The general structure and location of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound. Source: https://www.dailysabah.com
On October 7th, 2023, news broke out that the Palestinian group Hamas crossed the border with Israel from Gaza Strip and launched armed attacks on military and civilian targets alike. Mainstream media immediately switched from covering Ukraine, and eventually Taiwan, to the longest contemporary conflict that experienced sinuous developments since 1948. Although this Hamas armed offensive has been compared to the Yom Kippur War from 1973, when Israel was attacked during the most important Jewish religious holiday, the sophistication of the attack 2023 is very probably unprecedented: the element of surprise due to Sukkot celebrations is similar. But apart from this, probably no other aspect resembles to the 1973 state of affairs.
An abrupt escalation of the Palestinian Conflict is most likely no eureka moment to the international community since the gravity of Palestinians’ situation is well-known for decades. The human loss, tragedies and infrastructure destruction on both Palestinian and Israeli sides have been extensively covered in mainstream and social media. The 2023 October has been undoubtedly a red one in both Gaza Strip and Israel so far, and for Palestinians it may be part of what appears to remain a red century from 1948. On the occasion of the 75th anniversary of An-Nakba, celebrated on May 15th, 2023, the Palestinian news Agency Wafa noted that over 100’000 Palestinians and Arabs have been martyred since 1948 in the conflict with Israel (WAFA, 2023). Certainly, there are thousands of casualties in Israel as well, but they are not anywhere near the Palestinian ones. However, this aspect of the escalation will not be assessed extensively in this article since the events are still ongoing, but one can notice that while the world evolves and becomes supposedly more peaceful, the Palestinians are experiencing more violence and the threat to lose their homeland.
Regional geopolitics of what is generally considered Middle East and North Africa (MENA) represents one of the most emotional and divisive topics on the international political stage. The most important and longest conflict was the one determined by the formation of the Israeli State on Palestinian land following the Balfour Declaration, one of the last expressions of classical colonialism emanating from Europe before the United States (US) and the Soviet Union took global affairs to the superpower era. Current study will briefly assess the evolution of conflictual situation related to the Palestinian Issue, as well as the bias present in certain decision-making centers in the context of globally assumed human and moral values like pursuit of peace, freedom, self-determination or basic human rights. The approach is historical, comparative, and focuses on the power relations between contemporary superpowers like China, Russian Federation and the US, as well as well as attempts by former colonial powers like the UK and France to determine the outcome of the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation.
Brief Historical Background of the 2023 Palestinian-Israeli Conflict
Before proceeding with the presentation of relevant historical developments in this part of the world, it must be emphasized that historical accounts related to Palestine as a region are prone to subjective interpretation, bias and politicization. In particular, the overt efforts of certain Israeli state or non-state organizations and their international supporters to obscure the existence of Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories can become an issue that has the potential to undermine legitimate claims and rights of the Israeli people especially when they are employed for aggression. Another type of misrepresentation that is relevant to the October 2023 conflict consists of attempts to equate Palestinians with Hamas for example, and in general seed confusion related to entities, while misusing such claims for collective punishment of the Palestinian people in various forms, already subjected to a complete blockade for decades. Finally, another relevant source of distortion is the biased presentation of historical facts mixed with religious texts. While religious texts are legitimately sacred for millions or billions of people, this has less to do with their human interpretation and instrumentalization for deterministic purposes. The cliché of political figures that claim rights based on accounts presented as ancient and holy has become popular and while it has the potential to mobilize adepts, it may represent a sword with two edges as well.
The concept of Holy Land is generally associated in the Christian World with “historical Palestine” geographical region, and the stories from the Jewish and Christian Bibles. Even these accounts, that are supposed to justify Israeli claims over what was left from the former Palestinian territory, mention the “Philistines” as inhabitants of these regions when the tribes of Israel and Judah arrived in the “Promised Land.” There were attempts to dissociate the Palestinians from the Philistines, and to claim (eventually continuous) Jewish presence and not a continuous Palestinians presence in the region. Other particularities related to this term and its conceptual background relate to the dichotomy between presence in a land and coexistence with the Philistines in ancient times on one hand, and the claimed rights to exclusive presence or the rights to rule the lands exclusively. Furthermore, the success of monotheism in Europe combined with the medieval imperialist expansion of certain Christian countries throughout Asia and Americas advanced believes and convictions on undisputable universalism. However, in a broader context, cultures like the Persian, Chinese or Indian ones may have experienced with monotheism long before the birth of Christianity or Judaism and the only objective feature of claimed universalism may be the military and cultural dominance of European powers over other regions (not the entire planet) for a limited period.
In the accounts on ancient Holy Land, some wars were holy and others simple or unjust, insignificant. Certainly, the narratives of parties winning conflicts had the potential to become more popular, hence “more universal” than those of defeated parties. So did the languages in which these narratives were recorded. The differences between the Roman concepts like “jus ad bellum” and “bellum sacrum” are various, but in essence, any conflict party since the Romans, or before, is pursuing strategies to justify wars. However, the concept of exclusive presence and its use to claim dominance over the historical Palestinian territories by any party based on a combination between archaic, ambiguous, ideas and modern legislation appears to be at least utopian. Beyond subjective representations and systematic attempts to convince the global population of a cause by any party, can only lead to an increased risk of conflict.
