, the outpourings in the world have been unnerving for the Israeli establishment. Benjamin Netanyahu and his discredited ultra-orthodox, racist and supremacist right-wing regime is not really loved by the masses in Israel. Tens of thousands have marched against him since the last year all over the country. Even now, in Tel Aviv, there are Jews and Arabs who are arguing for peace, once and for all. The ‘Jewish for Peace’ group has been organizing peace rallies in the West and elsewhere.

In London, 150,000 people have marched on the streets shouting ‘Free Palestine’. They are planning another big one in the days to come, and so is reportedly New York and elsewhere. Celebrities, writers, politicians, Jews and non-Jews, even Israeli veterans of the old establishment are categorically stating that the Israeli regime and Hamas do not represent the Israeli people and Palestinians, and they all want justice and peace for each other. The two-nation theory has again been revived.

Clearly, the siege of Gaza might lead to other windows and doors opening in the days to come. Those who can only listen to war cries, must, therefore, wait and listen more carefully. One only hopes that the consensus emerges once and for all – in the light of the Oslo accords. This war must stop.

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