On October 7th, Hamas, the Palestinian militant group, initiated "Operation Al-Aqsa Flood," launching an unprecedented attack on Israel. The assault resulted in over 1,200 casualties and the capture of more than 200 hostages. Subsequently, Israel's response to Hamas, labeled by some as a genocide against civilian Gazans, has led to more than 14,100 Palestinian deaths in the 41 km-long Gaza Strip. This toll includes over 9,000 women and children. The situation remains dire, with global protests vehemently supporting Gaza's civilians amidst an escalating humanitarian crisis.
Gazan civilians are stuck as victims enduring unforgiving violence. Israel has said its troops have entered the heart of Gaza City, as thundering explosions continue. While the United Nations, various world leaders, and rights groups are persistent in their efforts to push for a ceasefire, civilians in Gaza continue to plead for basic resources amid an aid blockade placed by Israel, limiting all essential necessities.
Latest updates show that Israel has agreed to place a four day pause in its assault on Hamas in northern Gaza intended to provide room for hostage negotiations. The agreement involves releasing 50 hostages, a temporary ceasefire, aid entry, and the release of 150 Palestinian prisoners.
Despite this, surfaced videos reveal the severe hunt for necessities such as food, water, and medical aid, as the relentless Israeli air strikes continue. Given such atrocities, social media and civil organizations across the world stay steadfast in accusing Israel of genocide, amongst a series of other Crimes Against Humanity.
Origins of Hamas
The current siege has its roots in a near-century-long conflict between Israel and Palestine, wherein territorial dispute has sparked religious antagonism and military escalation. The horrific attacks of October 7th were not in a vacuum.
With this, it is important to note the foundation of Hamas, a Palestinian militant organization that has been in a consistent struggle to maintain its control over the Gaza Strip after defeating its political rival in an election in 2006, while disregarding the legitimacy of Israel as a state. Hamas is one of Gaza’s two major political parties; however, it is best known for its armed resistance to Israel, leading a number of countries, including the United States, to designate it as a terrorist organization.
Hamas, an acronym for Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya (“Islamic Resistance Movement”), was founded by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in December 1987. Yassin, a Palestinian cleric, became active in local branches of the Muslim Brotherhood after dedicating his early life to Islamic scholarship in Cairo. The movement emerged in response to the first intifada, a Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation that began in the late 1980s. Initially established as the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza, Hamas published its charter in 1988, calling for the destruction of Israel and the establishment of an Islamic society in historic Palestine. The group aimed to counter the influence of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, another organization challenging the Brotherhood's support.
Hamas gained notoriety for its use of suicide bombings in April 1993, preceding the signing of the Oslo Accords between PLO leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. The group condemned the accords and the recognition between the Palestine Liberation Organisation (LPO) and Israel. Designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the United States in 1997, Hamas became a leading force in violent resistance during the second intifada in the early 2000s.
The brewing enemyship escalated significantly in 2006, as Israel declared Gaza a ‘hostile territory’, and immediately sieged the supply of electricity, fuel, food, and other essential supplies, similar to the siege in place today.
Israel’s Tactics for Power
The prevailing power dynamics have consistently favored Israel, given its strong alliance with the US and Western nations, coupled with advanced defense capabilities. Consequently, Gaza has been exposed to frequent attacks, and its inherent vulnerability stands as a persistent and unaddressed issue in the current conflict.
Israel and Palestine’s history of conflict reveals a trend in terms of Israel’s military strategy. The avoidance of cooperation with Hamas and alerting civilians to evacuate have been their main tactics in isolating the militant organization.
On 13th October, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) ordered all residents of northern Gaza, including Gaza City, to evacuate southward, in anticipation of a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip. This was an ultimatum, wherein families were, and remain, forced to leave their belongings and homes behind, or were compelled to stay put under the fear of life-threatening dangers. These strategies, however, have been condemned by various rights groups and international organizations, including Amnesty International and the UN, that view such military strategies as severe war crimes. Accusations and videos of Israel bombing civilians fleeing conflicted regions of the Gaza Strip following Israeli evacuation orders quickly surfaced online, leading to widespread criticism.
