The Conflict Between Israel And Hamas: An Overview

Context and Background of the Conflict 

On October 7th, 2023, Hamas-led gunmen carried out three incidents of deliberate killing of Israeli civilians, and about 1,200 people died. Following the October 7 massacres, Israel responded with thousands of airstrikes on Gaza, killing thousands of people, including hundreds of children, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry. 

The recent hostage situation in Gaza, involving the seizure of civilians by Hamas gunmen, has emerged as a critical issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This crisis gained international attention following a demonstration in Tel Aviv, demanding the liberation of these hostages (VOA News, November 21st, 2023). The international community, including the United States and members of the BRICS group, particularly Russia and China, have been vocal in addressing this issue.

The Israel/Palestine conflict has historically been fraught with violence, political disagreements, and humanitarian crises. The hostage situation is a direct consequence of this long-standing conflict. International responses have typically ranged from calls for peace negotiations to outright condemnations of either party, depending on the political and strategic interests of the countries involved.

Countries like Qatar have actively participated in mediation efforts, showcasing the complex geopolitical dynamics surrounding this issue. The involvement of influential nations and organizations like the BRICS members and the United States in seeking resolutions indicates the importance of the crisis on a global scale.

Critique of the Current Response

“The ICC prosecutor has made clear he can investigate serious crimes committed both by Palestinian armed groups in Israel and by Israeli authorities in Gaza.” said Ida Sawyer, crisis and conflict director at Human Rights Watch. 

The recent hostilities between Israel and Hamas, have intensified discussions about International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and its application in these conflicts. The attacks should be investigated as war crimes. 

The Geneva Conventions of 1949 and other treaties form the modern version of IHL, governing armed conflict and military occupation. Under international humanitarian law, or the law of armed conflict, targeting civilians is strictly prohibited, and intentionally targeting and killing civilians are classed as war crimes. Violations and abuses by one party in a conflict do not justify violations, including targeting civilians, by another.This law is applicable to states and non-state armed groups alike, including Israel and Hamas, irrespective of power imbalances or previous violations by the other side.

The legal definitions within IHL, such as ‘war crimes’, are also critical in understanding the ongoing actions and accusations in the Israel-Gaza context. The core of IHL focuses on the protection of civilians and dictates conduct during war and occupation, distinct from the decision to use force. Israel’s long-standing occupation of the West Bank and Gaza since 1967, despite claims of withdrawal, places it under specific obligations as an occupying power, requiring it to ensure the humane treatment and basic needs of the Palestinian population.

The current response to the conflict, while grounded in International Humanitarian Laws, reveals shortcomings and challenges. Despite the clear guidelines of IHL, there have been egregious violations of human rights by both Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups. These include indiscriminate attacks and the use of white phosphorus, leading to civilian casualties and destruction of property. The ongoing blockade and collective punishment in Gaza, as well as the displacement of civilians, raise serious legal and humanitarian concerns. The complexity of applying IHL in asymmetric warfare, where state and non-state actors are involved, leads to difficulties in ensuring compliance and accountability. Additionally, the politicization of the conflict and international responses often overshadow the humanitarian focus of IHL, leading to a cycle of retaliation and continued violations.

Additionally, despite ongoing efforts, the hostage crisis persists, underscoring the limited success of international interventions. One of the primary reasons for this is the deep-rooted nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where mutual distrust and historical grievances overshadow peace initiatives. The current response, mainly focused on negotiations and diplomatic pressure, fails to address the underlying causes of the conflict, such as territorial disputes, the status of Jerusalem, and the plight of Palestinian refugees.

Moreover, the involvement of multiple international actors with differing agendas has sometimes led to contradictory approaches, further complicating the resolution process. The humanitarian aspect, particularly the impact on civilians, often gets overshadowed by political and strategic interests. For instance, the closure of the Israeli embassy by South Africa and the military operations in Gaza reflect a punitive approach rather than a constructive resolution strategy.

Alternative Approach to Resolution

To address the Israeli-Hamas hostage crisis effectively, a new, multifaceted approach is necessary. This approach should prioritize humanitarian concerns and focus on building trust between the conflicting parties. First, establish a neutral, international humanitarian body dedicated to the crisis, comprising members from countries not directly involved in the conflict. This body would oversee the immediate and safe release of hostages, ensuring transparency and accountability.

Secondly, initiate a long-term peace dialogue facilitated by countries with no direct stakes in the conflict. This dialogue should involve representatives from both Israeli and Palestinian communities, including civil society groups, to ensure a broader representation of interests.

Furthermore, a shift in focus towards economic cooperation and community building in the region could pave the way for sustainable peace. Establishing joint Israeli-Palestinian economic zones and cultural exchange programs could help reduce hostility and build mutual understanding.

Lastly, the international community, particularly influential countries like the United States and members of the BRICS group, should commit to a consistent and unbiased approach, prioritizing the well-being of civilians over geopolitical interests.

This proposed strategy, while idealistic, provides a fresh perspective that goes beyond traditional diplomatic and military responses, offering a glimmer of hope for lasting peace in the region.

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