June 19, 2021

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Israel and Palestine: What is happening in this interminable conflict?

4 min read

After years of comparative peace and quiet, the Middle East surged back into our news and social media feeds this week as the long-simmering conflict between Israel and the people of Palestine has boiled over once more; Israeli jets pound the hemmed-in Gaza Strip and Palestinian militants launch hundreds of rockets into the Jewish state.

But what has triggered this? Why now, and what is happening behind the scenes?

WHAT HAS TRIGGERED THIS LATEST CONFLICT?

For more than a decade Israel has tried to hem in Hamas, the militant group that controls the Gaza Strip. It has blockaded the tiny enclave on the Mediterranean and after fighting three wars against the group, attempted to placate it while inciting ongoing frustrations with a continued policy of forced evictions and settlements in the Palestinian majority areas of East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

The strategy has depended somewhat on allowing Qatar to pay public sector salaries, permit fishing rights for Palestinians and provide adequate power into what is effectively a latter-day Bantustan.

The tactic was straightforward – if Hamas keeps quiet and leaves Israel alone to push Palestinians out of the disputed territories, then Israel will leave Hamas alone.

This strategy, however, backfired spectacularly this week as concerns that over the last seven years of comparative calm Hamas had been building up its arsenal of homemade rockets suddenly came true.

READ: ‘People will hate me for this…’ – Trevor Noah weighs in on Israel-Palestine

ISRAEL’S ‘IRON DOME’ HAS BEEN IMPENETRABLE

It now seems as though Hamas has between 20 000 and 30 000 of these rockets and mortars which while crude are still capable of reaching all the most densely populated parts of Israel. On Tuesday night they showed their capabilities with volley after volley of projectiles being launched. However, few have been able to get through Israel’s multibillion-dollar ‘Iron Dome’ device with an estimated 90% having been intercepted.

Israelis in Tel Aviv were sent running for air raid shelters, a rude awakening from the post-COVID-19 vaccination campaign bliss of the last few months.

While the physical effect of the rockets is relatively limited, the psychological one is real.

The whole episode started on Monday when Hamas entered a simmering stand off between Israelis and Palestinians at the Al Aqsa mosque and in occupied East Jerusalem. For months Palestinians have been protesting against the planned forced evictions in the part of the city, and Hamas finally spoke out demanding that all Israeli settlers and police leave the surrounds of the mosque by 6pm.

At one minute past 6pm the sky was streaked with the trails of hundreds of rockets launched from inside Gaza targeting Israel.

Since then the situation has progressively worsened. With Benjamin Netanyahu’s political career in a state of limbo, a conflagration with its bellicose neighbour makes great sense as a distraction tactic. He has vowed to meet aggression with more aggression, and a land war of sending troops once again into Gaza for the first time since 2014 is not off the cards.

READ: SA told to ‘shutdown its Israel Embassy’ – as clashes with Palestinians continue

DESPERATE RESIDENTS OF PALESTINE SUFFER THE MOST

As ever, the losers will be the poverty-stricken, hapless, and desperate residents of Gaza and Palestine. For years now their cause has been all but abandoned. The major forces in the region of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Qatar are as divided as ever over how to deal with the plight of the non-nation Palestine. Since the attempt of Nasser in the 1960s to corral the Arab nations into a unified front to deal with the mess, the only consistent reality in an otherwise constantly evolving and unpredictable situation is the complete inability of Arab countries to agree on what should be done.

This has of course suited Iran perfectly, who has moved into the vacuum by supplying Hamas with the ingredients and critical know-how for building the rockets, a reality which has played into the agendas of the Israeli far right doom-mongers who argue that without firm and brutal military action the very existence of the Israeli state would be at threat from the Iranian peril.

Where this goes is anyone’s guess. There is a chance it could all blow over, possibly if Egypt can engage with Hamas and get them to stop firing rockets and if Netanyahu’s political purgatory is resolved with either him exiting (unlikely) or cobbling together some kind of a sustainable administration.

However, escalation and another war is perhaps a more likely outcome. Hamas has little to lose as they could realistically continue this offensive tactic for months. Sadly, the losers will once again be the men, women, and children of a defenseless and forsaken Palestine.

Once again I am reminded of a quote I once saw on the wall of a bar in Beirut.

“Marriage”, it said, “is like the Middle East. There is no solution”.