Many have lost count, including myself. Having been inundated with the information about the number of casualties for so many years, anybody would. It is the same with the number of truces and conditions of particular agreements aiming to resolve the longest-lasting conflict in modern history, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. According to Gaza health officials, until 4th of August over 1,800 Palestinians were killed. Israel is said to have lost 64 soldiers.
The reports from the Gaza Strip, the main target of Israel’s current offensive, are appalling. Although Tel Aviv argues that the army attacks solely those places where the members of Hamas – an organization governing this part of the Palestinian Authority recognized by the EU and the US as a terrorist group – hide, it’s obvious that Israeli authorities don’t care about the civilians whatsoever. I’m not easy to shock, but the information that hospitals and playgrounds have been hit simply outrage me. It’s not very diplomatic to say, but it seems as if Israel was created not to give Jews their homeland, but to make them able to requite their suffering during the Holocaust. The problem is that instead of the Nazi they chose innocent Arabs who for centuries of the Jewish diaspora were their neighbours and friends. Granted, it’s unfair to claim that all Israeli are disdainful of Palestinians, but was wiping out a Palestinian family of 25, said to have been hosting a Hamas fighter during a supper to break the Ramadan fast, fair?
Life in prison
The Gaza Strip has been named the biggest prison in the world. It’s not surprising given the size of its territory, number of inhabitants and living conditions. The area covers about 360 sq. kilometres and it’s inhabited by over 1.8mln people (population density surpasses 5000 people per 1sq. kilometre). Comparing it to Warsaw, a city with a similar number of dwellers but covering about 517 sq. kilometres (population density is 3317 people per 1sq. kilometre), it’s obvious that the situation there must be tough. Yet, overpopulation it’s not the biggest problem. What really matters is the continuous blockade that dates back to 2007.
It all started in 2006 when Hamas won in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) elections. The event incurred frictions with the rival Fatah faction of the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas leading to deadly clashes between these two groups. In June 2007 Hamas set up a rival government, which since that moment has been ruling the Gaza, leaving Fatah to run parts of the West Bank. In response, Israel decided to impose economic and diplomatic sanctions on the part of the Palestinian Authority controlled by Hamas. Among others, they involved reductions in the supply of gas and electricity as well as imposing restrictions on the movement of people from the Strip and to it. Given the fact that this region is one of the poorest in the world it means a lot. According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) in 2013 over 1.2mln people – that is 70 per cent of Gaza’s total population – were refugees (31 per cent of them lived below the poverty line). As the UNRWA data show, in 2012 real GDP per capita in the Gaza Strip remained at only 81 per cent of the 1994 level and at half the level recorded in the West Bank. Most Palestinians are deprived even of elementary products, as Tel Aviv claims some substances might be used for weapon construction. Palestinians have become so desperate that they’ve been transporting the necessary products through a network of illegal tunnels under the Egyptian-Palestinian border. Even prisoners live in better conditions.
The years of economic deterioration have left a large part of the population unemployed (in 2012 around 30 per cent of Palestinians remained without work) and dependent on international assistance. The educational system and medical care barely exist. Most of services are provided either by the UNRWA or by Hamas. No wonder that tension has been rising. This time the last straw that incurred yet another outbreak of violence was the abduction of three Israeli teenagers near the West Bank settlements. On 13th of June, one day after the kidnapping the Israel Defence Forces initiated the Operation Brother’s Keeper aiming to find their citizens. Until its completion, that is 2nd of July, over 400 Palestinians were arrested, 335 of them accused of being Hamas members. A couple of days later an Arab 16-year-old boy was found dead and three Israelis were detained as suspected murderers. Palestinians couldn’t stand this humiliating treatment any more. They took up arms again.
