Nothing changes for Gaza on New Year’s Day

Nothing changes for Gaza on New Year’s Day

• Palestinians long for peace, but hopes of ceasefire seem farther than ever
• Israeli minister calls for return of settlers to Gaza


GAZA CITY: Israeli jets intensified attacks on central Gaza on Sunday, residents and medics said, as battles raged through the rubble of towns and refugee camps in a war that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said would take “many more months” to end.

Netanyahu’s comments signal no let-up in a campaign that has killed many thousands and levelled much of Gaza, while his vow to restore Israeli control over the enclave’s border with Egypt raises new questions over an eventual two-state solution.

Air strikes pounded al-Maghazi and al-Bureij in the centre of Gaza, killing 10 people in one house and driving more to flee to Rafah on the border with Egypt from front lines where Israeli tanks are battling Hamas fighters.

At least 48 Palestinians were killed in overnight bombing in Gaza City, the health ministry said, with many still buried under the rubble.

A Red Crescent video published on Sunday showed the chaotic aftermath of strikes in central Gaza, as rescuers worked in the dark to carry an injured child from smoking rubble.

As the year drew to a close, Palestinians in Gaza were praying for a ceasefire but had little optimism that 2024 would be better.

In Rafah on Gaza’s border with Egypt, which has become the biggest focal point for Palestinians fleeing other parts of the enclave, people on Sunday were more preoccupied with trying to find shelter, food and water than by the new year.

“In 2024 I wish to go back to the wreckage of my home, pitch a tent and live there,” said Abu Abdullah al-Agha, a middle-aged Palestinian man whose house in Khan Yunis was destroyed and who lost a young niece and nephew in an Israeli air strike.

“I wish for our children to live in peace and security, to go back to school, back to university, for workers to go back to work and find a source of income,” he added.

The Israeli bombardment has pushed nearly all Gazans from their homes, killed 21,822 people according to health authorities in the Hamas-run enclave, and left survivors facing hunger, disease and destitution.

Any hope of a political settlement to the conflict and Palestinians’ 75-year quest for self-determination appears further away than ever.

“Since October we’ve been struggling in tents in the streets, after our homes were demolished,” said Suzan Khader, weeping, adding that she wished the new year would bring an end to the war.

“Our whole lives are now on the streets, we eat in the streets, we live on the streets, we die on the streets, and even our children are on the streets and we’re all displaced. So many struggles in 2023,” she added.

People crowd around makeshift tents in Rafah that have sprung up on streets and pavements, in empty lots and fields. U.N.-run schools designated as shelters early in the conflict were rapidly filled with people whose homes were destroyed.

In their tents made with crude plastic sheeting, where people have only the minimum of belongings such as blankets and cooking utensils, people look back with fond sadness on their abandoned homes and lives.

“I hope in 2024 that everything is fixed and for life to go back to normal,” said Muna al-Sawaf, 12, from Gaza City, playing with a kitten in the rubble. “I want life to go back to normal, get dressed, run errands again, our homes to be rebuilt.”

Call to settle Gaza

In yet another admission of Tel Aviv’s designs to permanently occupy and settle the Gaza Strip, far-right Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich on Sunday called for the return of Jewish settlers to the strip after the war, and said that its Pales­tinian population should be encouraged to emigrate.

“To have security we must control the territory,” Smotrich told Israel’s Army Radio in response to a question about the prospect of re-establishing settlements in Gaza. “In order to control the territory militarily for a long time, we need a civilian presence.”

Israel unilaterally withdrew the last of its troops and settlers in 2005, ending a presence inside Gaza that began in 1967.

All settlements on occupied Palestinian land are regarded as illegal under international law, regardless of whether they were approved by Israel. Smotrich also said Israel should “encourage” the territory’s around 2.4m Palestinians to relocate to other countries.

Published in Dawn, January 1st, 2024


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