As of May 19, 2021, “at least 227 Palestinians, including 64 children [and 38 women], have been killed and more than 1,500 others wounded, in what observers say has been Israel’s harshest targeting of civilian areas in the enclave to date. At least 72,000 people have been displaced, the United Nations said, with the majority seeking protection in 58 UNRWA schools across Gaza… at least 12 people have died in Israel in rocket fire from Gaza”, writes Aljazeera’s Linah Alsaafin and CNBC’s Amanda Macias and Christina Wilkie.
What we see happening in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Hamas militants is an age-old conflict even though the immediate cause revolves around the incident of April 13, 2021, which prompted the first rocket to be fired from the Gaza Strip according to The New York Times. On the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, also a Memorial Day in Israel, which honours those who died fighting for the country, “a squad of Israeli police officers entered the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, brushed the Palestinian attendants aside and strode across its vast limestone courtyard. Then they cut the cables to the loudspeakers that broadcast prayers to the faithful from four medieval minarets.”
An incident that could have been avoided or at least settled amicably has costed enormous human and material damages because of the excesses of political leaders who see war as an opportunity to tighten their grip on power, buy and sell military hardware, and militant groups to make friends on the one hand and enemies on the other. The civilian casualties including women and children are saddening, with accompanying negative implications for human security ranging from health, food, water and sanitation, environment, and personal safety being ignored in favour of the political agendas of opposing factions.
According to The Guardian, U.S. President Joe Biden has called on Israel to ‘de-escalate’ violence in the Gaza Strip as a measure to push for a ceasefire. However, this only happened a few days after his administration approved the sale of arms worth $735 million to Israel as reported by Reuters. This is rather disappointing and confirms the assertion that international politics is a game of interests. That notwithstanding, diplomatic efforts have been underway to defuse the situation with the United Nations (U.N.), European Union (E.U.) and the United Kingdom (U.K.), France, Russia and India, all in their individual capacities calling for an immediate cessation of violence which is imminent in the next few days or weeks.
Unfortunately, the possible de-escalation of violence will not undo the damage that has already been done. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip has gone from bad to worse. With only 5% of people in the Palestinian territories have received a vaccination, with a much smaller and has fewer residents in the Gaza Strip than the West Bank, the Gaza Strip accounts for more than 60% of active cases of COVID-19 in the Palestinian territories. Statistics from Doctors Without Borders show that there are currently more than 1,000 new infections there per day, and the hospitals were already full before clashes started. As a result, residents in the Gaza Strip now have to grapple with both the pandemic and the ongoing violence which is particularly disturbing.
Given that much of the civilian population in the Gaza Strip relies on aid organizations to survive, the potential risk that hunger and starvation will set in with the deteriorating humanitarian situation is evident. This will ultimately lead to malnutrition, especially among children. As of 2019 already, an assessment by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) indicated that 75% of the Gaza Strip’s population of 1.6 million was dependent on food supplies, and a third of basic medicines were unavailable. You can imagine the situation now.
The supply of basic commodities such as foodstuffs, electricity, drinking water, diesel which is needed for ambulances and electricity generators, among others, has been indefinitely interrupted. Unlike refugees in other conflict regions around the world, refugees in the Gaza Strip do not have an escape route because of the fence along its Israeli and Egyptian borders. Without a permit issued by Israel or by its southern neighbour, Egypt, there is no way they can leave the 360-square-kilometre (140-square-mile) patch of land. In order to support these refugees, sixteen schools run by the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which provided humanitarian support to refugees in the Palestinian territories have been converted at short notice into emergency shelters as confirmed by DW. This illustrates the spiral nature of the consequences of the conflict on human security.
I leave world leaders in general and Palestinian/Israeli leaders in particular with the following question: what does it cost to make concessions and fix this conflict once and for all?