To continue to witness children being killed and orphaned, entire families being obliterated and entire neighbourhoods levelled, is beginning to seem physically impossible. No one should have to bear this burden. And yet we in Gaza are being forced to do so. Even those who have sought refuge in apparently protected spaces – such as schools run by the UN – have fallen victim.
Against this backdrop, it is difficult to comprehend how the international community seems unable to halt what is no longer just a war in Gaza but an apocalypse for its citizens. The Gaza Strip is now unlivable. Hundreds of thousands of people who lived close to the perimeter of the territory have been pushed towards its centre. One of the most densely populated districts in the world has not only shrunk but become more dense. Since Gaza’s only electricity generation station was targeted, severe shortages in water and now bread have been exacerbated.
The government of Israel does not seem interested in a ceasefire pact. As recent history amply demonstrates, the ideal next step in Israel’s eyes would be a conclusion of this war without having to engage in any kind of binding agreements with Gaza. It has extended the conflict by making any cessation of hostilities dependent on the destruction of tunnels which lead into Israel, a condition it did not state at the outset. Putting aside the question of whether it was legitimate for Palestinians to dig those tunnels, Israel should not be allowed to cripple prospects for a ceasefire with a requirement that even it has acknowledged will be difficult to achieve.
And what is surely not acceptable any longer is Israel’s continued denial of the reasons those tunnels were resorted to in the first place. Its refusal to address the issue of Gaza as a political question and not as a military one is part of the problem, and the reason for so many civilian deaths.
An explicit recognition by the international community that the conditions civilians are enduring in Gaza are insupportable would boost the prospect of a credible ceasefire. Palestinians would take such recognition as a clear gesture of fairness and goodwill from the world. But, if some aspects of Gaza’s troubles are recognised while others are sidelined – such as the need for a longer term solution – the feeling that the world is still unwilling to appreciate our plight will only be deepened.
Global support and recognition would create space for Palestinians to trust a ceasefire that not only silences the guns but which also recognises the legitimacy of Gaza’s rights. To state the case unmistakably, these are the rights to economic development; free movement and access; an acknowledgment of the inseparability of Gaza and the West Bank and, critically, a commitment to shield ordinary people from the effects of political strife. The active participation of the US, EU and UN as partners and guarantors of an agreement and as empowered monitors of any breaches in its implementation, would be essential. Gaza will also need an immediate and a massive rescue plan, financed and resourced by the Arab world. The people of Gaza must then be given an unimpeded opportunity to develop their own economy and to begin to rely on their own resources.
In short, the international community’s inability to require Israel to end the disaster must change. The case for this is no longer one of politics or military strategy. It is an urgent humanitarian one. It would not be anti-Israel to take these steps. Rather, it would be pro-global: a move to protect human ideals which may one day triumph in genuine resolution and lasting peace.
Sami Abdel-Shafi is co-founder and senior partner at Emerge Consulting Group, a management consultancy in Gaza City.