One can lose focus amid the fog of war, particularly one such as the current Israeli-Gaza conflict that has been characterised by lightning-fast developments and a stream of questionable or outright bogus information. In this scenario, it is worth returning to the facts.
Just over a week ago, Hamas gunmen breached the heavily fortified border with Israel, breaking the siege of Gaza, and launched an attack on several communities and a music festival that left hundreds of Israelis soldiers and civilians dead. About 150 Israelis, including civilians, were abducted and taken back to Gaza as hostages.
Since then, the two million Palestinians already forced to live a life of struggle in the overcrowded and besieged Gaza Strip, denied basic rights due to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, have been on the receiving end of a barrage of Israeli air strikes that have killed families to the last member and reduced entire neighbourhoods to rubble. More than 2,500 Palestinians have been killed so far, and close to 10,000 injured.
On Sunday, a spokeswoman for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said an estimated one million people – half of the Gaza Strip’s population – have been displaced in a single week. It is still not clear how many Palestinians remain in northern Gaza following a scarcely believable Israeli military order to thousands of traumatised and distressed citizens that they move south ahead of an impending ground operation that will involve thousands of heavily armed troops. The UN has described moving more than one million people in an orderly and safe manner based on this order as “impossible”.
The Gaza Strip is without power and is suffering from acute shortages of food, water, fuel and medicine – an act of Israeli collective punishment that affects the lives of everyone in the blockaded territory and does not differentiate between Hamas operatives and civilians, at least half of whom are children. The World Health Organisation has condemned an Israeli order for 22 hospitals in Gaza to be evacuated, saying that forcing 2,000 patients to relocate "could be tantamount to a death sentence".
It is an unfolding humanitarian catastrophe that cannot and should not be ignored. During talks on Saturday in Abu Dhabi between President Sheikh Mohamed and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the issue of establishing humanitarian corridors to Gaza for medical and relief aid was among the topics discussed. The prioritising of such initiatives is welcome, and the UAE has already gone further than talks: Sheikh Mohamed has directed $20 million in aid for the Palestinian people and on Friday, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, directed an additional Dh50 million in aid to be disbursed through Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives.
In addition, a UAE plane has carried medical aid to the Egyptian city of Al Arish with the intention of it being brought into Gaza through the Rafah crossing, state news agency Wam reported on Friday. The Emirates Red Crescent, in collaboration with the World Food Programme, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Community Development, has launched a Compassion for Gaza campaign to collect humanitarian relief packages.
But the fact that such efforts are required at all is a damning indictment of the political and strategic failures that have led us to such a dire situation. Sadly, it seems that Gaza will experience no respite; Israel’s military said on Saturday it was in the final stages of preparations for a “significant ground operation”. What the final outcome of this conflict will be is uncertain, but one thing is clear amid the deluge of claim and counter-claim: it is the civilians of Palestine who will pay the highest price.