The Gaza nightmare

Published November 4, 2023
Photo AFP
Photo AFP

Over the last month or so, one story has been dominating headlines across the world: the brutal Israeli bombardment of the Palestinian Gaza Strip. Whether it is TV, newspapers or social media platforms, horrific images of the suffering of the people of Gaza, particularly its children, are everywhere.

Of course you may have read about the conflict, how it started on October 7, and the humanitarian crises it has caused. But we must be clear about one thing: the violence did not start on October 7 with the raid by Hamas, a Palestinian group fighting for Palestine’s liberation from Israel. In fact, the Palestine question is over a century old, and at the root of the issue is the decades-old denial of rights to the Palestinian people, and the violence and humiliation Palestinians have been subjected to by Israel almost on a daily basis.

To truly understand what is going on, it is important to read non-biased history books and articles on the Palestine issue, see how Israel is violating international law by mercilessly targeting civilians and, ultimately, see how you can raise a voice for defenceless Palestinians, and try and reduce their unimaginable suffering.

Pages from history

Palestine is an ancient land located in an area of West Asia known as the Levant, a land which has seen many prophets, kings and conquerors. Its native people are Arabs, while Muslims, Christians and Jews have inhabited this land for centuries. It is sacred to all three major monotheistic religions, and contains sites revered by Muslims, Jews and Christians.

For example, for Muslims it contains the revered Masjid Al-Aqsa in Al-Quds/Jerusalem. Jews also revere Jerusalem as they believe it contains the site of the Second Temple, where Al-Aqsa stands right now. Meanwhile for Christians, it is the land of Jesus Christ. There are many other sacred sites dotted across Palestine that are considered holy by believers of these faiths.

The land that is now known as Palestine had been under Muslim control — except for a brief period during the Crusades — since the seventh century CE, from the time of the Rashidun Caliphate, till the early 20th century. However, many Jews claim the ‘Promised Land’ of Palestine belongs to them only, and this historical claim gained a political form with the development of Zionism — Israel’s founding philosophy — in the 19th century. The Zionists, mostly European Jews, sought to build a homeland for the Jews in Palestine, citing anti-Semitic behaviour in Europe as one of the justifications. The problem here was that Arab Palestinians were already living in this land, and the only way the Zionist dream of a state could be fulfilled would be by expelling the native inhabitants. That is exactly what happened.

People search for survivors and for bodies of victims through the rubble of buildings destroyed during Israeli airstrikes, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, October 26, 2023, amid the ongoing war between Israel and Palestinian group Hamas. — AFP
People search for survivors and for bodies of victims through the rubble of buildings destroyed during Israeli airstrikes, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, October 26, 2023, amid the ongoing war between Israel and Palestinian group Hamas. — AFP

Up until World War I, Palestine was governed by the Ottoman Empire. But signs that the British Empire had decided to hand over Palestine to the Zionists emerged when, in 1917, the Balfour Declaration stated that the British government was committed to establishing “a national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine. That 67-word declaration changed the course of history, and arguably created the seeds of the crisis we are dealing with today. The British had decided to give away to the Zionists land that was not theirs.

After the Ottoman defeat, the League of Nations — the predecessor of the United Nations — created an entity known as Mandatory Palestine. After the Ottoman exit from Palestine, and the creation of the Mandate, the British encouraged Jewish immigration to Palestine, altering the demographic balance of the country. This ultimately resulted in the 1948 ‘Nakba’, or catastrophe in Arabic, which resulted in the creation of the State of Israel, and the beginning of the Palestinians’ long nightmare.

Slowly and steadily, the Israelis devoured more and more Arab land, and spilled the blood of many innocents to expand their country. During the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, the Israelis occupied large swathes of Arab territories, including East Jerusalem, which contains Al-Aqsa.

The modern conflict

Several Arab states and Israel fought another war in 1973. However, after decades of humiliation, the Palestinians rose to challenge Israel and reclaim their country during the first Intifada (uprising) in 1987. This helped highlight the Palestinian cause around the world.

An attempt to make peace came in the form of 1993’s Oslo Accords, where the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), led by Yasser Arafat in his trademark black and white keffiyeh, agreed to recognise Israel in exchange for peace and a Palestinian state. The deal was signed between Arafat and then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on the lawns of the White House as US President Bill Clinton looked on.

However, the Oslo process failed, mainly because Israeli settlements on Palestinian land — considered illegal under international law — continued unabated.

