The National Interest Foundation Newsletter, Issue 217

The National Interest Foundation Newsletter

Issue 217, December 1, 2023

Welcome to our NIF Newsletter. In this week’s analysis: we delve into the implications of a temporary ceasefire, examine the growing number of hate crimes in the United States against Arab, Muslim, Palestinian, and Jewish people, and look into the increasing risk of the war between Israel and Hamas escalating into a larger conflict.

Temporary Ceasefire in Gaza

Many Gazans returned to survey what was left of their homes during the truce. (Photo from AP)

The Implications of a Temporary Ceasefire in Gaza

By Jacob Van Veldhuizen

Hostilities resumed on Friday, December 1st after a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas that was announced on Friday, November 24th. The temporary peace mediated by Qatar facilitated the safe release of some hostages in exchange for Palestinian women and children held in Israeli prisons, as well as allowing humanitarian aid to enter Gaza. On Tuesday, November 28th, heads of the United States and Israeli intelligence agencies arrived in Qatar for undisclosed talks with officials; and the Egyptian spy chief was also in the country’s capital. Egypt has worked with Qatar to mediate discussions with Diaa Rashwan, head of the State Information Service, stating that an extension would allow for more medicine, food, and fuel to enter Gaza. Nevertheless, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made it clear that Israel would continue warring and fulfilled his pledge.

Over 100 hostages and 200 prisoners were released by the Israeli and Palestinian factions, respectively, before Friday morning. Israeli officials had said they were willing to continue the ceasefire as long as 10 hostages were released each day. After the ceasefire extension, 12 hostages were released by Hamas forces on Tuesday, and another 2 hostages were in Israeli custody ahead of the release of 10 hostages on Wednesday night. However, the peace ended with the end of a prisoner exchange.

Despite the temporary pause in fighting and pressure to avoid civilian casualties, the Israelis have continued operations in the West Bank where they arrested 133 people in the first four days of the truce. Monitoring groups have reported around 3,290 arrests in the West Bank and East Jerusalem since October 7th. Night raids and arrests by the Israeli Defense Force have been a daily occurrence for decades, with 15-20 arrests on a “calm” day for any number of claimed infractions including social media posts considered inflammatory. Before the current conflict, one in every five Palestinians had been arrested by the IDF justified by the 1,600 military orders imposed on Palestinians under Israeli occupation. There are currently 5,200 Palestinians imprisoned in Israel, including 170 children. Each year, the Israelis routinely jail and release 500-700 Palestinian children whom they blindfold, handcuff, sexually abuse, or whose bones they break (a Save the Children study reports that 86% of kids were beaten, 69% strip-searched, and 42% injured when detained including with gunshot wounds).  These violations of international law come in addition to the Israeli practice of transferring an occupied people from their territory, an egregious violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention that the Israelis have perpetrated before and during the current crisis.

The glaring unmasking of Israeli infractions of international law has made it uncomfortable for the US Administration to continue the unbridled backing of its ally. The White House was therefore compelled to make its strongest statements to date surrounding the conflict, urging the Israelis to “fight more surgically” as the devastation and restrictions on supplies severely strain the ability of international aid organizations to deal with the humanitarian crisis. American officials have also told the Israelis that future military operations should not stop the flow of power and water or hinder the work of hospitals, U.N. shelters, and other humanitarian sites.

The temporary ceasefire had allowed humanitarian aid to enter Gaza, albeit insufficient by many accounts. France announced they would send the Dixmude, a helicopter carrier with hospital infrastructure to provide medical assistance. The ship is docked in the Egyptian port city of El-Arish. It has more than 80 health workers on board, 40 beds, and hospital equipment. “We are here to help civilians,” Sébastien Lecornu, France’s defense minister said. “It’s our humanitarian mission,” he added. The Palestinian Red Cresent was able to send 233 trucks to northern Gaza; but they expressed frustration over the many obstacles that continue to limit assistance. Workers said that it is challenging to receive aid in Egypt and then reload supplies onto Palestinian trucks for transportation. The Red Cresent has asked for other crossing points to be opened since the Rafah crossing can only fit a limited number of trucks at a time, and the logistical backlog is delaying humanitarian aid.