The term bellum sacrum/ holy war/ can be associated with a series of concepts centered around religion. According to a report on Francis Bacon’s stance on involving divinity in wars, there are five religious causes of wars (BBC, 2014): “ to spread the faith, to retrieve countries that were once Christian, even though there are no Christians left there, to rescue Christians in countries that were once Christian from ‘the servitude of the infidels’, recover and purify consecrated places that are presently being ‘polluted and profaned’, avenge blasphemous acts, or cruelties and killings of Christians (even if these took place long ago)”. Nevertheless, it must be acknowledged that justifying wars may resort to or rely on divinity, the expected outcomes of wars may envision further gains in addition to the declared goals.
The term holy war became consecrated especially with the initiation of European Crusades meant to recover the Holy Land from Arab-Muslim rule. Muslim Arabs conquered this region in the 7th century CE and impacted the future of this region until nowadays. While religion might have been raised at the center of this conflict, commercial interests were also at stake for actors like the Italian Republics that supported a side or another back then. Not only did the European Crusades’, i.e., “Holy Wars” ended in failure to conquer the Arab regions, but the Ottomans took over and the Byzantine Empire disappeared from history in 1453 CE.
After this episode, the Protestant Reformation and the subsequent Westphalian Peace are instances of expanding and modernizing the scope of political competition in Europe, along with the migration of British political establishment towards sharing power with corporations. The Middle East (except the Persian Gulf region, and Egypt) did not represent in its entirety a target for colonialism since it was partially under Ottoman rule until the end of 19th century (de facto) and until the end of the WWI (de jure), but the colonial territories of the British, French and others were already in or approaching the region at that time.
At the end of 19th century, Theodor Herzl was expanding the already existing Zionist Movement with his writings and in practice by convening the first Zionist Congress at Basel, Switzerland, when the program of the movement was drew up, according to which “Zionism strives to create for the Jewish people a home in Palestine secured by public law” (Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia , 2023) and afterwards, the Holocaust strongly accelerated the migration of Jews to Israel. Since the beginning of the 20th century, colonial powers were also preparing to divide Ottoman territories among themselves. The US was emerging as a dominant global player, after its Secession War that appeared to have cemented the eradication of slavery and evolution towards a more just future. Hence, the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement divided the Levant between a British-dominated area (including Palestinian territories) and a French-dominated area (Lebanon, Syria). As in the US, the borders of modern states in the Middle-East and Africa appear to have been drawn based on principles alien to political geography keeping in mind that the straight-line borders did not consider communities or ethnic groups, this oversimplified approach leading to many subsequent issues.
The instatement of a certain degree of American influence in Europe and subsequently in the Middle East did not change course on the formation of Israel at the end of WWII. From another perspective, British war effort helped the US to prevail in the war. The brilliant sea blockade the UK managed to impose during the war is remembered and praised even today. However, United Kingdom’s colonial stance gradually faded across the globe and it gradually lost influence in Africa, India, and other overseas territories. So did France up to a certain extent, while former colonial powers like Spain, Belgium and others were still enjoying the wealth they gained in previous centuries from colonial territories. Should one consider the replacement of the UK with the US at the top of global affairs, this would represent one of the few relatively peaceful power transitions in human history. However, after WWII, global affairs were dominated by the confrontation between two global superpowers: the US and the Soviet Union. Both these countries exerted influence in and around MENA and scored both wins and losses in their respective policies.
The two Cold War superpowers were friendly to both Jewish aspirations towards a state and the State of Israel afterwards. While the US took over from the UK and continued to defend the new small state declared in 1948, the Soviet Union offered a region to form such a state: the Jewish Autonomous Oblast was established in 1934 on the territory of nowadays Russian Federation, north from the Amur River. While this region experienced a rising Jewish population initially, many inhabitants fled subsequently.
Israel’s neighbors did not cope with the establishment of the Israeli State after 1948. Besides the armed imposition of the new territorial division, many Palestinians began to migrate within the remaining Palestinian Occupied Territories and abroad, especially in Jordan and Lebanon. Millions of displaced Palestinians had been living as foreigners abroad, in camps, while their heirs were born as Palestinians and lived their lives in the same manner, abroad. The tensions between Israel and its supporters on one side, and Palestinians, Arabs and their supporters on the other side culminated in confrontations like the 1967 war, when Israel occupied the Golan Heights and began to colonize the West Bank after winning militarily against all its allied Arab neighbors, the 1973 Yom Kippur War, various clashes with Lebanese entities, numerous retributions, and infiltration attempts, etc. Notorious initiatives by Israel or its main ally in this region, the US, include for example the 1953 CIA coup in Iran, that overthrew the democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh, the attempt of Israel to form a puppet state within Lebanon during the 1980s, i.e. the State of Free Lebanon, which it also defended militarily, hoping to build a buffer it controls on Lebanese territory.
