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A look at the conflict between Israel and Palestine

Photo courtesy of Wickey-nl (CC)

As of July 26, there have been over 1,000 reported Palestinian deaths, with at least 3,209 targets struck in Gaza. The majority of the dead are civilians, with Israel accused of numerous war crimes by the United Nations (UN).

Conversely, Israel has suffered approximately 40 deaths, only one of which occurred prior to the commencement of Operation Protective Edge, the name given to Israel’s ground invasion of the region. Additionally, thanks to its sophisticated Iron Dome system capable of intercepting rockets up to 70 kilometres away, the country has suffered minimal losses to its infrastructure, while those in Gaza are now faced with the reality of living without access to food, water, and energy. With the recent destruction of the area’s only power plant, the conflict is proving increasingly one-sided.

The Israel Defense Forces are proving to be significantly more prepared for this conflict than Hamas is. Thanks to superior technology, as well as funding from the West, there exists very little chance of things changing anytime in the near future. This means an endlessly rising body count and further instability. Yet despite this fact, Hamas seems determined to continue to carry out an unwinnable war. The reason for this is not actually illogical.

For one thing, Khaled Mashal, the chairman of Hamas, currently finds himself living in exile in Qatar, which allows him to lead the organization from relative safety while avoiding the same dangers that his supporters on the ground are faced with. Whether one views this as cowardly or tactically necessary is irrelevant, as the end result remains the same. Hamas continues to be provided with direction and leadership as well as opportunities for continued propaganda against Israel.

Secondly, Hamas is much more than a simple terrorist organization. It exists as the elected political party of the Palestinians living in Gaza. Despite the numerous terror attacks carried out by the group, it also provides basic welfare services to many citizens who otherwise would go without. These include constructing and funding schools, orphanages, soup kitchens, hospitals, and even sports leagues—services not provided by the greater Palestinian Authority. As such, it stands to reason that the general population, lacking alternatives, would believe Hamas to be acting in their best interest.

Gaza is blockaded on all sides by land, sea, and air by both Israel and Egypt. These restrictions have played an important role in the humanitarian crisis that exists there today, as a result of the inability of citizens in the region to import basic commodities such as food, fuel, and medicine.

Since 2008, the UN has issued several reports calling for an end to the blockade, claiming it is a violation of human rights. Aside from the obvious economic implications of removing a country’s ability to trade, Palestinians in the region are faced with living in an environment that has been described by lead UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon as containing unacceptable levels of suffering as well as being unsustainable. As a result, Hamas is able to maintain its popularity in the region and conduct its operations despite the enormous cost, while innocent Palestinians are killed every day in the crossfire.

This is not to say that Israel is to blame completely. Far from it, Israel as a nation has every right to exist and defend itself just as any other, and the fact of the matter remains that Hamas continues to carry out rocket strikes aimed at civilians. However, with the seemingly endless cycle of violence that plagues the region, it is becoming increasingly apparent that a prolonged military response may not be the answer, especially when international opinion continues to grow against them on the issue. Instead, it would appear more favourable to treat this as an ideological conflict, and win it through gestures and acts designed to secure the hearts and minds of the people.

This kind of strategy is nothing new. The entire Cold War was essentially a battle of ideologies, and while there were numerous military campaigns that occurred, both sides also devoted enormous time and energy to winning the support of their client nations. The success of the Marshall Plan stands as a perfect example of this: thanks to aid provided by the Allies, West Germany was able to rebuild following the conclusion of World War II, and became an ally to nations that it had previously been fighting.

If Israel were to apply the same tactics and succeed in replacing Hamas in the application and administration of social welfare services, then there is a strong possibility that a peaceful resolution could be found that would deny the group its support amongst the Palestinian people. As a result, Hamas would become isolated, making further attacks against Israel significantly more difficult.

In the end, the important thing to remember in all of this is that the Palestinians are a people just like any other. The average citizen living in Gaza simply wants to live a peaceful life, raise a family, and provide a brighter future for their children. To deny them this will ultimately lead to the same conditions we have seen time and again, but helping and supporting them will inevitably humanize both sides, and create significantly deeper and more fruitful relations.