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Rescue personnel work at the scene at Al-Ahli Hospital, after hundreds of Palestinians were killed in a strike at Al-Ahli hospital in Gaza. Image Credit: Reuters

A meeting of Arab leaders scheduled today with US President Joe Biden was called off in light of the Gaza’s Al Ahli Al Arabi Hospital massacre.

Everyone in the region is enraged as the strike on Al Ahli Al Arabi Hospital, resulting in the tragic deaths of over 500 Palestinians, has elicited widespread condemnation. This marks the highest single-day death toll since the inception of the Arab-Israeli conflict in 1948.

Even before the strike, Operation Swords of Iron had already flattened Gaza City to the ground, cutting off its water, food, and power supply, in addition to killing 2329 Palestinians and wounding over 10,000. Both numbers are likely to increase manifold after what happened at the Gaza hospital on Tuesday night.

Hamas military leadership has fled to the underground, leaving ordinary Palestinians — who have nothing to do with the group — to bear the brunt of Israel’s assault.

A Palestinian woman reacts outside the Ahli Arab hospital in Gaza. More than 500 people were killed by a strike on the hospital. Image Credit: AFP

Making things worse is the Israeli decision to uproot over 1 million Palestinians to the southern part of the strip, a population transfer that brings back ghastly memories of what happened to their fathers and grandfathers in 1948.

With due right, the people of Gaza refuse to leave and Egypt, which is expected to house them in Sinai, refuses to take them. And that might explain the deadly strike on Tuesday. If they refuse to leave at will then perhaps a deadly strike of such magnitude will force them — or what remains of them — to pack up and leave.

They know, and so does President Abdul Fattah Al Sisi, that if they leave, it probably means that they will never return to their homes. But when and if the deportation starts, Israel is expected to launch a ground invasion of Gaza.

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Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said on Wednesday that Egyptians would reject the forced displacement of millions of Palestinians into Sinai Image Credit: Reuters

Ground invasion

Nobody can predict what happens once the ground operation begins. Hamas after all is fighting on its home-ground and knows the terrain inside out.

Will Israel get caught in another Vietnam? Will Hamas fighters put up a fierce resistance and whip up a big death toll of Israeli troops, after no less than 1,300 have already been killed since 7 October?

Many of those on standby to invade Gaza, whether formal recruits or reservists, are young Israelis in their early-to-mid-twenties and have not fought a war in their lives. Netanyahu is running the high risk of having them exterminated and if that happens, his war cabinet would fall.

Or will Hamas fall with unprecedented speed, similar to how the mighty Iraqi army collapsed when the US entered Baghdad back in April 2003? We remember too well how Iraqi soldiers took off their uniforms, and disappeared into the wilderness, taking everybody by surprise.

Many What-Ifs

There are many what-ifs, however, which all should be taken into consideration.

What if the people of Gaza simply refuse to leave ahead of the ground invasion, despite what the hospital massacre? Many attribute that to the orders of Hamas’ military leadership but the decision to stay is far more complex and deep-rooted than that, and has to do with Palestinian resilience and refusal to repeat what happened to their families in 1948.

Will Israel Israeli flatten them to the ground too, just like it did with most of Gaza’s buildings and infrastructure?

What if the ground invasion goes horribly wrong? What if Palestinians in the West Bank rise in revolt? What if Hezbollah joins the war, opening another front from Lebanon?

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Israeli soldiers move a tank at a staging area near the border with Gaza Strip, in southern Israel. Image Credit: AP

Turning point in Israel-Palestine Conflict

Or will wise men succeed in talking Netanyahu into a ceasefire, followed by a negotiated truce followed by prisoner exchange. Such a need is evident due to the perceived ineffectiveness of both US President Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin’s intense focus on the Ukraine conflict.

In past conflicts, Arab leaders refrained from direct communication with Israelis, leaving post-war negotiations solely in the hands of American and Russian officials. However, in today’s world, many Arab leaders have the liberty to directly voice their opinions to Netanyahu, expressing their thoughts on his actions.

Moreover, if diplomatic channels fail, they possess the determination and capability to bring the matter to the United Nations to push for a ceasefire.

In today’s world, a massacre of last night’s magnitude cannot go by unanswered, and will serve as a benchmark for any future diplomatic measures to stop the war. In due course, historians will add 7 October and 17 October as turning points in the Israel-Palestine Conflict — dates of blood and possibly, a sustainable post-conflict peace.

— Sami Moubayed is a historian and former Carnegie scholar. He is also author of the best-seller Under the Black Flag: At the frontier of the New Jihad.