Unrelenting airstrikes from Israeli fighter jets on Gaza, and barrages of Hamas rockets onto Israeli cities, have moved into a second week. On the Palestinian side, the death toll topped 200, including 59 children, as of Sunday evening. At least eight Israelis have been killed in the violence. As has been the case with previous wars between Hamas and Israel, civilians endure the brunt of the conflict.
“We are tired,” Haya Abdelal, a 21-year-old Gaza woman, told The Associated Press. She lives next to the building destroyed by an Israeli airstrike Sunday. She fled into the street after the blast woke her up. “We need a truce. We can’t bear it anymore.”
Both Israel and Hamas appear far away from the prospect of a cease-fire. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that his country’s bombing campaign on Gaza would continue at “full-force,” and that Israel “wants to levy a heavy price” on Hamas. The Washington Post quoted a senior Israeli military officer as saying there’s no evidence of Hamas standing down, and that Israel is bracing for a prolonged conflict.
That points to a tragic inevitability in coming days and perhaps weeks — more civilians will die, and more ruination and misery as a result.
Has President Joe Biden done enough to push both sides toward a cease-fire? Sadly, he has not. On Monday evening, the White House said Biden spoke with Netanyahu and expressed support for a cease-fire, though it wasn’t clear how forceful his tone was.
This is Biden’s first major foreign policy crisis. He’s treading carefully, and he’s correct in backing Israel’s right to defend itself against indiscriminate Hamas rocket fire on Israeli civilians. Israel’s strategy to go after Hamas’ “Metro,” the vast web of tunnels underneath Gaza territory that serves as a vascular system for the movement of rockets, supplies and soldiers, is justifiable.
But Israeli airstrikes on Hamas targets have disproportionately exacted a higher toll on Palestinian civilians. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said while Hamas must stop rocket attacks on Israeli civilian targets, Israel “as a democracy has an extra burden to do everything possible to avoid civilian casualties.”
Netanyahu’s government still must fully explain the Saturday’s attack on a 12-story building in Gaza City that housed offices for The Associated Press, Al-Jazeera and other media outlets. Netanyahu told CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday that the presence of Hamas military intelligence inside the building made it “a perfectly legitimate target.” Media organizations and other tenants were given an hour to evacuate. But AP executive editor Sally Buzbee says Israel has yet to disclose clear evidence that justified the airstrike and has called for an independent probe into the attack.
Meanwhile, Hamas continues to pose an existential threat not just to Israel, but to its own people. Hamas builds its tunnels underneath buildings that house businesses and civilian families. It uses its own citizens as human shields. If it weren’t for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, the civilian toll on the Israeli side of the border would be devastatingly higher. The defense system has fended off roughly 90% of the rockets Hamas launches over the border, the Israeli military says.
Lasting peace between Israel and Palestinians is a faraway prospect right now. It’s also virtually unimaginable without any movement toward a cease-fire. The international community can do much more to push both sides toward a truce to stop the violence now. Leading that effort should be the voice of the U.S. and President Biden. So far, that voice has been all too ineffective — and quiet.