In the latest attack on Israel by Palastine’s militant group Hamas, at least 700 people have died and thousands wounded in Gaza, while 900 Israelis have lost their lives. More than 150 Israeli civilians and soldiers have been taken captive. Hamas has said it’s holding 150 Israeli hostages, and threatened to kill one hostage every time Israel strikes a civilian residence in Gaza. The staggering human toll is almost surely going to rise significantly, as civilians on both sides bear the brunt.
But the most apparent and significant fact that is coming to the fore is Israel’s unpreparedness in the face of the offensive. Israel was caught by surprise amid a major intelligence failure, despite all its sophisticated, high-tech resources and capabilities that make it the region’s dominant military power. In fact, Israel’s decision to divide and control millions of Palestinians, put them behind walls and fences, deprive them of their rights, and implement apartheid is not a tenable approach for the long term security and stability of its Jewish citizens. The pressure cooker has exploded.
Benjamin Netanyahu, the longest serving Israeli Prime Minister, has made sidelining Palestinian demands for freedom and dignity his mantra. He has repeatedly formulated his policies around the idea that Israel can resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict and proceed to normalise relations with Arab countries without engaging with the Palestinians.
For years now, as the peace process has been moribund and the Palestinian political leadership fragmented between factions and geographical areas and is in a shambles, Israel has continued to expand and entrench its hold over them. Instead of investing in a strategic vision for solving its conflict with Palestinians, Israel has invested its strategic energy into consolidating more military might and control.
Over the last 20 years, and more rapidly the last 10 months under the most far-right government in Israeli history, Israel has provoked instability at the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, detained more and more Palestinians without charge, allowed soldiers and settlers to shoot and rampage through Palestinian areas in the West Bank with impunity, and waged several devastating and ineffective military assaults in Gaza—all without any enduring international consequences. Instead it has gained diplomatic traction, signing normalisation deals with four Arab countries, and was most recently admitted into the coveted US visa waiver programme.
Even before Hamas’s surprise attack, 2023 was already the deadliest year for both Israelis and Palestinians in 20 years. It has also been a record-breaking year for approval of settlements and incidents of settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank.
Exerting its military might in Gaza is not expected to bring a different outcome than every other time Israel has done so in last two decades. Some Israelis, shaken by trauma and helplessness, have called on their government to recognise the common humanity of those on the other side of Gaza’s walls. As one mother whose children were taken to Gaza said on live TV, pleading with Israeli and Palestinian leaders to leave the children out of this game, Israel’s military operations are only endangering their lives further.
If there is any hope at this awful moment, it is that the carnage and despair will at some point prompt all of the parties—both Israel and its Western backers, as well as Hamas —to get serious about resolving this conflict. That would take mutual concessions that no one is prepared to consider right now. The great fear is that these concessions will only happen at a point when the horrors of war grow even further and the limited effectiveness of constant force becomes more apparent.