Ziauddin
Ziauddin

AFTER a relentless and brutal bombing campaign of the Gaza Strip, Israel is on the brink of launching a ground assault.

This is not the first time that Tel Aviv has opted for a ground incursion into Palestinian territory. The current circumstances and situation, however, are unprecedented and not just in terms of sheer violence.

But there are fears of worse to come if Israel launches the ground invasion it has promised.

The incessant bombing of the besieged enclave has resulted in at least 4,137 Palestinian casualties so far, according to Gaza’s health ministry, around 500 of whom perished in the bloodbath at the Al-Ahli Hospital earlier this week.

This even surpasses the toll from the bloody Second Intifada (2000-2005), which, according to Reuters figures, stood at over 3,000 casualties.

The latest spate of Israeli violence against Gazans marks the deadliest period in the territory’s history, even more so than the two intifadas

The latest round of violence started on October 7, with Israel claiming the deaths of at least 1,400 of its citizens in Hamas raids. This makes it the single-most deadliest incident in Israel’s history.

In fact, the total number of Israelis killed is around the same as the combined Israeli death toll of both the First and Second intifadas (or uprisings).

Bloody intifadas

Around 400 Israelis and 1,500 Palestinians were killed during the first Intifada, a six-year period starting from 1987. The Second, also known as the Al-Aqsa Intifada, lasted for five years from 2000 onwards, and saw 3,000 Palestinians perish, as opposed to 1,000 casualties on the Israeli side.

Israel’s response this time around has also been unprecedented in its brutality, resulting in at least 4,100 Palestinians killed and more than a million others displaced. That makes the current year and month the deadliest on record for Palestinians, in recent history.

For comparison, UNOCHA figures for 2014 show over 2,200 Palestinians killed, as opposed to just 73 on the Israeli side, after Mahmoud Abbas decided to form a Palestinian unity government with Hamas and Israel embarked on an aggressive settlement spree.

Most of the Palestinian victims this time are children, a reflection of the fact that a majority of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are under the age of 18.

But for Gazans, it is not just the violence that is unprecedented; there are several other crises looming over the besieged territory.

‘Open-air prison’

“The situation is unprecedented. What Israel is doing in Gaza, the destruction, deaths and restrictions, it is a crime against humanity, a ‘genocide’… Operations do bring in more death and destruction,” says Shadi Ali, a 40-year-old Palestinian expat whose family members are stuck in Gaza.

Gaza has often been described as the “world’s largest open air prison,” with its population living under an Israeli-imposed blockade since 2007, when Hamas took control of the territory.

After October 7, Israel cut off water, electricity, fuel and supplies for the 2.3 million people in Gaza, imposing a choking siege on an already-blockaded population.

Israeli air strikes have also targeted areas around the Rafah crossing, rendering Gaza’s only entry/exit point inoperable and cutting off supplies to the besieged territory for the longest time.

As a result, the aid that the residents of Gaza depend on for survival, continues to remain stuck on the Egyption side of the border.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has already criticised Israel’s actions, saying that nothing justifies “the collective punishment of the Palestinian people”.

Highlighting Israel’s violations of international laws, UN subsidiaries have also warned that Tel Aviv’s actions are resulting in severe shortages of food, water, and other essential supplies that will likely claim even more lives in Gaza.

West Bank

Meanwhile, at least 78 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli troops or settlers in the occupied West Bank — where Hamas does not hold sway — since October 7, marking the territory’s deadliest week since 2005. The fatalities were the result of a spike in attacks by Israeli settlers and raids, clashes with Israeli forces.

This year, the occupied West Bank had already seen its deadliest surge in violence since at least 2005, according to UN figures. The year 2023 has also been reported to have been the deadliest year for children in the occupied territory.

Israeli forces have also clashed with Lebanon’s Hezbollah and groups in Syria in the aftermath of the Hamas raid. Tel Aviv also carried out air strikes on at least two Syrian airports, raising the chances of the violence spilling over into other countries of the volatile region.

The only thing that is not unprecedented about the current situation appears to be the reaction of the international community.

As far as the latest situation around occupation and conflict in Gaza is concerned, the international voices that have traditionally backed the Palestinians have continued to do so, while at the same time it is also business as usual for most Western countries and media outlets.

“Given the unprecedented scale of the Hamas attack and the casualties it caused, the international community at large was expected to throw its support behind Israel and its response, as it did in 2008-2009, 2014 and 2021,” says Neve Gordon, a professor of international law and human rights at the University of London’s Queen Mary College.

But the unprecedented factor this time is that there is a chance that the Israeli actions could be sliding towards ‘genocide’, he says.

Published in Dawn, October 21st, 2023

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