The World Health Organization is calling for a full ceasefire. The W.H.O. says that disease could kill more Palestinians than the Israeli bombing if Gazans do not receive medical care. Deliveries of medicine, food, and water remain a “trickle” that “barely registers against the scale of the need,” says W.H.O. spokeswoman Margaret Harris. In Gaza, there is a lack of clean water and a rise in infectious diseases like diarrheal and respiratory illness. “It’s not just the hospitals, everybody, everywhere, has dire health needs, because they are starving,” Harris said. A recent assessment of U.N. shelters found no access to safe water, hygiene, food, vaccinations, or medicine. The United Nations reported that over 15,000 Gazans have died since October 7th, with three-quarters of the Strip’s hospitals and two-thirds of its health centers shut down. James Elder, a spokesman for the United Nations’ children’s agency said, “I see children with horrendous wounds of war in car parks on makeshift mattresses in gardens. I expected the worst in coming and I was surprised it was even worse than I imagined.”

Despite the heightening humanitarian crisis, supporters of Israel believe initiating another ceasefire will benefit Hamas, giving them time to regroup and prepare for more fighting. Despite pressure from abroad, the Israeli cabinet decision approved a resumption of military operations in Gaza after the truce expired. Israel has a clearly stated goal, however challenging to achieve, of eradicating Hamas. The Israeli leadership believes a permanent ceasefire would only hinder their military progress while helping Gaza and Hamas to rebuild.

Therefore, while the ceasefire was a good first step, such measures alone will not help the Palestinian people. With entire neighborhoods flattened, thousands of lives lost, and even more injured, the damage done in Gaza is almost irreparable. The international community was right to call for a ceasefire; but more must be done to help the Palestinians who have lost their families, homes, and livelihoods. Ending the conflict with a permanent ceasefire alone, however, will leave Israel with unresolved goals; and it also leave Gaza in total disrepair. There will be millions of displaced citizens with no homes, no infrastructure, and no resources to rebuild what was destroyed. The people of Gaza need humanitarian aid, international support, and freedom from an oppressive occupation. It behooves the international community, therefore, to escalate their efforts to constrain the Israeli assault on Gaza with more than simple warnings, demonstrating that further conflict could destabilize the region as well as impact the Israelis’ access to international support and harm its economy further. The alternative would be a clear endorsement of ethnic cleansing by Israeli allies that claim to stand for human rights. Their credibility and influence would be forever destroyed along with Gaza’s infrastructure if they do not act soon.

Increase in Hate Crimes in the United States

The 3 Palestinians shot in Vermont is just one of the many instances of the rising number of hate crimes in the United States. (Photo from the Institute for Middle East Understanding)

Increasing Hate Crimes Threaten American Public Order

By Jacob Van Veldhuizen

Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims across America are experiencing fear not felt since the aftermath of September 11th, 2001. Acts of Islamophobia and xenophobia against minorities have risen exponentially since early October, a considerable portion of them violent in nature. Authorities have been hesitant to label them hate crimes, despite a clear pattern in the profile of victims.

The most recent attack capturing national headlines happened on November 25th when three Palestinian-American college students were shot as they walked near the University of Vermont campus in Burlington. Witnesses report that the three men were speaking in a mix of Arabic and English, and a photo taken shortly before the boys went on their walk shows all three were wearing Palestinian keffiyeh scarves. The shooter, Jason Eaton, has pleaded not guilty to the charges. One of the victims, Hisham Awartani, may never walk again after this crime. His uncle, Rich Price, has spoken out about the tragedy, saying that Awartani came to spend the holidays with him and his maternal grandmother in Vermont. Awartani had spent summers in the neighborhood, where he was well-known and well-liked. Price noted none of them imagined that this kind of violence would occur.

Another tragic example of prejudicially motivated violence was the brutal murder of a six-year-old Palestinian boy in Chicago. Wadea al Fayoume had celebrated his birthday just over a week before his gruesome murder at the hands of his landlord, Joseph M. Czuba. Wadea was stabbed twenty-six times because of his faith, with police reporting Czuba had screamed “You Muslims have to die” when he broke into the apartment. Czuba also stabbed the boy’s mother, Hanaan Shahin, over a dozen times.

The alarming trend of racist, Islamophobic hatred targeting Muslims and Arabs is not limited to average citizens. Senior officials appear to harbor such sentiments, as evidenced in the behavior of former Obama-era National Security Council Official Stuart Seldowitz who was arrested on charges of hate crimes and stalking and aggravated harassment after an incident at a food truck in New York City. A video taken by the worker shows Seldowitz mocking Islam and threatening the employee. Seldowitz then goes on to say that the death of four thousand Palestinian children would not be enough. He was later released without bail.

Czuba, Eaton, and others who commit such heinous crimes against Arab and Muslim Americans appear to be motivated by bigotry given that their victims are targeted only on their appearance or speech. None of the individuals harmed or killed posed any threat to their assailants. Acts such as these have Muslim and Palestinian-Americans taking precautions to protect themselves, such as removing any visible reference to Palestine or their religion on their person, their car, etc. Others are trying to limit the amount of time they spend outside of their homes, like taking fewer trips to the grocery store or not bringing their children to the park. They have expressed concerns as to whether they will be next, believing it is only a matter of time until they too are a victim.

