On Tuesday, after a period of relative calm, Israel carried out an extrajudicial assassination in Gaza, killing a senior Islamic Jihad commander and his wife in his home. Predictably, some Palestinian factions (although not Hamas) responded by launching rockets into Israel.
For many analysts, it was clear that Israel’s actions were politically motivated and most likely designed to help bolster Benjamin Netanyahu domestically (given recent elections led to a stalemate). Estimates vary but up to 34 people have been killed in Gaza (including a 7-year-old boy), over a 100 injured and there has been significant damage to both properties and physical infrastructure. No Israeli casualties have been reported.
For the people of Gaza; this is nothing new. They have, sadly, become accustomed to living a most painful and unbearable life. Gaza;
- Has a population of approximately 2 million; of which 1.2 million are refugees from other parts of Palestine.
- It has one of the highest population densities and demographic growth rates in the world.
- Most live on less than $2 a day, and up to 80% are dependent on food aid, according to aid groups.
- The unemployment rate stands at 52%; youth unemployment is a staggering 60%.
- Poverty rates are close to 50% (and would be worse if not for aid from UNRWA).
- Over 90% (perhaps more) of the water in the strip is polluted and according to the UN unfit for human consumption.
- A UN report in 2015 concluded that if current economic trends continue the place would be ‘uninhabitable’ by 2020.
Gaza is approximately 5,000 years old, one of the world’s oldest cities it was at one point a thriving port. In 1948 it was initially occupied by Egypt after the war between Israel and the Arabs. In the six-day war of 1967, it was seized by Israel and Israel controlled or occupied the territory until it withdrew its troops and approximately 7,000 settlers in 2005. Hamas won by most accounts what were credible legislative elections in 2006. The situation deteriorated the following year when a unity government between Hamas and Fatah (which controls the West Bank) collapsed amid violence.
Since 2007 Hamas has effectively controlled the territory; with Hamas in charge, Israel blockaded Gaza with Egypt blockading the Southern Border; with Israel also controlling access to the sea the ‘strip’ has become to to all intents and purposes an open-air prison. Although, no longer technically occupied since 2005 as Rana Shubair (author of ‘In Gaza, I dare to dream’) tells me;
“They (Israel) still bombard us from above at their will…for the past 12+ years, we’ve been living under a land, air and and sea blockade. (The) UN declared, a few years back, that Gaza would be unlivable by 2020. It already is.”
She continues, there are;
“Restrictions on movement for any purpose. Patients are denied access to proper medical care by banning them from travel. Students are prevented from travelling to pursue studies…just the fact that one can’t travel freely like other human beings makes life in this open-air prison living hell.”
Gaza has experienced at least three wars since 2007. In 2008, in an apparent response to Hamas’s provocation Israel launched an offensive against the strip, followed by two more in 2012 and 2014. These offensives used disproportionate violence and caused enormous damage to Gaza’s physical infrastructure, including mosques, houses, medical facilities and schools. Precise casualty figures aren’t readily available but anywhere between 3000–4000 Palestinian’s were killed in total including many civilians and in 2014 alone over 500 children were killed.
Israel’s casualties were low in the first two conflicts but Hamas (learning from Hezbollah and using a sophisticated network of tunnels) improved upon its defensive capabilities and in 2014 killed 71 Israeli’s of which 66 were soldiers. Knowing that they don’t have the power to defeat Israel militarily, the military strategy of Palestinian groups appears to be one of providing an effective deterrence.
Israel is punishing the people of Gaza for daring to resist Israeli occupation-by contrast the Palestinians of the West Bank fare slightly (but only slightly) better; as their leaders have effectively accepted Israeli supremacy. As the Palestinian writer and activist Ali Abunimah argues Israel’s message to the people of Gaza is to ‘die quietly, or we will shoot you’. There is no better example of this than Israel gunning down unarmed protesters during the ‘Great March of Return’.
Last I checked the ratio of death in Israel’s conflict with Palestinians was approximately 100–1; i.e. for every Israeli killed one hundred Palestinian’s are killed. Yet the lop-sided nature of the conflict, and the brutality and injustice experienced by Palestinian’s is rarely acknowledged at elite levels in the West. In recent days for example, much of the MSM and especially the right-wing press have rushed to Israel’s defence with high-profile politicians such as Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg arguing Israel has a ‘right to defend itself’ (even though Israel by its own admission triggered this round of violence).
Have no doubt this is not a fair fight; one side has tanks, planes, drones and some of the latest and most sophisticated weaponry (often supplied by the US) and the firm-if not unconditional-support of the only remaining superpower on the planet (Israel also receives $3.8 billion in aid every year from the US). The other, has no standing army; no navy, no tanks and no planes. This is a genuine David and Goliath battle; one side is the oppressor, the other the oppressed, one the coloniser, the other the colonised, one the victim and the other the aggressor.