In the Wake of the Ceasefire, Don't Forget: Israel Is the Aggressor | Opinion

After nearly two weeks of violence between Israeli forces and Hamas militants in Gaza, a ceasefire agreement has finally been reached. But the duration of the ceasefire remains questionable, especially given that the grievances that led up to the most recent conflict persist, and without addressing them, it's only a matter of time before the next wave of violence begins. Indeed, less than a day after the ceasefire was announced, violent clashes began again between Palestinian worshippers and Israeli police at Al-Aqsa mosque in East Jerusalem, reproducing the same conflagration that led to the armed conflict with Gaza.

And then, as now, Israel was and remains the aggressor.

Because the truth is, though U.S. President Joe Biden has continued to read from the tired U.S. hymnbook, insisting over and over on "his unwavering support for Israel's security and Israel's legitimate right to defend itself," the violence in the Middle East did not start with Hamas firing rockets from Gaza. It began with police brutality, and it ended with Israeli attacks on Gaza that killed 103 Palestinians, 27 of whom were children.

And therein lies the simple truth: Israeli airstrikes over Gaza cannot simply be considered defense when Israel was the initiator of violence.

Nor did Israel's provocation begin 11 days ago at al-Aqsa. Israel's military occupation in the West Bank and its blockade of the Gaza Strip put Israel in the perpetual position of being the oppressor. There is simply no denying that Israel is present in the Palestinian Territories by force; in the West Bank, Israel has implemented a system that Human Rights Watch recently declared apartheid, and it continues to treat Palestinians as second class citizens in their own neighborhoods.

Moreover, the never-ending siege over Gaza is an act of violence in itself. The Strip is often referred to as the world's largest open air prison. The 15-year blockade of Gaza's near 2 million civilians has made life inside the Strip unbearable. Years of restrictions, which most recently prevented COVID-19 vaccines from entering the Gaza Strip per Palestinian officials, have caused devastation to Gaza's economy. A U.N. report has estimated the land, sea and air blockade has cost the region $16.7 billion and sent poverty sky rocketing. As of 2018, the shattered infrastructure had led to the deaths of more than 1,000 Palestinians, a collective of charitable organizations found.

Regular Israeli airstrikes targeting Gaza's infrastructure—including power plants, the sewage system, the water supply and cement plants—send the Strip back decades each time some semblance of normality is found. Worse, in the years following Israeli attacks, efforts to rebuild are hampered given Israel's limits on cement entering Gaza.

TOPSHOT - IDF soldiers fire tear gas at Palestinian demonstrators during an anti-Israel protest over tension in Jerusalem, at the Qalandiya checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem, in the occupied West Bank, on May 11, 2021. ABBAS MOMANI/AFP via Getty Images

Moreover, due to Israel's restrictions on who can enter and who can leave Gaza through the border with Israel, civilians cannot flee during war. This means that as Israeli airstrikes bombard what is one of the world's most densely populated cities on earth, its civilians are stuck; massive loss of innocent Palestinian life is inevitable.

Then there's the disproportion of power. Backed by U.S. funding of $3.8 billion a year, only one side in this so-called conflict has access to fighter jets, control of borders and advanced weaponry.

Given all of this, it's clear that contrary to what Biden seems to think, the current wave of violence did not start with rockets being fired by Hamas. This is not to justify Hamas's attacks. The loss of ten innocent Israeli lives is tragic, and Hamas's deliberate targeting of civilians is abhorrent. But you simply cannot compare it to the (U.S. backed) military might of Israel; as The Daily Show host Trevor Noah put it, this is akin to "bringing a knife to a gunfight." Given its strength, Israel has a responsibility; it cannot perpetually crush Gaza or repeatedly attack the Strip's struggling hospitals.

But the suggestion that Israel is merely defending itself erases more than just structural differences in Israel's and Hamas's power. It elides attempts to force Palestinian families in East Jerusalem out of their homes, which triggered violent scenes across the region that just ended. Moreover, the rockets fired by Hamas were in response to Israel's violent attack on Al-Aqsa mosque, one of Islam's holiest sites, during Islam's holiest moth. The violence left hundreds of Palestinians injured as Israeli forces targeted Palestinian worshippers with grenades and steel bullets coated in rubber.

It's important to remember that the recent violence in the Middle East is between an oppressor and the victims of oppression. When calling for Israel's right to defend itself, it is vital to recognize that Israel has been the aggressor.

Israel must be held to account for the violence against Palestinians. We cannot only call for peace when Hamas fires rockets. Should Israel's oppression of Palestinian rights be allowed to persist, such one-sided calls for peace will only lead to the deepening the blight of Palestinians and further episodes of conflict.

Ahmed Twaij is a freelance journalist focusing mainly on U.S. politics, social justice and the Middle East. He is also a photographer and filmmaker. His Twitter is @twaiji.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.