The wretchedness of the earth, as Fanon once said has again made the headlines but this time in the Israel and Gaza conflict.
On 7th October, Hamas launched Operation “Al Aqsa Flood” against Israel. Hamas penetrated deep into Israel’s territory from land and air under the cover of a barrage of rockets. This blitz attack rendered Israel’s state of art systems temporarily ineffective. In response, Israel has been pummeling Gaza with continuous air strikes with the eventual ground invasion of Gaza by Israel Defence Forces (IDF). The attack by Hamas was unprecedented, the likes of which resembled somewhat that of the 1973 war. The implications for this attack by Hamas and retaliation by Israel on the wider Middle East are worth pondering over. This piece will attempt to shed light on a few of them.
But first, a word on Gaza merits attention. Gaza is currently under the control of Hamas. Earlier the Gaza Strip was under Israel’s control from the War of 1967 till the Oslo Peace Accords. As per the accords, the administration of the Gaza Strip went to the Palestinian National Authority (PNA). In 2006, Hamas won the legislative elections and took over the strip’s administration from PNA. Currently, there are approximately 2.3 to 2.4 million Palestinians, mostly children, living in this strip. The Gaza Strip is fenced with wire by Israel from all sides. With three major border crossings (Erez, Kerem Shalom, Rafah), Palestinians cannot enter or exit Gaza as per their own volition. The Rafah crossing opens into Egypt which is also closed as Egypt fears elements of Hamas might enter into Egypt. Thus, closed from all three crossings, the Gaza Strip looks like what a UN envoy described as an “Open Air Prison”. The other part of Palestinian territory is the West Bank under the de jure control of the Palestinian Authority led by President Mahmoud Abbas. Thus, the Palestinians are prisoners on their own land.
Returning to the implications of this attack by Hamas; it can be argued that this blitzkrieg was unprecedented in nature; however, the causes of this attack are historically rooted and not new. To begin with, the attack by Hamas is an indirect indictment of the West and Israel’s allies. Despite their half-hearted efforts, Israel and its allies have favored the status quo rather than the resolution of the broader Palestine-Israel conflict. Since the Balfour Declaration was presented back in 1917, Palestinian voices have been systematically dismantled in favor of creating and strengthening a homeland for Jews. In search of creating a secure homeland for the Jews, there is a huge misconception shared by the occupying power and its allies that force alone will resolve this conflict.
One needs to ask how much force is required to bring victory to Israel and what will this victory look like. Despite the failures of maintaining the policy of status quo, the USA has put its weight behind Israel
Second, this attack has effectively torpedoed the ongoing peace process that was already progressing at a snail’s pace in the Middle East. This is a victory for Hamas as Hamas might have felt isolated in the region if the peace process had been successful. In order to avert such isolation, Hamas did what it did to stop this normalization. Whatever the real motifs behind this attack, one thing is crystal clear, that the peace process has been stalled. In such a charged scenario the monarchies of the Arab world will not risk pursuing normalizing relations with Israel at the expense of their domestic political capital.
Third, Israel is looking to expand this attack into a protracted conflict. The voices coming from Israel termed this attack as Israel’s 9/11. Later on Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu on his meeting with the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken termed Hamas as the mirror image of ISIS, arguing it should be dealt with in a similar manner. The Israel Defence Minister Yaov Gallant termed Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran as the axis of evil. It is clear by now that Israel has appropriated the language of the war on terror initiated by the US in the wake of 9/11. Thus, equating the Hamas attack to 9/11 and Hamas to ISIS with the broader war on terror shows that Israel aims to expand the war beyond the Gaza Strip. In such a charged atmosphere, even Iran is not on the table. The end result may erupt into a broader conflict attracting various regional players. Hence, the Pandora’s Box is bound to open.
Lastly, linked with the previous argument, if Israel expands and drags Iran, and Hizbullah into this conflict, then Israel will need political and military muscle to support this policy. This muscle is the USA which ultimately means reengagement of the USA in the region. Secretary of State Blinken made it unequivocally clear in his meeting with PM Netanyahu “You may be strong enough on your own to defend yourself – but as long as America exists, you will never, ever have to. We will always be there, by your side”. Consequently, the attack by Hamas might ignite the powder keg that is bound to explode unless Israel shows restraint, which is unlikely for the time being.
In all this noise, the people of Gaza are suffering and will continue to suffer. Yes, it is true that the people of Israel suffered casualties by Hamas. But this does not give Israel a free pass to continue to bomb civilian targets mercilessly while those championing human rights look the other way. Thus, Frantz Fanon was right when he said colonized are viewed in zoological terms such as animals or not humans because such was the language used by Defence Minister Yaov Gallant when he referred to Hamas and the Palestinians as animals.