The Israeli-Hamas Conflict

By Susan Martin

The October 7th terrorist attack on Israel and efforts to destroy Hamas, its perpetrator, unleashed a conflict that has had disproportionate impact on civilian populations in both Israel and the Gaza Strip. Hamas killed about 1400 people in Israel and an estimated 200,000 have been internally displaced. Hamas also took about 240 hostages, more than 100 are still in captivity. These include Israeli Jews and Bedouin and people from numerous developing countries such as Thailand, Tanzania, and Nepal.

Since launching its counter-offensive, Israeli actions have led to widespread suffering amongst the civilian Palestinian population. The death toll is appalling and barriers to humanitarian assistance getting into Gaza leave people hungry, without potable water, and without any source of power. About 1.8 million Gazans have been displaced since October. Some of the blame must clearly be put on Hamas, not only for launching the attack but also for using civilians as human shields and building tunnels under hospitals, schools, and apartment buildings it uses to launch attacks. Yet, as President Biden has repeatedly stated, Israel has a moral and legal responsibility to protect as many civilians as possible from harm while pursuing its military operations.

I have a personal and professional interest in what is happening in Israel and Gaza. Two of my siblings and their families live in Israel, one of them close to the border with Gaza and the other near the West Bank. Professionally, I have worked on refugee and conflict issues for more than 40 years, have done research in Palestinian refugee camps, led an effort to find better solutions for refugees in Gaza in 2005, and am deeply committed to humanitarian principles and legal frameworks.

As discussed in the Journal, residents of San Juan County, as in much of the world, have been calling for an immediate ceasefire. A ceasefire is clearly needed. But calling for a ceasefire without setting out the terms and conditions for one is irresponsible to all parties. I have witnessed the harmful effects on civilians when ceasefires and peace treaties leave out key actors during negotiations, are poorly funded, or lack support from countries that see the combatants as surrogate agents of their own political interests. During the 2014 conflict in Gaza, 9 ceasefires were agreed upon before one stuck for any appreciable time.1

So, what can people living on San Juan Island be doing to address what is clearly a humanitarian disaster as well as a political crisis without a clear solution? First, be balanced in calling out violence against civilians wherever it occurs. Actions that put civilians at risk should be criticized whether done by Israel or Hamas. We can decry Hamas’ actions and call an end to indiscriminate bombings in Gaza at one and the same time.

Second, we should educate ourselves on what terms and conditions in a ceasefire would be needed to stop future conflicts. What guarantees are needed from each party to the conflict? How will these guarantees be monitored and how will violators be held accountable? Should there be an international peacekeeping operation on the Israeli-Gaza border to ensure the security of both Gaza and Israel? What role should supporters of Israel and Hamas, such as the US and Iran, play in assuring its side fulfills the terms of the ceasefire? These are just some of the questions that need to be answered if the ceasefire is to be sustainable.

Third, we can provide financial support to organizations that are already working to promote peace and provide humanitarian aid to all in need. Some examples are Road to Recovery; Doctors Without Borders; International Committee of the Red Cross; Save the Children, Mercy Corps, and World Food Programme.

Fourth, use the attention placed on Gaza to raise the visibility of dozens of other cases in which the lives of civilians are at risk, particularly in countries that are largely ignored by the media. Just in the past few months, conflicts in Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Myanmar have led to the internal displacement of more than 5 million, 600,000, and nearly 335,000 respectively.

Fifth, fight Antisemitism and Islamophobia. Neither are acceptable. It is too easy in our age of social media to pass on memes and posts that say one thing but mean another. We all need to be careful of the language we use as not to do more harm than good and make it more difficult to find a sustainable peace.

The situation of civilians in places of conflict is dire now but much can be done to prepare for a better future. I hope our community can come together on some actions that will help that process along.