Israel has long controlled population demographics, mobility, citizenship, and the imports of every commodity within Gaza, leading the UN and various other groups to call it a large “open-air prison” in 2010. Since then, Israel announced the completion of a 65-kilometer “Iron Wall” in 2021, making the already existing socio-economic constraints physical.
Present Day Violence
Presently, the people of Gaza endure the brutality of ongoing violence, with the UN highlighting the displacement of 1.7 million individuals in the area. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), responsible for Palestinian refugees, has successfully provided shelter for nearly 795,500 of those displaced. However, the number of refugees continues to escalate daily. In the latest update on the humanitarian crisis, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that over 3,000 civilians are missing and presumed to be trapped or deceased under rubble.
Amongst the increasing number of fatalities, women and children have made up more than 62% of the toll, while more than 28,000 people have reportedly been injured. Adding to such horrors, as reported by Al Jazeera, hospitals in northern Gaza are completely out of service, according to the besieged enclave’s Ministry of Health. Hospitals are running out of beds, as the largest medical facility in Gaza, the al-Shifa Hospital, was recently met with an IDF raid and heavy attacks in a surrounding complex, forcing patients to evacuate.
Alongside this, 28 premature babies were evacuated from al-Shifa to Egypt to receive critical treatment. Besides the physical impact on civilians, the UN reports that 20,000 people require specialized mental health services as the population faces endless traumatic scenes with no ceasefire in sight.
Despite the alarming statistics, Israel remains unyielding. Following the escalation of an embargo on resources since October 7th, Israel finally permitted a 20-truck aid convoy to enter Gaza from Egypt through the Rafah border crossing on October 21st. However, UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric has emphasized that the delivered aid only accounted for 4% of the region's pre-crisis daily needs, falling far short of what is required amidst the ongoing conflict.
In spite of repeated calls from the UN urging for a minimum of 100 aid trucks per day, Israel has consistently failed to meet this demand. It was only in November that a total of 100 aid trucks managed to reach Gaza. Consequently, there is an acute shortage of basic commodities in Gaza, with only 5% of the region's water needs being met and a complete electricity blackout since October 11th due to fuel shortages. This blackout has led to a disruption in telecommunication, leaving the 2.3 million residents in the besieged area completely isolated from the outside world.
Adding to the challenges, Israel recently permitted the entry of only 2 fuel trucks, reportedly designated solely for UN trucks, with hardly any reaching hospitals. The situation in Gaza remains critical, with the inadequate supply of essential resources exacerbating the already dire humanitarian crisis.
Unraveling Acts of Atrocity and Crimes Against Humanity
The global outcry against the distressing events has prompted protestors worldwide to condemn Israel's actions as potential acts of genocide. Human rights experts at the UN have expressed concern about the risk of genocide against the Palestinian people. During the UN General Assembly's Third Committee, representatives from the Middle East, including Syria, pointed to what they perceived as Western indifference to crimes against humanity such as ethnic cleansing and genocide.
Moreover, massive crowds, including numerous prominent Jewish organizations, are participating in pro-Palestine and pro-Humanity demonstrations. These protests are taking place not only in the United States and the United Kingdom but also across various European states, reflecting a widespread and diverse expression of solidarity.
While the UN has not recognized this fear of genocide officially, some of their human rights experts such as Francesca Albanese, have stated that “the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel has reached fever pitch” and warned that “Israel has carried out mass ethnic cleansing of Palestinians under the fog of war”. This has been compounded by other international organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), stating that “the evacuation orders, coupled with the complete siege [of resources]” are defying the terms of international humanitarian law. Yet, there remains a need for intense diplomatic effort to cease the conflict, since those states on Israel’s side demand an end to Illegal Hostage-Taking and “Terrorist” attacks by Hamas militants.
Notably, Hamas has spoken of releasing 70 more hostages after the four already released in exchange for the delivery of more aid trucks. This release was done through the mediation of the Red Cross, Qatari and Egyptian diplomats, who, along with the UN, have been urging Hamas to release many more.
Experts say that negotiations such as this are the only way to obtain Palestinian freedom from the Israeli bombardments for the time being. The UN Human Rights Chief Volker Turk has said that the “sieges” were illegal under international law but that the militants’ abduction of hostages was also forbidden. Israel therefore, remains firm in its propaganda of “retaliation”.
