As the Palestinian death toll in the latest round of violence between Gaza and Israel reaches and surpasses the grim milestone of 150, the world watches on, wondering if a peaceful resolution can be achieved.
The latest official figures indicate that the number of Palestinians dead since Israel launched its offensive about a week ago is 156. Over 15,000 civilians in Gaza have been displaced from their homes.
A petrol station in the southern Israeli city of Ashdod was hit by a rocket attack on Friday. The site was destroyed and several cars were set alight in the conflagration, but no Israeli fatalities were reported. Both sides exchanged fire again on Saturday. On Sunday morning, Israeli warplanes dropped leaflets on Gaza territory, warning residents to evacuate their homes, in what was seen as a precursor to a ground incursion. Indeed, Israeli special forces subsequently launched a raid on a suspected rocket launching site.
Despite intense diplomatic efforts at the United Nations, there is little sign of a ceasefire. The UN Security Council in New York has made a unanimous call for a prompt end to the hostilities. The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu has said that his country will resist any foreign pressure to halt military operations.
This latest spate of violence was sparked by the murder of three Jewish teenagers, Eyal Yifrach, 19, and Gilad Shaar and Naftali Frenkel, both aged 16. They were abducted on June 12, and despite a massive Israeli military operation to locate their whereabouts, they were later found dead in a shallow grave. In an apparent revenge killing, a Palestinian boy, named as Mohammed Abu Khdeir (16), was also abducted and his burned body was later found in a forest. According to Palestinian sources, a post-mortem showed that he had been burned alive
Conflict in this region has been ongoing for well over half a century, and it shows no signs of abating. The creation of the modern state of Israel in 1948 sparked a cycle of violence that continues to this day. A deeply rooted animosity between the two sides breeds hatred and rage, thus feeding the beast of war.
In the middle of this unstable environment are the Palestinian civilians, caught in between Hama’s and the Israeli army. Hamas themselves are hopelessly outmatched and outclassed by the Israeli forces, militarily speaking at least. Most of Hamas’ rockets are intercepted and destroyed by Israel’s ‘Iron Dome’ defense system. Yet, some rockets do get through and cause damage, both physical and psychological.
Children on both sides grow up in a warlike environment, or at the very least, with an innate awareness of war. In most countries, children play war. But when the air raid sirens blare in Israel, they herald a very real threat of death and destruction.
Palestinians authorities claim that 70 percent of Israeli airstrikes are children, dead or badly injured. With no sign of an end to the violence in sight, this toll is bound to get worse.
At the center of the conflict is the claim that both sides have for the same territory. There is no denying that both Palestinian and Israeli children grow up with an almost unavoidable destiny to fight each other.
Both Israel and Palestine (through Hamas) run indoctrination programs for their youth. For instance, more than 37,000 Palestinian boys aged 15-17 took part in a Hamas youth training program during 2012-2013. Such program (which went on to become part of the national education curriculum) included combat skills, weapon firing, and field first aid. The goal of the program is to ‘initiate a new generation of Palestinian men in the struggle against Israel”.
Israel’s own education system is also very much focused on military service, both for boys and girls. Schoolchildren, for instance, are encouraged to write letters to serving soldiers.
When Israeli youngsters reach high school age, they become eligible for the Gadna program. This is a week long course with the purpose of preparing the students for the mandatory military service. The program includes battlefield doctrine and combat ethics. Though seen by some as overly militaristic, the Gadna program was made into law in 1949.
The current cycle of violence will end, but there will be others. Both sides fight for the right to exist, and as long as their young generations are bred for war, no lasting peace will come to the region.