It is not possible to say that Hamas’ attacks on southern Israel this Saturday (7) were unexpected. Palestinians have been saying for years that the situation in the Gaza Strip was unsustainable, that one day it would explode — as it did.
Hamas and Israel will engage in a physical clash, using tanks and rockets, but they will also face each other in the public arena in the coming days. They will try to convince the world of the justice and legality of their actions. Our challenge is to see through the fog of war. Historical perspective helps at these times.
The Gaza Strip is home to several Palestinian communities expelled from their lands in 1948, the date of the creation of the State of Israel and the clash with its Arab neighbors. They inherited a trauma. In 1967, in the Six-Day War, Israel occupied the strip. It maintained colonies there until its unilateral withdrawal in 2005. The territory was then taken over by the radical Hamas faction, which has controlled Gaza since then.
For the sake of its security, Israel maintains a land, air and naval blockade of the strip. It is a form of indirect occupation. Palestinians therefore say that they live in the largest open-air prison in the world. There are more than 2 million people living in a territory of 365 square kilometers – a quarter of the area of the city of São Paulo. One of the highest population densities in the world.
Gaza residents do not have freedom of movement or guaranteed access to things like electricity, clean water, medicine and construction materials. Ruled by an extremist group, a generation of young people grew up hating the people on the other side of the wall. Hamas has in recent years fired volleys of rockets at Israeli civilians across the border. Israel responded with bombings, weakening local infrastructure.
Therefore, be wary of analyzes saying that this war is unexpected. The Hamas attack may have taken the Israeli government by surprise — which signals a historical fiasco of intelligence (and also of common sense). But it is not an unexpected event. It’s a reminder of the risk of maintaining an unfair status quo.
The Palestinians who appear in the videos crossing the border and entering Israel had never left the Gaza Strip in their lives. They celebrate an escape, too, and not just the attack and kidnappings.
None of this justifies, to be clear, the death of dozens of Israeli civilians. Terrifying images circulated this Saturday, recording the capture and murder of innocent people. It is necessary to condemn Hamas’ attacks unequivocally, as so many governments have already done, without hesitation. It is necessary to pressure the parties involved to stop hostilities, too.
But on social media, Palestinians have been asking important questions that we cannot ignore. For example, they want to know why the world celebrates Ukrainians who resist the Russians while condemning the Palestinians in Gaza. They also want to know who will mourn the deaths of Palestinian civilians in the coming days, during attacks by the Israeli Army, which will try to compensate for its failure with violence. The question, in this case, is who has the right to humanity.