A view of Gaza today

Sania Al-Husseini, Tuesday 31 Oct 2023

The Arab states should mobilise the international community to oppose Israel, the US, and other Western powers that prosecute or collude in the massacres of Palestinians.

A view of Gaza today

 

No imagination can grasp, and no eye can bear, the horror of what is unfolding in Gaza today. Entire extended families are being wiped out beneath the rubble of their own homes or in bombarded hospitals or streets and alleys.

Lethal bombs from US arsenals are being used by the Israelis to deliberately target a defenceless civilian population. In just one strike on a single day, hundreds of people were killed in the Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital in Gaza City. At least half the dead were children.

For weeks, civilians have been subjected to a process of slow execution by an occupying power that has cut off food, water, electricity, and fuel from Gaza. Such indiscriminate bombardment and deprivation are war crimes and crimes against humanity aided and abetted by active US and Western support.

When the Israeli occupying forces launched their current assault against Gaza, they asked Egypt to open the Rafah Crossing, the only way out from Gaza. They then told the Gazans to leave through that crossing in order to escape the impending bombing, a warning that was accompanied by assorted promises that the Gazans would be able to return afterwards.

The Palestinians refused to heed this call, while Egypt warned of its implications. Some 70 years after the Nakba in 1948, the Israeli occupation is staging another edition of what the Zionist terrorist gangs did when Israel was founded – in other words, the murderous pogroms that ravaged Palestinian towns and villages and drove 750,000 to 900,000 Palestinians from their land.

Israel has refused to let the Palestinian refugees return to their homes ever since. It repeated the same scenario in 1967, following the defeat of the Arab armies in June that year when it occupied the remainder of Palestine.

After the fall of Gaza and the West Bank, another wave of massacres and war crimes forced around a million and a half Palestinians to flee, condemning over half the Palestinian people to live the rest of their lives as refugees.

No Palestinian can separate the massacres perpetrated against their parents and grandparents and their ancestors’ forced displacement from the slaughter being perpetrated against the Palestinians in Gaza today and Israel’s current designs.

The thought of driving the Palestinians out of Gaza has never been far from the mind of any Israeli government, though few have ever been as explicit as current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“The war of independence isn’t over,” he said, in a reference to the events of 1948. For Netanyahu, the assault on Gaza today is the latest chapter in a war that began in 1948 and continued through 1967. His aim now is to empty Gaza of its inhabitants.

Spurious claims that Palestinian resistance fighters beheaded babies and raped women during the Hamas incursion into Israel on 7 October is a ruse to turn international public opinion against the Palestinians and secure global silence as the Israeli forces carry out their plans to drive millions more Palestinians from their land.

The occupation has made no secret of its intention to displace a couple of million people into Sinai. On 9 October, Israeli spokesman Richard Hecht told the Gazans to head to Egypt. Leaflets dropped by warplanes instructed Gaza residents to leave their homes and flee south. Even as many residents fled, they then bombarded the south, killing hundreds who had been displaced from the north.

Egypt delivered its response to the Israeli authorities two hours after Israel told the Gazans to head to Egypt. The Egyptian authorities said that Israel was forcing the Gazans to choose between death by Israeli bombs or forced transfer into Egypt.

The idea of expelling the Palestinians into Sinai is not new. It was proposed in the UN in the 1950s, and the Palestinians rejected it out of hand. It was proposed again after Israel occupied Gaza in 1967. A US congressional committee came up with a plan for the “voluntary” deportation of 200,000 Palestinians from Gaza to other countries. Plans were drawn up to develop Al-Arish to induce the Palestinians to go there.

In 1970, Israel forcefully expelled many Palestinians to Egypt on the pretext that they were from the resistance. In the 1980s, news leaks exposed attempts to pressure former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak into complying with a plan to settle Gazans in Sinai. The attempts did not work, but that did not prevent further thinking in this direction after the 1993 Oslo Accords.

In 2003, Israel tried to persuade Egypt to relinquish a chunk of land in the Sinai adjacent to Gaza in order to settle the Gazans there. Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert proposed a similar plan in 2008. In 2010, president Mubarak mentioned that Netanyahu had brought up the plan again.

In 2019, the Israeli government tried to encourage Palestinians to leave Gaza voluntarily, pledging that it would open Israeli airports for the purpose. Gaza has been under a suffocating Israeli blockade since 2006. This has reduced humanitarian conditions there to breaking point, with unemployment at 70 per cent and more than 65 per cent of the population living in poverty.

