Amidst Gaza’s ongoing ‘Great March of Return’ border protests, Israel launched what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu describes as Israel’s ‘biggest attack’ since 2014 on Saturday 14 July 2018. Over 40 airstrikes struck Gaza throughout Saturday, resulting in the death of two teenage Palestinians, the injury of 14 Palestinians and significant damage to infrastructure including a Hamas training facility. Since the border protests started on 30 March 2018, media coverage of Gaza’s border conflicts has reported each successive exchange as the ‘biggest’ attack yet since war in 2014, reflecting just how stagnated peace progress has become as hostilities only continue to escalate.
The 24-hour hostilities were initiated in response to rockets fired from Gaza and the injury of an Israeli officer from a grenade attack on Friday. However, it is clear that it was only a matter of time before Israel launched harsher airstrikes. According to Jerusalem Post, IDF Spokesperson Brig. General Ronen Manelis said the military has ‘understood in recent weeks that this day will come, and once relevant conditions have been created, we will act.” Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports that just last week, Israel had warned the Hamas that if incendiary kites, balloons, and explosives continued to be launched across the border it would not hesitate to respond harshly. These incendiary kites and balloons have proven to be a significant point of tension for Netanyahu. Having started over 750 wildfires since March, they have destroyed large areas of farmland and consequently intensified public pressure on Netanyahu to implement a harsher response towards the Hamas.
For now, it appears that a ceasefire has been established, announced by the Hamas through a Twitter post on Saturday. Although mortar shells were exchanged overnight, the Israeli military removed restrictions on large public gatherings early on Sunday which implies the cessation of hostilities for now. Nonetheless, this weekend’s conflict remains a pertinent reminder of unresolved tensions and the need for renewed efforts towards conflict resolution. Just last May, UN Mideast envoy Nickolay Mladenov warned the United Nations Security Council that the region was on the brink of war, having witnessed a similar exchange of rocket fire between 28-30th May. The fact that within just a few months, Mr. Mladenov has again needed to remind involved parties to ‘step back from confrontation’ that has once more brought both sides to the ‘brink of war’ presents a concerning lack of progress in Gaza’s current predicament.
The issue of how the Israel-Gaza conflict is to be resolved remains an immensely complicated problem. However, any future progress requires that border conflicts cease and that stability is maintained. Although Israel has every right to defend its citizens from security threats and Palestinians to protest the appalling humanitarian crisis that continues to impact the lives of over 1.9 million Palestinians living in Gaza, it is essential that both sides react proportionately and with minimal use of force. Beyond focusing on the casualties of ongoing border conflicts, the international community must remain attuned to the broader purpose behind the border protests themselves- to draw greater attention to the ongoing Israeli and Egyptian blockade that has entrapped residents of Gaza in the ‘world’s largest open-air prison.’ Figures from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs highlight Gaza’s worsening humanitarian crisis as it approaches ‘unliveable’ conditions much faster than the 2020 deadline initially assessed by the UN. Since Israel imposed land, sea and air blockades on Gaza in 2007, 84% of Palestinians have been living in need of humanitarian aid with 98% of groundwater undrinkable and 45% of Palestinians have been denied necessary medical treatment outside Gaza. Although the war of 2014 that resulted in the deaths of 2, 251 Palestinians (as recorded by the Report of the Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza conflict) has ended, the lives of millions remain in jeopardy so long as border conflicts such as Saturday’s continue to obstruct the possibility of a just and long-lasting peace.
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