Needless to say, their retaliatory acts are unjustified given that they primarily target civilians and are crimes on basic humanitarian grounds.
This pattern of retaliation has become a recurring feature in the ongoing Israeli occupation, with the conflict extending beyond the Israel-Palestine border. Since October 7th, tensions along the Lebanon-Israel border have been steadily rising. Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shiite political and militant group aligned with Iran, has long been labeled a terrorist organization by the US, UK, and other nations, similar to Hamas. The violence at the border has reached its highest point since the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, resulting in an increase in civilian casualties.
On October 8th, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah announced the group's involvement in the conflict between Hamas and Israel. In response, Israel has deployed artillery, fighter jets, and attack helicopters, leading to a significant number of casualties on both sides. The expansion of the conflict to new international fronts has raised concerns about the escalating scope of violence.
The Middle Eastern bloc that is currently in support of Palestine, with countries such as Iran, has warned Israel of the risk of a regional conflict if it continues to attack Palestinian territory. Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian shares, “I warn the US and its proxy Israel that if they do not immediately stop the crime against humanity and genocide in Gaza, anything is possible at any moment and the region will go out of control”.
Additionally, Iran is concerned about the potential normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel, fearing it would strengthen the U.S. presence in the Middle East and weaken Palestine's support from influential regional allies. Despite the Saudi Crown Prince expressing support for the Palestinian people, ongoing tensions have disrupted negotiations. Leaders like Turkish President Erdogan argue that Israel's response to Hamas is disproportionate, hindering people from meeting basic needs. Iran is currently working to build a Middle Eastern coalition in solidarity with Palestine, garnering support from countries like Syria and Lebanon.
Several meetings have taken place at the United Nations to address resolutions regarding the ongoing atrocities. However, a genuine agreement for a ceasefire has not been reached. The lack of sufficient favorable votes, coupled with a previous veto from the United States rejecting the UN's call for a "humanitarian pause" instead of an explicit ceasefire, has prevented the resolutions from materializing. It appears that efforts are being made to accommodate the preferences of the global superpower, further hindering progress.
Tensions within the United Nations reached a boiling point when the Israeli ambassador called for the resignation of UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Adding to the controversy, the United States later spearheaded a draft resolution proposing a "humanitarian pause" rather than a ceasefire. This proposed pause aimed to facilitate the entry of aid into Gaza without completely halting the ongoing violence. The draft faced significant opposition, with a majority of delegates rejecting it. Many opposed the US stance supporting Israel's "self-defense," and global protestors underscored the irony and absurdity of the situation by chanting "genocide as self-defense."
Recently, the UN adopted a resolution for a humanitarian pause after four unsuccessful attempts to address the ongoing war. However, the resolution has softened its language from "demand" to "call," and it still does not include a requirement for a ceasefire. This lack of firmness and instability from the UN has resulted in delays in addressing the crisis, leaving citizens anxiously waiting for an end to the violence.
Three rights groups have lodged a lawsuit with the International Criminal Court (ICC) against Israel, alleging genocide in Gaza. These groups have also urged the ICC to probe Israel for apartheid, highlighting racial discrimination. Arrest warrants for Israeli leaders have been issued as part of these legal actions. Nevertheless, Israel faces ongoing accusations of oppressing local activists, such as Ahed Tamimi, who is charged with "inciting terrorism."
The unresolved nature of resolutions has led to an intense and unrelenting conflict in Gaza, with no signs of improvement. This ongoing violence has resulted in immense suffering, especially for children, whose basic rights and safety are constantly under threat due to daily explosions. The impact of these losses is expected to affect generations to come. While global solidarity with the victims in Gaza persists, urgent and substantial support from the international community is still needed.
Achieving a just and sustainable peace in the region requires meaningful diplomacy. However, a crucial priority is taking a firm stance to completely cease violence in Gaza, as this is essential for fostering hope and bringing stability to the lives of millions of innocent civilians.
Nandini Sarin (they/them) is a student of International Relations, and the Head of News at Political Pandora.
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