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May 27, 2021

Demilitarising Gaza and reinstating the Palestinian Authority is the only chance for long lasting calm

Like many other civilians all over southern and central Israel, Moshe Loutati, 44, from the Israeli coastal southern city of Ashkelon, hides his eight children under the staircase when the ‘red alert’ sirens sound, because they do not have a “Merkhav Mugan” - a fortified room that will protect them from the heavy rockets bombarding them from the nearby Gaza Strip.

"There is nowhere to run to. The shelter is very far away and neglected and we can't put eight children in a neglected shelter," Loutati told Reuters.

Natnael Sharvit and his family also live under the near-constant threat of rocket attacks launched by Hamas and Islamic Jihad from the Gaza Strip, just 12 miles (19 km) from their home in Ashkelon.

Sharvit told Reuters that he and his family "are in this situation for many years now, almost 20 years. I don't know exactly how long. We don't leave the shelter, playing here, trying to kill time as much as possible and hoping it will be OK."

Sharvit and his family are no more in control of the rockets and missile battles raging over their heads than Palestinian civilians living on the other side of the border barrier that separates north Gaza from southern Israel. All they could do was wait for the leaders of the opposing side to agree on a cease-fire and a return to some form of normality. 

Recent conflict leads to 248 Palestinian and 12 Israeli deaths

Since Hamas launched its rocket attacks on Israel on Monday, 10 May, Gaza medical officials reported that 248 Palestinians have been killed, including 66 children, and more than 1,400 have been wounded. Israeli authorities stated that 12 people have been killed in Israel, including two children.

Let us be clear: one cannot compare the suffering of the Palestinian civilians of Gaza to that of the Israelis. The Israeli army (IDF) artillery and warfare abilities are far more advanced and sophisticated than those of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The Gaza Strip is also a small and densely populated area that Hamas uses for its military purpose, making it almost impossible to protect civilians from Israeli airstrikes

That said, while the sad and harsh reality of the Palestinian people of Gaza is covered daily by world media, and is amplified by different pro-Palestinian leaders, organisations and activists, the sad story of Israeli citizens is seldom told. 

West-Bank Occupation tilts global public opinion against Israel

Why is that? While the approach of some western governments, including Germany, the UK and, of course, the US, is relatively supportive towards Israel and “its right to defend itself”, as President Biden recently put it, the overall public opinion in the western world is highly critical of Israel. And, in most cases, rightly so.

The Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories and people is profoundly wrong, as is the existence of isolated Israeli settlements on Palestinian lands in the West Bank, populated with religious extremist Jews and protected by the Israeli army. But the Israeli occupation is taking place in the West Bank, which is governed by the Palestinian National Authority under President Mahmoud Abbas of the more secular Fatah Party. 

Palestinians who live in Israel, beyond the 1967 border, face a completely different reality. Other that some 300,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem who have Israeli residency cards but not full citizenship, almost two million Palestinians live in Israel as citizens with equal civil rights

'apartheid' state?

Do they suffer from racism and discrimination? Yes. But it is still very far from an “apartheid” regime, as some refer to it (Human Rights Watch, in its recent report on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, referred to the situation there as “apartheid”, a term that has been opposed by a number of scholars, including the left-wing Jewish South-African author and journalist Benjamin Pogrund). 

That said, the frustration and anger of Arab-Israelis in recent weeks has led to some of the worst riots Israel has ever seen, with lynch mobs of both Jewish and Arabic extremists clashing in the streets, bringing the country to the verge of civil war. It is true that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his far-right government have fuelled the hatred and animosity between Jews and Arabs in Israel, but no one anticipated such extreme violence. 

This violence within Israel is posing a greater risk for the stability of the region, but this is the subject for a different article.         

Hamas precludes stability in Gaza

The situation in Gaza, however, is different. President Abbas of the Palestinian National Authority lost the elections there in 2006 and the region has been ruled by the fundamentalist extremist group of Hamas ever since. Israel evicted its remaining forces and settlers from Gaza in the summer of 2005, some 16 years ago.

Hamas has sustained its attacks on Israeli citizens regardless. Therefore, Hamas bears as much responsibilities for the suffering of Gaza’s Palestinian civilians as the Israeli army. 

The only chance for the people of Gaza and south Israel is for the international community to oversee the dismantling of Hamas and demilitarisation of Gaza and support in restoring the Palestinian Authority there.    

Image: Iban Ameztoy (Gaza-Israel border).