The tearing of the social fabric of Gaza

The future of war in a changing world. The role of Hamas in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The year ends with the war raging in Gaza. A war not foreseen at the beginning of autumn. A war with unusual characteristics. Generally, two countries fight with their respective armies at the front. In the end there is the winning country and in some cases mediation. The case of Gaza is unique in many respects. There are no two armies fighting each other but one of the two contenders advances without encountering substantial obstacles.

In its advance it destroys not only the war potential of the adversary, but everything in its path. The destruction of the city of Gaza is not the only case in the history of wars. But the characteristic is that there was not an armed enemy but an unarmed population, with no other possibility than to abandon the house which risked being destroyed or was already destroyed. A number not precisely defined but exceeding one million people had to choose to leave for the south of the Strip without knowing exactly where they were going. Numbers can often be misleading, but that's more than half of Gaza's population.

War has two characteristics. It is fought by a country that has the characteristics of an absolute power in the Middle East, capable of challenging, as has happened in the past, apparently stronger countries, as in the war against Syria and Egypt, winning in the short space of a week (or little more). On the other, destroying  an unarmed territory that was under its control over the course of several decades.

Some commentators say that the original cause was the Hamas attack against Israel which caused over 1200 deaths with over 200 thousand prisoners. Different judgments can be made on the Hamas attack after a long history of subjugation of the Palestinian population. The Israeli response so far is more than 15 times as many Palestinians dead, and two-thirds of the Palestinians in Gaza territory having lost their homes, and wandering in camps made up of tents set up on the shores of the Mediterranean by international humanitarian organizations. . .

The numbers can be deceptively assumed in their absolute figures. In fact, that's more than half the population of Gaza Street. That is to say, as around 40 million people, adults and children, displaced outside their destroyed, or at risk of being destroyed, homes in an invaded European Union country roughly the size of France or Italy.

Gaza and the United States
The circumstances are so unusual that the United States, without reducing the supply of financial resources and weapons to Israel, has put Biden himself in difficulty. Even before assuming the presidency, Biden has always stood out for his absolute support for Israel. Now he has understood that it is not a war between contenders more or less equipped with weapons, but between an unarmed country against one equipped with the largest armament - including nuclear weapons - in the Western world. The Financial Times gives a sense of the disparity describing the devastation of entire families,  “beyond their worst fears” .

“Iman Awad was a protective mother… - Now the family has faced devastation beyond their worst fears. Iman, her husband, their eldest daughter and baby son were all killed in an Israeli air strike last month. Iman’s youngest daughter, nine-year-old survived... paralysed by a brain injury from the bombing”…  Intense bombardment has wiped out multiple generations of Palestinians.

 they are among hundreds of families to suffer deaths at this scale. About 1,550 families have lost multiple members,… tearing holes in Gaza’s social fabric. (Gaza’s social fabric torn by loss of entre families,  Mai Khaled in Khan Younis, Heba Saleh in Cairo and Lucy Rodgers, Alexandra Heal and Dan Clark in London December 16, 2023.)

In mid-December (when this article was written) the deaths were over 19,000,iwith more than seven thousand children, while many other survivors have lost one or both parents.

Netanyahu's position
One might think that Israel's revenge is consummated and that the time has come to negotiate peace. But Netanyahu's position leaves no shadow of doubt: the attack will have to continue indefinitely until Hamas is eliminated. A position that makes no sense since Hamas represents the fighting side not only in Gaza but throughout Palestine

The European Union is politically in favor of a solution that should amount to the liquidation of Hamas. That is, no solution given that Hamas is a determining part of the conflict, and the solution cannot fail to take into account the position of the contenders which sees the government of Israel, on one side, and Hamas on the other.

Yet the conflict was not fatal. There was an agreement sanctioned by Bill Clinton, then president of the United States, who appears in the center of a famous photo with Rabin and Arafat. Israel and Palestine should have coexisted by dividing the territory. But it was an agreement without follow-up. After a few months Rabin was murdered by a young Israeli, an exponent of the far right. After a few months, his successor was Netanyahu at the helm of Israel's right-wing parties, who today we find with the longest period of leadership of the Israeli government over the course of 75 years.

Middle Eastern countries
Israel can seize the defenseless Gaza Strip. But this has put some Middle Eastern countries in difficulty, primarily Saudi Arabia, which was counting on an agreement with Israel, which became impossible after the invasion of the Gaza Strip. It cannot do so even without sacrificing the agreement with Iran concluded, after years of disagreement, with the mediation of Chinese President Xi Jinping. And Iran, in turn, has agreements with Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, countries opposed to supporting Israel in the conflict with Hamas

The Palestinian question has taken on a general significance. It is no coincidence that the American government intends to defend Israel, but asks Netanyahu to limit the war, having internal difficulties with the American population, part of the Democratic Party and of the Republican opposition, convinced that the Palestinians have the right to their land.

I remember that when the Italian union arranged a meeting with Arafat, the CGIL delegation of which I was part together with Lama and  Trentin went to Tunis to meet Arafat, who declared himself in favor of an agreement that appeared feasible as well as desirable.

But history was destined to take a tragically opposite course. The agreement was reached, but remained unimplemented. Arafat remained convinced that the goal should be achieved with the help of European countries, but in 2004 he died in a French hospital without an adequate explanation for his death.

Under Netanyau, first as a member of the government and then as Prime minister, any hope of a solution was abandoned.

something new
But there is something new under the sky. Much of the world's population favors a Palestinian state distinct from Israel. But with an exception proclaimed in America and by European governments: a Palestine w ithout Hamas. In fact without the organization which, beyond Gaza, is the most representative of Israeli militants in the territories occupied by Israel. A position expressed, with the sole exception of the United States and eight other countries, in the United Nations resolution calling for the suspension of the Israeli invasion without any clause contrary to Hamas.

Hamas is not isolated. The release of a number of Palestinian fighters from Israeli prisons, following the deal between Israel and Hamas, has been applauded by Palestinians living in parts of Jerusalem and the West Bank.

The Israeli attack can continue for a long time until it reduces Gaza to a devastated land. But Hamas will survive with its bases in Gaza itself, in the West Bank and partly in the Palestinian population itself inside Israel.In any case, Hamas will consider the end of the aggression in Gaza as a victory, being supported by the majority of Middle Eastern countries with China and Russia behind it.

In essence, the first step can be the truce. But the solution, no matter how distant, will no longer be able to ignore the recognition of two states. A solution, that could have been initiated about thirty years ago, has  been i prevented by the project of a greater Israel and a Palestine without its own state. The future remains painfully uncertain along with the sacrifices it entails for the Palestinian people. But the solution of a Palestinian state emerges strengthened by Israeli aggression at the origin of a new international framework of  the conflict whose roots date back to approximately the first half of the last century.

Antonio Lettieri

Editor of Insight and President of CISS - Center for International Social Studies (Roma). He was National Secretary of CGIL; Member of ILO Governing Body and Advisor for European policy of Labour Minister. (