This militant attitude helped Israel to survive and even thrive, but attracted criticism for some of its practices as well. Overall, Israel managed to advance its interests in relations with some neighbors, Egypt and Jordan being the first regional countries to sign treaties with Israel as a state in 1979 and 1994 respectively. Until the recent Abraham Accords, recognizing Israel as a state has been a sensible topic within the Arab World and for some countries it still remains an off-the table option (Algeria, Iraq, etc.). The main reason of discontent in the region with Israel is related mainly to its treatment of Palestinians and more countries around the world do not recognize the expansion of Israel beyond the 1967 borders.
Besides strengthening its military and security continuously, Israel and its supporters employed additionally soft power tools in defending both its existence and the territorial advancement at the expense of Palestinians. Hybrid tactics range from censorship, propaganda in support of any action Israel took with respect to Palestinians, no matter if this was justified only partially according to international observers or national governments, attempts to lure Palestinians factions into deals that proved to be misleading on long term (Bocco, 2023), like the Oslo Accords. There are also claims that Israel even admitted to have helped founding Hamas (Hasan & Sayedahmed, 2018).
While the confrontation between Israel and different Palestinian organizations is dating back to 1948, the intensity of clashes has risen significantly in recent decades. The landmark series of events that marks recent Israeli-Palestinian confrontations is encompassing the “intifadas”, i.e. the uprisings. The first Palestinian Intifada began in 1987 and was called the “Stone Intifada”. Significant discontent of Palestinians vis-à-vis Israeli policies in the Occupied Palestinian Territories resulted in violent protests of Palestinians in these territories and within Israel. The protests concluded with Oslo Accords in 1993. The Second Palestinian Intifada, also called “Al-Aqsa” debuted in September 2000, when Ariel Sharon visited the Al-Aqsa Mosque, accompanied by security forces deployed in and around the Old City of Jerusalem. The clashes led to the construction of a separation wall and more settler units in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, many victims among Palestinians and damage to their economy and infrastructure. As Israel advanced its settlement policy in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Palestinian unrest and protests continued. In a blow to the long-awaited Two-State Solution, President Donald Trump announced in 2017 moving the US Embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This further inflated the conflict, as the chances for Palestinians to receive recognition of a state based on the 1967 borders decreased. This individual decision of the US has not been followed by present-day superpowers Russian Federation or China, and unilateral action on this matter, as well as questionable stances of the US on other commitments like the One China Policy, have not passed unnoticed on the international relations scene.
Is there an ongoing war in the Holy Land? Surpassing the positive/negative assessment frame and focusing on analysis of facts rather than trying to contribute in a way to the developments in this region, one can certainly identify many elements of war in recent regional history. Is there any superpower contribution fueling armed conflict between Israel and Palestinian entities? This question requires extensive research and will not be fully addressed in this study, but one can mention the billions of dollars direct US contribution to Israel’s defense sector. As for other direct or indirect participants to the conflict, be they regional powers or not, it must be emphasized that Palestinians are not entirely alone in their quest for the full recognition of a Palestinian State with the capital in East Jerusalem.
Anglo-American support for Israel in superpower and post-superpower era
At the end of 19th century and beginning of 20th century, the only clearly established superpower was the United Kingdom. The extent of British influence over global affairs was reflected primarily by the size of its trade and financial sectors. As of 1860, the UK was absorbing over 30 % of all other countries’ exports and delivered industrial products in return. As Germany and France began to industrialize, this market share decreased to more than 20 % in 1890. However, as of 1913, Britain’s total net oversea assets totaled almost 4’000 million British Pounds (Karlstroem, 1967). To put this into perspective, the total inward FDI (Foreign Development Investment) in the US was standing at a net $ 1.3 billion as of 1914 (Graham & Marchick, 2006, p. 3), i.e. 266.94 million British Pounds considering an exchange rate 1 Pound = 4.87 USD in 2013 (H. Officer, 2023).
The definition of a superpower can hardly be agreed upon, and the age of superpowers is not a clear cut in history. Given the extent of British influence across the globe at the beginning of 20th century, its role back then may well be compared with the US or Soviet role in global economy, trade, finance, and military affairs during the Cold War. Par excellence, the term superpower has been generally associated with the US and Soviet Union during at least the beginning of the Cold War, referring to advanced nuclear capabilities and the ability to project (military) power in more regions across the globe at the same time. However, in the context of this research, it is important to emphasize that the UK has probably been a superpower at the beginning of the 20th century even by the consecrated definition of superpower. This assumption is explanatory for its role and continuous influence in the Middle East at least: British government supported the foundation of Israel diplomatically and militarily, defended and defends Israel against countries challenging its stance in the region (in the past challenging its very existence) and remains very present in regional affairs. The UK state and military models were observed in many Persian Gulf monarchies, that gained their de jure independence from the UK relatively recent and still maintain good relations with the Kingdom. Among these countries, one can mention Kuwait, UAE, Oman, and Bahrain. Among recent regional developments involving the UK except the involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one can mention the secession between Sudan and South Sudan, the tacit support of Somaliland and the relatively recent relocation of troops from Canada to Oman. Certainly, its role in American-led wars from Afghanistan and Iraq cannot be overlooked, but these represent more complex developments and require a separate analysis.
