Week four of the Gaza war

Summary: Rishi Sunak takes time to engage with Elon Musk on the future of AI but has nothing to say about the ongoing slaughter of civilians in Gaza.

The week just past encapsulated the Kafkaesque absurdities and unremitting horrors of a war that under an Israeli onslaught increasingly becomes genocidal. As was noted in our Friday newsletter both Hamas and Israel stand accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity, the former for its 7 October attack that left 1400 dead, many of them civilians with more than 200 taken hostage and the latter for its ongoing assault on civilians in the Gaza Strip that has seen nearly 10000 killed, 40% of whom are children, and many more thousands of Gazans wounded.

In the same day that we published our newsletter, reports later emerged of the Israeli bombardment of an ambulance convoy leaving Gaza City’s Al Shifa Hospital. It was a clear violation of international law but one the Israelis sought to justify by claiming without evidence that what it called “a Hamas terrorist cell” was in one of the ambulances. The Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PCRS) reported 15 killed and 60 wounded. Another Israeli strike the same day targeted a school building in a refugee camp causing at least 15 deaths and dozens of injuries.

An Israeli strike on a Gaza ambulance convoy killed 15 people on Saturday, Palestinian medics said [photo credit: Twitter / X]
An Israeli strike on a Gaza ambulance convoy killed 15 people on Saturday, Palestinian medics said [photo credit: Twitter / X]
The attacks came after Benjamin Netanyahu had rejected a plea from US Secretary of State Antony Blinken who was on on a three day visit ostensibly designed to pull the Israelis and the region back from the threat of all-out war. Blinken had reiterated the US position that: “It is very important that when it comes to the protection of civilians who are caught in the crossfire of Hamas’ making, that everything be done to protect them.” The Israeli response was brutally clear.

On Saturday Blinken was in Jordan to be told by the kingdom’s foreign minister that the US must pressure Israel to halt the war. On Sunday he met with the PA’s Mahmoud Abbas who made the same demand. Other Arab states have been emphatic in calling for a ceasefire. Blinken has demurred and equivocated claiming a ceasefire would be used by Hamas.

In response to whatever US pressure had exerted Netanyahu had already said there would be no pause to the campaign unless and until all hostages are released. As Sami Hamdi noted in our 30 October podcast it is very much in Netanyahu’s interest to continue the war as it diverts attention from his efforts to effect changes in the country’s judicial system that are aimed at ending any threat of him being convicted and jailed on fraud and corruption charges.

Also on Saturday the UNRWA Commissioner-General  Phillippe Lazzarini, having just returned from Gaza, addressed a committee of the General Assembly. He noted that 72 UNRWA staff have been killed in Gaza “the highest number of aid workers killed in a conflict in such a short time in the history of the UN.”

He spoke of UN buildings hit by the Israelis since 7 October, “nearly fifty” and of four schools sheltering refugees bombed on Friday killing “at least 23 and injuring at least 35, ” adding “entire families moved to our shelters with the hope that they would be safe, in a UN building, under the UN flag.”

The relentless bombing of Gaza has created an ongoing disaster for the civilians that Blinken had asked Netanyahu to “do everything to protect.” Lazzarini’s chilling description of the reality on the ground shows the contempt with which Israel treats such requests:

In my discussions with my staff in Gaza, they reported that basic services, including health care, are collapsing. Fuel, medicine, food and water are all running out.

Depriving a whole population of items essential for survival is collective punishment. It is a violation of international humanitarian law.

….

My UNRWA colleagues are a glimmer of hope for the entire Gaza Strip, a ray of light as humanity sinks into darkness.

But they will soon be unable to operate if we do not act decisively now.

Let me be clear — a handful of convoys being allowed through Rafah does not make for a meaningful humanitarian operation, nor is it commensurate with the intense political and diplomatic shuttling that has been taking place.

How is it that a near full siege is imposed for two weeks, then lifted ever so slightly to allow a trickle of aid, and no fuel in?

The UNRWA chief also drew attention to the situation in the West Bank where settler vigilantes, urged on by key ministers in the Netanyahu government are attacking and killing Palestinians while driving them from their homes and off their land:

The West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is simmering with tension, as violence has reached unprecedented levels not seen in the last 15 years.

Rising settler attacks and movement restrictions have displaced over 800 people in the West Bank since October 7th.

The Israeli military is conducting daily incursions into refugee camps.

According to OCHA, the total number of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces or settlers since October 7th is 123, including 34 children.

In the midst of all this carnage, the UK government remains largely silent and, as is the opposition Labour Party, stout in support of Israel. The prime minister Rishi Sunak though he found no time to comment on, let alone call for a temporary cease-fire, did find time to discuss with Elon Musk the future of AI.

The BBC described the PM as “seemingly happy to play host to his famous guest.” In a bizarre conversation from which most journalists were excluded Sunak looked “perhaps even slightly bowled over by the controversial billionaire, who he called a ‘brilliant innovator and technologist.’”

The owner of Tesla and X, formerly known as Twitter, mused at length about the power of AI, “the most disruptive force in history.”  He opined: “There will come a point where no job is needed – you can have a job if you want one for  personal satisfaction but AI will do everything. It’s both good and bad – one of the challenges in the future will be how do we find meaning in life.”

For Palestinians – and for hundreds of millions in the Global South – the acquiescence of Western governments to the destruction of Gaza and its 2.3 million people, and the ongoing attacks in the West Bank and East Jerusalem by settler thugs, meaning and message are clear.  Palestinian lives have little or no value, their deaths are unfortunate statistics, acceptable collateral damage as Israel vengefully and ruthlessly exerts its ‘right to self-defence.’

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