Late on Friday, 15 children from Gaza were evacuated to Abu Dhabi, along with their families. They are among the first of 1,000 wounded children being brought to the country for medical treatment. Tens of thousands of Palestinians have fled their homes following sustained Israeli bombardment over the past six weeks, in the aftermath of a deadly attack staged by Hamas in southern Israel.
The evacuation is part of a larger mission led by the UAE government – and involving three of the country’s premier healthcare providers and humanitarian organisations – that includes the construction of a field hospital in Gaza. The sheer complexity of the UAE’s operation, in addition to the humanitarian missions led by other countries in the region, is yet another reminder of the dire situation that prevails in Gaza today and the urgent need for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire.
More than 12,000 people in the territory have been killed, more than half of whom are children, with thousands more injured. Half of the territory’s population has been internally displaced, with people being forced to flee southwards as Israel continues to strike critical infrastructure and housing in the north, as part of its stated aim to destroy Hamas.
One outcome of its bombing campaign has been to deprive Gaza of the most basic of essentials, including food, water, medical supplies and power. Without these critical supplies, a number of hospitals have been hard-pressed – and in some cases simply unable – to treat the wounded, the sick and others in need of medical attention.
At the Manama Dialogue in Bahrain on Saturday, Jordanian Deputy Prime Minister Ayman Safadi warned of the high risk of disease outbreak inside the territory’s makeshift shelters, where few sanitation facilities are available.
The 19th annual three-day international security summit, which concluded yesterday, has provided the stage for the international community to keep up the pressure on all the stakeholders involved in the Israel-Gaza war. There is even a sense that a breakthrough in indirect talks between Israel and Hamas could come soon.
At the heart of these negotiations has been Israel’s demand for the release of about 240 hostages being held by Hamas before a humanitarian pause. It is a demand that appears to have the tacit approval of the administration of US President Joe Biden. White House Co-ordinator Brett McGurk, also speaking in Manama over the weekend, called on Hamas to free hostages if the group wants to protect civilians in Gaza. “The release of hostages is the pathway to a pause in the fighting,” Mr McGurk said. “To pause the fighting, release the hostages, the women, the children, the toddlers, the babies.” However, the US insists it is working daily to get aid into Gaza.
In truth, this prevailing atmosphere of ransoming humanitarian concerns is as callous as it is counterproductive. Hamas’s decision to take so many hostages relied on an older calculus, based on its previous experience trading small numbers of Israelis for large numbers of Palestinians, which appears to no longer hold. No such trades appear to be on the table today.
At the same time, all efforts must be geared towards a cessation of Israel’s relentless bombing of civilians and their homes. It is increasingly clear that the continuation of its campaign will only bring the region closer to the edge of a humanitarian catastrophe, with ramifications for all.
With the ground shifting rapidly amid the mounting toll, the transactional nature of these negotiations is not only inhumane but also unviable – and, therefore, unacceptable. Of course, there are still negotiations to be had for a meaningful political settlement that can prevent future conflicts of this kind. But to save the lives of Palestinian civilians and Israeli hostages, the only solution is to hit the “stop” button. A ceasefire, the protection of civilian life, the release of hostages and the delivery of aid to Gazan civilians must all be pursued in the same spirit: urgently and without any conditions.