The British state model was however, not adopted in Saudi Arabia. While the Iranian oil industry was in British hands at the beginning of 20th century, the Americans managed to seal The Oil-for-Security Deal with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that worked for a long period of time, though with certain ups and downs. The deceitful policy of the British in Arabia, that initially promised an Arab state to Sharif Hussein – the Custodian of Mecca and Medina, and subsequently withdrew it, led to an American-oriented Saudi Arabia (Tahir, 2020). Likewise, the failure to strike a further deal with Egypt led to the nationalization of Suez Canal in 1956, and a shift of Egypt away from the UK.
The relation with Saudi Arabia was not at high levels all the time (in the 1973 oil crises, Saudi Arabia imposed an oil embargo against all countries supporting Israel in the Yom Kippur War, including the US), but it endured until recently in a form or another. As the US began to surpass the UK in terms of economy and military strength, it promised the world a shift away from colonialism. The future of the world was supposed to be based on freedoms, human rights, self-determination, and equitable trade after WWII. However, the powerful US began to take Israel under its protection and involved increasingly in politics of the region. The 1992 agreement between the US Congress and White House resulted in the US providing $ 10 billion to Israel in loan guarantees over 5 years, the yearly sum being reduced with the amount that spent by Israel for settlements in the West Bank. The US military aid for Israel debuted in 1959 and amounted $ 40.28 billion for the period 1959 – 2006. From this total, $ 29.065 billion were grants and $ 11.213 billion represented loans for which the American taxpayers had to pay interest (Twing, 1996). The total US military aid for Israel in the period 1946 – 2023 (fiscal period) amounted to $ 158.665 billion in 2023 non-inflation-adjusted USD (Sharp, updated 01.03.2023, p. 1). Although the American stance in the world appeared to be based on equal and fair treatment of all nations, it does not appear that US policy applied equitably for Israel and Palestinians alike.
The superpower label has been primarily specific to the Cold War period. However, with the launch of Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and in the context of BRICS development, a new model of development appears to have emerged at global level. China is the only nowadays country that appears to meet the superpower criteria and did not wage wars/armed conflicts on the countries it worked with in achieving its wealth. This certainly represents an inspiration for many countries around the world and pressures the old establishment, whose leaders slowly let down its supporters on the very promises that turned them into leaders. Therefore, if the term superpower is still applicable in nowadays global affairs, then China appears to gain ground against US, as the latter did against the UK at the beginning of 20th century.
Misrepresentations of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in official declarations and mainstream media
On this background, the latest confrontation between Hamas and Israel on October 7th, 2023 debuted. Hamas operatives launched a barrage of rockets and in parallel, crossed the border from the Gaza Strip and began to launch armed attacks on the territory of Israel. A Wall Street Journal report from October 14th, 2023, 2:06 a.m. EDT, was mentioning that the casualties in the most recent conflict stood at 1’900 Palestinian dead and almost 7’700 wounded, and 1’300 Israelis killed and over 3’000 wounded (Lieber & AbdulKarim, 2023). The attack is said to have represented a surprise for Israel, although Egypt declared it had announced Israel about “something big” three days in advance (BBC, 2023).
The unfolding of events followed a typical historical line: Israel mobilized large military and security assets, began to attack Gaza Strip, outnumbering immediately the number of Israeli casualties with Palestinian casualties. Amid the obvious condemnable Hamas attack, which is clearly not in line with international law, one must acknowledge what has been normally called disproportionate use of force against Palestinians for so many times in the past. The legitimate defense of Israel by its military forces has been complemented one more time with disproportionate attacks on civilians and potentially the typical habit to attempt grabbing more Palestinian land. The line between defensive and offensive actions by Israel appears to have been crossed once again. These practices have been denounced by both neighbors of Israel and representatives of international organizations on numerous occasions. In an unprecedent move, the Israeli military has even asked 1.1 million Palestinian civilians to leave their homes in northern part of Gaza Strip within 24 hours, and thus allow Israel to completely bomb half of one of the most densely populated regions in the world, and maybe eventually to invade it. The credibility of the threat has been backed by the deployment of numerous troops and equipment at the border.
Although an objective approach has been expected from all world leaders, in line with their previous commitments, some of the official declarations begin to stand out as subjective, biased, and misleading at least by omission. In this context, the reactions of US and UK governments will be analyzed, as these two countries appear to have unilaterally departed from the global consensus on the Two-State Solution and rally now behind Israel as if they never promised the Palestinians to work towards what history could have registered as an acceptable end to a disastrous situation.
The strategic communication landscape at international level has transformed significantly in recent decades, on a general scale. Many Western leaders appear to have given up formal attitudes, previously specific to their roles, and adopted a slippery, somehow informal, approach, theoretically meant to reduce communication barriers. Although this tradeoff was supposed to help in achieving goals more efficiently, it may have added to uncertainty and less clearly stated goals and achievements. In discussions between heads of states, or against heads of states, some leaders chose to address individuals rather than nations or government representatives. Furthermore, the social media platforms have become an avenue for official and non-official declaration confrontations that nobody would have imagined 20 years ago. While this might have benefited the concept of free speech, some users and certainly the shareholders of some platforms, the role of such platforms in developing or improving international relations, or solving conflicts, has yet to be demonstrated scientifically.