Plans to evict the Gazans from Gaza were also included in the “Deal of the Century” that former US president Donald Trump proposed in 2019.

Jordan is an “alternative homeland” in the Israeli schemes, since Netanyahu’s unfinished “war of independence” does not stop in Gaza. The West Bank is its priority. Israel already controls more than two-thirds of the West Bank, and its settlements sprawl across its heartland, cutting off Palestinians’ towns and villages from each other and making it easy for the Israelis to seal them off entirely.

There are thousands of armed Israeli settlers in these settlements. Their growing numbers and growing arsenal of government-provided weapons, together with their recurrent attacks against Palestinian people and property, are a constant reaffirmation of Israel’s designs.

After the Palestinian territories were occupied in 1967, Israel tried to spur a “spontaneous population movement” from Palestine to Jordan and Egypt in tandem with its policy of transferring Jews into newly constructed settlements in the West Bank.

After the Oslo Agreement in 1993, it accelerated the settlement expansion and the transfer of Israelis to the West Bank. It simultaneously armed the settlers, while subjecting the Palestinians to ever harsher security clampdowns.

WESTERN SUPPORT

Given the US’ overt collaboration in the Israeli offensive against the civilian population in Gaza and the unity of Western officialdom in its uncritical support for Israel, there is a need to go back in time a little.

This is the same West that supported the UN General Assembly’s recommendation to partition Palestine in 1947. Israel bases its legitimacy on this recommendation, even though it is not binding.

It is this same recommendation that gave the green light to the British armed and trained Zionist gangs to launch the war against the Palestinians that would culminate in the recognition of Israel and the Palestinian Nakba.

Although Israel’s admission to the UN at that time was predicated on the return of the hundreds of thousands of refugees displaced from their towns and villages in Palestine, Israel never complied, while the West’s support remained undiminished.

After Israel occupied the rest of Palestine in 1967 and the UN Security Council adopted a binding resolution requiring the aggressor state to withdraw or risk sanctions, Israel did not comply again, thanks to the unwavering support of the US and the West.

Barely had the ink dried on the Oslo Accords in 1993 than the US-led West backed every Israeli circumvention of its commitment and violation of international law. The newly created Palestinian Authority (PA) was granted a degree of autonomy to manage the lives of the civilian population in the Palestinian Occupied Territories with help from Western funds.

Meanwhile, the Western powers turned a blind eye to Israel’s actions to alter the geographic and demographic realities in Occupied Jerusalem and the West Bank, thereby rendering the two-state solution unfeasible.

The West calls the Palestinian resistance to the occupation “terrorism” and defends the Israeli occupation’s crimes in the Occupied Territories as “self-defence.”

The West’s flagrant bias has also shaped the dismal performance of the international institutions. The inability of the UN Security Council to commit Israel to a humanitarian truce and its failure to oblige Israel to provide water, food, medicine, and fuel to the Palestinians in Gaza, in keeping with the rights of civilians in wartime under international law, are extensions of the West’s decades-long record of enabling Israel’s evasion of the hundreds of UN resolutions pertaining to the Palestinians’ legitimate rights.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) that sits back and watches Israel carry out appalling war crimes and crimes against humanity against civilians in Gaza is the same court that jumped into action at the West’s behest within days of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Under the Fourth Geneva Convention and the Statute of Rome, forced displacement and the unlawful transfer of populations are war crimes. Forced displacement becomes a crime against humanity when committed as part of a systematic campaign targeting all or part of a particular civilian population, as is happening now in Gaza.

Biden was disappointed at his inability to persuade the Arab governments – apart from the UAE – to explicitly condemn Hamas. President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi stressed the need to understand the military development on 7 October in the context of the lack of a political horizon for a solution to the Palestinian plight.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman called for an end to “military operations that kill innocent people.” The Saudi King also spoke with the Iranian president and suspended the Saudi normalisation process with Israel.

Jordan’s position was consistent with those of Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

However, these positions, while positive, are not commensurate with what is happening right now in Gaza. The West may need to be taught a political lesson non-militarily, and the turmoil in international politics surrounding the war in Ukraine presents an opportunity to do so, especially given the West’s need for Arab support in that war.

The Arab states should mobilise the international community to take stances opposed to Israel, the US, and other Western powers that prosecute or collude in the current massacres of Palestinians.

Perhaps coordinating towards this end with China, Russia, Iran, and other Muslim countries and the spectre of the political and economic costs for the West will lay the groundwork for new and clearer regional balances.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 2 November, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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