By Lara Kajs | 15 September 2022 |
The peace agreement between Gaza and Israel, brokered by Egypt, appears to be holding. The truce took effect on Sunday, 7 August, and for now, restrictions are being relaxed. Major crossings into the Strip, including Erez and Kerem Shalom – are reopened, the blockade and blackouts have been lifted, and humanitarian aid and supplies are arriving.
The truce followed three days of deadly conflict in which Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) launched 147 air strikes against targets in Gaza, while Palestinian militants fired 1,100 rockets and mortars into Israel. IDF began the attacks against Gaza after a senior Islamic Jihad (PIJ) militant – part of the governing dynamic in Gaza – had been arrested in the West Bank, at the end of July. Israel said it opened the assault due to concerns of retaliation. What ensued were three days of intense bombardments that killed 46 Palestinians, 17 of them children, and injured some 360 civilians. Seventy Israeli civilians were also injured. It was the worst fighting between Israel and Gaza since the 11-Day War in May 2021, adding to the misery and suffering of the people.
Israel continued its air assault up until minutes after the onset of the truce. The UN has called on Israel to abide by and respect the principles of international law – including precaution, distinction, and proportionality – and to ensure that its actions do not target civilians or put them at risk. The UN also indicated that it was disturbing that Israeli soldiers arrested Palestinian legislators.
The issues between Israel and Gaza, are based on at least a hundred years of history. But the unresolved problems that stimulate the conflict include the Israeli removal of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Under international law, the settlements are illegal; however, Israel rejects this. Another issue concerns the rights of Palestinian refugees. Probably the most contentious matters are whether Palestine and Israel should share Jerusalem and whether the Palestine state should be created alongside Israel.
The present conflict originated with the election of Hamas in 2005 in the Strip and spiraled with the split of the Palestinian Authority government into the Fatah government of the West Bank and the Hamas government of Gaza. However, the situation worsened after the violent ousting of Fatah after it lost the 2006 election to Hamas.
On one side, Palestine argues that there are two constants regarding Israeli policy: bombing Gaza and advancing colonial settlements. One observer noted that “Israeli forces kill Palestinians because it can.” However, on the other side, Israel argues that a terrorist organization (Islamic Jihad) deliberately kills Israeli civilians and also Palestinian civilians.
But there are also external forces at play in the conflict between Gaza and Israel, which includes the power struggle between regional powers: Egypt, Iran, Turkey, and Qatar, in which each supports different sides in a stand-off between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and also between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, as well as a struggle between Egypt and Turkey.
The joint blockade by Egypt and Israel, which has lasted more than 15 years, as well as Palestinian attacks on Israel and Israeli airstrikes on Gaza, have deepened the conflict. Residential areas in both Gaza and Israel have been targeted. Under international law, it is illegal to indiscriminately attack civilians and civilian structures – something that all parties to the conflict share responsibility for.
Policymakers have called for a reduction in tensions and for calm, but they have also been careful not to label Israel as a perpetrator. For certain, both sides have committed what amounts to war crimes – and to allow either to act with impunity is an injustice to those killed, injured, and traumatized. To give Israel a pass – solely because it is “Israel” – or because the superpowers do not want to offend Israel, by holding it accountable for its actions, is questionable. There are consequences for actions, regardless of who is doing them.
Gaza is home to about two million people. It is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. The humanitarian situation has reached catastrophic levels. Unemployment in Gaza stands at sixty percent. Approximately sixty-five percent of residents live in poverty and are dependent on food aid. Infrastructure has been decimated. Water and waste systems are near collapse.
A decade ago, the UN predicted that Gaza would be unlivable by the year 2020. The prediction was not wrong. Gaza is besieged. Fifteen years of conflict have witnessed thousands of Palestinians killed, hundreds of thousands injured, and tens of thousands have been displaced.
Blockades, bombardments, and blackouts have reduced health services to nearly nonexistent. There is one health facility that serves two million people. Deeper than the physical wounds are the trauma and unending fear. One-third of the population needs psychological and social support. There are more than 87,000 cases of trauma. The trauma suffered by many Gazans is repetitive and constant, which makes it difficult to treat by most traditional mental health approaches. Many youths have long-term mental health challenges from the effects of continuous exposure to conflict and violence. Conflict in Gaza has cultivated a mental health crisis that will outlive the conflict – even outliving peace, and it will transcend generations.
While the peace accord stands, more needs to be done to ensure that it is permanent. But it will take a political and global meditative effort to help Israel and Palestine to work out their differences and be reconciled… if for no other reason… for the peace and security of the people.
Photo Credit: Gaza bombing – International Solidarity Movement – License by CC. 2.0 License