Official declarations on the Hamas – Israeli conflict
This article does not assess the legitimacy of third parties taking sides in the Hamas-Israel war, but aims to identify such stances. From this perspective, the October 10th declaration of President Biden (the White House, 2023) stand out with a series of remarks. In this speech, President Biden projects a cruel, gruesome image that eventually inspires terror. He mentions among others that “This attack has brought to the surface painful memories and the scars left by a millennia of antisemitism and genocide of the Jewish people…”. Another relevant association of terms is that between Hamas and ISIS: “The brutality of Hamas — this bloodthirstiness — brings to mind the worst — the worst rampages of ISIS. This is terrorism.”
In a strange allusion to the idea of war, President Biden mentions: “Terrorists purpo- — purposefully target civilians, kill them. We uphold the laws of war — the law of war. It matters. There’s a difference”. This terminology might further bring confusions on the US stance related to this conflict. The two democracies that are upholding the law of war are apparently the US and Israel, according to President Biden. However, one can mention to this point that other institutions or countries around the world have other opinions on this topic. The unlawful character of certain Israeli practices vis-à-vis Palestinians is suggested, for example, by Human Rights Watch reports (Human Rights Watch, 2014), although this did not end up in prosecutions at international levels. as of August 30th, 2023, the UN Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People presented the status of preparations on the case being brought before International Court of Justice (ICJ) on “Israel’s prolonged illegal policies” (UN Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, 2023). Furthermore, the false image of US as a law-abiding country is becoming more apparent amid threats issued by the US to sanction/arrest International Criminal Court (ICC) judges, should they pursue a case on possible war crimes committed in Afghanistan (AFP/France24, News Wires, 2018).
Quoting President Biden, there is indeed a difference and it matters. This contextualization of the law-abiding stance introduces contextual facts, not accusations of illegalities which should be exclusively pursued by competent authorities. But bullying basically global institutions with very difficult missions into submission and claiming to respect laws at the same time has the potential to undermine the recognition of both the US and ICC in the eyes of impartial observers. President Biden’s speech reaffirms unity in supporting Israel, providing military assistance, and warned regional countries and organizations that would dare taking advantage of the situation against doing so. The US dispatched USS Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group to region according to president’s message, and will continue deployments should this be necessary.
The stance to defend Israel is clearly understandable and probably not even Hamas would argue against it. However, it is the continued colonial and aggressive stance of Israel that is being challenged by Palestinians and international observers, not the right of anyone to defend himself. Hence, the repetition of this universally accepted principle may serve other purposes than upholding this principle. The speech further mentions that the US is coordinating with the UK, Germany, Italy, and France to provide a “united response”. This unity has been relative in recent decades, and the level of involvement of European countries in American-led wars has not been constant or equal. Furthermore, the European Union appears to be divided on the response to this conflict, another power center that is theoretically involved in solving the Palestinian Issue for decades. Euractiv mentions: “Some European officials have expressed concerns about Israel’s new siege of Gaza. But von der Leyen and Metsola have followed the American line, been outspoken in their support for Israel, accusing Hamas of carrying out an anti-Semitic massacre of innocent civilians” (EURACTIV.com with AFP, 2023). Acknowledging “the horrific attack by Hamas on innocent Israeli civilians,” The Irish Times also makes observations about the fact that von der Leyen “acted without member states’ mandate by expressing unqualified backing for Israel” (O’Leary, 2023). Should the European Union face difficulties in its future legitimate missions, actions like von der Leyen’s stance taking, an essentially not-elected “official” that does not appear to be very transparent in policy decisions, may represent causes for these difficulties.
The very repeated message of US officials “we stand with Israel”/” we are with Israel” is also adopted by UK officials (Helm, 2023). The support granted by the UK to Israel is “unequivocal,” mentioning also Prime-Minister’s commitment: “To the people of Israel, I say: Britain is with you.” Article’s author concludes on this topic, among others, that: “In his 300-word statement, Sunak tells the Israeli people and the Jewish community in the UK that they will have his government’s unstinting, unqualified support in the face of evil, and that it will do everything in its power to address a surge in antisemitism cases over the past week”. While Keir Starmer, UK opposition leader, also expressed support for Israel (“In the days that have followed we have heard horrific stories of the murder and mutilation of men, women and children, along with the horror of hostage taking,” he said. “Israel has the right, indeed the duty, to defend herself and rescue these hostages…”), he also mentioned: “all parties to act in line with international law, including allowing humanitarian access of food, water, electricity and medicines to Gaza and ensuring safe humanitarian corridors in Gaza for those fleeing violence” (Helm, 2023). In another development meant to tip the balance in the Hamas-Israel confrontation, the UK government announced after six days of hostilities that it will send two Royal Navy ships and surveillance aircraft to the Eastern Mediterranean to bolster security (Walsh, 2023).
The UK official stance on this matter represents a combination of support messages with Israel and an apparently neutral and legitimate deployment of warships near Israel and Gaza Strip. These ships were supposed to “track threats to regional stability such as the transfer of weapons to terrorist groups” and “provide humanitarian support as required” (Walsh, 2023). While the sophistication of English language must be commended, no clear statement in support of innocent Palestinian inhabitants from Gaza Strip has been identified, that did not contribute to Hamas attacks. On the contrary, the official press release on Gov.uk portal, clearly mentions that the military deployment is in support of Israel: “Prime Minister deploys UK military to Eastern Mediterranean to support Israel” (UK PM Office, Ministry of Defence, The Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP, & The Rt Hon Rishi Sunak MP, 2023).
