How does such a small stretch of land like Gaza – 25 miles long, six miles wide – have such a giant set of problems? It’s unfortunately situated between Israel and the Mediterranean and therefore in the center of the everlasting Israeli-Arab conflict. It’s currently experiencing the worst bloodbath yet as Israeli bombs have so far killed over 13,000 people, including 6,000 children. It’s not just local since neighboring states and groups are poised for possible intervention, and even distant powers – the U.S. Russia, China – are keeping a wary, nervous eye on unfolding events.
The Palestinians were the first to strike. At dawn on October 7 2,000 militants from Hamas, which nominally governs Gaza, broke through Israeli border defenses and proceeded to attack three military installations, burning tanks and other vehicles, killing and capturing soldiers whom they dragged away as hostages along with many civilians whose presence in Gaza is unknown.
Israelis were astounded. How did ragged militants from Gaza pull this off? In fact, it had been planned for a long time in Gaza’s frustration at an Israeli blockade that has caused severe shortage of basic necessities, resulting in what is called, an “open-air prison.” Israel replied in kind, massively bombing northern Gaza, ordering Palestinians to move south and threatening to destroy Hamas to the last man.
Leading the Israeli assault is Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, who has built a career on reviling Arabs and leads a Likud Party that supports their removal from Israel altogether. He also backs the angry, armed settlers who continue to help themselves to Palestinian land on the West Bank. The war came to his political rescue since he faces severe charges of corruption like taking bribes from a Hollywood producer involved in sending U.S. nuclear secrets to Israel.
The bombing he ordered has been intense. There seems to be little left standing in northern Gaza as the war now moves south. Israelis have in particular targeted hospitals which they claim provide cover for Hamas command posts. With tanks and troops, they invaded Gaza’s largest hospital, al-Shifa, and found an opening in the ground that may lead to a network of tunnels beneath, though it has yet to be proved. There’s a question as to whether Israel would risk entering the well-fortified tunnels where battle hardened Hamas has an advantage.
The toll on children’s lives is staggering. In such a concentrated population every wayward bomb makes its mark, and there is no end to the strikes. A New York Times reporter on the scene describes desperate parents in search of missing children, children crying for parents they no longer see. Four-year-old Ahmad Shabat lies in a hospital bed with both legs amputated. Unaware, he keeps wanting to walk and asks for his mother and father who were killed along with several other family members by the same Israeli bomb. Doctors, overwhelmed with patients and lack of medicine, try to comfort him. A Red Cross worker at a Gaza shelter says children stay awake all night pleading “Please protect me. Please hide me. I don’t want to die.”
Netanyahu says Israelis don’t mean to kill civilians. That’s a casualty of war. But some stalwarts among his followers say killing children is permissible since they won’t be able to grow up to be terrorists.
Photos of this violence over the internet have led to pro-Palestinian demonstrations around the world and to a global spike in antisemitism. Neighboring Arab states and groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon are under pressure to intervene. Even great powers like the U.S., Russia and China have some involvement and could be drawn into this local maelstrom of destruction if it continues.
What to do? There’s a simple overarching answer. Give the Palestinians what they have been promised over and over but then denied – a state of their own. This would not only end the turmoil between Israel and Palestine but also much reduce the terrorist attacks that are justified by unwavering U.S. support of Israeli policies. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman writes that first of all Netanyahu must be removed given that he is the worst leader in Israeli history, maybe in all Jewish history. Then Israel must establish a center-left, center-right national unity government that can cope with the war and hopefully spell finish to a conflict that has plagued the country and the region for over seventy years.