Searching for peace in Gaza

An interview with Oliver Maksan, Middle East correspondent of ACN, speaking about the situation in the Holy Land (July 15th, 9 am)

What sparked the current conflict between Israel and Gaza?

Well, initially it began with the kidnapping of three Jewish teens and the following killing in mid-June close to Hebron. Israel held Hamas responsible and crushed the Islamist organization's infrastructure in the Westbank substantially during the search for the kidnapped teens. 

Then the rocket fire from Gaza began. It started slowly but increased ultimately massively. At the beginning of last week, Israel launched its military operation "protective edge." Since then more than 1300 targets in Gaza have been attacked by the Israeli army. According to Israel around 1000 Rockets have been launched towards Israel from Gaza.  

Why Hamas decided to get involved so massively? 

Hamas wanted the conflict because it is in deep political and economic trouble. In Syria, the Islamists, by supporting the rebels against Assad, bet on the wrong horse. Iran, its sponsor, as a consequence stopped its support. The overthrow of Muslim brother Mursi in Egypt deteriorated Hamas' situation furthermore dramatically. 

They decided then that they do not have much to lose. The wanted to reestablish their reputation amongst Palestinian and Arabs as a resistance movement against Israel. On the other hand, in return for a ceasefire they want to get a political and economic price as high as possible. For example, an opening of the mostly closed border crossing with Egypt would benefit them. 

But fundamentally the conflict is about the so far unsolved conflict between Israel and the Palestinians who in Gaza is given an edge to because of the humanitarian situation there. Without a political solution to the conflict there will be rounds of violence again and again. 

Israel's security cabinet accepted a ceasefire proposal by Egypt this morning. It gives the enemies 12 hours to stop the fighting starting from 9 am (Israeli time) this morning. Hamas declined. What will happen now?

Well, depends on Hamas. If they follow suit, this round of the conflict will be over soon. If not and they continue attacks Israel will see itself internationally legitimated to respond forcefully. 

So far things for Hamas did not turn out well. They were not able to harm Israel significantly since most of the rockets were intercepted. On the contrary, they were weakened militarily by Israeli strikes significantly. But they are still hesitant because they want to hammer out a political and economic price as high as possible. 

How is life in Israel right now?

Depends on the region we are talking about. The areas close to the Gaza strip are in an emergency situation. The sirens sound there permanently and people are running for shelter to the bunkers. But also in more remote areas like Jerusalem, Tel Aviv or Haifa there were attacks and air raid alarms. This shows how Hamas could increase the range of its missiles. 

But in these areas people do not feel immediately threatened. Life goes on normally more or less. Attacks are sporadic only and the Iron Dome systems intercept the rockets. Not least because of this most Israelis feel relatively secure in their entirety. So far there were no direct fatalities. 

How is the situation in Gaza instead?

In Gaza the picture is completely different. In this small and densely populated area there are no bunkers and sirens. Weapons and rocket launchers are often deployed in residential areas.  
In total more than 175 people have been killed by Israeli attacks so far. Caritas estimates that more than 70 percent of them were civilians. Further they think that more than 1200 persons have been wounded, partially seriously. Hundreds of houses have been either completely or partially been destroyed. Hundreds of families thus became homeless. 

The supply situation is becoming dramatically bad. Electricity and potable water are getting low. 

What about the Christians in Gaza?

They suffer like everybody else there. Up to now there are no reports about fatalities among Christians. But the Catholic parish priest of Gaza fears that radical Islamist groups might try to benefit from an atmosphere of anarchy to turn against Christians.  

How many Christians are there in Gaza?

They are a tiny minority only. Among an estimated 1.8 million inhabitants of Gaza, only 1300 persons are Christians. The majority belongs to the Greek-Orthodox Church, which has an Archbishop residing in Gaza city. Only 170 persons belong to the Roman-Catholic Church. According to estimates more than the half of Gaza`s Christian population has left since 2005.

What is the Church's position with regard to the conflict?

The Catholic Church in the Holy Land naturally calls for an immediate ceasefire. But the Church asks for more. It wants a just peace implemented and not only another round of a shaky ceasefire.  

The commission Justitia et Pax of the Catholic conference of ordinaries recently published a text saying: “The present situation in Gaza is an illustration of the never-ending cycle of violence in the absence of a vision for an alternative future. Breaking out of the cycle of violence is the duty of all, oppressors and oppressed, victims and victimizers.” 

“In order to commit themselves to this aim, all must recognize in the other a brother or sister to be loved and cherished rather than an enemy to be hated and eliminated.”


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