Smoke billows from the Trans-Israel pipeline oil facility in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, on May 11, 2021, as rockets are fired by the Palestinian Hamas movement from the Gaza Strip towards Israel. (Photo by JACK GUEZ / AFP)
Artillery Row

Pointless bloodshed

Israel will remain intact and strong. Gaza will stay poor and isolated

The children of Ashkelon in southern Israel will be thankful that an order from the Israel Defense Force closed their school on Monday. Otherwise, a number of them might now be dead. Their school is as of this morning a smoking ruin, hit by a missile fired by Hamas from Gaza. But in Ashkelon at least, no children were harmed.

That’s less true for people in Gaza, where retaliatory Israeli strikes in response to the rocket barrage have killed at least 24. Elsewhere, Israelis in unknown numbers have been wounded. The health ministry claims wounds to more than 25 civilians from rockets and their aftermath. Gazan injuries and deaths can be attributed both to Israeli bombing and to the inaccuracies and failures of some of Hamas’ barrage of 300 rockets, some of which fell short of the desired target.

The rockets fired by Hamas on Monday mark an unpleasant escalation. For the past few years, Hamas has not attacked Jerusalem. But in this conflict, every lull must come to an end, violence must be resumed, and lives must be sacrificed to act out unhappy developments in politics. 

In these periodic episodes of ritual bloodshed, there is always a “flashpoint” and those flashpoints often involve either holy sites or the control of land. This time, it included them both.

Recent weeks have seen angst and resistance grow as the Israeli state travelled closer to the eviction of Palestinians from an area of Jerusalem called Sheikh Jarrah.

Israel will remain intact and strong; Gaza will continue to be poor and isolated

Sheikh Jarrah was captured by Israeli in the 1967 war, and the claims of the Palestinian locals to ownership are invalidated by a 1950 law on “absentee property”, which appears to suggest that Israeli Jews can reclaim property on the basis of deeds from before the legal independence of Israel in 1948, whereas Palestinian refugees and their descendants cannot.

Recent court cases have upheld the eviction of Palestinian residents, while 17 were injured in violence between Palestinians and Israeli authorities. A few days ago, before the rockets started flying, the United States and others expressed “concern”.   

But aside from disputes over land, the recent violence also featured holy sites. Last week and this one, protests and confrontations surrounded the plan for Israeli nationalists to stage a march through the Old City of Jerusalem to mark Jerusalem Day. These nationalists are not mainstream figures and their march was never intended as bland celebration.

The provocation all of this represented has been played out in the press, as well as the toing and froing of authority. Although it authorised the march, the Israeli police had to contend with its route. Should it be permitted to travel through the Damascus Gate, where anger and counter-protests would be inevitable? Eventually, after insisting that the route would not be changed, it was amended. Although this has all since been overshadowed by more direct confrontation.

Observers of the Israel-Palestine conflict, and partisans in it, enjoy fiery metaphors. The region is a “tinderbox” awaiting ignition from a “spark”. Perhaps if the tinderbox truly goes up in flames there will be a “general conflagration”. This time there was a real fire to illuminate the image, as a tree caught light outside the al-Aqsu mosque on Monday — a holy site fitting the bill of a cherished symbol, as if to throw the whole scene into sharper relief.

We cannot know for how long the bombardments will continue, or whether they will lead to a more general conflict. Israeli forces have mobilised some soldiers and move them towards Gaza to support a continued pattern of Israeli aerial attacks that have, the IDF claims, killed one Hamas commander and 25 “operatives”.

But if things do not escalate into a new Gaza war, of which there have been three this century, there is little reason the status quo will change in the face of this violence.

Both Hamas and Israel operate under the assumption that a new Gaza war would effectively defeat them both

Israel will remain intact and strong. Gaza will continue to be poor and isolated, under Israel and Egyptian blockade, misruled by Hamas, which has not allowed an election in 15 years. Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories will continue; so too will the eviction of Palestinians who claim to hold decades-long deeds to their land.

The killing of Hamas commanders will serve little strategic advantage, nor the deaths of any small number of operatives. 

Both Hamas and Israel operate under the assumption that a new Gaza war would effectively defeat them both. Israel can win such conflicts militarily but cannot stop the capacity of Hamas to continue a campaign of periodic bombardment against soft targets. Hamas can win the social media war, and the war of the international press, but never push Israel back, nor increase Gaza’s surface area and decrease its squalor.

If this unpleasant exchange of fire is followed by another lull, we know what will happen next. That too will end, caused by something small or big, simply because the facts of the situation do not change. The effort to avoid violence becomes harder the longer it has been. Just as blood is now being spilt pointlessly, so it will be spilt again. 

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