The world has been looking on aghast while Israel bombs Palestinian civilians in Gaza in the name of fighting the militant group Hamas. Two tragic incidents — the killing of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank and the retaliatory abduction and burning of a Palestinian youth in East Jerusalem — have triggered events that are now blighting thousands of innocent lives. The recent days have been full of horror. Israeli jets and artillery have repeatedly bombed Gaza, where 1.7 million Palestinians live in “unimaginable misery”, according to observers, in a strip that is just 25 miles long and 4 miles wide. At least 192 Palestinians have died and more than 1,300 injured in the latest wave of Israeli attacks. According to the United Nations, 77% of casualties have been civilians, more than 1,200 homes are destroyed and 17,000 Palestinians have taken refuge in UN-run schools. There is little scope to escape as the Mediterranean is to the west while the crossings into Egypt and Israel are tightly regulated.
Israel says it is retaliating to rockets launched by Hamas targeting its cities. But that narrative masks the disproportionality of exchange. Hamas has fired more than 700 rockets but not one has got past Israel’s anti-missile defence system called the Iron Dome. There has, as a result, been no Israeli fatality from Hamas’ rockets. The constant bombardment on the back of Israel’s overwhelming military superiority suggests that this offensive is little more than a vengeful collective punishment of civilians masquerading as a counterterrorist operation.
The international community, including India, has watched helplessly and done little except express concern at the humanitarian situation. Egypt has proposed a ceasefire formula, which Israel has accepted but Hamas has rejected on the grounds that it had not been consulted. What happens next is almost predictable. There will be a ceasefire at some stage prompted by civilian exhaustion in Gaza. Israel will weather widespread condemnation and move on while declaring the peace process — as if there was one to begin with — dead. There were other distasteful aspects that point to the direction Israeli society is headed. After gesturing initial restraint, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to take a strong line under pressure from his Right-wing allies and constituents. The liberal cohort in Israel remains intact but it is outflanked by nationalist hysteria. Young Israelis were seen cheering from hilltops as bombs fell on Gaza while there was a lot of hate-speech directed at Arabs on social media. Israel dehumanises its own society each time it pummels Gaza.