Gaza Conflict – The Realities of the Warzone

The current outbreak of violence in Gaza follows a pattern which has engulfed the region for more than half a century. The particularly aggressive offensive currently being carried out by the Israeli military resulting in around 1000 Palestinian deaths has led to the UN accusing the nation of possible war crimes. Israel, however believes that it is justified in protecting itself from what it views as attacks from a terrorist organisation.

Though lobbying by Zionists for the creation of Israel has been going on for many years prior to 1945, it was following the end of World War 2 that the Jewish people were awarded a big chunk of Palestine as a form of compensation for the atrocities committed during the Holocaust. The Arab population living in the region refused to accept this and the outbreak of violence ensued marking the beginning of this lengthy conflict.

From 1967 until 2005, Israel occupied Gaza and the West Bank. Its exit allowed for the rise of Hamas in 2006. Since the emergence of Hamas, Israel has held Gaza under a blockade, controlling the movement of goods and people over its borders. In 2013, restrictions were placed on Gaza’s southern border, controlled by Egypt, further reducing the freedom of movement and leading to an increase of discontent within the country. Following the tightening of the blockade, the dense network of smuggling tunnels previously used to import key materials, food and fuel have been shut down. As a result, food prices have sky rocketed and there has been shortages of building materials and fuel.

The living situation for the 1.7m people living in Gaza, a strip of land 40km long and 10 km wide, is extremely difficult due to the blockades. As products cannot freely cross borders, there are limited businesses present and a lack of foreign investment. As such, there is a high rate of unemployment (40.8%) and 21% of the population can be classified as living in absolute poverty with an income of less than £313 per month. The crackdown on smuggling which has led to a reduction in the amount of construction materials has led to further unemployment. The closure of the tunnels and the subsequent fuel shortage has also reduced the capabilities of Gaza’s medical facilities, having a direct impact on the care of the civilians being injured in current conflict. Furthermore, agricultural land suitable for cultivation is sparse in the small area with Israel outlawing farming on the buffer zone on the Palestinian side of the border, which coincides with Gaza’s most fertile land. The harsh blockade means the general Palestinian population sympathises and supports Hamas. On 23 July, Gaza announced that they would accept a humanitarian end to the violence but not without the end to the blockade.

Israel, on the other hand, argues that their aggressive actions are justified. They note that since 2001, Hamas has sent 13,000 rockets into Israel with little regard for civilians. Israel says that Hamas embeds its missiles within civilian settlements, making them targets for the powerful Israeli military. However, it must be noted that the general Palestinian population are not Hamas. Israel’s actions which are apparently trying to protect civilians have led to a catastrophic loss of human life.

Whilst the Israeli death toll during the current outbreak of violence stands at 42 (mainly soldiers), this does not mean that constant fear felt by many Israelis is not real. Though very rarely, it does occasionally happen that Hamas rockets manage to break through the Israeli hi-tech defence systems called Iron Dome.  Israelis therefore feel the need for a tough response against Hamas.

Like any other country Israel has the right to defend itself and its people. But at what point do defensive acts become offensive? This brings us to the question of morality of warfare. The idea of war and morality within the same context has long been a contentious subject. Within his analysis of World War 2, historian A.C Grayling asked ‘was this coming offensive a crime against humanity? Or was it justified in the necessities of war?’ If the Israeli government is killing 200 people to save a further 1,000 does this make it a moral act within a war zone? Political scientist T.Nagel claims ‘any means can in principle be justified if it leads to a sufficiently worthy end’. Israel has long had the opinion that military measures are a necessity in order to defend the country. Are Israel’s actions morally correct as they are acting out of necessity or should the death of innocent civilians always be seen as an immoral act regardless of context?

For Palestinians, death has once again become a feature of everyday life with whole families being wiped out by Israeli shelling. If Palestinians living in Gaza see Hamas as their only form of representation and protection against an extremely well equipped army, then it is easier to see why Hamas has such a stronghold in the area.

In order for there to be a break in the never ending sequence of violence in the region, a ceasefire needs to be reached and a treaty outlined with fair principles for both parties. The international community needs to play an active role in facilitating peace talks between the two sides which may lead to the emergence of a more dominant Palestinian organisation that will use diplomacy rather than violence in order to resolve issues.  Israel’s violent attempts to dismantle Hamas has only polarised the conflict further and garnered further support for the Gaza group. The involvement of a third party is vital.

For any sort of cease fire to take place, both sides need to take responsibility for its involvement in the conflict. Both sides have engaged in immoral acts which breach internationally accepted principles of warfare. It is clear this consistent cycle of violence has failed to address the long term goals of either party. The strict blockade which prevents development in Gaza and limits the access to basic commodities needs to end. There is a possibility that by allowing the  population of Gaza the ability to function as a real society and no longer be treated as an extension of Hamas, the founding principles of Hamas will begin to be collapse.  Once the Palestinian people have hope and see some real improvement, the need for the military wing of Hamas will become obsolete.

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Categories: Middle East

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