Israel-Hamas War: “For forty-eight years, Western countries have reduced the Palestinian question to a humanitarian question”

At dawn on October 7, 2023, the armed wing of Hamas launched an unprecedented deadly attack against Israel

Israel-Hamas War: “For forty-eight years, Western countries have reduced the Palestinian question to a humanitarian question”

At dawn on October 7, 2023, the armed wing of Hamas launched an unprecedented deadly attack against Israel. That day, at least 1,160 people were killed, according to the latest figures, and some 250 people were kidnapped by Hamas and Islamic Jihad. In the hours following the attack, the Jewish state declared war, promised to “make” Hamas pay “an unprecedented price” and launched a military offensive on the Gaza Strip, which killed, to date, 33,037 Palestinians, according to the Hamas-administered health ministry.

On the eve of the six-month anniversary of the start of the war, the Israeli army continues its military offensive and Hamas is still holding around a hundred hostages. Rami Abujamus, Palestinian journalist currently in Rafah, in the south of the Gaza Strip, and Clothilde Mraffko, journalist for Le Monde in Jerusalem, answered your questions on the humanitarian and political situation in the Palestinian enclave, but also on the new aspects of this war.

Clothilde Mraffko: There are various large NGOs and United Nations (UN) institutions operating in Gaza. Donations to these organizations are controlled and therefore reach Gaza. UNRWA, the UN agency responsible for refugees, is the one that is most present in Gaza thanks to a very old network, it takes care of the displaced in particular. There are also Doctors in Borders, Action Against Hunger, Oxfam, Unicef, and many others…

Rami Abujamus: The Palestinian population, and especially the Gazan population, suffers from the bombings and massacres committed by the Israeli army. Of course people are angry with Hamas, but no more than with Israel because they know that the army does not distinguish between those who are with Hamas and those who are not. This is a massacre never seen before. Children and women are killed. It's like your brother hit your neighbor and the neighbor retaliated by eliminating your entire family. You are mad at your brother.

R. A.: The people of Gaza are still in shock. Feelings of sadness, despair, fatigue and anxiety are mostly mixed with a lot of fear. Fear increases every day after the threats of a ground invasion, because we know what a ground invasion is and what its consequences are: massacres, destruction and killings, like what the Israeli army did in the Gaza City, in the north of the Gaza Strip and in Khan Younes.

R. A.: I believe that at the beginning that was the plan, but the position of Egypt and the resilience of the Palestinian population, who do not want a new Nakba, like in 1948 [the forced exodus of some 900,000 Palestinians at the creation of Israel] undermined this plan.

C. M.: On the Israeli side, the AFP count based on official Israeli data is 1,170 people killed on October 7, mainly civilians. Thirty-four hostages in Gaza were also killed. Added to this are the 256 soldiers who have died in the fighting since October 27 and the start of the Israeli ground offensive in Gaza.

On the Gaza side, the Palestinian Ministry of Health counts more than 33,000 Palestinians killed in Gaza and among them 13,850 children. The UN relies on these figures, they are transmitted by hospitals, so this means that those who have not presented themselves at hospitals are not counted. It is important to note that the Israelis also rely on figures from the Palestinian Ministry of Health in their military analysis of the situation, as journalist Yuval Abraham explained in his latest article in 972 Mag magazine.

R. A.: Unfortunately, this is a question that many people ask me. You have a lot to do, especially to put pressure on your government to change its position. You also have the boycott, which is a very effective weapon and which hurts. We, the Palestinian population, are not looking for humanitarian aid or money, but rather political support to stop the war machine and the massacres, and that is by putting pressure on governments.

C. M.: It seems that the Israeli army has very broad criteria for designating targets in this war, some of them are notably generated by artificial intelligence. Since the start of the war, the Israeli army has sporadically announced that it has eliminated cadres of the Palestinian Islamist movement. In particular, it killed Saleh Al-Arouri, number two in the Hamas political bureau on January 2 in Beirut, therefore outside Gaza.

Generally speaking, human rights organizations denounce possible war crimes due to a lack of proportionality in the bombings: the number of civilians killed is not justified by the importance of the military target targeted.

R. A.: For Gaza City and the north of the Gaza Strip it is unfortunately famine. People find nothing to eat, causing the death of children. Humanitarian aid is almost no longer arriving. In the south, there is some humanitarian aid arriving, but it is insufficient: 80 trucks for 1.5 million people.

R. A.: I am in Rafah, in the south of the Gaza Strip, after being forced to leave Gaza City, my home. I am among the luckiest who found a concrete roof, while the majority of the displaced are in tents and tarpaulins in the streets, schools and village halls.

My daily life is a bit like the daily life of all displaced people. We start our day looking for water, whether it is potable water for drinking or salt water for daily needs. We queue for hours to fill our jerrycans then we look for wood for the fire, because we cook with wood, we have no gas, no kitchen. Then we look for food, and then I work as a journalist.

