Thousands of people have taken to the streets around the world over the weekend to protest against Israel’s military operation in the Gaza Strip.
Yet, the situation in Gaza continues to worsen. Is there any real hope the worst crisis in the history of relations between Israel and Gaza could be stopped?
Further escalation of violence is bringing us to the point that this confrontation can become one of the bloodiest in the entire history of the confrontation between Israel and Gaza, the Russian Foreign Ministry observed.
The Human Rights Watch said "some offenses by Israeli forces in the West Bank as part of their occupation could be subject to prosecution as war crimes". According to Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW Middle East and North Africa director, “the Israeli military is responsible not only for reckless and deliberate unlawful killings in Gaza, but also for unlawfully killing Palestinian protesters in the West Bank. Because of the Israeli military’s long history of operating with virtual impunity, more unlawful killings are predictable unless Israel’s allies apply meaningful pressure.”
Says Christoph R. Hörstel, government consultant and publicist, based in Germany:
I'm quite shocked, in fact, that very few politicians and media find the right words for what happens. Right now, we are approaching 1900 dead people in Gaza and we are approaching 70 dead people in Israel. Of course, it is very sad that anybody dies, but if we look at the figures – this is not a war, this is a massacre. And unless I find the word ‘massacre’ or ‘mass murder’ in politicians’ and media’s words, I doubt they are grasping the facts.
But what can realistically be done about that? I mean, mass protests are one thing, but it looks like governments hardly listen to the opinion of their electorate now.
Christoph R. Hörstel: Yes, especially in relation to Russia. They hardly listen to anybody, because the people want piece, friendship and good relations and business with Russia, and the governments simply don’t do that. So, you yourself are a good example of the Western governments not listening to their electorate...
But in this case, it is quite interesting. As we know, the Israeli Government is very closely monitoring what the media is doing. And the media is growing more and more critical. And the reason is very simple – they will lose their readership if they don’t. If you open up the internationally renounced weekly Der Spiegel in Germany, the online version, you see that people are gathering a shit storm against that magazine because of its publication policies.
And that is very serious for them. They cannot even sell their Internet content; that is one very sad story. Their readership is shrinking continually, for many years and they know why, and this is why they grow more critical nowadays, and they will push the politicians to do that. This is very well pushed with the information from the Gazans, form the Palestinian people.
But we have a very big problem. And that is that the beginning of the conflict has just elapsed our attention and is not in the limelight anymore. And that is not correct, in fact, because there is a tape in the international media market, a tape which was recorded by the Israeli police who received a phone call from the three abducted and then murdered teenagers in Israel – the incident which triggered the war.
And this tape is very interesting. I got the news, when the abduction came out and when the dead bodies of the three young nice guys were found, that one of them had managed to make a phone call to the police on the emergency line. And what I did not know was that the phone was running throughout the shooting of the young people. I was reading in the news that the fact that this phone call had gone out from one of the cell phones of one of these three teenagers, it was the reason why the kidnappers decided to shoot them.
The fact is quite different. The police recording shows that the phone call was still running, the line was open to the police and the execution of the three young nice people took place while this line was open and while the police was recording. And we hear very clearly the chuck-chuck-chuck noises of silencer-equipped pistols.
So, if this is the case, then we know quite well that, obviously, the kidnappers have not checked the young people for weapons or for cell phones. They did not know that the phone was running, otherwise, how could it run during the execution, nobody would do that.
And this, in fact, shows quite a different angle of what happened. If Palestinians abduct somebody Israeli, somebody Jewish, they do so because they expect a deal – one Israeli against several hundred Palestinians. 1000 was in the last time. So, they of course are not planning to kill. If they would kill, they know immediately what would happen – a terrible ultra-brutal retribution with possibly many Palestinians dying, a lot of homes erased, hundreds in prison. So, this kind of retribution is not what any Palestinian would work for.
So, what do we have here? We have killing by silenced arm pistols and silencers are not the usual gear the Palestinians carry with them. But secret services do, yes. And then, the car was found where the execution took place with lots of blood still provable, but the car was burnt.
Now, if we look at the fact that the kidnapping was done at night, no Palestinian would venture to burn a car at night, because that gives a very bright shine of fire and the Israeli armed services would immediately take a look at what is burning there without authorization. The Palestinians try to behave very-very silently and they don’t try to raise any unnecessary attention by the Israeli authorities. This is the fact.
But, of course, burning a car, burning the traces is school stuff for secret services. From the start my feeling was that there is something fishy about this murder. And now, through the tape in the police I know that the kidnappers have never bothered to check their victims, because they thought they don’t need to, they would kill them very soon anyway.
So, this has happened – they were killed and they didn’t obviously know that the call was going out and that the tape was running with the police, and that is of course something that happens in secret services’ operations – that they make a little mistake.
Mossad makes a lot of mistakes. They have a wonderful reputation worldwide, but, in fact, they make a lot of mistakes. The last killing of the bomb expert of the Palestinians in Dubai was not only on camera, it had lots of victims. And that is a very bad mistake for a secret service with such a reputation. So, this is what we have here right now.
And, of course, we understand now that what Mossad’s head Pardo said 14 days before the abduction, he said – what would happen, how would the Israeli people behave if three young girls were abducted and killed? And he was, in fact, somehow announcing what happened later, with the little difference that it was not girls abducted, but boys.
