26 Jul 2014

Gaza's Victims: Civilians and Peace

After more than two weeks of fighting between Hamas and Israel, there is no question which side has the upper hand. Thursday’s strike on a U.N.-run school for Palestinian children increased the Palestinian death toll to more than 760. By that point, the death toll on the Israeli side stood at 35, including a Thai worker in Israel.

All but three of the Israeli deaths were soldiers. The UN estimates that 70 percent of the Palestinian dead were civilians. More than 120 were children — roughly 16 percent of the total. More than 140,000 Palestinians have been forced from their homes.

Israel has proven its military might, but to what end? Its actions have tarnished its reputation; generated complaints about excessive use of force and human rights abuses; and made any talk of peace seem ludicrous. The end game will be nothing but a prelude to yet another round of fighting, with more death on both sides.

A state cannot achieve security at the expense of its neighbors. Nor can anyone in the Middle East today achieve peace through military superiority or a posture of dominance over neighboring states. The pursuit of security through military means alone is self-defeating. It nearly always results in more violence.

What we need are effective, non-military instruments of security policy, such as the rebuilding of Gaza’s economy. Co-operation, conflict prevention and economic investment can lead to security for all parties in the region, as they did in Europe after World War II. They would provide real security at far less cost, without the horrific loss of human lives we see today, especially the innocent children and women.

My father, theLate King Hussein I of Jordan, was right when he said that peace and stability are inextricably linked to social and economic growth. Even before the recent bombings, Israeli security controls had severely degraded economic and social conditions in the Gaza Strip, one of the most densely populated areas on earth.

About 38 percent of Gaza’s 1.8 million residents live in poverty. About 80 percent depend on some level of food assistance to stave off hunger. Youth unemployment among young people, ages15 to 24, stands at 40 percent.

There are not enough schools or enough housing.

The UN says there is a shortage of 70,000 housing units due to natural population growth, as well as the damage caused by Israel's ground offensive in December 2008-January 2009. The recent attacks have made this dismal situation much worse. Large sections of Gaza are now without electricity or water.

There is little doubt that Israel’s decisive military edge will weaken Hamas militarily, at least temporarily. It will also result in far more Palestinian dead and wounded  than Israeli casualties.

But any victory for Israel in this conflict is a resounding defeat for peace. The endless bloody cycle we are seeing today in Gaza is not only claiming innocent lives, it is systematically destroying the hope for a peaceful settlement to one of the world’s most intractable disputes. Rockets and bombs and will not bring about peace.

My father was also right when he said this: “Real victories are those that protect human life, not those that result from its destruction or emerge from its ashes.”

It is time for the killing to stop.