By Costa Constanti*
I’ll begin by clearly condemning Hamas and its terrorist thugs and express grief at the horrors inflicted on innocent Israeli civilians on 7 October. The terrorists’ pure unabated evil behavior evidenced a decentralized attack, void of any reasonable control. Civilians are not targets in a war or a liberation struggle. Israel can’t always be blamed for Palestinian failures. Hamas’ low-tech planning in a bid to evade detection embarrassed the best intelligence service in the world, even with reported Egyptian warning days earlier. This came as a shock to most, not least the terrorists who crossed one of the most secure borders in the world in their thousands, who assumed Mossad’s efficiency and ability to extract a mole from a hole a million miles away.
''Equating anti-Zionism or criticism of Israel with antisemitism is wrong. It’s nothing but shameful disrespect to the millions of innocent Jews slaughtered in the Holocaust."
Hamas must be condemned for their abhorrent rule over the Palestinians in Gaza. No Palestinian in Gaza is truly free. Even after Israel dismantled settlements and withdrew 8,000 settlers and its forces in 2005, Israel continued to control Gaza’s air and maritime space, six of seven land crossings, a border buffer zone within Gaza’s territory and the population registry. It also controls all water, electricity, telecommunications and other utilities. It’s a territory under blockade, or ‘siege’ as many call it. The UN recognizes Gaza as an occupied territory. Whilst Palestinians feel surrounded by a hostile neighbor, Hamas’ rule is devoid of democracy and liberties. Civilians in Gaza are trapped between a rock and a hard place. The Palestinian population is unable to tackle issues of equality and diversity whilst living day by day, unsure of what tomorrow holds. To enjoy the luxury of an open society, it can’t be treading water to survive. According to the World Bank, over 60% of the population lives below the poverty line.
Today’s conflict did not start on 7 October. The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said ‘Hamas didn’t form in a vacuum’, but due to 56 years of suffocating occupation where Palestinian land was steadily devoured by settlements. Palestinians endure constant displacement whilst their homes are destroyed. They are plagued by violence and their economy is stifled. Hope for a political solution to their plight has been steadily vanishing. He rightfully added these grievances cannot justify the terrorism inflicted on Israeli civilians, nor can the terrorist attacks justify the collective punishment of Palestinians.
Defense ‘out of (dis)order’
Echoing Guterres’ words, the international community reminds Israel that wars have rules. The protection of innocent civilians is paramount, a reminder even heard from Israel’s strongest ally, the USA. French President Emmanuel Macron demanded Israel ‘stop killing women and babies’ - I would add men too. Today, the fully justified need to annihilate Hamas and extract justice following 7 October cannot be a blank cheque. More bombs fell on densely populated Gaza in the first week of retaliation alone than were dropped on Afghanistan by the US in 2019, its heaviest year. So far, estimates of around 12,000 people have been killed in Gaza and over 30,000 injured from the relentless and indiscriminate Israeli bombings. Indeed, Hamas likely uses human shields and operates out of some schools, mosques and hospitals. This doesn’t justify the sheer scale of death and destruction we are seeing. 12,000 dead could not have all been terrorists. 12,000 dead could not have all been human shields. The numbers are staggering. It’s horrifying that almost half are children. Children under no circumstances are guilty in conflict. It’s incomprehensible around 5,000 children have been killed. It’s incomprehensible that 0.5% of Gaza’s total population were killed within 6 weeks. Appalling and unacceptable. That’s one in 200 people. It includes around 100 UN staff, 200 medics and 40 journalists. There isn’t a family not mourning.
Israel has a right to defend itself and live in peace. But, not at ‘any’ price. Israel justifies its Gaza blockade for its security against real threats. To prevent weapons smuggling. To weaken Hamas. But, the siege itself becomes the reason for their insecurity. As does occupying the West Bank. By constantly harassing residents. By lengthy imprisonments, often without trial, of 5,200 Palestinians, including 120 children. By encouraging settlers. By systematic evictions from ancestral homes. By turning Palestinian-controlled areas into a waterless archipelago. By multiple checkpoints. By preventing a real ability to properly govern and run a legitimate state Israel simply fuels Hamas’ justifications to exist. It encourages desperate and disenchanted innocent civilians to support Hamas for lack of an alternative. It forces protesting Palestinians onto the streets and violent pushback. If Israel disengaged from Gaza and the West Bank, ceased settler expansion and violence and allowed peace and prosperity to develop, most Palestinians wouldn’t support Hamas. If Israel led by its example of inclusion of non-Jewish Israelis in its governance and judiciary, highlighting the rights of Muslims and Arabs and their integration into society, it could soon be a value reflected in Palestine. They could move forward with legitimate, democratic and safe statehood.
Every single hostage needs to be freed, with utmost priority to the children, without delay. Meanwhile, they must be treated humanely. Every single Palestinian must have access to healthcare, food, clean water, energy and sanitation. The widespread bombing and siege must stop. Every Israeli must have security and peace as well. They should coexist without negating one another. Humanitarian aid must flow effectively via the Rafah and other crossings immediately. The maritime humanitarian corridor offered by Nicosia needs to be supported by all parties. Cyprus can coordinate with Israel for the inspection of cargo, under international supervision. Aid must arrive promptly and safely in Gaza sooner than later.
Antisemitism versus criticizing a state
Antisemitism and threats to Jews are on the rise globally. Unacceptable! Anti-Muslim rhetoric and islamophobia are equally unacceptable! Support for ‘Free Palestine’ is for a free, independent and sovereign Palestine, not support for Hamas. Supporting Syrians does not mean support for Daesh. The chant ‘From the River to the Sea’ mustn’t threaten Israelis, but be seen as a demand for respect and human rights for all Palestinians living between these two bodies of water. Those who support Israel support the rights of an existing and established sovereign state. They don’t necessarily support the occupation of the West Bank. Equating anti-Zionism or criticism of Israel with antisemitism is wrong. Critics of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine aren’t equated to anti-Christianity. It’s nothing but shameful disrespect to the millions of innocent Jews slaughtered in the Holocaust and those who have genuinely suffered throughout history by being equated to a government or an army. Israel claims to be an inclusive state, so it simply can’t be antisemitic to democratically criticize a government that also has non-Jewish policymakers.
A Two-State Solution
Both Palestinians and Israelis deserve a sovereign state, freedom, peace and prosperity. Both can exist based on the 1967 borders. The Palestinian leadership accepted this since the 1982 Arab Summit and even Hamas since 2017, albeit without recognizing Israel. Recent polls show support is lacking among a majority of Palestinians and Israelis, driven by years of disenchantment and bad blood. Efforts are needed to break the cycle of violence and misery of the unsustainable status quo. Rapprochement is unlikely any time soon. The anger and feelings of revenge on both sides won’t go away easily, even with Hamas eradicated. Israel may now have simply begotten itself a new generation of enemies.
*Costa Constanti is a political and social analyst