In recent years each new round of fighting between Palestinian resistance groups and Israel has proved that the level of violence and human damage can only rise, further complicating what slim prospects of trust might revive the practically dead peace process.
Over five days, the Israeli air force reduced to rubble scores of Palestinian residential buildings, claiming it was targeting leading figures of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group, allegedly responsible for firing rockets at settlements close to the besieged Gaza Strip. Yet even Israel’s most advanced technology, supposed to target single apartments within buildings made up of several floors, could not spare innocent human lives, including those of women and children.
And that is what the Israeli occupation is all about: the occupier can indiscriminately kill Palestinian victims with impunity, and the best-case scenario is a pledge of investigation that never produces results or holds anyone accountable. The martyred Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh who died a year ago is a case in point. Luckily, she had dual Palestinian-American nationality, and that is why the Israeli army made a rare admission that she was “mistakenly” killed by soldiers while carrying out her reporting job.
In the opening round that Israel started on Tuesday, 9 May, 13 Palestinians were killed, including three key Jihad leaders, the rest being mostly women and children. Over five days of heavy bombing, a total of 34 Palestinians were killed, less than half of them wanted targets by Israel, while the rest were innocent victims who happened to be in the same buildings or bystanders. One Israeli was killed by shrapnel after a single Palestinian rocket escaped the costly Iron Dome system.
The Palestinian people and all those who support their just cause worldwide are entitled to ask and compare the international reaction to their repeated plight under a racist occupation that pays no heed to their lives to what has been happening for an infinitely shorter time in Ukraine.
How would Washington or the EU be if it was Russian fighter jets that killed Ukrainian women and children in order to destroy what they claimed to be a legitimate military targets? Would any Western government ask the International Criminal Court to issue an arrest warrant for an Israeli political or military leader over charges of killing innocent Palestinians, as we have seen recently with the Russian President Vladimir Putin? Have we seen any US or European official unequivocally condemning such “barbaric” acts against innocent Palestinian women and children? No, only the classic statements calling on “all parties” to refrain from escalating the situation, while at the same time affirming Israel’s eternal right to “self-defense.” No word about the occupation, the root cause behind the entire crisis.
Days before Israel ignited the recent round of fighting, a senior Jihad leader, Khedr Adnan, died in an Israeli jail after going on a hunger strike for nearly 90 days to protest his administrative detention. Adnan, 45, and the father of nine children, helped introduce the practice of protracted hunger strikes by individual prisoners as a form of protest. Palestinian detainees have mostly used hunger strikes to challenge administrative detention, a classic Israeli occupation tactic in which more than 1,000 Palestinians are currently being held without charge or trial.
The Islamic Jihad reacted to Adnan’s “assassination” in an Israeli prison by firing rounds of rockets on settlements in Gaza. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, leading the most right-wing, extremist government in Israeli history, found no better distraction from his own domestic problems than seeking to impress the Israeli public through yet another round of assassination of Palestinian resistance fighters.
Last week’s clashes between Israel and the Palestinians took place barely a month after the region reached the brink of a wide-scale confrontation when Palestinian resistance factions fired rockets from several fronts, namely Gaza, Lebanon and Syria, to protest repeated Israeli incursions into Palestinian towns in the West Bank and violations of the sanctity of Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem, where extremist Jewish settlers were allowed to enter the site and perform prayers there by force during the holy month of Ramadan.
This was an unprecedented reaction by Palestinian resistance groups. Although it was contained quickly through regional mediation, there is no guarantee that any future confrontations will not go out of hand on several fronts.
In last week’s round of fighting in Gaza, and in the confrontations that followed Israel’s violation of agreements organising control of Al-Aqsa Mosque, Egypt exerted tremendous efforts to reduce tensions and prevent escalation. The role Cairo played was praised by Palestinian groups in Gaza as well as Israel, the United States, the European Union and the United Nations.
Yet, there is only so much Egypt can do, and the sad reality that everyone recognises is that the present calm in Gaza is only a temporary truce awaiting any future trigger by the Israeli occupation forces to break out in another round of fighting. This will remain the case as long as even efforts to renew peace talks between the two sides have come to halt.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 18 May, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly