Gaza–The Frightening Facts so far and the no less Dangerous Uncertainty today

The bodies of Palestinians killed in Israeli strikes are buried in a mass grave in Khan Younis. Photo credit: Al-Jazeera

What the people of Gaza have faced in recent months is one of the most tragic and distressing chapters of history. Nearly 35,000 people have been killed, nearly 80,000 injured. Nearly 75% of the population has been displaced, many of them double or multiple times. Most houses and essential infrastructure have been destroyed. Relief supplies have been badly and repeatedly disrupted, leading to serious shortages of food and other life-saving essentials. Children have suffered the most.

While there is worldwide concern for stopping this tragedy as early as possible, there is also growing uncertainty regarding what the future holds. Perhaps a quick review of what has happened so far can help in a better understanding of the situation, and hence of what needs to be done to reduce the massive distress and establish peace.

The situation before the horrible attack on October 7 by Hamas on Israel was characterized by several simmering tensions beneath the apparent calm. There was growing US concern over China’s efforts to increase its influence in the middle-east based on its apparent success in improving the relationship between Iran and Saudi Arabia, growing talk of oil and gas exports moving away from being denominated always in US dollars and the adverse effect of this on petrodollars. Meanwhile Hamas rule in Gaza was stable with hidden help from Israel in ensuring that Hamas could get financial and other resources from abroad. Israeli women surveillance officers doing their work sincerely had reported several alarming instances of Hamas and related militants conducting highly provocative military exercises and trainings quite close to the border, significantly similar to the attack they would actually launch on October 7. However the higher authorities to whom these reports were sent took no visible actions on these. Several videos were freely circulating regarding these trainings but these were ignored. The New York Times reported that the Israeli authorities all along had a Hamas document on the intended attack, very similar to what actually took place, but this too was ignored. There was a high-level warning from Egypt regarding the possibility of a big attack days before the actual attack, which too did not bring forth any action.

The actual attack on October 7 took place just around the anniversary of an earlier big attack and this may have warranted sturdier defenses, but the border defenses that day were found to be much weaker than in normal times. The initial response of the military to the attack was delayed and was found to be weaker than expected.

Now all this may be called a string of remarkable coincidences and failures taking place one after the other, but what is more likely is that a section of ruling elites of Israel, perhaps a very small section, had an arrangement with a section of Hamas leadership, perhaps a very small section (but including very influential persons) that they are likely to be undisturbed (or disturbed very little) for the initial duration of the attack.

While this attack would bring Hamas some glory among its supporters, the Israeli side of the bargain was more rooted in longer-term considerations of driving away as many people of Gaza away from Gaza and thereby deal a big blow also to the two state solution. Netanyahu had faced increasing domestic trouble over corruption issues, and he reckoned that this would being him increased support from all hardliners, pushing aside his earlier wrongdoing.

The course of actions of driving the helpless people of Gaza towards the southern border with Egypt and its Sinai region in Rafah, the relentless destruction of housing and essential infrastructure including hospitals, the frightening killings and air raids—all appeared to be in keeping with the objective of mass-scale driving away of people outside Gaza.

However this is also confirmed by a document titled ‘Israeli Intelligence Ministry Policy Paper on Gaza’s Civil Population’ dated 13 October 2023, translated into English by +972 magazine. This translated document can also be seen at Scribd, a digital document library. This Israeli document says that Hamas rule in Gaza has to be definitely finished but other than this there are three options. Option A according to this document is population remaining in Gaza and import of Palestine Authority rule. Option B is population of Gaza remaining in Gaza along with the emergence of local Arab authority (other than Hamas). Option C is the evacuation of civilian population of Gaza to Sinai.

This document discusses various aspects of Option A and B and concludes that these are full of too many problems. On the other hand, this document favors Option C strongly, saying that this will yield long-term strategic outcomes for Israel.

While implementing Option C, this document states, in the first stage tent cities will be established in the area of Sinai, the next stage includes the establishment of a humanitarian zone to assist the civilian population of Gaza and the construction of cities in a resettled area in northern Sinai. What is more, this document says that a sterile zone of several kilometers should be created by Egypt to prevent the return of population to their earlier residences and activities, or closer to Israel.

This document calls upon the USA to help in this, on its own and by exerting its influence with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, Egypt and Turkey. It calls upon Egypt’s help to open crossings and immediate absorption of the population of Gaza that will leave and gather in designated areas. USA is asked to help in sorting out the economic crisis of Egypt as an incentive. Ultimately some of the population is expected to move elsewhere too (places other than Sinai). Greece, Spain, Morocco, Libya, Tunisia and even Canada are expected to help in absorption and settlement. All countries that support Israel generally are called upon to help in this.

This is justified in the name of similar eviction and resettlement in places like Iraq. The document dresses up all this as well as it can and even calls for changing the attitudes of the affected people so as to make this more acceptable.

Initially Israel appeared to be following this plan to a significant extent. However things appear to have changed in more recent times. While the assault on Rafah is still on at the time of writing this, the people are not being moved beyond Rafah border to Sinai. Instead they are being driven back again to other parts of Gaza, not beyond the Rafah border but away from this. Is this change because of growing international pressure and the growing movements for peace and justice based policies for Gaza in USA and other influential countries?

Hence one interpretation of the present situation is that Option C mentioned in the document mentioned above is being given up. However one should not be too sure of this. There can still be other means of sending away a lot of people, for example by using the sea route. Or else if they are kept for a prolonged period in mass camps (not in regular housing) in secluded parts of Gaza then this also is full of problems.

Whatever secretive plans Israel may be considering now, it appears that it started with a clear objective of removing most of the people of Gaza outside Gaza, and so one should continue to remain cautious regarding such intentions.

On the contrary the demand should be for peace, for rebuilding houses and infrastructure in a big way, for people being helped with adequate relief supplies to live as close to their houses as possible in community life till the reconstruction is completed, and for a wider, meaningful two state solution.

Israel says time and again that its main aim is to eliminate Hamas and to secure return of hostages. The hostages should of course be released, and in fact should have been released long ago. However ceasefire cannot be made to wait till such an unclear objective as elimination of Hamas is achieved. No one can say when all or even half of Hamas will be eliminated. Hence to allow Israel to go on killing innocent people, a majority of them women and children, till such time that its self-declared goal is achieved to its satisfaction would be to extend the ongoing terrible tragedy indefinitely.

The discourse cannot continue to be dominated by the very unreasonable formulations that Israeli ruling elites insist on. These can extend the existing disastrous and indefensibly unjust situation for too long or even indefinitely. Peace movements, activists and organizations should have an important role in formulating an alternative discourse on this issue which is based on peace and justice. Peace movements should also insist on transparency in Israeli policy and in talks relating to truces.

Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save the Earth Now. His recent books include Planet in Peril, Protecting Earth for Children, Earth without Borders and A Day in 2071.                                

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