A week after the surprise attack by the Palestinian group Hamas, which triggered a major reaction on the part of Israel, the conflict is likely to enter a new phase, as the Israelis are preparing a land invasion of the Gaza Strip, in an operation that is likely to further victimize more civilians and increased displacement, among other humanitarian damage caused by the conflict.
This Friday (13), the Israeli Army intensified bombings in northern Gaza and said it had hit 750 military targets in the early hours of the morning, including installations, guard posts and underground tunnels belonging to Hamas, as well as the homes of high-ranking members. He also instructed residents to evacuate the region within 24 hours, implying that a land invasion of the region, where more than a million people live, was imminent.
The United Nations, which had employees killed by the Israeli counterattack, says it fears a “catastrophic situation.” Egypt is also worried, because it fears a massive migration of Palestinians and that is why it keeps the border crossing between the country and the Gaza Strip closed. There have been protests in support of Palestinians in at least 16 countries, including the United States. The WHO (World Health Organization) also called on Israel to reverse the evacuation order.
After such a reaction, the Israeli Army stated that the invasion could take longer and suggested that there is no deadline as previously announced. Hamas asked the population of Gaza not to comply with Israel’s order. For the group, this is an attempt to “spread and transmit false propaganda”, thus damaging the internal cohesion of the Palestinians.
As a precaution, a contingent of Palestinians began to move. A Saudi TV report Al Arabiya showed many Gaza residents leaving their homes after the Israeli ultimatum, reinforced by leaflets thrown from planes this Friday.
“The newspapers are showing the evacuation of the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip, it looks like cattle. It’s a tragedy announced and nobody does anything”, says Reginaldo Nasser, professor of International Relations at PUC-SP and specialist in the Middle East, when Brazil in fact. “What Israel is doing now, it has done before. A strong air attack to prepare for the ground invasion, and he says he is just defending himself.”
Within the scope of the demonstrations mentioned above, the academic highlights some that are beginning to appear in countries close to Israel. In his view, the only way to stop Israel’s reactive momentum would be some type of economic pressure from Arab countries in the Middle East, with which Israel had been moving towards rapprochement until the Hamas attack.
“There are a lot of demonstrations in Jordan, in Egypt… the ‘Arab street’ is pressuring their governments to take action. I see the Egyptian government starting to make stronger statements… I hope there will be a great popular mobilization in the Arab world. If we don’t have that, these guys will be left in a splendid position watching the massacre.”
If there is this movement, Nasser thinks that the trend towards rapprochement between Israelis and Arabs, which began in 1993, with the Oslo Agreement, could regress, thus reducing trade relations with economic powers such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. “If there is this reflux, it is bad for Israel economically,” says the professor, remembering that, among the 10 largest investment funds in the world, five are in the Gulf. “In addition to oil, it has very strong financial power. It’s the last hope.”
If the land invasion takes place, it will further increase the drama of displacement, that is, of citizens forced to abandon their homes. A survey carried out by the United Nations (UN) revealed that 340,000 Palestinians have already done so since Israel’s bombings began. Of these, 220,000 are sheltered in 92 schools that function as shelters.
Meanwhile, the bombings of Gaza continue, as does the siege of the territory, which is already running out of fuel, medicine and food stocks, according to international organizations working there.
Summary of the war
The attacks on the 7th, carried out by Hamas by land, sea and air, left countless people dead, including several civilians and children, and dozens kidnapped. Official Israeli estimates say 1,300 people were killed in the worst attacks in Israel’s history. At least three Brazilians — Ranani Glazer, 23, Bruna Valeanu, 24, and Karla Stelzer Mendes, 42 — died during Hamas attacks. Everyone was at a party in which at least 260 people died. According to witnesses, armed men surrounded the place, threw grenades and fired shots. Karla’s death was the last to be confirmed, this Friday (13). Her Israeli boyfriend, Gabi Azulay, was with her and also died.
Another Brazilian is still missing. Her name is Celeste Fishbein, she is 18 years old and was in a kibbutz (a village dedicated to community coexistence and economic production) in Israel, close to the Gaza Strip when the attack began.
Shortly after the Hamas attacks, the Israeli government declared war and said the group would pay an “unprecedented” price. Israeli retaliation has already caused more than 1,500 deaths, according to Palestinian authorities. Statistics grow daily.
Since then, Israel has continually launched missiles into the Gaza Strip. The Israeli government says it targets terrorist targets, but Hamas attests to the deaths of civilians. In addition to the shooting, Israel intensified the blockade against the Gaza Strip, which stopped receiving food, fuel and medical supplies, among others. Water and some electricity were also cut off. The conflict causes damage to infrastructure, such as the shutdown of the only power plant in the Gaza Strip. The objective is to pressure Hamas to release the dozens of Israelis taken hostage during the attacks on the 7th. The Israeli Army reported during the week that there were Brazilians among those kidnapped by Hamas, but Itamaraty does not confirm.
Hamas’ military wing said on Friday (13) that 13 of its hostages had been killed by airstrikes in the last 24 hours. “Six of them were killed in separate locations in the northern governorates, and seven were killed in three different locations in Gaza province,” the armed wing al-Qassam Brigades said in a statement. The location of the hostages, some of them young children, is not known.
Some analysts commented throughout the week that Israel could have difficulties in the event of a ground invasion because Gaza is a highly populated region, full of narrow streets, where it would be easy for Hamas fighters to set up ambushes. But Reginaldo Nasser does not validate this hypothesis. “Nowadays there’s Google, Israel knows everything”, he counters. “Of course, Hamas will be able to destroy four or five tanks, out of the 300 that Israel will place there. Then Hamas will film this, its men on top of the tanks, to gain the population’s trust.”
Nasser, who studies terrorism, disagrees with people who saw the Hamas attack as a turning point, as it revealed Israel’s vulnerability. “9/11 also showed the vulnerability of the United States, but then their military machine increased. Terrorist actions only serve to strengthen the one who was attacked.”
Brazilians who live or were in Israel and asked to be repatriated are returning to Brazil on Brazilian Air Force planes. With the fourth aircraft that landed in Brazil, in the early hours of this Saturday (14), 701 Brazilians have now been brought back. In total, more than 1,700 Brazilians requested repatriation, the majority of whom were tourists.
As for Brazilians living in the Gaza Strip, a group of 22 people boarded a bus chartered by the Brazilian Embassy in Palestine and arrived in the south of the territory this Saturday in an attempt to cross the border with Egypt to return to Brazil.
Editing: Rodrigo Durão Coelho