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Israel-Palestine: Why the failed status quo is unsustainable

Israel-Palestine: Why the failed status quo is unsustainable
6 min read
12 October, 2023
Analysis: Israel has long refused a political solution that guarantees Palestinian rights, but it cannot forever maintain its occupation through military force.

Assessing the horror of events in Israel and Gaza, the deaths of so many civilians, and so much destruction, is difficult when everything changes hour by hour.

Yet as this crisis deteriorates, what is remarkable is how some simple truths seem to get lost. They require repeating.

This conflict did not start on 7 October. Tensions have been very high all year. The number of Palestinians killed so far in 2023 was the highest since the UN started keeping records.

Likewise, the levels of Israeli settler violence in the West Bank have soared, with an average of 99 attacks on Palestinians a month. Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza living under occupation and blockade do not experience calm. Israel’s occupation is itself an aggression.

But importantly, civilians are not targets. Regardless of whether Israeli or Palestinian; Jew, Christian or Muslim, non-combatants should never be targeted in war.

It is a simple proposition, one that also must be highlighted to those who continue, for example, to support the Russian and Syrian regimes. Likewise, a right to resist does not equal a right to target civilians. In this case, Hamas killed over 1,000 Israelis, mostly civilians. This is not legitimate. It is an atrocity.

As Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have stated quite rightly these are war crimes. These attacks are nothing to be celebrated and have been widely condemned. Likewise, taking civilians, including women and children hostage, and then threatening to kill them is plain and simple wrong.

One crime does not justify a crime in response. Each crime, each atrocity should be condemned regardless. Hamas’ attack, however, does not mean Israel can commit more crimes, and vice versa.

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The same eternal and indelible legal provisions about civilians apply when Israel bombs and shells Gaza. The targeting of civilians is not permissible and Israel has to make every effort to ensure that civilians are not harmed.

As B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights organisation pointed out, this has not been the case. The Israeli prime minister called for revenge, which is not acting in self-defence. On 10 October, an Israeli military spokesperson proclaimed that: “the emphasis is on damage rather than on precision”.

Civilian infrastructure must not be a target. Hospitals, schools, and universities are not legitimate places to bomb. According to Medical Aid for Palestinians, Israel has hit the International Eye Hospital in Gaza. The Ministry of Health reported that Beit Hanoun Hospital went out of service due to heavy shelling. Meanwhile, Gaza’s sole power station stopped working after the fuel needed for electricity ran out.

Israeli airstrikes on the besieged Gaza Strip have killed at least 1,300 Palestinians since Saturday. [Getty]

In previous Israeli military operations on Gaza, it has targeted other civilian infrastructure including Gaza’s power station. These are war crimes. The current bombardment is the most savage Israel has ever perpetrated against Gaza, worse even than in 2014. Palestinians have no shelters, no bunkers, and no Iron Dome anti-missile system to protect them.

Collective punishment is impermissible too. To be clear, the 2.3 million inhabitants of Gaza have endured the collective punishment of blockade for over 16 years. The Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant on 9 October ordered for a siege to be imposed on Gaza and said that there would be “no electricity, no food, no fuel – everything shut down. We are fighting against human animals and are acting accordingly”.

Siege is a medieval instrument of warfare, a collective punishment, used in warfare recently in Syria, where it was rightly widely condemned. It must be when Israel does it too. The refusal of the British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly to condemn this in the media is a disgrace.

Starvation cannot be used as a weapon of war. Israel is doing so, and this must end. Instead, safe humanitarian corridors must be opened.

Blocking or suspending humanitarian or development aid to Palestinians living under occupation and blockade is the complete reverse of what should happen. Palestinians are not all Hamas, far from it.

Aid should be delivered on the basis of need. Palestinians in Gaza desperately required humanitarian assistance prior to 7 October, but those needs are many times greater now because of ongoing Israeli bombardments.

EU Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi announced there would be a suspension of EU aid to the Palestinians, though this was later corrected. EU aid is not allowed near Hamas, and there are some of the most stringent controls in any aid programme to ensure this. This is punishing the innocent.

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Palestinians in Gaza cannot flee, nor should they be forced to flee. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Palestinians in Gaza to leave, triggering the obvious response, where to? Gaza is under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade. There is no port, no airport, and no safe route out of the strip. Israel has also bombed the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.  

Calling on Palestinians to flee does not mean that Israel can just bomb civilians who do not. It does not absolve Israeli commanders of their responsibilities.

Any Israeli attempt to force Palestinians to leave Gaza would risk the serious accusation of ethnic cleansing. They are Palestinians, whose home is in the occupied Palestinian territory that includes Gaza. They are not Egyptian.

Over 700,000 Israeli settlers live in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. [Getty]

Gaza is occupied. The falsehood that Israel’s occupation ended in 2005 with the Israel withdrawal from inside Gaza is still widely propagated. The UN is clear - that Gaza remains under Israeli occupation and therefore Israel as the occupying power has a duty to look after the population under occupation.

As long as Israel maintains control over the territory, it is the occupying power. It does so through controlling the air, sea, and land borders, the latter with Egypt. That Israel can cut off water and electricity should tell you just how such complete control is exercised.

Bringing the hostilities to a rapid conclusion is vital. A cessation of fighting is imperative. The risks of not doing so are catastrophic. This conflict could spread, with increased confrontations in the West Bank.

Worryingly, it could also lead to an escalation between Israel and Hezbollah. It could undermine stability in Jordan, Syria, and Egypt. Left to continue, who knows where it ends.

There is, let us be totally clear, no acceptable military solution to this. Hamas will not achieve freedom and rights for Palestinians through killing Israeli civilians or sending rockets across the border. Israel cannot forever maintain its occupation through force without consequences.

The only way forward is through a political solution, and the sooner the better. The more bloodshed and destruction, the harder this will be. International leaders must secure a credible political process, the like of which this conflict has never seen.

The end result has to be freedom for Palestinians from occupation and blockade, from the regime of discrimination that even the former head of Mossad has determined meets the definition of the crime of apartheid.

Only then will both peoples, Israeli and Palestinian have a chance to live in peace, dignity, and security.

Chris Doyle is the director of CAABU (Council for Arab-British Understanding). He is a regular opinion writer and commentator on the Middle East and has organised and accompanied numerous British parliamentary delegations to the region.

Follow him on Twitter: @Doylech