On the night of Tuesday to Wednesday, a deadly explosion occurred in the compound of a hospital in Gaza, where Palestinian refugees were hiding. The incident derailed diplomatic efforts and brought another escalation of the war, which was unleashed less than two weeks ago by a brutal attack on Israel by the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
What you will also hear in today’s episode at 5:59
- How the conflict affects Palestinian civilians living in Gaza.
- Why, without Hamas, which administers the Gaza Strip, it could be much worse.
- And what happens during the conflict in the shadow of media attention and with the participation of the intelligence services of Israel, the United States or even Egypt.
Almost a fortnight after the escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the news of an explosion in a hospital in Gaza came to the fore. According to Hamas – that is, the movement that provoked the escalation of the conflict at the beginning of October – the explosion was caused by an Israeli bomb that killed at least 500 people, according to the Israeli army, the victims were caused by a defective rocket fired towards Israel by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
“In general, I wouldn’t talk about an attack in this case, most likely no one targeted the hospital,” says Břetislav Tureček, head of the Middle East Studies Center at the Metropolitan University of Prague, in the 5:59 podcast. Nevertheless, this event has a considerable impact on the conflict, and according to the expert, the question is whether the accident will be resolved quickly and unambiguously.
For example, it was enough to influence the visit of US President Joe Biden to Israel, whose meeting was canceled on the way by the head of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, and at the same time by Jordanian representatives. But Biden did at least meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He then stated that “from what he’s seen, it looks like it (explosion in the hospital complex in Gaza – editor’s note) the other team did”. And he added that the United States still stands behind Israel.
According to Tureček, however, for some people in the Middle East, the statements of politicians and indeed even the investigation of the incident in the hospital in Gaza do not matter. “Any evidence will not convince them and they will blame Israel anyway. And this is generally the problem of the whole conflict: a kind of dehumanization of the opponent, unwillingness to admit positive points or even an argument for him,” he notes, noting that this applies to both sides of the conflict.
A weapon that turned against Israel
However, during his remarks after the meeting with the Israeli prime minister, Biden pointed to one more important side of the conflict: Palestinian civilians in need of humanitarian aid. In one of the most densely populated parts of the world, water, electricity, food and other essentials are lacking. In addition, there is also a problem with moving residents to safer areas.
Let me make myself clear:
The vast majority of Palestinians are not Hamas.
And Hamas does not represent the Palestinian people.
— President Biden (@POTUS) October 18, 2023
And Tureček recalls that before the escalation of the conflict, the conditions in the Gaza Strip were not good. “The UN or the World Bank state that something between 50 and 60 percent of the population in Gaza lives below the poverty line, unemployment is reported to be between 40 and 50 percent in the long term,” he describes.
In addition, Israel, with the vision that the disaffected inhabitants of Gaza could overthrow Hamas, which has ruled the territory since 2007, in the past, according to the expert, prohibited the import of certain foods or even feminine hygiene products. But that didn’t work. “On the contrary, the blockade has become a very powerful argumentative ammunition for Hamas in the fight against Israel,” Tureček thinks.
According to the expert, it is difficult to estimate how many residents of the Gaza Strip actually support Hamas. The last democratic elections were held just sixteen years ago.
However, in addition to the security sector, this movement also administers education, economy or finance in the territory. And cutting Gaza off from aid would mean a “huge social and economic collapse” for which Israel would pay the price. According to Tureček, he would not have to face armed men, but two million hungry and frustrated civilians, whom he would have difficulty stopping.
Nevertheless, the Palestinian government in the West Bank is in a similar situation with democratic voting. However, the possible elections would again, paradoxically, do the most damage to Israel, which has learned to cooperate with the Palestinian leadership over the years. But now, according to the expert, in the parliamentary elections there, “the Hamas movement would undoubtedly win” and its exiled leader Ismáíl Haníya would “probably” become the president. That would probably end the agreements.
Podcast 5:59 and the war in Israel
“Things We Cannot See”
But how to help civilians in war-torn territory? In this respect, neighboring countries such as Jordan or Egypt, which in the past have also been mediators between conflicting parties, could assist. Nevertheless, Egypt has now decided not to allow the opening of the border crossing in the city of Rafah, behind which at least part of the Palestinians from Gaza could seek safety.
Turecek points out that the Egyptian government and the president are afraid of the influx of refugees, the destabilization of the country, and the fact that they would have to explain to people why they are helping Israel. “At the same time, there are other things going on behind what we see on the surface. We already know that Egypt is building some kind of corridors along the border with Gaza in the city of Rafah. And it is assumed that up to tens of thousands of Palestinians could come there, but they would be kept in close proximity to the Palestinian territory,” the expert describes.
And the intelligence services are apparently also acting behind the scenes. According to the expert, for example, there are indications that in the shadow of the media attention it is “the exchange of Israeli women held in Gaza for Palestinian women from Israeli prisons and the release of kidnapped foreigners or people with dual citizenship from Gaza.”
In the 5:59 podcast, you will also find out if it is possible to find out how the civilians in Gaza really perceive the current situation, or how big is the risk of further expansion of the conflict. Listen in the player at the beginning of the article.
Editor a koeditor: Pavel Vondra, Dominika Kubištová, Karolina Tremko
Sound design: David Kaiser
Sources of audio samples: ČT24, ČRo Radiožurnál, CNN Prima News, TV Nova, YouTube channels CNBC Television, BBC News, Al Jazeera, accounts @jason_paladino and @LtColRichard on the X.com network (formerly Twitter)
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