The situation exploded during the second Intifada in 2000, when Israeli politician and later PM Ariel Sharon made a provocative visit to Al-Aqsa. From then on, the hopes of a ‘Two-State Solution’ have quickly evaporated.

People take part in a ‘March For Palestine’ at Trafalgar Square in London on October 21 2023 to demand an end to the war on Gaza. — AFP
People take part in a ‘March For Palestine’ at Trafalgar Square in London on October 21 2023 to demand an end to the war on Gaza. — AFP

Gaza under siege

This is the brief historical background of the events that unfolded on October 7. For decades, the Israeli state and settlers had been murdering and humiliating Palestinians, including children, while the Gaza Strip had been blockaded by Israel since 2007. Facing poverty, malnutrition and Israeli arrogance, the Palestinians staged their raid inside Israel last month. While violence is not the answer, when people are suffocated and treated with such contempt, things tend to explode, just as a volcano erupts, releasing pent-up lava that has been cooking within it for a long time.

The Israeli response to the Hamas raid has been truly savage. Thousands of innocent people have been killed, with children being the worst affected. Israel has cut off food, water, and power to Gaza, while it has also bombed hospitals, mosques, churches and shelters — acts that qualify as war crimes. While hundreds of thousands of people across the world have called for an end to the slaughter of innocent people in Palestine, many powerful states have blocked attempts at the UN calling for a ceasefire. They have openly sided with Israel, not even caring for the thousands of innocent children that have been wiped out by Tel Aviv.

Palestine: the land of sacred places

Palestine is a region with deep religious significance for Muslims, Christians and Jews. The Holy Land has been a focal point of religious aspirations and ideals since ages. For the Christian, it is the birthplace of Jesus of Nazareth and the site of his ministry; for the Muslim, Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque is the third holiest site and Dome of the Rock marks the spot from which the beloved Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) ascended to heaven.

And for the Jews, it is toward Jerusalem that the pious turn three times each day in prayer; and it is to Jerusalem that Jews pledge to return each year, with the words “Next Year in Jerusalem” chanted after the Passover Seder and the Day of Atonement prayer service.

Here are some of the most significant places for each of these three Abrahamic faiths:

For Muslims

The Al-Aqsa lies at the heart of Jerusalem’s Old City on a hill known to Jews as Har ha-Bayit, or Temple Mount, and to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif, or The Noble Sanctuary. It is the third holiest site after Mecca and Medina. It is believed to be the place from which the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) ascended to the heavens on the Night Journey

(Shab-e-Mairaj).

Al-Aqsa is the name given to the whole compound and is home to two Muslim holy places: The Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, also known as the Qibli Mosque, which was built in the 8th century AD.

Bethlehem: Bethlehem is significant for Muslims because it is the birthplace of Jesus (Prophet Isa) and contains the Church of the Nativity.

For Christians

Church of the Holy Sepulchre: Located in the Old City of Jerusalem, this church is believed to be the site of the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is one of the most important pilgrimage sites for Christians worldwide.

Bethlehem: As mentioned earlier, Bethlehem is the birthplace of Jesus, and the Church of the Nativity is a central Christian pilgrimage site.

Mount of Olives: This site is significant in Christianity for its association with several events in the life of Jesus, including his ascension into heaven. The Church of the Pater Noster and the Chapel of the Ascension are located on the Mount of Olives.

For Jews

Western Wall (Wailing Wall): Located in the Old City of Jerusalem, the Western Wall is a remnant of the ancient Jewish Temple and is considered one of the holiest sites in Judaism. It is a place of prayer and pilgrimage for Jews from around the world.

Temple Mount (Haram al-Sharif): This is the site of the First and Second Jewish Temples and is also significant for Muslims as the location of the Al-Aqsa Mosque. It is a highly contested and sensitive religious and political area in Jerusalem.

Hebron: The city of Hebron is associated with the Cave of the Patriarchs, which is believed to be the burial place of Prophet Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob and Leah, making it a significant religious site for Jews.

These are just a few of the many important religious sites in Palestine that hold significance for Jews, Muslims and Christians.

The region’s rich history and diverse religious heritage have made it a focal point for religious worship, pilgrimage and cultural exchanges for centuries. However, it’s important to note that these sites are often a source of tension and conflict due to their shared significance among different religious groups.

Published in Dawn, Young World, November 4th, 2023

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