For a moment, before the conflict, I assumed that the situation might somewhat normalize. Continuous mediation efforts by John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, and his tours around the Middle East, (which of course had nothing to do with selflessness and concern for the world peace), made me think that the two sides would at least sit at the negotiation table. The political deal between Fatah and Hamas struck in April and the consequent formation of a unified Palestinian government seemed to be a swallow that did make a summer in the Palestinian camp portending a slight mitigation of divisions. The footage from the joint prayer hosted in June by Pope Francis bringing together the presidents of both Israel and the Palestinian Authority did bode well, too. As it turned out, I was wrong. Israel couldn’t restrain from exploiting the opportunity to debilitate Hamas and as for now it’s been rather loath to cease its actions. Of course, Tel Aviv isn’t the only one to be blamed for the current situation. Terrorist attacks and abductions that the Islamist groups conduct cannot by excused, even during a conflict. Nevertheless, it was Israel who inflicted the harsh living conditions that Palestinians struggle with and rejected any form of dialogue with Hamas and therefore the representatives of the Gaza Strip.
Time for concessions
The underlying cause of all the violence and hatred is the Israel’s expansion explained by the need to ensure security for its citizens. The current operation aims at destroying the tunnels that are used by the terrorists to attack Israelis, but none of this country’s politicians is willing to admit that the tunnels stem from the apartheid-like treatment of Palestinians. The case is the same with Hamas’ main goal – to destroy the Jewish state. Again, it is only a reaction to Tel Aviv’s actions, compliant with Hammurabi’s law lex talionis.
How to achieve peace then? Firstly, both sides should go to any lengths to maintain a truce. If a ceasefire fails after barely two hours nothing can be done. It applies to both the Israeli soldiers and the Palestinian militants who not only ought to resist fighting but should also stop inciting clashes and disagreements and spreading propaganda. Secondly, they must sit at the negotiation table, either voluntarily or by being made to do so. The search for an intermediary began at the very beginning of the conflict. There have been no newcomers in terms of candidates, just the old “peace-brokers”, namely Egypt, the US, Qatar and maybe Norway. Egypt has to be involved, since it shares with Israel the keys to the prison that is Gaza. The problem is that its incumbents are ill-disposed towards Hamas, as it’s an ally of the Muslim Brotherhood, the arch enemy of the military rulers. As far as Qatar is concerned, the situation is quite the contrary, but it doesn’t make things any easier – Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister, is rather unwilling to co-operate with those who are so pro-Islamist.
So what should the agreement stipulate? Primarily, the end of the blockade of the Gaza Strip. It’s common wisdom that the poor regions are always a source of instability since poverty incurs frustration and violence. So an influx of economic aid should also be provided in order to create workplaces and rebuilt the region. It will also lead to a decrease in the support for Hamas as the group, beside the UN, is the main provider of almost all public services. Also the deal cannot be treated as temporary – if it is so, we are back to square one. Israel ought to finally let Palestinians create their own state. That, although at present not probable at all, is a condition of utmost importance. John Kerry,asked about the failure of his efforts, blamed Israel’s settler lobby. And here we have the conclusion – as long as the right-wing groups don’t change their stance, no genuine peace process can be launched and the unresolvable will never be resolved.
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Katarzyna Czupa jest ekspertem Centrum Inicjatyw Międzynarodowych ds. Bliskiego Wschodu oraz koordynatorem projektu „Let’s talk about Islamic finance”. Obecnie pracuje jako młodszy analityk w firmie Analizy Online, gdzie zajmuje się analizą rynku funduszy inwestycyjnych. W okresie od kwietnia do listopada 2016 r. pracowała na stanowisku młodszego analityka w Domu Maklerskim Banku Zachodniego WBK, gdzie była odpowiedzialna za analizy rynkowe oraz wycenę spółek. W okresie od stycznia 2014 r. do kwietnia 2016 r. pracowała w CASE – Centrum Analiz Społeczno-Ekonomicznych na stanowisku koordynatora ds. projektów oraz asystenta naukowego. Obecnie realizuje studia doktoranckie w Kolegium Ekonomiczno-Społecznym Szkoły Głównej Handlowej. Jest absolwentką kierunków finanse i rachunkowość (Szkoła Główna Handlowa) oraz stosunki międzynarodowe (Uniwersytet Warszawski). W 2013 roku otrzymała stypendium Ministra Nauki i Szkolnictwa Wyższego za wybitne osiągnięcia naukowe.