Why does Gaza matter?

SINCE 7 October 2023, civilians in Gaza have been under attack. The Defence Minister of Israel said ‘We are having a complete siege in Gaza – no electricity, no food, no medicine. We are fighting animals and are acting accordingly’. While Netanyahu says ‘We will make Gaza a graveyard’. These are some of the inhuman comments coming from Israeli leadership. Hamas killed over 1400 civilians and kidnapped close to 200 people while more than 15,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza (actual numbers are yet not surfaced). Israel bombarded Gaza and killed families, elders, women and children without any discrimination, targeting ambulances, hospitals, schools and residential buildings. Israel is asking Palestinians to leave the northern part but the South is also under bombardment, leaving behind Palestinians trapped from the north and south. Recently both parties are under a ceasefire deal that got extended minutes before it was due to expire. All of this begs us to understand why Gaza matters to Israel and is it all about Hamas challenging Israel or is it beyond it?

Territorially, Gaza is 25 miles long and 7.5 miles wide. It is home to two million Palestinians making it one of the most densely populated areas in the world. For the last 16 years, Palestinians have been living under a harsh blockade that allows Israel to control the electricity flow, fuel, food, water and medical supplies. So Israelis can dictate when Palestinians receive essentials and when they are denied. That control is rooted in violence and disruptions that go back decades.

Before the establishment of Israel Gaza was part of Historic Palestine under Ottoman rule and later under British occupation. In 1947, as the British prepared to leave they left the fate of Palestine to a newly formed United Nations which voted to divide Palestine into a Jewish State and an Arab State. Soon, Zionist forces and militants began to forcibly expel hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their land to establish the state of Israel. Many Palestinians fled to a narrow stretch of land that would later be known as the Gaza Strip while others fled to many Arab countries like Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. So they become refugees because they were pushed out of their towns and villages.

Overwhelmed with refugees the neighboring Arab countries declared war against the new state of Israel to support the Arabs. They eventually lost Israel but Jodan ended up occupying the West Bank and Egypt occupied Gaza City and nearby towns along the ceasefire lines. Then in 1967 another war broke out and made Palestinians fearing threats from neighboring Arab countries. Israel launched a full-scale attack on Jordan, Syria and Egypt in just 6 days. Israel captured the Gaza Strip and Sinai from Egypt, the West Bank from Jordan and the Golan Heights from Syria. This was the beginning of Israeli occupation in Gaza that continues today. Since then Israel has controlled all the movement to and from Gaza by land, sea and air. It placed troops along and inside Gaza. Israel denies it has plans to annex the Gaza Strip but it had called for the “voluntary migration” of Palestinians in Gaza amid accusations that it was “ethnically cleansing” the enclave.

Since October 2023, Israel launched its onslaught on the besieged enclave, it has pushed Palestinians to move south by relentlessly bombing northern Gaza before carrying out a ground invasion weeks later. At least 400,000 Palestinians have been displaced from the north to the south, according to statistics from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS). Some 800,000 Palestinians remained in areas considered “north” – namely past north of Wadi Gaza. Israel’s indiscriminate bombing campaign, which has mostly targeted the north – has killed at least around 15,000 people in Gaza – mostly civilians, including women and children. The death toll has not been updated for days due to Israel’s targeting of the largest hospital in Gaza, Al-Shifa, which was a centre for collecting data on deaths and the wounded. But why has Israel bombed Gaza for decades?

Some of the analysts call it a war of economic gains. The Suez Canal has been critical in driving Egypt’s economy forward. It earns revenues through tolls and transit fees collected from vessels that pass through the canal. In 2021, some 20,649 vessels flowed through the Suez Canal – an increase of 10 per cent over 2020. In 2022, annual revenue stood at $ 8 billion in transit fees. The Suez Canal set a new record with an annual revenue of $9.4 billion for the fiscal year that ended 30 June 2023. While the canal is Egypt’s economic centrepiece, attracting investments to the country and leading to the development of services and industries, its primary importance remains its ability to facilitate international trade, making an efficient global trade route.

As an alternative to the Suez Canal, Israel wishes to establish the Ben Gurion Canal project that will shift global trade via the Suez Canal to Ben Gurion (named after David Ben Gurion). One of the original Canal planned paths would go through the Arabah valley, cut west before the Dead Sea basin through the hills and curve north again to avoid the Gaza Strip. The US had once proposed to use some 520 nuclear bombs on the Negev Desert (Naqab) to help create the canal. If constructed, the Ben Gurion Canal would rival the Suez Canal and cause a major financial threat to Egypt. If it goes ahead, it will be almost one-third longer than the current 193.3km Suez Canal, and whoever controls it will have enormous influence over the global supply routes for oil, grain and shipping. But nuclear blasting is required, which is costly on one hand and there is a risk of nuclear radiation on the other hand.  With Gaza razed to the ground, there have been alleged plans to cut corners and reduce costs by diverting the canal straight through the middle of the Palestinian enclave. However, the presence of Palestinians there would remain an obstacle. That’s why Gaza matters!

—The writer is Assistant Professor, Department of Government and Public Policy, National University of Sciences and Technology.

Reference Link:- https://pakobserver.net/why-does-gaza-matter/

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