Imran Mohd Rasid
The conflict between Israel and Gaza has stretched on for ten long days, and the toll is heart-wrenching. Al Jazeera's reports reveal a staggering toll on human lives: Israeli air raids have claimed the lives of over 2,670 Palestinians, with approximately a quarter of them being children. Meanwhile, Hamas's military operation has claimed the lives of 1,400 Israelis, including 286 soldiers.
The recent actions taken by the Israeli government signal a more ruthless path ahead. Only last week, after days of bombardment, the Israeli government ordered nearly 1.1 million civilians residing in northern Gaza, which includes Gaza City, the most populated urban area, to evacuate to the south.
We all know that such a gesture by Israel is only to facilitate its imminent ground offensive with a pretext to wipe out the “top political and military leadership of Hamas”, and more importantly, to establish a minimal legal justification for the anticipated civilian casualties that may occur. This is despite the warning heeded by the US President, Joe Biden, that Israel’s decision to reoccupy Gaza would be a “big mistake”.
Such instruction drew sharp condemnation from the International Committee of the Red Cross, which deemed it "not compatible with international law". The UN Commissioner for Human Rights, in a strong statement, urged its immediate "rescission”, but unfortunately, to no avail.
Following Hamas’s unprecedented attack on Israel on Oct 7, the international community rushed to voice its concern about the escalation in tensions. However, many statements only noted the atrocities committed by Hamas, while disregarding the blatant violations of international laws and human rights committed by Israel in the aftermath of the attacks.
It is only very recently, as Israel intensified its bombardment of Gaza and attacked Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, several governments have started to turn critical of Israel’s actions. Last Sunday, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi has condemned Israel’s actions for going “beyond the scope of self-defense” and called for an end to the violence. He further reiterated that “(Israel) should listen earnestly to the calls of the international community and the UN secretary general, and cease its collective punishment of the people of Gaza.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a warning last Friday that civilian casualties will be "absolutely unacceptable" in case of an Israeli ground operation in the Gaza Strip and pointed to the U.S. for contributing to the escalation. Both China and Russia have been criticized by Western officials for not specifically naming Hamas in their statements on the Israel-Gaza conflict.
Even the U.S. government has shifted its tone from its earlier statement. In an interview for CBS aired on Sunday, President Joe Biden, reaffirmed US foreign policy position that “there needs to be a path to a Palestinian state”, while insisting that Israel’s reoccupation of Gaza is a “big mistake”. “The vast majority of the population of Gaza,” he added, “deserve dignity. They deserve safety and security.” It remains to be seen whether these words will translate into meaningful action to restrain Israel's military operations.
But clearly, calling out Israel for their recent aggression and highlighting the need for a ceasefire on both sides is not enough. This recent violence did not appear from a void. Every atrocity, every death, and every act of vengeance has a history and context that must be understood if every party involved is serious in their pursuit of peace.
Therefore, one may ask, what is the underlying political backdrop to this war? It is multi-layered but one stark truth is often overlooked; the Palestinians have been occupied for over half a century, blockaded for nearly two decades, and subjected to periodic massacres and systemic violence under the Israeli apartheid regime. The people of Gaza have experienced a sixteen-year blockade that tightly controls nearly everything in the region --- resulting in frequent shortages of vital necessities like electricity, water, medicine, food, and construction materials.
Unfortunately, only a handful of countries have recognized this fact in their official statement. Malaysia, among others, is among the few that has explicitly highlighted the “root cause” of this conflict, invoking the term “politics of dispossession”, famously used by the late Palestinian-American intellectual Professor Edward Said. This term underscores the Palestinian struggle against settler colonialism led by Israel and supported by major Western powers.
The first serious step towards getting out of this cycle of violence between Israel and Palestine is to come to terms with this fact. The world community should be mobilized based on a mutual and resolute recognition that for the cycle of violence to stop, the Israel’s illegal occupation must end, their violations of human rights and international laws must be addressed, and the rights of all citizens must be respected.