Are there misrepresentations in these official declarations and stances? The attack carried out by Hamas is clearly characterized and sufficiently referenced in the declarations. The support for Israel is also being clearly underlined. However, many official declarations fail to address the problems faced by Palestinians (not Hamas) as a consequence of this escalation. The fact that people who might have left their homes years ago are invited to leave their homes from refugee camps, again, is not at all addressed in what appears to be taking sides and omitting a very relevant side: the Palestinians who do not support Hamas. This qualifies as misrepresentation through omission of highly relevant aspects, i.e., essentially why it’s ended up here and entities involved willingly or unwillingly in the conflict.
Despite warnings from at least Egypt, Israel failed to raise alert before the attacks. The aspects related to this situation has to be investigated in depth. Should this be the case, the Israel did not fail only its citizens but foreign visitors or temporary residents as well. As the global audience is overloaded with messages taking sides or expressing opinions on the outcomes of this escalation, the media does not appear to follow closely how did this failure happen and what consequences may arise except Israeli victims and the victims of Israeli’s revenge in the archaic optics “An eye for an eye”. The foreign nationals that disappeared or were killed have been under the protection and security of Israeli authorities the minute they entered their own controlled territory. No significant official declaration has been identified from the US or the UK that emphasizes on this aspect. Blaming every casualty in Israel or in the Gaza Strip solely on Hamas, which is the clear stance in many declarations especially in the Western media, diverts an accountability issue for Israeli state authorities in charge with security and defense that should be addressed, especially when Israel claims that it has an advanced defense sector and receives unequaled foreign support for this.
The blame in declarations, be they official or articles in the media, is attributed also to other regional states. For example, a recent article claims Hamas may have benefited from Qatari, Turkish and Iranian support (France24, 2023). This France24 article claims among others that “Hamas took advantage of tunnels bypassing the Egyptian border towards Gaza, illegally importing necessities, construction materials and even weapons”. Egypt is also mentioned in the article, and Hezbollah as well. It must be mentioned that the Iranian official stance in this confrontation is clearly in support of Palestinians and their rights. Iran also managed to overcome long American and allied sanctions, blockades and sabotage actions, and consolidated a so-called “Axis of Resistance”, that spans from Iran to Lebanon through Iraq and Syria. Iran did not back down from building capacities to counter exogenous forces and interests in the region. Likewise, the Iraqi parliament called on October 14th the activation of the Joint Arab Defense Treaty within the Arab League framework, Palestine being a member to this treaty (Press TV, 2023).
It is not only state officials in countries like Iran, Qatar or Türkiye that call out the collective punishment of Gaza Strip inhabitants, but populations of these countries rally in support for a “Free Palestine.” And it is not only these countries that host demonstrations in support of Palestinians, as rallies have taken place in Geneva, London and other cities from the US, Australia, etc., as Berlin Police decided to ban pro-Palestinian rallies on October 11th, 2023 (Kirez, 2023). If Hezbollah can be considered an official organization, then the organization can be called a supporter of Hamas escalation, as it not only declared readiness to join a war against Israel, but clashed with Israeli defense forces after October the 7th, in a separate escalation.
As this conflict escalates and the US is sending a second-strike group, i.e. the USS Eisenhower, one cannot overlook the rising tensions between the US on one side, and the US, the UK and Israel on the other side. After cancelling the JCPOA deal. Demonizing Iran has become a full-time job for some representatives of hostile countries. However, the classical view that US and allied sanctions, followed by bombing a country into submission appears to become a paradigm from the past. Such developments have been noticed in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, among others. These attacks have been accompanied by strong accusations like utilization of chemical weapons. However, this attack model did not appear to fully defeat Syria, and had no effectiveness in Iran. At present, Iran is not only a country that raised its security and defense capabilities as a result of continuous attacks from the US, Israel and its allies, but managed to develop a certain type of self-sufficiency and encouraged, supported other friendly nations to resist pressure instead of submitting to demands. As a new member of BRICS in 2023 and heading towards higher access of goods outside a fading USD global financial system, Iran does not appear to become weaker, but the opposite.
In the new BRICS and BRI framework, based on China’s rise as a much more peaceful nation, the former UK or US-led campaigns against strategic competitors accompanied by a justifying propaganda appear at least outdated. Certainly, China holds the high ground in many bilateral or multilateral negotiations, but its approach to many global issues has become an attractive alternative for both states and large corporations looking forward. Attempts to portray Iran joining BRICS as an alliance with Russia and China to defeat potential competitors like the US may miss the fundamental point of contemporary dynamics: should a new world order emerge, copying the recent past would represent a historical stalemate, not an advancement. Hence, neither China nor its partners or future partners will be willing to mimic the failures from the previous era.
