In the second part of this Q&A series, Khaled Diab fact checks the claims being made about the war in Gaza and the wider Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Yes, Palestinians have the right to resist Israeli occupation. However, that right is not absolute and the ends do not justify the means. Pursuing a just cause unjustly is unjust. Atrocities committed in the name of resistance are as much of a war crime as atrocities committed in the name of occupation. This means that the targeting and killing of civilians is wrong and criminal no matter who does so. Moreover, occupying the moral high ground is not only good in and off itself, it makes a lot of practical sense for the weaker party when there is a massive power disparity because they cannot rely on raw, brute strength to get their way.
Yes, Israel has the right to defend its citizens. But what Israel is doing in Gaza is not “defence”. It constitutes a multitude of war crimes, from collective punishment to targeting and killing civilians. Moreover, as has been proven time and time again, Israel's military misadventures in Gaza do nothing to make Israeli civilians safer. They actually make the situation ever more dangerous for them.
Hamas launched a coordinated attack on 7 October 2023 during which it fired 3,000 rockets from Gaza and embarked on a killing spree deep inside Israeli territory which left at least 1,400 people in Israel dead. However, despite the surprise nature of the aggression, in Hamas's view, this was not an unprovoked attack but was in response to the desperation caused by the blockade on Gaza, Israeli settler violence in the West Bank and in defence of the al-Aqsa mosque. Like in other conflicts around the world, neither Israelis nor Palestinians perceive their acts of aggression, in this decades-old conflict, as being unprovoked or unjustified – they are always in response to or retaliation for an earlier attack or transgression.
Hundreds of thousands have already fled Gaza City and headed south to relative safety. Those who can are staying with family or friends in southern Gaza. However, the sad reality is that most people in Gaza simply have nowhere to go, with many taking refuge outside hospitals or in the open air. With Gaza hermetically sealed (for now), leaving the territory is not an option. While most of those left behind are unable to leave, there are some who are refusing to abandon their homes.
The reasons some Gazans are not budging are manifold. Most Palestinians in Gaza are descendants of refugees from what is today Israel. Their collective trauma makes them fear a repeat of 1948, when what many assumed would be a temporary displacement turned out to be permanent. They don't trust Israel to allow them to return to their homes once the fighting is over – if they have homes left standing to go back to. They fear being turned into refugees a second time over.
Moreover, not only is Israel's order unlawful, it is unworkable, as humanitarian organisations have pointed out. There simply is no capacity to accomodate so many people in southern Gaza and with the tightened blockade there is little to no hope of being able to help them. So while Israel's order may appear to be concerned with avoiding civilian casualties. In reality, it will cause horrendous civilian casualties.
Israel cannot destroy Hamas. This is not because Hamas is invincible or that Israel lacks the firepower. It is because “Hamas” is an idea and you cannot kill an idea on the battlefield. Even in the unlikely even that Israel somehow manages to eradicate Hamas as a fighting force, it would only make the ground more fertile for even more radical groups to emerge. The only way to defeat Hamas and other armed groups is to take away their raison d'etre by granting the Palestinians hope and justice.
While it is disappointing and infuriating that the United States is doing nothing to stop Israel's all-out assault on Gaza, it is far from surprising. And it has very little to do with Israel wagging the dog, as some seem to believe, and everything to do with the nature of America's foreign policy.
America is not some kind of good guy that has been led astray by a bad friend. America bestows largesse upon its friends and allies and brutally crushes its foes and enemies. Let's not forget that Washington not only commits blatant war crimes itself around the world, but also arms and enable a rogues' parade of repressive regimes to wage unjust wars. This includes almost unconditional support to regimes like Saudi Arabia, which engaged in a long, blood-soaked war in Yemen. Nearly 5 million Yemenis are still displaced and over 20 million Yemenis require aid due to the fallout of the conflict.
The UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories fears we may be witnessing the prelude to Israel committing mass ethnic cleansing in Gaza. Although what has happened in Gaza to date does not constitute genocide, despite what some assert, 800 scholars of international law, conflict studies and genocide studies have sounded the alarm about the potential for the situation to escalate to genocide if left unchecked.
We are not there yet. But every day this war is allowed to continue and fester raises the risk of this happening and of other countries in the region being dragged into the conflict, with unforeseeable consequences.
The world cannot stand by and allow this potential to be realised, so the UN must intervene to stop the bloodshed. Israel's assault on Gaza must end and moderate Israelis must stop the extremists in their midst. Never again must be made to mean never again.
How popular Hamas ia amongst Palestinians is a very difficult question to answer because there have been no Palestinian elections since 2006, when Hamas received 44% of the vote and Fatah got 41%. At the time, many Palestinians voted for Hamas not because they supported the Islamist movement but because they wished to protest the corruption and incompetence of the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority (PA). Since that fateful ballot, no new elections have been held. In the mean time, Hamas has become the de facto authoritarian ruler of Gaza and Fatah has become the de facto authoritarian ruler of the West Bank.
