Pessimism Reigns as Suffering in Gaza Continues

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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Palestinian civilian and militant casualties continue to rise as the Israeli military assault on the Gaza Strip enters its second week. Yet very little seems to have happened on the diplomatic front, as the European Unions, the United Nations, and the United States limit themselves to bland statements of concern. Even worse, there is a tired sense that we have been here before and that, even if this round of violence comes to an end soon, another one is bound to begin before long. While the Palestinians and their supporters decry the violence they are subjected to by the Israeli Defense Forces, many in Israel have been quick to praise their own government for what they believe has been a fair and proportionate military response. Most media commentators in the region are anxious for the violence to end, but question whether the United States, the Arab states and the rest of the international community are able or willing to end the violence.

Reflecting on the lack of serious reporting on the issue, The Daily Star (Lebanon) staff bemoans the business-as-usual attitude taken by many television outlets: “The Israeli offensive against the Gaza Strip has produced a death toll that is approaching 200 people, mainly civilians, a wide swathe of destruction in one of the most densely populated places on earth and yet another humanitarian crisis in the Arab world. But if one samples the media coverage in the region, at least in the mass medium of television, one might conclude that Israel’s actions are a simple, every-day occurrence. For the most part, entertainment programs of all types continue to be broadcast as if nothing is amiss.”

Emblematic of the lack of significant movement on the diplomatic front is the relative silence from the U.S. government, which, according to a Khaleej Times editorial “should rework its diplomatic language and realise that this is no warfare but blatant aggression from Tel Aviv over its occupied subjects. After having failed to implement a two-state solution all that Washington can do to salvage the Palestinians, as well as its own prestige in world affairs, is to push Israel back from Gaza and occupied territories by hook or crook. It needs a firm political resolve to get that done.”

Even if a diplomatic solution were to be found out of the current crisis, another one will come along in the future unless the fundamental problem of Palestinian statehood is resolved. This, at least, is the argument put forward by Hassan Barari in an op-ed for Arab News: “Casting aside all arguments advanced by either the Palestinians or the Israelis, the fact remains that Israel’s current war in Gaza is not the first and will most likely not be the last. Both sides are hostage to events — caused by the impasse in the peace process — rather than being driven by a strategy to put an end to the conflict….The Egyptians may mediate a way out of the current crisis, but who would guarantee that this conflict would not come to the surface again! The only guarantee is to bring an end to the Israeli occupation and help the Palestinians build a democratic state. Short of doing this, chances are high that Palestinians will get radicalized thus creating a different and more lethal challenge.”

The increasing toll the violence is having on Palestinian civilians has caused many to suggest that Israeli response has been disproportionate, cautioning, as a recent Oman Tribune editorial does, that Israel’s “wanton violence” is bound to sow the seeds of a war of attrition by Hamas: “It would be apt to say that the Israeli response to the attacks by the Palestinians fighters has been highly disproportionate. In the coming hours, worse can be expected as Netanyahu’s stormtroopers, a ruthless force well-trained in the extermination of civilians, step up attacks. In the past too, they have been equally or more brutal….Besides Palestinians, civilians in Israel too will suffer in any major conflagration. Palestinian resistance fighters surely will not be sitting ducks for the Israeli military….This hopeless situation was bound to cause some kind of a violent reaction. But now the situation is fast spiralling out of control, threatening to turn the region, already roiled by the fighting in Iraq and Syria, into a vast killing field. The onus is on Netanyahu. On him depends war or peace.”

But many Israelis, including the Jerusalem Post editorial staff, argue their government has already been quite cautious and conservative in the way it has retaliated militarily: “What military sends out warnings by SMS, phone and leaflets to civilians to evacuate targets? This reduces the effectiveness of the air force’s strikes, yet Israel still takes huge risks to spare enemy civilians. That said, in many cases Hamas counters these warnings by assembling civilians on roofs of buildings Israel is about to hit. The idea is to deter Israel with human shields, and to increase civilian casualties in Gaza. Our enemies recognize Israeli soft-heartedness and count on our humanity to spare their civilians, in an effort to gain a free hand to fire rockets at our civilians and to send infiltrators to massacre Israelis. Anyone who ignores this turns a blind eye to malevolence.”

Still, it is clear that given the senseless nature of this most recent reiteration of the violence between Israel and Hamas, even some Israelis are calling for a ceasefire, since many believe, as Yedioth Ahronoth’s Amos Yadlin has argued, that Israel has already reestablished its deterrence vis-à-vis Palestinian militant groups: “Hamas has forced a conflict on Israel against Israel’s will, but it may already be regretting it….Assuming that Israel’s strategic purpose was to create deterrence, it seems to have achieved it (at a minimal cost), and the right thing to do in the coming days would be to stop the battle….the longer the battle, the bigger the chance for difficult and unexpected incidents, and so the right thing to do is to settle for the deterrence achievement, if it indeed has been achieved. In the current situation, Hamas’ military effort is portrayed as helplessness against the IDF’s defensive and offensive abilities, and especially against the overwhelming efficiency of the Iron Dome system.”

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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: Comments and feedback are welcome at


  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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