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A fireball erupts from a massive Israeli airstrike in Gaza City on Monday Image Credit: AFP

The horrific events that unfolded on 7 October, when Hamas launched a surprise attack on southern Israel, killing civilians as well as soldiers and taking hundreds as captives, including women and children, has drawn condemnation from many sides and gave a lifeline to a politically beleaguered Benjamin Netanyahu.

Yes, the attack dealt a heavy blow to Israel’s image and deterrence, but as the country quickly recovered from the shock of that day, it mobilised the army, called hundreds of reservists, and declared war on Hamas.

The US and the West gave Netanyahu the green light to carry out a massive, open-ended, military campaign in self-defence.

Israel had waged war against the besieged strip multiple times, and on every occasion, hundreds of civilians, women, and children were killed in the most horrific air strikes and shelling. And on every occasion, both sides finally agreed to a pause, a zero-sum game where civilians who died and those who survived ended up as the only losers.

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100 per cent collateral damage

One cannot judge this latest bloody cycle without putting the entire Israel/Palestine conflict into context. The saga did not begin on 7 October and will not end when the guns finally go silent. All that will emerge will be the unimaginable magnitude of a humanitarian catastrophe.

Thousands of Palestinian civilians will perish. A war on Gaza, a crowded strip of land where 2.2 million Palestinians live under siege, will only deliver 100 per cent collateral damage.

Israel’s self-defence notion must also be put into context. Israel had been at war with the Palestinians for decades before Hamas existed.

For years, it has ignored appeals to end its occupation and adopt the two-state solution. For years, it has turned its back on international resolutions, laws, and conventions by building settlements, punishing Palestinians, and weakening the Palestinian Authority (PA) with which it had signed peace deals.

And yet, Israel always found apologists and advocates in the West, who would take its side whenever a crisis looms. It is mind-boggling how Western governments are adopting the Israeli narrative as an uncontested fact. Even then, those Western governments did not mention the Palestinians’ plight and the need to end it.

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Israeli soldiers patrol a road near the border fence with Gaza. Image Credit: AFP

By-product of decades old policies

The Gaza Strip has been under siege for almost 18 years. The human, social, and economic indicators there are appalling. Israel’s collective punishment, a state policy, has driven Palestinian youth to despair and extremism. What we are seeing is a by-product of decades of Israeli policies.

It is tragic when civilians get caught in the crossfire. But this has been the reality of the Israel/Palestine conflict for decades. Many innocent Palestinians and Israelis have died because extremists, on both sides, blocked any path to peace. The suggestion that the current cycle of violence will bring closure to the decades-old conflict is naive and dangerous.

Palestinians remove a dead body from the rubble of a building after an Israeli airstrike in Jebaliya refugee camp, Gaza Strip. Image Credit: AP

Israel’s refusal to end its occupation and allow the Palestinians to decide their fate — an inalienable right that must be honoured, will not cease the Palestinian struggle for freedom. There will always be a generation that yearns for liberation. The solution is political and not a military one.

To become a normal state with normal ties in this region, Israel must make peace with the Palestinian people, not with Hamas or any other group. Both people deserve to live in peace. Israel cannot wipe out the Palestinians, even when it carpet bombs entire neighbourhoods.

Israel’s military might is not the answer, and its occupation and dehumanising of Palestinians have allowed the fanatics in Israel to take charge, allowing the likes of Hamas and other militant groups to hijack the Palestinian narrative as well.

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Smoke from an Israeli airstrike rises from Shati refugee camp, west of Gaza City. Image Credit: Washington Post

No double standards

The current war on Gaza has already killed hundreds of Palestinians and will exacerbate the conflict and drive both people further apart. Then what? What will Israel do when it conquers 2.2 million Palestinians?

How many innocent lives must be lost before the world comes to its senses and decides that only genuine peace can restore credibility to international resolutions, laws, and conventions. The double standards must end.

One final note: while last Saturday’s events were shocking and painful for Israelis, the attack on Gaza will not avenge the victims. On the contrary, it is creating more victims on the other side, people who have nothing to do with Hamas and its policies.

The world is watching in awe the blowing up of neighbourhoods in Gaza, and while Western governments show solidarity with Israel, public opinion is polarised.

Israel may end up winning this war, but it stands to lose public sympathy across the globe.

Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.