Note: Article was written in advance of its publication date. Despite the ceasefire agreed upon by the two sides, the current situation on the ground involving Israel and Hamas may have changed.
For the young and the old living in the region, it is deja vu all over again. A rain of rockets launched in Israel landing across Gaza is once again matched by a similar torrent landing across Israel. It is the fourth serious conflict between the two sworn enemies in the last twelve years. At issue, a difference of opinion over territorial rights, living conditions and human rights in Jerusalem and the West bank.
On May 11th, tensions---which had already been at a boiling point---once again boiled over. The two sides traded barrage after barrage of rocket attacks. Several hundred, both Jewish and Palestinian, have died, including women and children. Many times that have been wounded. The bombing has left portions of Gaza resembling a mountain of concrete, brick and glass with unknown numbers of victims possibly buried beneath.
The eleven days of skirmishes, conducted mostly through the air, ended following an uneasy cease fire brokered by Egyptian officials. Both sides declared victory. But as long as both sides are justifying police and military action against one another, winning seems to be more a convenient and not objective label. And then there is the court of public opinion.
University of Denver Political Science Professor Dr. Nader Hashemi has both lived in the Middle East and also studied this historic conflict for years. It is, he said, just the latest chapter of tensions-at-the-tipping-point between two sworn enemies who, try as they might, cannot agree on a middle ground.
“You have to deal with underlying conditions,” he said. “There are two groups of people fighting for the same piece of real estate.” The land inspiring the fighting is one both sides lay claim to but, since 1948, has been officially decreed as Israel.
The establishment of the state of Israel automatically changed the lives of Palestinians who had lived in the region for millennium. But so had Jews. This new dynamic worked well for one side but not nearly as well for the other. Today, as many as one tenth of Palestinians travel daily to Israel for their jobs which are often menial. Palestinians living in Gaza live well below the standards of their neighbors in Israel.
In Gaza, the differences are stark. It is hugely overcrowded with a growth rate among the world’s highest; drinking water is in short supply; sewage is a daily problem; cell phone service is unpredictable; electricity is problematic; unemployment is constant. It doesn’t stop there. Compared to their Israeli counterparts, Palestinians are 7.3 times more likely to be jobless, earn 94 percent less income, die nearly five years sooner and have a 2.2 times more likely death in infancy. The Palestinian birthrate is also three times as high as Israel’s. Very simply, said Hashemi, Palestinians “are second-class citizens.”
The latest conflict was begun by Hamas, the militant Palestinian nationalist and Islamist organization that rules Gaza. It launched a fusillade of rockets at Jerusalem in retaliation of Israeli police raids on the Aqsa Mosque, a sacred Islamic site, as well as evictions of Palestinian families. Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu defended the offensive saying the retaliation was justified, claiming its sole objective is “to bring back the quiet and security to…citizens of Israel,” according to The Jerusalem Post.
For weeks prior to the first airstrike, Jerusalem had been the site of numerous confrontations between Israeli police and Palestinians. Israelis accused Palestinians of provocation; Palestinians accused the Israelis of the same as well as the use of excessive use of force on its citizens.
As the conflict escalated, there were growing cries, including many from the American Jewish Community that Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians was too often the impetus of resentment. “Over the last ten days,” said Hashemi, there has been a paradigm shift in the U.S. in terms of public opinion. There is a new political culture that did not exist previously.”
Jewish religious leaders in a number of U.S. cities have spoken out about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. “There is a growing sense of alienation from the rigid, defensive script on Israel that fails to address Palestinian suffering and offer a path to peace,” Rabbi Sharon Brous told The Los Angeles Times. A number of Democratic members of Congress, including Senator Bernie Sanders, himself a Jew, have also spoken critically about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
David Fancher-Yisreal of Pueblo’s United Hebrew Center lamented the never-ending animus between the two side but says Hamas history of confrontation gave Israel little choice. “I lived in Israel and have friends over there…Israel has a right to exist. Hamas is a terrorist organization. I wish there would be some peace down the road but so long as rockets are launched at Israel, Israel has a right to defend itself.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken is now traveling in the Middle East and will be discussing the latest clash with various leaders in the region. As he does, hospitals and medical personnel will have their hands full treating victims of the latest eruption. Hamas estimates that 250 Palestinians were killed with nearly a thousand wounded. The BBC reports that Israel has reported only twelve casualties. It has also been estimated that as many as 10,000 Palestinians have been left homeless.
The death and casualty figures, while never anything to tout, may actually be surprising considering the number of aerial strikes. Israel launched an estimated 1,500 strikes into Gaza, Hamas struck back with as many as 4,000, including one particular strike when it launched 100 in a single volley.
Canada, the European Union, Japan, the United Nations and U.S. have all declared Hamas a terrorist organization.