More than three weeks after Israel launched its latest assault on the Gaza Strip, and with no durable truce on the horizon, the situation in Israel/Palestine has descended into new and uncharted horrors. What began as a brute incursion by Israel, accompanied by a hail of Hamas rockets, has exploded into something shockingly worse: a bloodletting that, as The Nation went to press, had killed more than 1,200 Palestinians and fifty-six Israelis and pummeled Gaza into a landscape of human despair. Meanwhile in the West Bank, where thousands of Palestinians have poured into the streets for the largest protests in years, Israeli soldiers have responded with live ammunition; ten Palestinians were killed in a four-day period. And in Israel, where an empowered far right is ascendant, nationalist mobs have attacked Palestinian and Jewish antiwar protesters on several occasions.
The widening gyre of violence is terrible news for the entire region, but for none more than the 1.8 million Palestinians trapped in the battered sliver of the Gaza Strip. There, the “precision” bombs of the Israeli military have obliterated entire families of twenty and thirty; young boys have been blown apart while playing soccer on a beach; and whole neighborhoods have been leveled by the overwhelming Israeli firepower. The United Nations has estimated that as many as 74 percent of the Palestinians killed in Gaza have been civilians, with an average of one child dying every hour during one particularly bloody two-day stretch. With the borders closed and even UN schools under attack, there is simply no place for Palestinians to flee to.
“They told us it was safe,” Hussein Shinbari told Nation contributor Sharif Abdel Kouddous after the UN school in Beit Hanoun, where Shinbari’s family had taken shelter, was struck by a blast that killed sixteen people. (Israel has denied responsibility for the fatal strike.) Shinbari was the only one of his family who survived.
In the face of such horrors, the world’s increasingly alarmed top diplomats have taken to hopscotching the globe, hoping to patch together a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, as they have during the past two Gaza conflicts, in 2008–09 and 2012. “In the name of humanity, the violence must stop,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon implored on July 28. Yet with nothing but a string of failures to show for their efforts—most notably, a proposal hammered out by Secretary of State John Kerry for a seven-day trial truce, during which both sides could work out a permanent one—the situation in Gaza continues to unravel.
“We must be prepared for a prolonged campaign,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced just days after rejecting the Kerry effort.
There are any number of reasons these overtures have failed, leaving Kerry and his international cast of diplomats flailing in the wings. Certainly the leaders of both Israel and Hamas are dug in—caught in fantasies of regime change, collective punishment and security, in the case of Israel; survival, resistance and revenge, in the case of Hamas. That the countries negotiating on their behalf barely get along themselves has not helped matters. As The New York Times summarized: “The United States does not deal directly with Hamas. And the countries with the closest ties, Qatar and Turkey, have fraught relations with Egypt, whose cease-fire plan has provided the broad framework for Mr. Kerry’s efforts.”