Since 7 October 2023, life has been much different: the violent attack by Hamas on Israel showcased a new level of resistance which initially embarrassed and then distressed not only Israel, but also the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Ramallah.
Najat Abdulhaq is a German-Palestinian scholar and journalist. She currently teaches at Bir Zeit University.
The violence perpetrated by Hamas in its attack and the approximately 1,400 Israeli lives it cost, the capture of a three-digit number of hostages (including both soldiers and civilians), and the failure of Israel’s high-tech security systems to foil an attack by militants in Gaza, which has been under a blockade for the last 17 years, all mark the date as a major turning point. In response to this attack, Israel took recourse to the right to self-defence to justify launching a massive war on Gaza. The countless air strikes and thousands of bombs dropped on Gaza since the start of the war have so far killed 7,028 Palestinians (as of 26 October 2023), two-thirds of which are women and children. These strikes have also completely destroyed 16,441 homes (45 percent of all the homes), which is an unprecedented level of destruction in Gaza. Despite this being merely a precursory balance sheet of these events and their outcomes, one thing is certain: in many regards, 7 October 2023 is a watershed moment for this narrow strip of land where Palestinians and Israelis have been more or less forced to live alongside or with each other since 1948.
For the Palestinians, this is a war of annihilation with clear genocidal tendencies. It is nothing short of another ethnic cleansing which evokes the collective experiences and memories of the Nakba, the mass displacement of the Palestinians in 1948. On top of that, the Palestinians find themselves in a situation where international politicians and the so-called international community ignore or suppress the context which led up to the violent Hamas attack and instead express unconditional solidarity with the occupying power and the Israeli victims. Since 2007, Europe and the West have tolerated the siege of civilians in Gaza. A ban on the import of food and fuel to Gaza began on 10 October and at times, all communications and internet connections have even been cut off. The entire Gaza Strip is dark and silent, only the clamour of bombs is audible.
The sheer magnitude of the killing has created a kind of paralysis in everyday life.
At the same time, there has been an outpouring of antipathy and even dehumanization towards Palestinians, which has created a context in which it is permissible to kill defenceless civilians. All of this happens despite the fact that civilians are supposed to be protected under international humanitarian law. The political statements of European countries, the EU, and the United States invoke a one-sided perspective of international law, according to which Israel is granted the right to defend itself. The obligation to protect civilians is completely ignored.
In the midst of all of this, the Palestinians have remained united, regardless of their geographical and social situation. They all follow the news on television or social media. They don’t sleep at night, and hope that staying awake and staying abreast of what is happening will alleviate the suffering of their fellow Gazans. They wish the situation was such that they would be able to digest the horror in small doses rather than waking up every morning to a new shock. Everyone is calling for a ceasefire, for the war machine to be shut down, and for an agreement to release the hostages.
At the official level, following a relatively long silence on the part of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and other officials of the Palestinian Authority, Abbas condemned the violence against civilians during a visit to Jordan on 12 October. “We reject the practices of killing civilians or abusing them on both sides because they contravene morals, religion and international law,” Abbas was quoted as saying. However, Abbas has offered no alternatives or solutions aside from paltry statements and has adopted the role of a spectator instead of taking action.
The sheer magnitude of the killing has created a kind of paralysis in everyday life. This paralysis consists of powerlessness combined with anger towards the governments of the “civilized” world, who tolerate this killing without batting an eye. Despite it all, Palestinians in different parts of the world are trying to carry on with their daily lives while remaining conscientious of both solidarity and oppression. On the one hand, there is a vibrant solidarity movement which has cropped up across the globe and mobilized thousands of people to take the streets of capital cities. Many Jewish people are involved in this movement. On the other hand, suppression of the Palestinian perspective is widespread, insofar as Palestinians’ freedom of expression is censored, whether on the streets of Berlin or on social media. Palestinian citizens of Israel are being arrested in Israel for their social media activity.
The reactions by the Israeli army have also reached new levels in the West Bank, with the air force being deployed against a Palestinian stronghold in the Jenin refugee camp for the first time since the second intifada in 2002. Since the beginning of the war, 102 people have lost their lives in the West Bank due to attacks by the military or settlers. The Palestinian Authority’s police and security apparatus, which symbolically and de facto lost power after 7 October, have added an additional layer of oppression to the situation, especially after using tear gas to attack the Gaza solidarity demonstrations which took place in various cities in the West Bank, leaving one dead and many injured.
The main thing troubling people now is the fact that revenge is neither a strategy nor a tactic, and this is true for Palestinians, Israelis, as well as for the international community and financial backers. The international community has failed in its role as a mediator and “guardian” of the peace process over the past 20 years. They failed by turning a blind eye to the undemocratic practices of the Palestinian Authority, including their cancellation of the elections in spring 2021, ostensibly because it was suspected that the party of the Palestinian president would not win in a democratic election. They failed when they simply stood by and watched the expansion of illegal settlements and the siege of Gaza take place. In this war, the international community has betrayed their own principles of equality, freedom, and justice.
The Israeli population will not find peace as long as the rights of the Palestinians are not honestly and truly recognized and respected.
With each passing day that the war in Gaza drags on, the Palestinian Authority loses more trust from its own population, which could potentially create new problems in the West Bank. The scenarios for ending the war coming from the Israeli side are still completely unclear and unsustainable in terms of security, let alone democracy. Take the following statement from Israeli Défense Minister Yoav Gallant, who claims the goal is “the removal of Israel’s responsibility for life in the Gaza Strip and the establishment of a new security reality for the citizens of Israel” and “for the region.” The announced freeze on funding for Palestinian civil society will severely weaken it and, in turn, strengthen the undemocratic Palestinian Authority.
The Israeli population will not find peace as long as the rights of the Palestinians are not honestly and truly recognized and respected. Since 1948, history has repeatedly shown that new groups which are ready to take up the struggle can always emerge, since young people truly have nothing to lose. The decision to solve the conflict by way of military operations as well as the rejection of negotiations for the release of the hostages have maneuverer Israelis, Palestinians, and the international community into a dead end, where it is still unclear what alternatives are available beyond the option of war. In a recent article, Arie M. Dubnov, historian and professor of Israel Studies at George Washington University in Washington, DC, called for negotiations. I can only agree.
Translated by Hunter Bolin for Gegensatz Translation Collective.