November 3, 2023

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In the Palestine-Israel war, put civilians at the centre of the story

4 min read

Nowhere to go. No safe place to go to. Nowhere else to go. Nowhere to bury the dead. It is a litany that is repeated relentlessly in Gaza and with increasing intensity in recent days since the Israeli retaliation to the October 7 Hamas attacks began. The Gaza Strip, perhaps the most uncharted place in the world, has been a small land completely closed off from the outside world for 17 years, ever since Israel imposed the blockade around its land and sea borders, leaving Egypt to manage the southern Rafah Crossing Point. Gaza is a small strip of land where people are born, live and die without ever leaving a prison without bars. Forty kilometres from north to south, less than 10 kilometres east to west, between the Mediterranean Sea and the border with Israel.

For a suffering humanity that has already swelled the ranks of the world’s displaced, more than a million people setting out from their homes or rubbles means putting something in a bag — a bottle of water, diapers for the children, something warm to cover themselves — and finding a means of transportation, a car, a cart, in which they can pick up an elderly father who cannot walk. It means walking down a road already destroyed by bombs, dodging fighter plane raids, not having water, food, toilets or an electrical outlet to recharge the cell phone and communicate with the family.

It is an exodus on an unimaginable scale, of which we have very few images other than those that Palestinian journalists and cameramen in Gaza manage to dispatch, putting their lives at risk. No international or Western journalists have access to the Strip.

However, the “nowhere” has a direction, at least for those who are still alive. The south, toward the border with Egypt. It is not the way to a safe zone or to salvation. But it is the direction of the exodus. From Gaza, from Palestine, from nowhere, perhaps never to return. For Palestinians, the bitter taste that now runs from mouth to mouth is that of a new nakba, the ruination of Palestinian society that happened in 1948 and the persecution that followed. But 1948 is far away. In 2023, not one among the countries that frame Gaza wants the Palestinians to pass through the Rafah border. Not only because it would be unfair and unacceptable, not only because it would be a new nakba, but because Egypt and Jordan, first and foremost, would jeopardise their already delicate systems of internal control in the name of a tragedy with no exit strategy.

Festive offer

In the opposite direction, to the north, other victims ask where to go to find their loved ones, the nearly 250 Israelis taken hostage by Hamas and taken who knows where inside the Strip. Nowhere to go, they too repeat, the families of the hostages. Who to ask for help? Where to go to find experienced negotiators and experts to free the hostages? For the time being, the “nowhere to go” is the Netanyahu government — now a government of national emergency — which has provided no answers and against which many of the hostages’ families have been protesting.

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There is nowhere to go. It is the “untold” truth of politics — Israeli, regional, American, European — that is unable to find a rational answer to get out of a tunnel inside which, for now, only the absolute protagonists of a tragedy of enormous proportions are paying. The victims, all the victims. The civilians, all the civilians. The more than 10,000 killed, the innumerable wounded, if our conscience and values insist that we put Israeli and Palestinian victims in the same death toll.

Increasingly, in contemporary times, wars have civilians as the main targets. The thousand-day siege of the city of Sarajevo taught us an unforgettable lesson. This time, however, in this unprecedented war between Israel and Hamas, civilian casualties were, and are, the first undisputed protagonists, the first targets, and, at the same time, the only ones who receive no serious and reasonable discussion or prioritisation. No one, so far, has chosen to put them at the centre of this story, at the centre of this history. The full contours and scale of the tragedy for civilians remain unimaginable for the rest of the world. The politicians, all of them, on all sides, have thus far chosen not to deal with them, as if they were not already fodder for the slaughter, for the battlefield. As if they were an inescapable part of the conflict. This is unprecedented, unheard, unacceptable.

Caridi is the author of Hamas: From Resistance to Regime (2010) and Jerusalem without God: Portrait of a Cruel City (2013)

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