The first weekend of May saw the most intense fighting in the Gaza Strip since the war in 2014, with 24 Palestinians and four Israelis killed in the ongoing violence. The New York Times reports that this latest outbreak seems to have begun on Friday when a Palestinian sniper wounded two Israeli soldiers, and strikes have continued back and forth throughout the weekend. Both sides have seen civilian casualties, Al-Jazeera reports two pregnant Palestinian women and an Israeli man driving a truck that was taken down by an anti-tank missile. Israel also carried out a series of targeted assassinations on Palestinians it claimed were military targets. Gaza fired hundreds of rockets towards Israel over the weekend, but Israeli air raids killed a significantly greater number of people, with 70 Palestinians wounded in addition to those killed. This outburst comes after months of Israeli foot-dragging in implementing an agreement which would have eased the impact of the blockade on Gaza that Israel has maintained since 2007.
“This is potentially a dangerous and long, major military escalation,” said an Al-Jazeera reporter, and civilians on both sides spoke of destruction and suffering as a result of the attacks. A Gaza resident described the attacks saying, “there was a lot of bombing, the neighbours were affected a lot, the street scene was indescribable, people were afraid and terrified and running, and everyone was looking for their children. Nobody was able to see others.” An analyst from the International Crisis Group pointed to Israel’s inaction in easing the blockade restrictions as a direct cause of the violence, explaining that Hamas has no incentive to try to quell violence when Israel has failed to hold up their side of the bargain: “Hamas agreed to restrain the protests in return for concessions. Those haven’t materialized.” The political director of Hamas, Ismail Haniya did state that “returning to the state of calm is possible and depends on the occupation’s commitment to a complete cease-fire.” Emphasizing the importance of Israel’s compliance with the Egypt-brokered agreements in November and March, which exchanged an end to Gaza attacks in exchange for easing the blockade and allowing aid into the territory.
The economy in Gaza is in crisis, as the infrastructure continues to deteriorate and the unofficial employment rate is, according to the World Bank, at 52%. One UN report released last year predicted that the region could be “uninhabitable” by 2020, tracking multiple indicators of economic opportunity, infrastructure, and health services, among others. The Israeli blockade is a key reason for these dire conditions, as movement of people and goods in and out of the Gaza Strip is severely restricted, and the UNRWA in Palestine is one of the few structures keeping the region afloat. Robert Piper, the UN Coordinator for Humanitarian Aid and Development Activities, spoke about the increasing desperation in Gaza, calling on Israel to respect international human rights and humanitarian law, as well as easing the imposing blockade. “The alternative will be a Gaza that is more isolated and more desperate,” Piper said at the report’s 2017 release.
The violence that erupted that weekend is unfortunate proof of him being proven right. While violence and loss of life is never acceptable, the situation in Gaza leads one to believe that its leaders feel they have few other options. Negotiations with Israel have failed repeatedly, including the most recent agreement to halt the violence in exchange for loosening restrictions, and the Palestinians have no recourse when Israel frequently decides to ignore the promises it has made. Conditions in Gaza are deeply desperate, with rampant poverty and starvation. While Israeli citizens too deserve to live without the constant threat of violence, the Israeli government’s complete disregard for its commitments, and the human rights of Palestinians in general, makes it clear that the only way to call for an end to this fighting is to condemn the cruel Israeli policy in Gaza from which the frustration and violence stems.