Hamas assault should be a moment of reckoning for Israel
As dawn broke over Israel on October 7, 2023, people woke up to the roar of rockets coming from the besieged Gaza Strip, courtesy of Hamas. The Palestinian resistance group launched Operation Al-Aqsa Flood, encompassing aerial, ground and sea operations.
According to media reports, around 6:30 in the morning on the concluding day (Simchat Torah) of the weeklong Jewish holiday of Sukkot – also called the "Feast of Tabernacles" or "Feast of Booths" – the first round of rockets were fired. While the rockets reached as far north as Tel Aviv, on the south, Hamas fighters infiltrated Jewish towns bordering the Gaza Strip. As of writing this column on October 8 morning, fighting was going on in the towns of Sderot, Erez, Be'eri, Magen, Kfar Aza, Sufa, Nahal Oz, and the Re'im military base.
Hamas has said they have launched the attacks in response to the brutality faced by Palestinians in recent years, and against the desecration of Al-Aqsa Mosque by the Israeli forces and settlers, which has seen a significant increase in recent years. One would remember how, between April 15 and 22 last year, Israeli forces forcibly entered one of the holiest sites for Muslims and stormed the mosque, wounding around 60 Palestinian worshippers on the first day of the attack alone, with rubber-coated bullets, tear gas and sound bombs. More were wounded in clashes that would follow over the next seven days.
According to the Islamic Waqf Department in Jerusalem, in 2022, Al-Aqsa Mosque endured one of the most violent years in recent history, with the highest number of forced incursions and breaches. More than 48,000 Israeli settlers stormed the mosque compound throughout the year. The attacks continued into 2023, with an UN expert condemning forcible entry into – and attacks on and arrests of innocent Palestinian worshippers inside – the mosque compound, in April 2023, wounding at least 31 Palestinians. In doing so, the Israeli forces violated the Status Quo Agreement of 1967, which allows for a Jordanian-appointed body to manage the Al-Aqsa Mosque site, with Muslims being permitted to pray there. However, since the mosque falls under the illegally-occupied East Jerusalem, over which in a just world Israel should not have sovereignty, Israeli law enforcers control access to the site and allow Israeli visitors as tourists.
But reality is far from what it should be as per the status quo, which is not even protected by Israeli law. Since 2017, Jews have been allowed to pray inside the site without following any formal procedure. In fact, Itamar Ben-Gvir, the fanatic Israeli minister of national security, himself provokes violation of the Status Quo Agreement by breaking protocols related to the mosque. Since 2021, come every Ramadan, violent clashes are imminent in Al-Aqsa Mosque and its compound, with fasting and praying worshippers being assaulted, tortured, arrested and thrown out by the Israeli forces.
Violence against the Palestinians by Israel has also increased in recent years, with more than 230 Palestinians killed by Israeli forces and settlers in 2022, including 40 children. At the end of the year, 2022 was termed the deadliest year for the Palestinians since 2005. This year, even before the October 7 attacks, more than 200 Palestinians have been killed by Israelis, including more than 38 children.
Given the uptick in Israeli brutality in recent years, Operation Al-Aqsa Flood should not come as a surprise. Earlier in May, in the aftermath of Israeli bombing of Gaza that killed three Palestinian Jihad leaders and nine civilians, Hamas warned that "there will be a proportionate response whose details will be determined by the joint operations room of all factions."
While life has always been a constant struggle for Palestinians since Israel encroached their lands, under the current ultra-right-wing government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu and his cronies, survival has become even more difficult. Israeli settlers have unabashedly ravaged Palestinian villages causing loss of lives and acres of farmlands, without any hope for justice.
Israel, in all its mighty wisdom, surely could not have expected Palestinians to live day-in, day-out with a bloody axe hanging over their necks, waiting for the blow.
In 2010, then British Prime Minister David Cameron rightly called Gaza a "prison camp," saying, "People in Gaza are living under constant attacks and pressure in an open-air prison."
Netanyahu's recent speech at the UNGA, where he talked about a new Middle East presenting a map that omitted any existence of Palestine, reminds one of the preface Norman Finkelstein wrote for his book Gaza: An Inquest into Its Martyrdom, "What has befallen Gaza is a manmade disaster. In its protractedness and in its starkness, in its unfolding not in the fog of war or in the obscurity of remoteness but in broad daylight and in full sight, in the complicity of so many, not just via acts of commission but also, and especially, of omission, it is moreover a distinctly evil crime."
While life has always been a constant struggle for Palestinians since Israel encroached their lands, under the current ultra-right-wing government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu and his cronies, survival has become even more difficult. Israeli settlers have unabashedly ravaged Palestinian villages causing loss of lives and acres of farmlands, without any hope for justice. Israel, in all its mighty wisdom, surely could not have expected Palestinians to live day-in, day-out with a bloody axe hanging over their necks, waiting for the blow.
By pinning the Palestinians against the wall, Israel and its ultra-right-wing Netanyahu government have brought this attack upon themselves. While Operation Al-Aqsa Flood exposes the intelligence failure of the rogue state, it also shows how they have greatly undermined the Palestinians' capacity to respond to constant ethnic cleansing and apartheid. October 7, 2023 has been termed the deadliest day of violence for Israel since the five-decade-old Yom Kippur War. More than 600 Israelis have been killed as of 8:30pm Sunday (Bangladesh time), and many Israeli soldiers and civilians have been taken hostage. Many Israeli military equipment and vehicles have been seized by Hamas and Islamic Jihad fighters. On the Palestinian side, at least 350 people have been killed and at least 2,000 wounded in Israeli attacks as part of Operation Iron Swords, in what Netanyahu termed a "mighty vengeance."
But this is nothing new for the Palestinians. As a result of decades of unjust subjugation, dehumanisation, and having become accustomed to enduring loss – of lives, loved ones, and belongings – the Palestinians have nothing more to lose, no hope for a dignified life. The Hamas and Islamic Jihad fighters embracing martyrdom have nothing to look back at except pain and trauma, especially because the international community has failed Palestine as well. While hypocritically the West and its allies have condemned Russia and empowered Ukraine, they have turned a blind eye to the Palestinians' plea for justice, for their right to self-determination.
Israel might unleash more brutality, more violence, more terror, but the Palestinians have become immune to these, and this approach of bloodshed may become counterproductive for Israel, as it would only encourage more Palestinians to choose the path of violence to snatch away their basic rights from the colonisers. Then it will no longer remain a war between regimes and armies, but between people, which will result in more bloodshed on both sides.
Israel is not "at war," as Netanyahu said yesterday. Rather, Israel – along with its shameless allies – is the architect and enabler of this war. Israel and the world community should now face the reality: the only way forward from here is a two-state solution as per the UN resolution of 1947, where Israel returns the Palestinians their lands and minds its own territories, and Palestinians live peacefully in their own.
Violence will beget more violence, and it will spill over to not only stain the region red, but it will have far-reaching consequences for the allies of both sides. This should not be allowed to happen.
Tasneem Tayeb is a columnist for The Daily Star. Her X handle is @tasneem_tayeb
Views expressed in this article are the author's own.
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