WITH the UK media obsessed with Boris Johnson’s appearance at the Covid enquiry and Tory infighting over immigration, the war on Gaza has slid down the headlines.

And yet, the past week since the pause in the fighting collapsed has been one of the heaviest yet in terms of the death and destruction.

More than 700 Palestinians were killed in one day last week, the highest daily toll so far. The aerial bombardment has continued unabated. The targets are now in the south, especially around the city of Khan Younis, a place where tens of thousands of civilians have fled from the north.

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For people on the ground, the situation is increasingly desperate. Many have moved repeatedly over the last two months, fleeing danger only to become a new target. The health service is on its knees, able only to provide the most basic help. One doctor reported that 80% of patients were now receiving amputations. Facilities are now effectively field hospitals in a war zone.

The National: Palestinians look at destruction after an Israeli strike on the Gaza Strip in Khan Younis,

More than eight out of 10 Gazans have been displaced. More than 60% of homes destroyed. People are living in tents on streets surrounded by rubble. Food is in short supply. Water is dirty. It is a recipe for disease to spread on an epidemic scale. Aid agencies report that humanitarian assistance is impossible.

The worry now is that Israeli forces will flatten southern Gaza as they have the north. The World Health Organisation has appealed for protection for the two remaining major hospitals in Khan Younis which are now the hub of what is left of the health service.

You might wonder why this scale of aerial bombardment is continuing as Israeli ground forces now occupy all parts of Gaza. Israel claims it is only fighting Hamas. It also claims that the Hamas military operation operates from a network of underground tunnels which they are trying to destroy.

I confess I am not an engineer, nor do I have any experience with explosives. But I am pretty sure that the best way to destroy a tunnel is to detonate an explosion inside it to achieve its collapse. Aerial bombardment seems particularly ineffective in achieving this. If anything, you would think that layers of rubble five or 10 metres thick would provide additional protection to anything underneath.

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No wonder Palestinians and most observers conclude that the objective of Israel’s military operations is in large part to do with rendering Gaza uninhabitable, displacing its Palestinian residents into Egypt.

There are plenty of Israeli politicians who are quite open about this aim. “We are now actually rolling out the Gaza Nakba,” says Avi Dichter, Israel’s minister for agriculture and former head of Shin Bet, the Israeli Security Agency.

Many others support and amplify this view. There is no pretence about precision attacks, just total destruction.

The National: Israel's prime minister Benjamin NetanyahuIsrael's prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Image: .)

Underpinning these views are a series of anti-Arab attitudes growing in force in Israeli civil society and media. Chris Doyle, the director of the respected Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding (CAABU) provides a compelling and forensic examination of this. He says there is a trend to portray Palestinians as animals, a stark process of dehumanisation that is necessary if you are going to get involved in ethnic cleansing and war crimes.

He cites Sara Netanyahu, the powerful wife of the PM, saying “I really hope that our revenge, that of the state of Israel, on the cruel enemy — will be a very big revenge. I don’t call them human animals because that would be insulting to animals”.

As Doyle points out there has, of course, been a long history of vile, bloodthirsty antisemitic comments from Hamas. The difference is that whilst these are called out by Western political leaders, there is silence about genocidal remarks against Palestinians.

This hardening ideology provides cover and context not just for the indiscriminate destruction of Gaza, but for the increasing attacks on Palestinian villages by armed settlers in the West Bank too. There have now been more than 300 such attacks documented in the area since October 7, with up to 250 killed and thousands more displaced.

Anti-Arab narrative has always been part of Israeli political discourse. The difference is that today it has become mainstream. This is also leading to a crackdown on dissent both within the occupied territories where more than 1000 Palestinians have been detained and within Israel itself where alternative voices are silenced.

The problem for the Israeli government is that it is difficult to see how this strategy will work, either in eradicating Hamas or other armed Palestinian groups, or in providing security for Israel itself.

There are 2.3 million Palestinians in Gaza, more than 3m in the occupied Palestinians territories in the West Bank and Jerusalem. As many again are refugees in neighbouring countries. They are not going away. At some stage Israel will have to come to terms with the necessity of sharing the place we once called the Holy Land with 10m Palestinians.

Imagine the effect the current war is having on the Palestinian population. Reports state that there are more than 17,000 dead, with 7000 of them children. Tens of thousands injured. More than a million displaced. Severe collective trauma of the consequence of this collective punishment.

Does anyone imagine this will be anything other than disastrous in the long term. Their families will not forget about the events of the last two months. The IDF says it has killed 5000 Hamas fighters. The real question is how many more thousands is it creating by its actions?

But what if Israel could annex the areas it occupies by force and displace all Palestinians into neighbouring countries? What sort of future is that? A fortress state constantly vigilant against a minority of its own population living in continuous tension with its neighbours. That is the vision the right-wing extremists aspire to, but it offers little for most ordinary Israelis who crave peace and security.

There is only one way out of this which offers hope for Israelis and Palestinians alike. The war must stop and talking must start. That will require considerable international pressure and intervention.

A ceasefire could lead to a managed truce and de-escalation with international arrangements for the temporary administration of Gaza and brokering new talks aimed at long-term solutions.

Sadly, we are a long way from that. Our own government and that of the US mouth platitudes but do nothing. They talk of upholding international law but stay silent when presented with prima facie evidence of its breach.

“I must admit I sense that the prime minister feels zero pressure and that we will do whatever it takes to achieve our military goals,” Benjamin Netanyahu’s foreign policy adviser Ophir Falk told Reuters last week when asked about the international pressure on Israel.

Those of us trying to offer solidarity with a Palestinian people under existential threat need to make that pressure rise. That is why we are debating arms sales to Israel this Tuesday in the UK parliament.

Meanwhile, Christian churches in Bethlehem have cancelled Christmas celebrations in solidarity with Gaza. The Lutheran church has a new nativity with a baby Jesus set amongst a pile of rubble. It is a poignant representation of the suffering of Gaza’s children who find themselves buried under what is left of their own homes. Its pastor, Reverend Munther Isaac says “If Christ were to be born today, he would be born under the rubble and Israeli shelling.”