Talk of eliminating Hamas only prolongs the Gaza-Israel conflict

Pursuing such an unfeasible goal through indiscriminate warfare sows the seeds of future confrontation

A masked militant from the Ezzedine Al Qassam Brigades, a military wing of Hamas, in northern Gaza, on August 25, 2021. AP
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Bare statistics can only tell us part of the story. Data released by Gaza’s administration this week suggests that at least 20,000 people in the besieged Palestinian enclave – the majority of them civilians – have been killed in Israel’s operation since October 7. This is an almost incomprehensible loss of human life, but it is the details of the suffering that really hit home.

These include reports that Palestinian women are struggling to find sanitary products after 10 weeks of siege emptied shops and pharmacies. Some have been forced to resort to drastic methods that put their health at risk, such as using their children’s nappies. Sadly, such an indignity is part of wider suffering: in late October The National reported from inside Gaza how Palestinians were being forced to brave the cold to bathe and do their laundry in seawater. A lack of clean water has led to more disease in the enclave, with children being among the most vulnerable to infection. On Tuesday, Unicef said more children were likely die from illness than the fighting, describing the siege of Gaza as “ten weeks of hell”.

What next for an Israeli military campaign that has lasted weeks, left the country diplomatically isolated and has failed to rescue most of the hostages taken by Hamas on October 7? On Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed his country’s current trajectory, saying: “We will not stop the fighting until all of the goals that we have set are achieved: the elimination of Hamas, the release of our hostages and the removal of the threat from Gaza.”

If one were to set measurable goals to end this war, then a strategically minded leader would not have the “elimination of Hamas” on the list. Although Israeli anger at Hamas for its murder of more than 1,000 people in October is real and understandable, it should not dictate military and political strategy. As French President Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday: "We cannot let the idea take root that an efficient fight against terrorism implies to flatten Gaza or attack civilian populations indiscriminately.”

A significant number of Hamas leaders live outside Gaza, the organisation’s financial and arms networks are varied and international, and verifying the true number of Hamas dead is an impossible task given that its setup is far from that of a conventional army. Instead, the seeds of a bitter harvest are already being sown by Israel’s operation, which by killing so many civilians all but guarantees a new generation of Palestinians who see no hope for peace and will to continue the armed struggle. Whether such future resistance is called Hamas or something else is irrelevant – the ideology and willingness to fight will remain.

Indulging in the kind of flawed thinking that underpinned the so-called War on Terror, that included America's 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq, is a mistake Israel’s leadership cannot afford to keep making. Furthermore, Palestinians deserve better leadership than the current governance in place.

Time is running out for this Israeli war, which is sapping the will of the country’s most ardent backers. Sadly, time has already run out for the estimated 20,000 Palestinians who have lost their lives. Most of the world understands that an immediate ceasefire followed by a political process is the only realistic way out of this situation. Despite the many challenges, there is still time to achieve this.

Published: December 22, 2023, 3:00 AM
Updated: December 23, 2023, 9:07 AM