A brief pause in fighting should be built on

People in Gaza must be allowed to at least conceive of an end to this crisis

Palestinians gather after an Israeli strike on Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on November 23. AFP
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Although many in Palestine, Israel and the wider Middle East are hoping that a much-publicised truce can be delivered in Gaza, such efforts – somewhat like the hope itself – remain fragile.

There has already been a delay to the planned exchange of 50 Israeli hostages held by Hamas for an undisclosed number of Palestinian detainees in Israeli custody. Time is of the essence in this situation; amid the last-minute negotiations, the death toll for the conflict continued to rise when Israeli forces shot dead a Palestinian teenager, Izzadin Hafi, in the occupied West Bank on Thursday morning.

His name joins a list of casualties from a conflict that has now claimed thousands of civilian lives – more than 5,000 of them children according to the UN. Among them are more than 50 journalists, the overwhelming majority of them Palestinian. This is in addition to the more than 100 UN aid workers who have been killed so far, the biggest number in any single conflict. Much of Gaza has been reduced to rubble, its healthcare system and economy ruined, and millions of Palestinians have been displaced – some for a second time.

The bitterness and hate generated by the war has spread far beyond the smoking ruins of Gaza or the Israeli communities attacked by Hamas on October 7. Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are on the rise in many countries. Meanwhile, positions of the conflict have become polarised to the point of each side being unable to see the humanity in the other.

Any tentative truce is to be welcomed, but such a time-limited cessation is not a resolution of the conflict. A four-day halt may allow Hamas and the Israeli military to regroup, but it is barely enough time for Gaza’s civilians to catch their breath, let alone start to rebuild their shattered lives. The scale of the humanitarian crisis is such that even the hundreds of trucks of aid that are reportedly lined up and ready to cross into Gaza from Egypt will struggle to make a dent in the scale of this human catastrophe.

Ironically, the welcome news of a possible truce serves to highlight the marginal and ineffective role of the UN on a political level, which has been sidelined by the indirect talks that are taking place between Israel and Hamas via interlocutors such as the US, Qatar and Egypt. This sets a worrying precedent in modern warfare and conflict resolution, whereby the world’s largest multilateral organisation finds itself shut off from crucial talks and unable to change facts on the ground. However, UN agencies have been instrumental in trying to deliver aid on the ground and highlight the rights and needs of civilians.

While political failures have led to so many deaths thus far, even a brief pause – should it take place – should be built upon. There is no viable alternative and the only other scenarios involve further death and destruction, which will serve only to perpetuate this decades-long conflict. No one said negotiating truces or organising the logistics of releasing hostages in a warzone would be easy – the fragility of such arrangements is clear. However, people must be allowed to at least conceive of an end to this crisis. That is what hope is all about.

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Published: November 24, 2023, 2:00 AM