So, this is the situation. This made rumors worldwide, but these rumors now have a good foundation and that is a tape where young people get shot immediately after entering a car, after trying to hitchhike home in the late evening. They were killed in the car they had taken, unfortunately. This is the story.
And that makes it very clear how the Israeli Government was so quick in mounting this big attack on Gaza. It was all preplanned. First, we drive the Israeli people nuts, we get them very angry with the Palestinians and riding on this wave of emotion we are justified to start another massacre in Gaza.
How should we read the policy and intentions of the other party to the conflict - the Hamas?
Says Egyptian blogger and political commentator Nervana Mahmoud, based in the UK:
The key with Hamas is to understand the ideology and the mentality of Hamas’s leadership. Hamas believes that Israel understands only the “language of power”. They don’t believe that any concession form the Palestinians will bring any sort of peace. They believe that what they describe as resistance is the only way to achieve any concession from the Israelis.
They view the unilateral disengagement from Gaza by the Israelis as a response to their suicide attacks, their rockets, their resistance to the Israeli army during the occupation of Gaza before. What is the problem with that approach? If Israel can withdraw from Gaza, even from the West Bank, but Israel cannot withdraw from the 1948 post Green Line land in mainland Israel or what Israel call it that way.
The Israeli will not pack their bags and go back to Poland or Russia, or the US. And that is where the ideology of Hamas strikes with the reality. When they start targeting Tel Aviv and Haifa, the Israelis start drifting more to the right wing and start saying that obviously there is no chance for peace, so let’s hit Hamas strongly in Gaza. And unfortunately, this is why we end up at the situation we have at the moment in Gaza.
So, this is where the problem is. It is a clash of ideologies. You have Israel that believes we have to annex the West Bank, at least for the security reasons, not just for settlement. And you have Hamas that believes that if we are going to get the West Bank, as well as Gaza, we have to hit the Israelis and their homeland hard.
At the moment neither party - neither the Israeli Government, nor the Gaza Government are really interested in any kind of peaceful solution.
Nervana Mahmoud: Yes! Unfortunately, now we have a zero sum game. You have no leadership on both sides willing to push harder to achieve the more. And you need a leader with charisma who is willing to rally the public behind and is willing to negotiate tough with the Israeli, to get the two-state solution.
Unfortunately, Abbas is not that kind of person. He is perceived as weak, indecisive and not trusted by a lot of people, not just the Israelis, but a lot of people inside the Palestinian territory.
And that’s what Hamas is banking on. They are not popular in Gaza, that’s the perception at least, but they will rally the public behind them once the Israelis start hitting Gaza heavily, because people obviously will not see the deaths of Israeli children and women and hitting hospitals and schools etc. Hamas is banking that there is nobody better than them at the moment to lead the Palestinian people.
But to lead them to what – that’s the question a lot of Palestinians, especially engulfed by the trauma of the ruthless attack by the Israeli in Gaza, they cannot think ahead. They are just trying to think how to survive at the moment. And there is no wise leadership to articulate for them a plan for the future.
What I'm worried about is that this war aggression will go on and on, and on. Before, in 2008 and 2012, at least we had a ceasefire agreement which was respected roughly by both sides. This time we don’t have that. We don’t have a decent mediator trusted by both sides.
We don’t have willingness to stop the fire without reaching a certain advantage. Israel wants to stop the rockets, Hamas is not willing to stop the rockets until they open the border and release certain prisoners. And Israel is not going to do that, because it will be suicidal for Netanyahu from the domestic perspective.
And I feel that Egypt is now in a very-very difficult position. The Egyptian authorities do not trust Hamas, but, at the same time, they have to negotiate their demands with the Israelis. And I doubt that the Israelis will accept these demands.
So, at the end, we might not even get a status quo back again, we might get this war of aggression for quite some time, while the population of Gaza is struggling to even live a normal life. Gaza is completely destroyed. No infrastructure is working at the moment. And it can be a huge humanitarian disaster. Israel is not willing to inherit Gaza and I even find that the Israelis do not trust Abbas to rule Gaza again. So, it is a very-very difficult situation in Gaza at the moment, and I'm not so sure how it will end.
Does the civil population in Gaza have an option of leaving the sector?
Nervana Mahmoud: The Egyptians are not keen on opening the border with Gaza, while the Israelis keep their own border closed. And this is understandable from the Egyptian perspective, because they don’t want to inherit the civilian population from Gaza. It will be a fantastic news for Israel, if Egypt starts inheriting the domestic problem in Gaza, because if Egypt inherits it, they will have to be the one who will have to deal with Hamas and they will be the one who will have to stop the rockets.
So, Egypt can slowly be dragged into a confrontation with Israel. I think Sisi has enough on him, especially with the collapse of Libya and the security issues on his western border. So, is not keen on opening the Rafah border. But whether that will be enough? No, because the domestic situation in Gaza will implode slowly. So, there are a lot of challenges for the Egyptian leadership.
I think Sisi will push the Israelis to accept some sort of the Palestinian deal. They might not agree to a prisoner swap immediately, but they might try to promise more releases of Palestinian prisoners in a few months time, in return of keeping Hamas in control of Gaza, because they don’t want – Sisi and Israel – they both don’t want a leadership vacuum in Gaza. And that fear will probably prompt the Israelis to accept some sort of a compromise, this is my prediction here.