The original four-day truce, which came into effect on Friday, was extended by another two days on Monday, mostly to allow for the release of more Israeli prisoners held by Hamas following its sudden and daring attack against Israel’s army and nearby settlements on 7 October.
The brief extension would also allow the flow of more humanitarian aid into Gaza where people are deprived of nearly all basic needs including clean water, medicine, food, and fuel.
Yet, the relatively calm six days, in which Palestinians in Gaza enjoyed the simple pleasure of walking in the streets for the first time after 48 days of relentless, arbitrary, and reckless bombing, have increasingly convinced all parties concerned, except for Israel, that this war of destruction cannot resume, not even on a limited scale.
The entire world is now united in the conviction that a permanent ceasefire must be reached because neither the current war nor previous ones have ended the cycle of violence and bloodshed that has marked the conflict between the Palestinians and Israel since 1948.
Meanwhile, the current, extremist Israeli government, which includes ministers who have openly called for wiping out Gaza with a nuclear bomb, forcibly deporting Palestinians to Egypt or dispersing them all over the world by offering them visas to Canada and other host countries, must be aware by now that only calm led to the return of the Israeli prisoners held in Gaza, and not the indiscriminate killing of 20,000 Palestinians, including 6,000 children and 3,000 women.
When the original truce came into effect, the Israeli government had not achieved any of its key declared goals: neither was Hamas “eliminated,” nor was a single one of the over 240 Israeli prisoners held in Gaza released. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had originally pledged that he would not stop the war until “all hostages were freed and every Hamas member killed.”
Yet, it was the families of Israeli prisoners who forced the so-called “King of Israel” to face the truth and prioritise their release over the illusion that the indiscriminate killing of Palestinians, which has appalled and stunned the whole world, would force Hamas to surrender and hand over the prisoners in for free. Talking of an exchange of prisoners with Hamas is said to have been taboo among Israeli government officials during the first five weeks of the war.
On the third day of the truce and exchange of Israeli prisoners for Palestinian women and minors held in Israeli jails, mostly in “administrative detention” without charges or trial, Hamas fighters intentionally chose to hand over the 13 Israeli prisoners to the Red Cross at one of the main squares of Gaza City in the northern part of the Strip. Israel at one point had declared that it was in full control of north Gaza, and managed to empty it from its residents who were forced to move to the South.
Yet the handover at that particular spot in Gaza City demonstrated the untruth of Israeli claims even of weakening Hamas’ military, similar to many other allegations the Israeli government made about how Hamas fighters were using Al-Shifa Hospital as their main headquarters and to hold Israeli prisoners in underground tunnels there in order to justify bombing it and depriving the patients of medical care, for example.
However, the Israeli occupation troops ended up pulling out of the hospital’s buildings with no proof of tunnels, Hamas commanders or a single Israeli prisoner.
The sad reality is that Israel decided it wanted to punish Hamas by killing thousands of innocent Palestinians, ignoring the key lesson of its lengthy, racist occupation of Palestine: the more violence and discrimination against Palestinians, the more radical and extremist the younger generations would become, not just in Palestine, but all over the Arab and Muslim world.
The most important action Egypt has taken since the outbreak of the war was to firmly reject all attempts by Israel to carry out a historic Zionist plot aimed at forcibly deporting Palestinians in Gaza to Egypt, and those residing in the West Bank and Occupied Jerusalem to Jordan.
The horrific bombing of Palestinian buildings, wiping out nearly 60 per cent of residential areas in northern Gaza, was not only seen as an attempt to punish Palestinians and Hamas, but also to force them to flee to the south. The second stage of the war aimed at heavily bombing south Gaza in the same barbaric manner, leaving the Palestinians no options but to flee to Egypt.
In response, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi clearly stated any such scenario would be crossing a red line and threatening the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. Egypt will never be a party to any attempt to liquidate the Palestinian Cause or force another modern-day Nakba on Palestinians instead of ending their suffering.
The alternative Egypt has been pushing for, along with the United States and other concerned parties, is to go back to basics, reviving peace talks that have been stalled for nearly a decade and reaching a permanent solution that would ensure that no more wars take place in this part of the world. The only viable solution is the creation of the independent state of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Netanyahu and his extremist ministers reiterate that the situation in Gaza cannot return to what it was before 7 October. That’s the right thing to say, but it all depends, of course, on what we need to change.
If Israel ended its suffocating siege of Gaza, and allowed the densely populated strip to be part of a Palestinian state, as the 1993 Oslo Agreement with the PLO stipulated, then we would be creating a new reality, but one that could bring peace and prosperity to all the peoples of the region rather than adding to the endless killing and unrest.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 30 November, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly