How to stop a Gaza apocalypse

Jan 1, 2024
21 October 2023, Palestinian Territories, Al Zahra: An aerial view of Madinat Al-Zahra near Khan Yunis. The number of Palestinians killed in the Gaza Strip has risen by more than 200 to 4,385 since the beginning of the war with Israel two weeks ago, the Hamas-run Heath Ministry said. Photo: Alamy/ Shadi Tabatibi/dpa

Why Gaza urgently needs a plan B. (A repost from December 2023).

War will drag on…

It’s now clear that the Gaza War is far from over. Hamas refuses to surrender. Israel has rejected the UN General Assembly’s call for a cease fire and American pressure to lower the intensity of the war because it says Hamas would regroup and rearm. The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) say that heavy ground fighting backed up by air power, could stretch on for weeks and that further military activity could continue for months.

A leaked US intelligence assessment claims up to 45% of the 29,000 air-to-ground munitions that Israel has dropped on Gaza have been unguided “dumb bombs” which perhaps explains why President Biden has called the bombing “indiscriminate”.

Fatalities are mounting…

More than 1,200 Israelis and foreign nationals have been killed and 248 taken hostage during the initial attack on Israel by Hamas. So far, around 400 Israeli soldiers and police have died and about 1,300 wounded since the start of the war.

Since Israel’s retaliation almost 20,000 Palestinians have died, 50,000 been wounded and countless are missing. Around 70% of the casualties are women and children who are noncombatants. Of the rest a majority are civilians. Hence, it’s possible that so far nine out of every ten Gazan casualties are civilians not fighters. That’s a high casualty rate because for most wars it is approximately two civilians to one combatant.

Disease and Starvation…

Nearly 85% of Gazans are internally displaced, including people who have been displaced multiple times, because they have fled in fear or had their homes destroyed. Electricity, fuel, and internet communication are almost non-existent. Few hospitals still operate and where medics exist medicines don’t. Infectious dieses and starvation are rife. Limited supply convoys are getting through and those that do are hampered in distributing aid by heavy fighting.

Residents don’t know where to go since no part of Gaza is safe from aerial bombing and ground attacks. Hamas has refused to open its vast network of underground tunnels and bunkers for civilian shelter. Also, Israel has now started flushing these out with seawater.

Nowhere to flee…

Nor can Gazans flee the tiny territory (no bigger than 3% the area of Greater Sydney) to neighbouring Egypt since it won’t take them. Egypt’s official reason is that it won’t facilitate a second “Nakba” (Palestinian displacement of 1948). The real reason could be that it bans Hamas as a terrorist organisation so fears it might extend its influence via refugees.

Meanwhile policy makers debate what should happen to Gaza once it has been reduced to a peaceful wasteland. Should it be governed by Israel, the Fatah led Palestinian Authority, the United Nations, or a coalition of Arab neighbours? Israel insists it will directly rule Gaza which seems likely since the alternatives look unworkable.

Such pontification overlooks the most immediate and pressing issue – how to help two million Gazans displaced from their homes and living without shelter, blankets, food, water, and medicines to survive as winter sets in?

A practical plan…

So, here’s a plan to stop this humanitarian crisis becoming a catastrophe that would further isolate Israel in public fora and with it the United States, its chief backer and armaments’ provider.

As a matter of urgency America and its allies including Australia should press Israel to establish a safe sanctuary with tents, food, water, and medicine before more Gazan civilians die from bombing, starvation, and diarrhoea.

Such a refugee camp should be within Israel. Here is why it should work:

• It won’t be bombed if it is located outside the walls of Gaza,
• Israel could ensure everyone entering the camp was unarmed,
• Hamas could not use evacuees as “human shields” to fire rockets,
• It would not be Palestinian displacement as it’s inside Israel’s borders, and
• Evacuees would return to Gaza after the war and the removal of rubble.

Likely Obstacles…

There are obvious obstacles to such a plan. Implementing it would be a logistical challenge, but the longer it is postponed the harder the humanitarian crisis will become to manage especially for Israel.

The chief political obstacle is that Israelis won’t want Gazans within Israel itself. And for good reason. A recent a survey by a respected Palestinian polling institute found that almost 75% of Palestinians believe that the October 7 attack by Hamas on Israel was correct. The same survey also found that the Gaza war has lifted support for the Islamist group both in Gaza and the West Bank.

Moreover, an earlier opinion poll conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University’s Peace Index found that more than 60% of Israelis believe that the military operation in Gaza should continue until Hamas is completely defeated. Only 10% said they would support a pause in fighting. Israeli opinion is more hawkish than ever.

Rescue must override Resentment…

Clearly neither Palestinians or Israelis trust each other, and each wants their side to defeat the other. But since Israel is likely to win the Gaza war if not the peace (Hamas’ political leaders live in Qatar, not Gaza) it needs to decide now if it wants Gazans to die en masse. Is that in Israel’s interest?

If not, it must provide a safe refuge outside war torn Gaza before it’s too late. Otherwise, the wheel will turn full circle from the Jewish holocaust including the massacre on October 7th to a Palestinian apocalypse that would inflame antisemitism further.

A repost from December 20, 2023

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