How popular Hamas is and how much support it enjoys amongst Palestinians fluctuates with time and place. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that Hamas is more popular with Palestinians outside Gaza than inside it, especially in the aftermath of a major battle or war.
A poll in the summer, conducted by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research, found that, if legislative elections were held now, Hamas would come in about 3% ahead of Fatah (34% v 31%). When it comes to presidential elections, Hamas's Ismail Haniyeh would easily defeat the Fatah incumbent Mahmoud Abbas, with 56% of the vote against 33%). However, this appears to have more to do with the unpopularity of Abbas than to the popularity of Haniyeh, because if Haniyeh ran against Marwan Barghouti, the intifada leader imprisoned by Israel, the tables would turn and Barghouti would garner 57% of the vote against Haniyeh's 38%.
More interesting than the question of Hamas's popularity is the level of support in Gaza for achieving peace. In 2019, the majority (55%) of the residents of Gaza were willing to accept a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital, if Donald Trump were to present such a proposal. In the West Bank, 59% rejected the idea, according to another poll by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research.
Many Palestinians living under Israeli control are governed by a system which bears much in common with South African apartheid (which means apartness in Afrikaans and Dutch) and other forms of segregation. How apart they are forced to live depends on where they reside in the constallation of the half dozen or so zones created by Israel since 1948.
This is most blatantly on display in Gaza. The Israeli blockade of Gaza is reminiscent of the bantustans, which were officially known as Bantu homelands, in apartheid South Africa. Although Israel claims that the Palestinians in Gaza have self rule and autonomy, Israel continues to control of all the territories borders, air space and much of its infrastructure, and it is separated not only from the West Bank and Israel but from the outside world, too.
The West Bank is split into three zones (Areas A, B and C), each of which is governed differently. This was supposed to be a temporary arrangement under the Oslo Accords but became ossified into reality to this day. In Area A (which covers about 18% of the West Bank and is made up of 165 disconnected enclaves), the Palestinian Authority exercises what is supposed to be full administrative contol but which can be undermined by Israel when it sees fit for “security” reaxons. Area B, which covers about 22% of the West Bank, is administered jointly by Israel and the PA.
Area C, which is the only contiguous territory in the West Bank, and comprises 60% of its territory, is administered solely by Israel. It is in Area C where most of the settlements lie and where Palestinian existence in the West Bank is most precarious. Many of settlements are closed off to Palestinians, except those with a special permit, though some settlements, such as Ma'ale Adumim, allow Palestinians with Jerusalem IDs or Israeli citizenship to live there (French Hill, which is technically a settlement in East Jerusalem, is home to a pretty large Arab population). The settlements are connected by Israeli bypass roads which are mostly not accessible to vehicles with PA licence plates, though Palestinians from Jerusalem or inside Israel can use them if they are driving vehicles with Israeli plates.
Although East Jerusalem was annexed by Israel in 1967, an annexation which is unrecognised internationally, its Palestinian inhabitants live under the precarious status of “permanent residents”, thereby turning natives into immigrants. This grey legal status, combined with Israel's freezing or complicating of building permits for Palestinians in East Jerusalem, enables the state to strip them of that status on the flimsiest of pretexts or evict them from their homes.
Unlike in apartheid South Africa, the Palestinian citizens of Israel, and those who identify as Israeli Arab, have the right to vote for the same parliament as Israeli Jews and are nominally equal to their Jewish compatriots. However, this is undermined by the legal system – which contains at least 50 laws which discriminate against Arabs, according to the legal centre Adalah – as well as other forms of racism and discrimination.
Khaled Diab is an award-winning journalist, blogger and writer who has been based in Tunis, Jerusalem, Brussels, Geneva and Cairo. Khaled also gives talks and is regularly interviewed by the print and audiovisual media. Khaled Diab is the author of two books: Islam for the Politically Incorrect (2017) and Intimate Enemies: Living with Israelis and Palestinians in the Holy Land (2014). In 2014, the Anna Lindh Foundation awarded Khaled its Mediterranean Journalist Award in the press category. This website, The Chronikler, won the 2012 Best of the Blogs (BOBs) for the best English-language blog. Khaled was longlisted for the Orwell journalism prize in 2020. In addition, Khaled works as communications director for an environmental NGO based in Brussels. He has also worked as a communications consultant to intergovernmental organisations, such as the EU and the UN, as well as civil society. Khaled lives with his beautiful and brilliant wife, Katleen, who works in humanitarian aid. The foursome is completed by Iskander, their smart, creative and artistic son, and Sky, their mischievous and footballing cat. Egyptian by birth, Khaled's life has been divided between the Middle East and Europe. He grew up in Egypt and the UK, and has lived in Belgium, on and off, since 2001. He holds dual Egyptian-Belgian nationality.