As the Israeli military intensifies its attack, over 8,300 people have been killed in Gaza so far, about 80% of whom are women and children and almost all civilians. In Israel, over 1,400 people have died so far in the current conflict, and a few hundred are still hostage.
More than four weeks after the escalation of violence caused in this instance by what India rightly called a “terror attack”, there is no sign of the much-needed ceasefire. Regrettably, there is an unprecedented escalation of bombardments, and the humanitarian catastrophe continues to unfold as the world watches. Last Friday saw a near-total communication shutdown of the Gaza Strip while Israeli bombing continued. Israel has re-issued the order for evacuation for the Northern Gaza Strip. It has begun the ground invasion in Gaza in line with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s words, “defeat them [Hamas] to death”. This pitiless resolve is leading to the indiscriminate bombing of one of the most densely populated areas of the world. 2.3 million people live in an area of 365 square kilometres, less than two-thirds that of the Corbett National Park in Uttarakhand, India.
Meanwhile, in democratic opinion worldwide, there is a growing demand for an immediate ceasefire. We can see this in the many mass demonstrations happening in different cities worldwide, in the urging of many countries, and in repeated resolutions proposed by the UN Security Council. Many countries, and especially those of the Global North, are pushing the narrative of the ongoing horrific war as Israel’s right to self-defence in the face of the October 7th ‘terror’ attack by Hamas. Terror and violence, anywhere and anytime, call for the strongest condemnation, and the pain and horror of the victims, the survivors and hostages both in Palestine and Israel deserve compassion and support. However, we must also remember the historical context to understand the longstanding Palestinian struggle.
I have had the opportunity to visit Palestine twice, in 2012 and 2013. While we could not travel to Gaza, along with other colleagues, we travelled to some villages in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and met women’s and youth groups there. These were villages in Area ‘C’ of the West Bank, which is under complete Israeli civil and security control. Therefore, to be able to enter the villages, we had to go through several checkpoints. As Indians, we managed hassle-free entry and exit. However, we saw the kind of surveillance the Palestinians had to go through. Throughout our travel, we saw the separation wall (alternatively called the apartheid wall or Berlin wall by Palestinians) that confines Palestinians to smaller and smaller territories. The 700+ km long wall violates the Green Line and restricts access of Palestinians to their communities, lands and pastures.
We also saw, from afar, Jewish settlements and vast areas around these colonies that are designated as “security perimeters” entrenching up to 300 to 1,500 metres, with Palestinians not allowed to enter these areas. Israel controls the roadways that connect these settlements, and a ten-minute walk to a Palestinian settlement could take anywhere between two to three hours due to the restricted mobility for Palestinians. Agriculture, one of the mainstays of livelihood for the Palestinians, suffers on account of restrictions in accessing resources, including water resources. Israel extracts about 85% of the annual yield of groundwater aquifers in the West Bank, leaving a mere 15% of the water to Palestinians for both domestic and agricultural purposes, which is far below the rising demand of a growing population. Vast lands filled with olive groves, other trees and crops are regularly uprooted to build settlements for Jewish settlers and set up other required infrastructure. Often depriving Palestinians of their land and always causing enormous economic loss. The illegal Israeli occupation of the West Bank severely restricts Palestinian access, mobility and resource availability for employment and livelihoods but also for accessing basic needs and services like water, health and education.
I have always been proud of India’s long and proud history of support to the Palestinian cause. Writing in 1938, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi said that “Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French. It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs.” While Gandhi’s views on many issues have changed, there is marked consistency on the Palestine question. Writing in 1946, he says, “No wonder that my sympathy goes out to the Jews in their unenviably sad plight. But one would have thought adversity would teach them lessons of peace. Why should they depend upon American money or British arms for forcing themselves on an unwelcome land? Why should they resort to terrorism to make good their forcible landing in Palestine?” India has, throughout the decades, called for a two-nation solution, calling for the unrestricted right to develop for both Israel and Palestine.
The Oslo Accords of 1993 and 1995 and the Paris Protocol (1994) set up a framework for economic relations and outlined responsibilities between Israel and Palestine. The agreement authorised Israel to collect import taxes on goods and transfer taxes to the Palestinian Authority on goods destined for the West Bank and Gaza. Palestinian trade with other countries is also handled through Israeli ports or Israeli-controlled border crossings. These are issues of significant discontentment compounded by the fact that many times, Israel withholds the transfer of tax money to Palestine.
A 2022 report by UNCTAD highlights a deep fiscal crisis in Palestine ever since the pandemic in 2020. There has also been a significant decline in foreign aid (in 2021, total donor aid fell to $317 million, or 1.8% of GDP, a decrease from the $2 billion or 27% of GDP in 2008). All this severely undermines the Palestinian government’s ability to carry out essential state functions and meet its various obligations. As per this report, the public sector employees have only been paid partial salaries since November 2021. In 2021, over half the workforce in Gaza was unemployed (26% in Occupied Palestinian Territory), and 83% of workers received less than the minimum wage. There is an increase in poverty levels, with the report indicating that 36% of the Palestinian population lives below the poverty line. Meanwhile, food insecurity increased from 9% to 23% in the West Bank and from 50% to 53% in Gaza. There is growing discontentment among the Palestinian population.
With over five decades of occupation and continuing war resulting in violence, damage to property, demolition of homes, mobility restrictions on the one hand and rising discontentment with unemployment and poverty, the situation is dire in Palestine.
The path ahead requires immediate and long-term solutions. First of all, global leaders must come together to mediate an immediate ceasefire to end the violence and prevent the loss of more innocent lives. Ceasefire can’t wait. Those who opposed the UNGA vote calling for an immediate ceasefire will be on the wrong side of history and humanity. Secondly, humanitarian aid in food, water and other essential supplies, including electricity, water and fuel, should be allowed unhindered. Since October 2021, only 22 truckloads of relief have reached Gaza, which is not enough even to fulfil the basic needs. Third, communication channels must be immediately restored so survivors can contact and access the required support. Currently, ambulances are unable to reach the wounded, those buried under the rubble can’t be rescued, half of the hospitals have been shut, and there are no critical care facilities.
Most nation-states, including the US and India, agree to the two-state solution. However, just agreeing to it is not enough. Global leaders must come together and develop concrete measures and steps that will be needed to implement the two-state solution. Global leadership at this stage is also critical from a broader geo-political context, both internationally and regionally. The happenings seem to have a potential for more general escalation in the region, which can turn dangerous and impact all other countries if not addressed sooner. Nations must respect and uphold the international order based on international humanitarian law with shared values of respect, dignity, equity and justice, freedoms and the right to self-determination for the Palestinians. This path will lead us to shared, just and sustainable futures for all.
There are no winners and losers in war, but the price is paid long by the future generations. It takes ages to heal the wounds of war. The international community must come together and rally for peace and amity.
With deep concern for our Palestinian colleagues and the whole of Palestine, we an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, to end the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe, and work for a political resolution of the issue.
Disclaimer: The article was originally published on Financial Express. The views expressed in the article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of ActionAid Association.
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