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No comparison between human costs of Gaza, Ukraine wars

Feb 29,2024 - Last updated at Feb 29,2024

Western leaders, politicians and media have marked the second anniversary of Russia’s war against Ukraine with visits to the country’s capital, commiseration over deaths and destruction, and limited injections of funds. The $60 billion promised by Washington is still stuck in the squabbling Congress denying Ukraine weapons to fight a war, some Western experts, argue it cannot win. The front lines have been largely frozen since last spring. Lacking fresh supplies of heavy arms, Ukrainian troops are digging in while Russia has made slight territorial gains.

Ukrainians interviewed by CNN, the BBC and Western print media are war weary and stressed but speak of the “new normal”. They have bomb shelters, food, water, electricity, Internet, phones, schools, universities and civilian security. In Kyiv and other bomb-mauled but functioning cities, Ukrainians can go to restaurants, cafes, parks and cinemas. Ukrainian women and men not of military age can leave the country and receive benefits to settle temporarily in European countries. They can return home whenever they want.

In an interview with CNN, Ukrainian novelist Andrey Kurkov spoke of “ordinary wartime life” and of frequently checking news from the front line. “Many Ukrainians try to live as they did before the war as they see it as a sort of resistance.” Nevertheless, he said, “All Ukrainians are traumatised. People do not sleep well” due to overflights by warplanes and drones. However, people visit well stocked libraries to buy books. He said it is impossible to get theatre tickets now, all performances are sold out because people want to get away from the war for an hour or two. He also expressed concern that the Western world will “look away” and leave Ukraine alone to face Russia. In his view, this war is a war for Europe since Russia could expand westwards as NATO has expanded eastwards since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The Ukrainians are lucky they have a “new normal” during wartime. Ater 31 years of independence from Russian domination they have developed a post-Soviet “normal”. Having emerged as the poorest country in Europe, Ukraine had a vibrant political life, civil society, and economic renewal although growth was sluggish. However, Ukraine also faced deteriorating infrastructure due to lack of maintenance, mismanagement and corruption.

In contrast with Ukraine, Gaza has suffered from “never normal” for decades. Following the 1948 establishment of Israel, Gaza, which had a population of 60-80,000, was inundated with 160,000-190,000 Palestinian refugees who became the majority population in the narrow coastal strip. UNRWA built camps for the refugees, sheltered, fed and educated them. Egypt governed Gaza until 1967 when Israel conquered Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

For the past 57 years, Israel has ruled Gaza. It planted Israeli colonies, imposed strict controls over security, the freedom of movement of Gazans, and the import and export of goods, made its economy dependent on Israel, and prevented independent economic development. Gaza had some respite after the 1993 Oslo Accords and the 1994 return of exiled Palestinian leaders. Israel clamped down during the Second Intifada (2000-2005). Although Israel withdrew its colonists from Gaza in 2005, Israel retained control by air, sea and land. This deepened in 2006-2007 after Hamas won the majority of seats in Palestine’s parliament and seized control over Gaza.

Israel waged wars on Gaza in 2008-2009, 2012, 2014 and 2021. Funds were pledged for reconstruction but never fully delivered and Israel blocked the importation of construction materials, Gaza was unable to rebuild properly. Conditions deteriorated gradually before the October 7th attack by Hamas which killed more than 1,100 and abducted 240 in southern Israel.

Consequently, Gaza was diminished, debilitated and unprepared when Israel launched its catastrophic response. Gazans were war weary and deeply traumatised before this war.  

Bombs have obliterated their homes. After nearly five months of warfare, they have no food, water, electricity, fuel, Internet and phones and civilian security forces. Schools, hospitals, universities, wells, water pipes and power networks, restaurants, cafes, parks and cinemas have been destroyed. They have nothing to divert them from the ravages of constant conflict. Most have nothing and have been forced to move from “safe place” to “safe place” at Israel’s command although Israel strikes places meant to be “safe”. There is “no security anywhere in Gaza”.

There is no comparison between the human costs of the two wars. In Ukraine, it is estimated that nearly 10,900 civilians and 31,000 soldiers have died in 24 months of warfare. In Gaza, the health ministry reports that in five months the death toll is nearly 30,000, 70 per cent women and children, while at least 8,000 have disappeared or are buried under the rubble of destroyed buildings. Israel claims it has slain 12,000 Hamas and allied fighters out of a total of 30,000 while Qatar reports 6,000 combatants have been killed. Both wars are fuelled by Western weapons donated to Ukraine and Israel. Ukrainians and Gazans pay the price.

While Ukraine may get a desperately needed infusion of Western artillery shells and drones, Kyiv will have to come to terms with Russia. Sooner would be better than later. Prolonging the war suits Russia which is bound to win and inflicts more and more death and damage in Ukraine.

The Israeli military has been humiliated by Gaza’s Hamas fighters who continue to battle Israeli troops and tanks in the north of the strip and around Khan Younis in the south despite Israel’s efforts to make Gaza uninhabitable. Israel’s conduct of the war has already stripped it of whatever moral standing it enjoyed as well as its impunity from accountability. The longer Israel prolongs this war, the more likely it will provide evidence of genocide in the case submitted to the International Court of Justice by South Africa.

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