The writing is on the wall. All of the analysts, experts and top brass are saying it out loud – we are heading toward escalation and probably the next round of the unending war with Gaza. The script has been written. Over the next two months we have Passover, Land Day (March 30), Remembrance Day, Independence Day, celebrations of the official move of the US embassy to Jerusalem, Nakba Day followed by Naksa Day (marking the defeat of the Arabs in the Six Day War). All of these dates are expected to come with a high probability of Palestinian attacks on Israel. We have seen several terrorist attacks in the West Bank and east Jerusalem already.
And what is not reported in the Israeli media are the increased closures, road blocks, nighttime arrests and Palestinians killed by Israeli troops in the West Bank every week during confrontations with Israeli soldiers.
Gaza has long been on the verge of explosion; the desperate situation there faced by two million people is not new, it just gets worse all the time. Life in Gaza is beyond acceptable for anyone who opens their eyes. I have no idea how people survive there at all. The prospect of reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas created some hope for many Palestinians. After the recent assassination attempt against Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Dr. Rami Hamdallah and Intelligence Chief Gen. Majed Faraj, however, PA President Abbas has laid the responsibility directly on Hamas, and the reconciliation process has hit a wall.
The hardships facing the people of Gaza are about to get a lot worse.
In the coming weeks and months, Palestinians in the West Bank and in Gaza are planning civil disobedience and confrontations with Israeli soldiers at checkpoints and along the Israel-Gaza border. In those confrontations, there is no doubt Palestinians will be killed. In Gaza, the Palestinians are planning to have thousands of people march to the Israeli border. This is a scenario that has been talked about for years. If thousands of Palestinians, including women and youngsters, march to Erez or to Kerem Shalom, without guns in their hands, carrying flags and banners, what will Israel do?
Israel has enough tear gas to disperse the crowds, but many still may march forward. Will Israel use live ammunition on them? There should be little doubt that if the confrontations along the Gaza-Israel border end with large numbers of deaths, rockets will be shot into Israel. Israel will respond, as it always does, with attacks against Hamas posts, installations, warehouses and command centers. If the Israeli retaliation ends up causing casualties in Gaza, more rockets will be fired into Israel and in a very short time, we could find ourselves in the midst of another war. Hamas may still have some tunnels into Israel that have yet to be discovered, and probably many tunnels active inside Gaza that it would try to use to kidnap Israeli soldiers.
What would you do if you were a Palestinian living in Gaza? Most Palestinians there blame Israel for their situation. They hold Israel more responsible for the closure of Gaza than they do Hamas or the PA. Most of the two million people living in Gaza are not political, they are not members of organizations or activists in Hamas. Most of them are descendants of refugees who lost everything in 1948. They have been living in poverty and without hope for decades. They have experienced repeated wars, bombs being dropped on them with no bomb shelters to run to and protect themselves.
For the past 10 years since Hamas came to power, they have been cut off from the world, not allowed to travel, living in a big cage. Imagine what it is like living with a few hours of electricity every day. How would you live? You can’t store food, you can’t warm yourself in winter or cool yourself in summer. You can’t use your computer, or turn on a light at night. What kind of life can you provide for your children? The kind of hopelessness that exists in Gaza brings people to despair and is not the breeding grounds for moderation.
Abbas and Hamas are in conflict and the people of Gaza suffer. Israel pleads with the international community to support projects to improve the water, sanitation and electricity systems in Gaza but continues to keep Gaza closed to the world. The problem of Gaza is not really a humanitarian problem; it is mainly a political problem. The tools to resolve the problem are first and foremost political. The failed leadership of Hamas and the failed leadership of Abbas are all part of the problem. The failed leadership of Israel is also part of the problem.
All of this is known – by Israel’s leaders and by Palestine’s leaders. Military commanders have to plan for the next war and be prepared to present their operational plans to the political leaders. Someone needs to also think how to prevent the next war. I would like to know who is doing that? Who is thinking strategically and creatively to pull us away from the brink? Who is even asking these questions?
There are ways to open channels of communication between the sides to lessen the chances of the next war. That communication has to amount to more than making threats. The conflict will not be resolved in the coming period but we must demand that our leaders explore every possible option that can prevent creating more victims, more death and more destruction. I demand that the leaders of Israel put as much effort into preventing the next war that they will have to apply in fighting it.
The author is the founder and co-chairman of IPCRI – Israel Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives (www.ipcri.org). His new book In Pursuit of Peace in Israel and Palestine has been published by Vanderbilt University Press.