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Every day marks the spread of new videos and posts recording either Israeli excesses in the Al-Aqsa compound or its bombing of Palestinian buildings or of Hamas rockets being neutralized over the Israeli sky by the Iron Dome. People have developed the tendency to see this issue as a dichotomy of Israel’s right to self-defense and Palestine’s cause for an independent state. This dichotomy is far away from the domestic and international geopolitical reality of the current crisis.
To contextualize it, Israel has gone through four elections in the past two years and has not been able to elect a majority government. The probably outgoing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing a flurry of corruption charges in which he is most likely to get convicted when he loses his premiership. His leadership faces a strong challenge since opposition parties have been coming closer and have been able to stitch together an alliance to oust him. This coalition includes parties from across the political spectrum and even Islamist Arab parties. Netanyahu heads the right-wing Likud party.
Simultaneously, elections in the Palestinian Authority have been postponed when it was widely believed that Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah Party would lose this time to Hamas. Abbas is the current President of Palestine, which includes areas in the West Bank. Gaza Strip remains firmly in the hold of Hamas since the 2005-07 Fatah-Hamas Civil War. Hamas, which has linkages to Iran, takes an extremist position and doesn’t recognize the existence of Israel. Its final position is the capture of the entire area and removal of Israel from the map.
When you put the current conflict in this context, you realize that it is far from being either for Israeli self-defense or for the cause of a Palestinian independent state. Both sides here took aggressive steps that were not meant to serve the cause they claimed to be serving but rather their own interests. The Israeli regime showed unnecessary aggression and brutality in curbing the protest against Sheikh Jarrah eviction. The barging of its defense forces into the Al-Aqsa mosque compound to clear it off from armed (with stones) protestors crossed another red line. There are assumptions that Netanyahu wanted to push things in a direction from where a major clash would have become imminent.
The further game was taken over by Hamas, which started attacking innocent civilians across Israel with rockets. For any rational country, it would have been an “Act of War,” and this is how Israel treated it. In fact, Israel’s retaliation was pre-meditated and was the obvious result any attack by Hamas would have invited. It was also similarly clear that the lives of thousands would be at risk if any such conflict escalation takes place. This Hamas attack was not some obvious reaction to the Al-Aqsa incident that some of its supporters are trying to project; rather it was a well-thought out move where deliberately thousands of lives were not just risked but actively sacrificed. Hamas’s intention behind the move is speculated to be taking the leadership of the ‘Free Jerusalem’ movement and strengthening its position in the coming elections. None of what happened could justify its launching of thousands of missiles over Israel. The main reason that the death toll is lower on the Israeli side is the remarkable accuracy of the Iron Dome missile defense system. Another important fact to notice is that Hamas uses cheaper rockets in comparison to the Israeli defense systems and thus has much lower expenses and at the same time incurs a higher risk of inflicting harm on its own civilians. Estimates suggest that 1 in 7 Palestinian deaths have been due to misfired Hamas rockets. This in fact says a lot about the intentions and objectives of Hamas.
Netanyahu then came forward as the hero of the Israeli cause and moved to avenge the losses through a series of brutal airstrikes. Though Hamas has a history of stationing its troops in residential areas, it doesn’t justify Netanyahu bombing media houses and even schools. This cannot be excused in the name of self-defense.
Both sides are aiming to deepen divisions as much as possible to strengthen their respective vote banks. The impact is already visible with the upcoming Israeli opposition coalition getting fragmented due to ideological differences. The Palestine question can no longer be ignored, and it seems that Netanyahu used one last ploy for saving his job. He has been able to rally support around himself and further galvanize many Israeli voters against the Palestinian cause. This makes it difficult for any party to go against the perceived ‘national interest’ and bring in instability at such a crucial juncture.
Similarly, for the first time, people across the world have come out in support of Hamas, a known terrorist organization, justifying its actions. By leveraging the suffering of its people, it is legitimizing its aims and violent means. The masses are confusing the organized militia (backed by Iran and Turkey among others) of Hamas with ordinary stone-throwing unarmed Palestinian youths. By endangering the lives of its own people, Hamas has won validation on the world stage. It is the same Hamas that was rejected by world governments post 2006 legislative elections and confined to the Gaza Strip despite winning a majority in entire Palestine. This victory also saw Hamas murdering members of Fatah by various methods.
The current ceasefire, though it brings relief, is not a settlement. The root of the conflict needs to be taken care of and a lasting solution reached. The solution cannot be a lopsided one; otherwise it has a high chance of getting rejected by the masses. Extremist elements on both sides would attempt to aggravate the conflict for their own ends which for obvious reasons won’t be what that the majority of the population in all communities would benefit from.
It is high time that people realize that supporting Israel’s right to exist and self-defense doesn’t include the right to annihilate innocent Palestinians. Hamas does not represents the Palestinian cause for independence and has become an Iranian proxy aiming at Israel’s destruction. It is pertinent to take nuances of the conflict into account before choosing sides which in reality, don’t exist. We must not equate the state with the nation. Netanyahu and his government’s acts should be evaluated in contrast to actual Israeli interests, and similar juxtaposition should take place when assessing Hamas’s acts of aggression.