R. A.: You have to ask them. As Palestinians, we have always suffered from this injustice, we have even started to ask ourselves: who is the occupier and who is the occupied? What pains us the most is that everyone mobilized for Ukraine because it was attacked and occupied by Russia, while we have been occupied for more than seventy years and no one has moved. We always hear the famous phrase: “Israel has the right to defend itself. » An occupant who defends himself from the occupied is the world turned upside down.

C. M.: In Gaza, the telephone and Internet are available depending on the outages, the location and whether our interlocutor was able to find something to charge their phone. Quite a few of my contacts talk to me at set times, this is the time when they can connect. You must therefore be reactive, if you miss the mark, they will probably no longer be reachable.

There is misinformation, as in any conflict. Without being able to be on the ground, I rely a lot on the work of Palestinian journalists. Often, two or three sources I speak to will confirm information for me, sometimes I can't confirm, so it takes longer to be published.

The international organizations and humanitarians who go there are also sources for us, in particular to evaluate the statistics, the recurrence of this or that phenomenon, because they move around more than the rest of the Gazan population. We also rely on satellite images to reconstruct certain events. Finally, it is clear that there are things that we do not know, particularly in the north of the Gaza Strip.

R. A.: Unfortunately, no one is safe. Everyone is a target, I don't know if you've heard of the Lavander software, which works with artificial intelligence and is used by the Israeli army to designate "targets". Soldiers only have to press a button and hundreds of victims are killed. I advise you to read the testimonies of Israeli officers who used it.

C. M.: Israelis have many information channels: newspapers, television channels… The Israeli press is free. But it rallies, for the vast majority, the spirit of war in the country. We do not question the civilian victims in Gaza, we find that the international community is putting Israel in danger by calling for a ceasefire. The rhetoric of the Israeli army, according to which Hamas uses Gazans as human shields, serves to justify the way the war is being fought... For example, recently, on television sets and in newspapers, journalists and editorialists are multiplying analyzes to demonstrate that there is no famine in Gaza – in contradiction with the analyzes of the UN and humanitarian organizations on the ground which are unanimous.

Israel experienced October 7 as an existential threat and this is reflected in the press, with the exception of Haaretz, but this newspaper only addresses a small segment of the Israeli population. At the same time, the Israelis are preparing for a war with Lebanon with endless editorials; and, in recent days, they are focused on the Iranian threat. Among young people, part of the population has been to Gaza, or knows mobilized reservists, so they also perceive the war through this prism.

C. M.: The Palestinian Authority has been very unpopular for years. It has not stopped security cooperation with Israel since October 7, which further discredits it in the eyes of a large part of the Palestinian population. Mahmoud Abbas has limited power in the West Bank anyway: Israel has complete security and administrative control of 60% of the territory and even in areas under Palestinian control, the Israeli army carries out raids regularly. He has no power in Gaza, nor in Jerusalem, illegally annexed by Israel. A Palestinian interlocutor told me four years ago: the Palestinian Authority is the occupation that speaks Arabic. This is a very common thought.

R. A.: We have always been abandoned by the international community. For forty-eight years, they have reduced the Palestinian question to a humanitarian one: natives looking for food and drink. The hypocrisy of the United States is such that it delivers bombs to the Israelis to drop, and at the same time they drop humanitarian aid on us. They take us for animals: we kill you and the survivors, we give them food while waiting for them to die in their turn.

C. M.: Not all unaccompanied children are orphans, but sometimes the parent who accompanied them was arrested or separated from them. The figure of 17,000 is a statistical estimate, it is probably much higher.

There is an orphanage in Rafah, which transferred around 60 children to the West Bank on March 11 for their safety. Generally speaking, Gazan society has organized itself to take care of the most vulnerable, but this is becoming more and more complicated, because everyone lacks everything. Unicef ​​repeats, the best way to protect children is a ceasefire.

C. M.: The local health ministry is not only made up of Hamas, officials from the Palestinian Authority are also integrated into the team. Before the Israeli attack on Al-Shifa hospital in mid-November, they worked in this hospital. They collect statistics from morgues and hospitals, so it is the reports from Palestinian doctors on the ground that are compiled. The Ministry of Health in Ramallah validates them: it generally has the identities, with identity card numbers, so this means that people are clearly identified – not all, because some bodies could not be identified .

R. A.: There were many proposals from the mediators that Hamas accepted and that Benjamin Netanyahu refused, because he does not want to stop the war. I believe that yesterday's phone call between Joe Biden and Benyamin Netanyahu is proof that the Israeli Prime Minister does not want to stop the war. The end of the war is the end of Benjamin Netanyahu’s political life.