Gazans need international protection, not just a ceasefire

Gazans need international protection, not just a ceasefire

As vital as it is, a ceasefire is not enough to end the war on Gaza; Palestinians are in dire need of international protection
As vital as it is, a ceasefire is not enough to end the war on Gaza; Palestinians are in dire need of international protection
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Almost five months into Israel’s genocidal war on Gaza, the tide has turned. Israel has lost the public relations campaign completely, its “self-defense” operation to uproot Hamas has resulted in the worst humanitarian disaster in decades and it now faces serious charges of committing genocide, as well as war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s capricious and miscalculated misadventure in Gaza has dragged his army more profoundly into a quagmire. There is no honor in what Israel has done in the past five months: the mass killings of women and children, the bombing of hospitals, the targeting of journalists, doctors, medics and academics, and the displacement of more than 2 million people. Now, Gazans face starvation and famine.

In the process, Netanyahu’s dirty war has also dragged Israel’s closest allies into the mud. The Gaza debacle has triggered a global awakening of the hypocrisy of Western governments and their complicity in the longest colonial occupation of modern times. Now, the Biden administration is trying to salvage a hopeless situation and achieve two impossible goals: save Israel’s face in any way it can and fix a dire humanitarian crisis that is getting worse by the hour.

On Sunday, US Vice President Kamala Harris uttered what had for months been a taboo statement for the Biden administration. She called for “an immediate ceasefire” in Gaza. In the most forceful rebuke of Israel’s conduct by a US official yet, she said that too many innocent Palestinians have been killed in what has become “a humanitarian catastrophe.” She called on Israel to facilitate the flow of aid and take measures to protect civilians.

The US hopes that a ceasefire, even if it lasts for only a few weeks, would give it time to do several things

Osama Al-Sharif

The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back was last Thursday’s massacre, when Israeli soldiers opened fire on thousands of Gazans as they tried to reach UN aid trucks to receive sacks of flour. More than 100 people were killed and at least 700 wounded. UN and aid observers visiting the nearby hospital where most of the injured were taken confirmed that most of the casualties suffered from bullet wounds.

This was not an isolated incident of Israeli soldiers, tanks, fighter jets or naval ships firing at civilians in Gaza. But the number of those killed and injured was staggering, while Israel also provided contradictory and unconvincing accounts about what happened.

But global denunciations of the bloody incident did little to change Israel’s attitude. Three days later, an Israeli strike hit an aid truck in Deir Al-Balah with civilians close by, killing at least nine people. Israel has also continued to blow up entire residential blocks and has done nothing to facilitate the flow of aid, especially to northern Gaza, where about 700,000 people face famine, according to the UN. By Monday, the number of Palestinian babies to have died from starvation rose to at least 15. The harrowing image of a starving child, Yazan Al-Kafarna, a 10-year-old with cerebral palsy, who died at Al-Najjar Hospital in Rafah after suffering from malnutrition, was posted all over social media platforms.

In a symbolic and desperate move to address the situation, the US, along with the Jordanian air force, dropped more than 35,000 meals on northern Gaza on Friday, in what President Joe Biden said would be one of many airdrops. The irony of the US dropping food on tens of thousands of hungry civilians caught in a war zone and denied access to aid by America’s ally, Israel, was not missed by many commentators. This is the same US that has supplied Israel with 2,000-pound bombs to drop on the most crowded enclave on the planet.

The US is now pushing for a six-week ceasefire to begin before the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan. This deal would see the release of Israeli captives by Hamas in exchange for letting some of the thousands of Palestinians in Israeli jails go free. But the US hopes that a ceasefire, even if it lasts for only a few weeks, would give it time to do several things.

First, it would work with Egypt and Qatar to facilitate the release of the remaining captives, thus putting pressure on Netanyahu to end his Gaza misadventure, which has harmed Israel and turned worldwide public opinion against it in an unprecedented manner.

Second, it would give Washington time to influence internal Israeli politics and neutralize Netanyahu by encouraging calls for a snap election that would remove him. Harris on Monday met with Israeli war Cabinet member Benny Gantz, who traveled to Washington against Netanyahu’s advice. Gantz, described as a right-of-center soldier turned politician, is leading Netanyahu in the polls and would certainly defeat him if elections were held today. Washington believes Gantz would realize the damage that Netanyahu has inflicted on Israel’s ties with its Western partners and seek a way to restore them.

Third, the White House hopes that a ceasefire would alleviate the pressure coming from progressive Democratic voters, including Arab and Muslim Americans, after more than 100,000 Democrats voted “uncommitted” in last week’s Michigan primary as a protest against Biden’s Gaza position.

Fourth, the Biden administration hopes that a ceasefire deal would appease the US’ Arab allies, who have expressed their frustration over Biden’s Gaza policy and built up public pressure among their citizens.

We have to look at the glass as being half full and realize that there can no longer be a return to the day before Oct. 7

Osama Al-Sharif

But a ceasefire, vital as it is, is not enough to end the war on Gaza. More than 2 million Palestinians in Gaza and about 3 million in the West Bank are in dire need of international protection. A ceasefire in Gaza could collapse at any moment over many excuses and from both sides. The humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza will take years to contain, but it must be tackled robustly and sustainably. Any interruption to the truce will compound an already complicated situation that has not been seen before in any part of the world.

While Israel and its allies will argue that no international peacekeeping force is needed in the West Bank, it will be difficult to oppose such an idea in Gaza. The US and the rest of the world have rejected any notion of Israel reoccupying the Strip. The Palestinian Authority is too weak and unpopular to take over the administration of a devastated Gaza. Only an international peacekeeping force can maintain the peace, facilitate the flow of humanitarian aid and help in the evacuation of thousands of injured and terminally ill people to foreign hospitals. A sustainable truce is needed to rebuild much-needed facilities like hospitals and schools.

UN and NATO peacekeeping forces have a checkered track record. They have been successful in some conflicts and done poorly in others. But we have to look at the glass as being half full and realize that there can no longer be a return to the day before Oct. 7 — for both sides.

So, the US must lead despite its dismal record in pushing for the two-state solution, which will take forever to materialize. While the Palestinians — and Israelis — wait for a just and lasting solution, the people of Gaza do not have that luxury. They need immediate help and they need protection. Tens of thousands of orphaned children need immediate care and, every day, some newborn babies will lack even the most basic medical care.

Gaza will need a massive and probably unprecedented aid bridge when a ceasefire occurs. And once such an aid bridge is launched, it cannot stop. A tentative truce is not the answer, but the permanent presence of a peacekeeping force is. The world, having abandoned the Palestinians for so long, owes this much to the children of Gaza.

  • Osama Al-Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman. X: @plato010
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