Few disasters – man-made or otherwise – compare to the particular tragedy of Gaza, where compounded problems of conflict, chronic poverty, infrastructural collapse and confinement have created a disastrous situation of intense and avoidable human suffering. This is not to diminish the suffering of Israelis who lost loved ones to the brutal Hamas attacks or have family members being held hostage since last Saturday.
Gaza’s two million people are faced with dwindling food, fuel, medical supplies and incessant air strikes. The enclave’s sole power station has stopped operations. The UN says about 10 per cent of the population have been internally displaced to date and no one can leave. Although some members of the international community are trying to help – President Sheikh Mohamed has said the UAE will send $20 million in aid to Palestinians – there are few avenues to alleviate the suffering.
The World Health Organisation has released a proposal to establish a humanitarian corridor in and out of the besieged Gaza Strip that would enable the passage of aid and allow the safe and unobstructed movement of aid workers. So far, the call has not been heeded, but it must be. The European Union and the GCC have called for calm, sustained aid and access to necessities, such as food, water and supplies.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will be in Israel on Thursday and, as a senior representative of that country’s most powerful military and political ally, he will have the time and access to senior Israeli figures required to push for practical solutions to enforce international law that concerns the status of non-combatants in wartime. It is true that the US has thus far focused on Israel’s losses – Mr Blinken was present when President Joe Biden delivered remarks on Tuesday that unambiguously emphasised Washington’s commitment to Israel. Nevertheless, the US still has the influence to guide broader policy in the region.
The reality is that the people of Gaza are not responsible for Hamas, nor its tactics. With its cross-border raid on Saturday, Hamas – a secretive and unaccountable movement – has gone for broke and brought down the wrath of the Israeli military on an already-vulnerable population. The taking of even one hostage is itself a war crime. These kidnappings, coupled with the hundreds of Israeli civilian dead, have changed the calculus and Israel is now breaking with its previous convention of prioritising its hostages and recovering its dead. That leverage is gone, the Israeli state feels it can act without restraint, a previously divided Israeli public is now united, and Hamas cannot defend Gaza’s civilians from the current onslaught. The violence has led the Palestinian struggle into a political and strategic cul-de-sac.
At the same time, those close to Israel’s leadership must make the point that collective punishment not only goes against international law but will radicalise a new generation and sow the seeds for future conflict. History bears this out in the emergence of Hezbollah after Israel’s intervention in Lebanon in the 1980s, as well as the rise of Hamas after Yasser Arafat’s house arrest in 2002 and Fatah’s subsequent decline. Voices from across the region have called for negotiations and ways to end the violence, but so far have not been met with action.
In the here and now, all steps to spare Gaza’s people the worst of their suffering must be taken. Practical solutions, such as a humanitarian corridor, must not only be discussed but must be championed at the highest level. It is up to those with influence to help make this happen.