It is important to recognize that there has also been an increase in antisemitic crimes since the war began. USA Today reports over 800 antisemitic acts since October 7. On October 8, a Jewish family in Clifton, New Jersey was almost hit by a car that seemed to swerve towards them intentionally. Witnesses say that this car was decorated with Palestinian flags. Jewish students at Cornell University received death threats as the same anonymous posters announced their plans to bomb the kosher dining hall. A student was subsequently arrested for the threats.

There is no doubt that any act of violence against innocent civilians is heinous. It should also be noted that in some cases, demonstrations of anti-Zionism or pro-Palestinian freedom are equated with antisemitism. These beliefs are not synonymous. One can be critical of the state of Israel without demonstrating antisemitism; nevertheless, this cannot diminish the gravity of hateful acts committed against someone simply because they are Jewish.

There is no doubt that there has been a dramatic rise in the number of hate crimes since the war began. These are abhorrent acts of violence committed against a group of people because of their race and/or religion. These crimes should be treated as such and those involved should be brought to justice. However, this country does not have a remarkable track record for acknowledging hate crimes as what they are. The American people need to continue to make their outrage known to fight for justice for the victims of these crimes. Authorities in the United States must actively deter hate crimes against any ethnic or religious group; and take measures to criminalize such behavior otherwise it may face a significant rise in such crimes in the months ahead.

Risk of Regional War

The United States has been significantly increasing its military presence in the Middle East, including the deployment of 2 carrier groups. (Photo from Reuters)

Risking a Regional War Born of Israel-Hamas Battles

By Colin Bailey

As a ceasefire that was initially set to last four days was extended to over seven, the prospect of a return to war expanding beyond Israel and Palestine edges closer to reality. The fighting had already extended to southern Lebanon with tit-for-tat exchanges between the Israeli Defense Forces and Hezbollah, as well as Yemeni involvement with missiles fired over the Red Sea and Israeli-owned ships ostensibly taken by Houthi militants.

While Israeli bombardment stopped along with exchanges of fire between its forces and those of Hamas, there were truce violations. Israeli raids also increased significantly in the West Bank, frequently ending with the detention or death of Palestinians. So far, the Israeli government has rejected the idea of a permanent peace deal; and the far-right coalition would likely have not agreed to the one that ended on Friday, December 1st had it not been for internal and external pressures to secure the release of hostages. The return to hostilities has reintroduced the risk of a regional conflict.

Multiple military powers may find themselves drawn into the conflict. The major ones include the United States, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Yemen’s Houthis, and Iran, which has significant influence over both Hezbollah and the Houthis among others. There has already been fighting between Hezbollah and the IDF, albeit limited to exchanges of artillery and missiles, making it the most likely to be the first external party drawn into full-scale fighting. Israel’s shelling of Lebanon has already resulted in 10 Lebanese civilians and 70 fighters being killed, and an escalation could force Hezbollah to bring the full force of its extensive military capabilities into play which would open an unwelcome front in Israel’s war on Gaza.

Should Hezbollah commit greater resources to the conflict, the Israelis may preemptively strike Iran, drawing it into the war as well as causing a chain reaction that may involve other powers. Iran and the United States have already engaged in increased levels of military posturing, either side having struck bases in Syria under the control of their proxies. So far, no Americans have been killed, but the chances of this happening increase with every strike. It remains unclear if this will be enough to draw the United States into an active combat role in this conflict, but the Israelis will certainly attempt to make its ally join the fight.

The U.S. does appear to be preparing for a broader war, though it is unclear whether these moves are preventative or preemptive. American nationals in the Middle East have been advised to leave the region as tensions continue to escalate. The U.S. military continues to be the target of drone strikes across both Iraq and Syria and the navy has sent two carrier groups to the region, both signals of possible American involvement in a wider war.

An expanded conflict would be disastrous for the region as well as the international economy. It will further deteriorate Israel’s security situation and lead to more needless deaths. The only way to prevent the conflict from spreading is to implement a permanent ceasefire; and resolve the issues that led to the October 7th assault in the first place. Though the temporary truce held for the most part, Israel has restarted its offensive and seems determined to continue this conflict to an unknown end. Their current public goal is to destroy Hamas. This goal is not only impossible to ever truly achieve but there is also no tangible way to measure any form of success. A continuation of this war will only mean more deaths for both Israelis and Palestinians; and unless the international community intercedes, the human and material losses will increase exponentially.

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