From history we can see that there’s nothing new about the fighting between Israel and Palestine. What makes this year’s conflict different is that the international reaction, from people more so than governments, is less pro-Israel than it has been in the past.
Aggression between Israel and Palestine normally begins as militants, usually from the Hamas terrorist group, fire upon Israel or attack Israeli soldiers. This is followed by strikes against militant targets in Gaza/West Bank. It’s a phenomenon that happens several times a year and has done for decades.
Every so often the militants’ campaign of rocket attacks is more prolonged, and Israel ramps up the action and the rhetoric and attacks civilian targets and creates more devastation.
In either case, the end to the fighting generally comes as the Palestinian militants cut their losses and draw a ceasefire. One exception is the last major conflict where Israel announced a unilateral ceasefire that was abided by the Palestinians.
This year’s conflict is essentially no different from what we have seen before, except that it is lasting longer than usual.
What people are protesting against is not necessarily against the idea of the state of Israel but the imbalance of power between them and the Palestinians. Israel has had a naval blockade of access to Gaza for nearly eight years now, denying the Palestinians access to vital resources needed to develop and even survive. Hamas are acting out in protest against this blockade, as peaceful attempts have been fruitless.
Israel, being a wealthy state surrounded by potential aggressors, has built up what is the strongest defence per head of population in the world. Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, is one of the most highly regarded in the world behind the CIA, MI5 and KGB. It is also widely considered that Israel has nuclear weapons capabilities, although the answer from Israel has been “deliberately ambiguous”. Despite being a country of only 8 million people, Israel has undoubtedly got one of the strongest defences in the world.
There is no comparison between Israel’s military force and Palestine’s. Palestinian terror groups such as Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah are limited to essentially guerrilla tactics of firing rockets at Israeli settlements and targeted killings/assassinations. They cannot order air strikes, smart bombs, ground invasions or anything close to it. They are armed with weapons siphoned from other countries, the hand-me-downs from governments sympathetic to their cause. When Israel invades and fights, the Palestinians have no chance of mounting real resistance.
However, it’s becoming increasingly clear to a growing population in the West that Israel’s strong hand tactics are exacerbating the situation in this year’s new round of violence, rather than the Palestinians. Israel’s reactions have surely gone beyond the vague line in the sand set by international law of a “proportionate response” to threats. A BBC report last night claimed that the death toll of Palestinians since the current attacks began just over two weeks ago stands at 1,000 while the Israeli losses are only 42, with just two of them being civilians. In addition, many houses, schools and even hospitals have been destroyed by Israeli airstrikes; critical infrastructure which will take years to rebuild with Palestine’s relative poverty. Despite media coverage which appears biased towards Israel, with the BBC being reprimanded for their reporting so far, the public opinion in the West has appeared to be pro-Palestine at the moment.
Protests yesterday in London and Paris condemned Israel’s response to the Gaza threats and there has been vociferous pro-Palestine support on social media, more so than ever seen in the past. It will be interesting to see governments’ reaction to this, as people are becoming less and less tolerant of Israel’s militaristic stance while most Western governments support it. This may mean that Palestine gets more bargaining room in future negotiations.
No-one can condone any of the attacks that are happening in Israel/Palestine at the moment, as the only way in which peace can be achieved is through diplomacy and negotiation. The two-state solution, where Israel and Palestine both have their own sovereignty, is the only one that has a chance of succeeding in achieving peace, finally, in the Middle East. Getting this negotiation and solution is possible but will take tremendous concessions from both sides. Neither side wants to back down on their claims to the land, their land.
Peace in the Middle East is still far off, but the end of this summer’s fighting in Gaza will hopefully draw to a close soon. The fall-out of the MH17 tragedy in Ukraine from last week is beginning to fade, and world leaders are now diverting their attention into pressuring Israel and Palestine, or more specifically Hamas, into a ceasefire. In the last few days, both Israel and Hamas have announced their own unilateral ceasefires – so both sides have expressed a will to stop fighting, paving the way for negotiation and a joint agreement to bring this latest chapter of violence to an end.
You can’t negotiate over the sound of guns. Let’s all hope that they fall silent soon and that progress can be made over the age-old question of Israel. It may have taken a long time to create a Jewish homeland, but it seems as though it may take just as long to have it accepted.