While the US and the UK present credible threats and indeed possess both military technology and strategic assets (like the Gibraltar, Cyprus bases) that make a difference in the eventuality of a war, one also must acknowledge that, recently, US officials are visiting Beijing increasingly in attempts to obtain economic, trade concessions which they call “fair treatment,” while imposing all sort of bans on Chinese businesses. The announcements on UK economic stagnation are being paralleled by stances in which a clear desire of the UK to participate in conflicts, directly or indirectly, might be perceptible. This is also a far cry from China’s posture in global affairs, but a possible testament of the imperial approach that brought it glory in the past. The Palestinians, as well as the support Israel receives from its most loyal supporters, might find themselves at a historic crossroads that could project them on a new course. Should this course be the “New Middle East Project” supported by the US, or another one, the Palestinian Question is probably nearing an answer.
Media reports on the Hamas – Israeli conflict
The so-called fourth and fifth estates, i.e., the media and alternative media, have not only evolved immensely in recent decades but it appears that they came to make a difference in conflicts. Biased reporting through omission will not be analyzed in this section, as media outlets or individuals do not speak for a state (theoretically), hence the freedom of expression is much higher and rightfully expected to be much more subjective. However, the risks associated to this informal or semi-informal communication can encompass confusion or the utilization of inappropriate or less representative terms.
Whoever reads the article “Israel Gaza war: History of the conflict explained” from the BBC (BBC, 2023), or “Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: A Chronology” from the Washington Post (Westfall, Murphy, Taylor, Pietsch, & Salcedo, 2023), might associate the camp attacking Israel with Palestinians or “Gaza”, not with Hamas, even before beginning to read. It must be acknowledged that the BBC article begins with the attack of “Hamas” on Israel, but the title of the article contains Gaza, the category of the article is called “Israel Gaza War” and a subtitle in the article reads “Why are Israel and Gaza at war now?.” As for the Washington Post article, this is included in the category Israel Gaza War, which might well be read as the war carried out by Israel against Gaza (Strip) after it has been attacked by Hamas.
On the other hand, the article “What are the roots of the Israel-Palestine conflict?” from the Guardian (McGreal, 2023) has a similar title, but the article category is called “Israel-Hamas War”, and immediately under the title and headline, the tag “Israel-Hamas war – latest updates”. Quoting again President Biden’s statement from the 10th of October, “It matters. There’s a difference”. The context in which this citation is presented is also different, but it is still explanatory on the importance of differences: seeding in the conscience of inexperienced readers the idea that the Gaza Strip or “the Palestinians” might have initiated war against Israel, voluntarily or involuntarily, cannot be farther from reality on the ground. Furthermore, the damages in image of an entity, i.e., the Palestinians from Gaza Strip, that has endured long suffering can be produced by either stating direct falsehoods or by propagating ideas in a grey area. Therefore, while the freedom of speech is vital in an open society, the responsibility to uphold truth and avoid hurting innocent people is also vital.
This is only one of the contexts in which attention should be increased when dealing with semi-official statements, which are increasing by the number in the era of social media, in which importance and correctness of facts is conditioned by the number of views and positive feedbacks.
This article evaluated the background and context of the conflict between Hamas and Israel that erupted on the 7th of October, 2023, and demonstrates that there are long-term and significant preconditions to this conflict. These refer to both events forced through wars, and an idyllic consciousness of some groups related to “the Holy Hand” concept. The former and present-day superpowers the UK and the US apply a classical cliché in siding with Israel, in a departure from their commitments from upholding freedoms, human rights and the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people.
However, the slow and apparently certain process of uprooting Palestinians from the Occupied Palestinian Territories might face winds ahead, as Iran, a strong supporter of Palestinian rights, is gaining influence in the region and is becoming part of an economic block that might rival the traditional post-colonial arrangements.
The article also points out potential risks when receiving information from either official or non-official information. Noting that President Xi Jinping does not post on social media platforms like X, while some Western leaders try to pose in leaders from the people, the rules of interaction between individuals in a state system and at international level will probably determine by fundamental human values of societies that outpace fading, nowadays less relevant, ideologies. Should a fundamental change in world affairs happen, this will certainly be reflected in the conflict between Hamas and Israel.
WAFA. (2023, May 14). On 75th anniversary of Palestinian Nakba, number of Palestinians worldwide doubled about 10 times. Retrieved from WAFA Palestine News & Info Agency: https://english.wafa.ps/Pages/Details/135793
BBC. (2014). Holy wars. Retrieved from BBC UK: https://www.bbc.co.uk/ethics/war/religious/holywar.shtml
Bocco, R. (2023, September 18). The Oslo Accords: False Hopes For Peace. Retrieved from Geneva Graduate Institute: https://www.graduateinstitute.ch/communications/news/oslo-accords-false-hopes-peace
Hasan, M., & Sayedahmed, D. (2018, February 19). Blowback: How Israel Wwnt From Helping Create Hamas To Bomb It. Retrieved from The Intercept: https://theintercept.com/2018/02/19/hamas-israel-palestine-conflict/
Karlstroem, B. (1967, September 1). How Did They Become Reserve Currencies? Retrieved from IMF eLibrary: https://www.elibrary.imf.org/view/journals/022/0004/003/article-A007-en.xml
Graham, E., & Marchick, D. (2006). U.S. National Security and Foreign Direct Investment. Washington: Peterson Institute for International Economics.
