By SIR RONALD SANDERS
THE attack by Hamas on civilians in Southern Israel on 7 October 2023 was as stupid as it was cruel, brutal and inhuman.
Whatever the purposes – and there were many – behind a slaughter of 1,200 persons, including children – Hamas gave the perfect cover to the Benjamin Netanyahu government in Israel to try to carry out a long-desired objective by many Israelis. And that is to annex Gaza and cleanse it of Palestinians who are either refugees or descendants of refugees who were forced to flee from Palestine in 1948 when Israel announced its independence and a bitter war ensued between the nascent Israeli State and surrounding Arab countries.
The background to the issue
There were two attempts, driven by external powers to partition Palestine into two states, one Arab, one Jewish. The first was offered by Britain, the occupying power in 1937, and the second was proposed by the United Nations in 1947. The Arab countries rejected both plans, and Israel declared itself independent creating its own state. This led to the first Arab-Israeli war and produced more than half a million Arab refugees, and deep hostility that has never waned.
What built even greater resentment was that after the war, Israel destroyed hundreds of Palestinian villages and adopted an “Absentees’ Property Law” by which the government confiscated land and houses that Palestinians were forced to abandon.
Over the years, there have been several attempts to negotiate a two-state solution to the problem, but with no success. Meanwhile, with each war, Israel has secured more territory, both occupying and settling it with Jewish people.
Encaging Palestinians in Gaza
Until 7 October, there were approximately 2.3 million Palestinians, hemmed into Gaza, living in crowded and impoverished conditions. Gaza is a narrow piece of land located on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, bordered by Israel to the east and north, and Egypt to the southwest. It is 41 km (25 mi) long, and from 6 to 12 km (3.7 to 7.5 mi) wide. Its total area is 365 km (141 sq. mi).
Since October 7, more than 2,700 people in Gaza, one third of them children, have been killed and 9,000 wounded by retaliatory Israeli military assaults. Further, 1.1 million people in North Gaza (the area closest to Israel) have been warned to move to South Gaza or risk being killed by military action. Many are trying to seek refuge in Egypt.
However, Egypt, which already hosts millions of migrants, is uneasy about the prospect of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees crossing into its territory. Therefore, it has not opened the border. Consequently, if Israel continues its bombardment of Gaza in an attempt to kill Hamas’ leaders, many more thousands of its inhabitants, including those trying to flee, will be killed.
The rise and support for Hamas
That carnage, laid at the feet of Israel, would suit Hamas, which has controlled Gaza since 2007 and whose main goal as set out in its revised charter of 2017 is “the destruction of the state of Israel”. The resentment and demand for revenge, resulting from the killing of thousands of Palestinians would bring greater support for Hamas.
Hamas was formed in 1987 and, for decades, it has pursued a violent strategy aimed at rolling back Israeli rule — and it has made its presence felt at the cost of human suffering to both Israelis and Palestinians.
Hamas is known to have a close relationship with Iran. Iran and Israel regard each other as mortal enemies, and Iran is said to be providing weapons and money to Hamas. Additionally, Hamas is now producing its own weapons. This explains how it was able to employ sophisticated means of carrying out its October 7 attack. But it should be noted that Iran is reported to have been surprised at the event, and the US Secretary of State has publicly said that there is no evidence of Iranian involvement.
Nonetheless, Iran does have an interest in the incident, since it helps to pause, if not to derail, attempts by the US government to promote a deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil producer, to normalize relations. Further, Israel’s decision to carry out intense military action in Gaza and the likely shedding of Palestinian blood, has caused several Arab states to retreat from closer relations with Tel Aviv. This retreat by Arab states from fashioning closer contact with Israel also suits Iran whose leadership wants to keep Israel isolated.
The irony of Israeli support for Hamas
In its radical ardour, and access to financing and weaponry, Hamas has usurped the Palestinian Authority in the fight for Palestinian rights.
The irony is that it is the Israeli authorities, which for several years gave favourable treatment to Hamas, that has helped it to rise. In their fear that the Palestinian Authority might succeed in negotiating internationally for a sovereign state that would include the territories occupied by Israel, the Israel authorities sabotaged the Palestinian Authority at the 2006 election which Hamas won in Gaza.
Bitterness and resentment run deep
Bitterness and resentment between the Palestinians and Israel run deep. Israeli successes at annexation and expansion, while Palestine withered and Palestinians suffered dislocation and marginalization, have intensified Palestinian anger.
One of the external factors that heightened this acrimony was the recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital by former US President Donald Trump. Palestinians regard Eastern Jerusalem as “occupied territory” where, one day, they wish to establish their own capital.
Nothing justifies barbarism
No well thinking person or government can excuse terrorism and barbarism for whatever cause. These events rightly create revulsion and rejection of its perpetrators.
Equally, however, no well thinking person or government should support any effort that uses these circumstances as an opportunity to punish all Palestinians for the actions of a radical group and seize more territory.
This is not the time to take sides. All governments – powerful ones particularly – need to look backward and forward at this issue and act to stop the escalating violence and carnage from which nothing good will result.
The fact that the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has met, in an emergency session, and failed to issue even a joint statement on this matter is simply appalling. There is urgency for diplomatic action at the highest level. The innocent people on both sides of this conflict require responsible action by those entrusted with peace and security in the world. So, too does the global community if this conflict escalates adding to the existing disruption of peace in the world.
(The writer is Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador to the United States and the Organization of American States. The views expressed are entirely his own).