- Officer, L. (2023). Dollar-Pound Exchange Rate From 1791. Retrieved from MeasuringWorth.com: http://www.measuringworth.com/exchangepound/
Tahir, D. (2020, October 1). The Hashimites and the Great Arab Revolt: The Promise and Betrayal of Arabia. Retrieved from The Review Of Religions: https://www.reviewofreligions.org/24721/hashimite-arab-revolt/
Twing, S. (1996, April). A Comprehensive Guide to U.S. Aid to Israel. Retrieved from Washington Report on Middle East Affairs: https://www.wrmea.org/1996-april/the-cost-of-israel-to-u.s.-taxpayers-a-comprehensive-guide-to-u.s.-aid-to-israel.html
Sharp, J. (updated 01.03.2023). U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel. Wahington, https://sgp.fas.org/crs/mideast/RL33222.pdf: Congressional Research Service RL33222.
Lieber, D., & AbdulKarim, F. (2023, October 14). Latest Death Tolls in Israel and Gaza. Retrieved from The Wall Street Journal: https://www.wsj.com/livecoverage/israel-hamas-war-gaza-strip/card/latest-death-toll-in-israel-and-gaza-eoVPFI8WcXN0mzIR73pY
BBC. (2023, October 12). Egypt warned Israel days before Hamas struck, US committe chairman says. Retrieved from BBC News: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-67082047
the White House. (2023, October 10). Remarks by President Biden on the Terrorist Attacks in Israel. Retrieved from The White House: https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2023/10/10/remarks-by-president-biden-on-the-terrorist-attacks-in-israel-2/
Human Rights Watch. (2014, July 15). Israel/Palestine: Unlawful Israeli Airstrikes Kill Civilians. Bombings of Civilian Structures Suggest Illegal Policy . Retrieved from Human Rights Watch: https://www.hrw.org/news/2014/07/15/israel/palestine-unlawful-israeli-airstrikes-kill-civilians
UN Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. (2023, August 30). GA/PAL/1454 Case before International Court of Justice Will Expose Israel’s Prolongued Illegal Policies, Permanent Observer Tells Palestinian Rights Committee. Retrieved from United Nations: https://press.un.org/en/2023/gapal1454.doc.htm
AFP/France24, News Wires. (2018, September 10 (modified on the 11th)). US threatens to arrest ICC judges if they pursue Americans for Afghan war crimes. Retrieved from France24: https://www.france24.com/en/20180910-usa-trump-threatens-arrest-icc-judges-american-soldiers-afghan-war-crimes
EURACTIV.com with AFP. (2023, October 13). Von der Leyen heads to Israel in Blinken’s footsteps. Retrieved from Euractiv: https://www.euractiv.com/section/global-europe/news/von-der-leyen-heads-to-israel-in-blinkens-footsteps/
O’Leary, N. (2023, October 13). As von der Leyen visits Israel, is the European Commission overstretching its powers? Retrieved from The Irish Times: https://www.irishtimes.com/world/middle-east/2023/10/13/as-von-der-leyen-visits-israel-is-the-commission-overstretching-its-powers/
Helm, T. (2023, October 14). Sunak promises Israel ‘unqualified support in face of evil’ – but makes no mention of Gaza’s plight. Retrieved from The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/oct/14/sunak-promises-israel-unqualified-support-in-face-of-evil-but-fails-to-mention-plight-of-gaza
Walsh, A. (2023, October 13). UK to deploy Royal Navy ships to Middle East to ‘bolster security’. Retrieved from BBC: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-67095846
UK PM Office, Ministry of Defence, The Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP, & The Rt Hon Rishi Sunak MP. (2023, October 13). Prime Minister deploys UK military to Eastern Mediterranean to support Israel. Retrieved from Gov.uk -Press Release: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/prime-minister-deploys-uk-military-to-eastern-mediterranean-to-support-israel
France24. (2023, October 10). Qatar, Iran, Turkey and beyond: The galaxy of Hamas supporters. Retrieved from France24: https://www.france24.com/en/middle-east/20231014-qatar-iran-turkey-and-beyond-the-galaxy-of-hamas-supporters
Press TV. (2023, October 15). Iraqi parliament urges activation of Arab Defense Treaty against Israel. Retrieved from Press TV: https://www.presstv.ir/Detail/2023/10/15/712767/Iraq-Palestine-Israel-Gaza
Kirez, T. (2023, October 11). German police ban Palestinian solidarity rallies in Berlin. Retrieved from Anadolu Agency News: https://www.aa.com.tr/en/europe/german-police-ban-palestinian-solidarity-rallies-in-berlin/3015651
McGreal, C. (2023, October 13). What are the roots of the Israel-Palestine conflict? Retrieved from The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/oct/13/why-israel-palestine-conflict-history
Westfall, S., Murphy, B., Taylor, A., Pietsch, B., & Salcedo, A. (2023, October 11). The Israeli-Palestinian conflict: A chronology. Retrieved from The Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2023/israel-palestine-conflict-timeline-history-explained/
BBC. (2023, October 13). Israel Gaza war: History of the conflict explained. Retrieved from BBC News: https://www.bbc.com/news/newsbeat-44124396
Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia . (2023, October. 1). Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved from Zionism. Encyclopedia Britannica. : https://www.britannica.com/topic/Zionism
About the author:
Prof. Ecaterina MATOI, Program Director, MEPEI, Romania