Apartheid has led to this Middle East escalation and it's civilians who will pay the price

Dr Brendan Ciarán Browne of Trinity College Dublin looks at the build-up to this week’s attacks in Palestine – Israel and the potential fallout after.

LAST UPDATE | Oct 12th 2023, 12:00 PM

IN A REGION that draws polemical, hyperbolic and ill-informed ‘hot takes’, one thing most can agree on is the significance of events that transpired in Occupied Palestine and Israel on 7 October 2023.

In launching their audacious and unprecedented attack, Hamas’s military wing, the al-Qassam Brigades penetrated a heavily fortified, securitised and well-staffed military installation with relative ease, taking to the sea and sky in a coordinated and meticulously planned assault.

Being caught off guard in such a way has sent shock waves across Israel, a country used to having the upper hand when it comes to exerting control and colonial dominance over its Palestinian neighbours. Since then, unimaginable loss and suffering have occurred, with swathes of innocent civilians killed.

Despite being warned that an attack was imminent, the Israeli government chose to ignore it, turning attention towards managing Palestinian resistance activity across the West Bank and placating the demands of an emboldened settler movement. Hubris is the word that best describes this hotchpotch conglomerate of right-wing fanatics led by a seasoned professional with vast experience in overseeing atrocities.

Trouble brewing

How this plays out is impossible to predict. Yet it is important to reaffirm that whilst a significant moment, history did not begin on 7 October 2023. For over 75 years Palestinians have steadfastly fought for freedom and liberation, doing so against a heavily armed, internationally inoculated Israeli state.

The two million residents of the Gaza Strip have been placed under a permanent siege for the best part of 15 years, their calories counted and movements restricted.

Bombarded by sea and sky, thousands have been killed and almost triple that permanently maimed. United Nations special envoy to the Middle East noted that by the end of August 2023, over 200 Palestinians had been killed across the Occupied Territories, a death toll at its highest since 2005.

The enduring impact of Israeli settler colonial violence on Palestinian lives and livelihoods has led to charges of Apartheid being advanced by Palestinian and international human rights organisations. Home demolitions, forced displacement, residency revocation, attacks on educational establishments, restrictions on movement and the recent settler-led assaults on the Al Aqsa mosque – the third holiest site in Islam – have added fuel to an already well-lit bonfire.

Recent geopolitical developments initiated by US President Donald Trump under the bilateral Abraham Accords in 2020 have resulted in the normalising of relationships between Israel and some neighbouring Arab countries including Bahrain, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates. The looming possibility of a deal with the Saudi regime has been viewed by many in Palestine as yet further evidence of side-lining legitimate demands for self-determination and liberation, despite platitudes to the contrary. Therefore, anyone with even a cursory interest in the region and provided they don’t suffer from selective amnesia, should know full well that all the ingredients were there for a major escalation.


Fears of a wider, regional spill over, one that draws in purported global superpowers are well founded. Gaza has long been a focal point when it comes to revealing coordination between Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Iranian regime, both of whom have close ties with the Hamas government.

Allegations of Iranian involvement remain just that and must be treated with caution.

In the north, a number of minor skirmishes have taken place at the Lebanese/Israeli border involving Palestinian fighters, those who live as refugees inside Lebanon itself. The possibility of Hezbollah choosing to fully enter the fray is real. Across the West Bank, Palestinian resistance fighters continue to attack Israeli military installations, setting fire to the Jalameh checkpoint and engaging Israeli Occupation Forces at Qalandiya, the heavily fortified barrier that restricts Palestinian movement in and out of Ramallah. In areas such as Nablus and Jenin non-aligned armed Palestinian factions, including the now famous ‘Lion’s Den’, continue to actively defend their areas against regular Israeli army incursions.

Reactions of the Western superpowers, led by the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union, have been particularly illuminating. Any myth of non-partisanship when it comes to Palestine-Israel has been well and truly dispelled both by governmental declarations and engrained media bias. The European Union leadership’s rapid move to declare its unequivocal support for the Israeli state, projecting the Israeli flag on the side of the European Commission building, is an act of solidarity it has never once shown the Palestinian people. While Israeli defence minister Yoav Gallant was busy proclaiming on live television his intent to enforce collective punishment on the Palestinian population in Gaza by shutting off the water supply and electricity and ensuring nothing enters or leaves the area, Benjamin Netanyahu turned to Twitter to share videos of buildings being pummelled indiscriminately from the air.

Simultaneously, American President Joe Biden signed off on a further 8 billion dollars of military aid to Israel, ordering the deployment of the USS Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group to the Mediterranean Sea. Such acts further demonstrate America’s longstanding complicity in facilitating the Israeli war machine. For anyone remotely interested in international law and the laws of armed conflict, this ought to cause serious concern.

One thing we can depressingly predict is that over the next number of days and indeed weeks, those who will continue to bear the brunt of this wanton, unchecked and internationally funded settler colonial violence, will be the ordinary civilians of the Gaza Strip. Alongside the destruction of Gaza, everyday violence that characterises Israeli settler colonialism in Palestine will continue unchecked and unabated as it has done since the foundation of the state.

Any international intervention to affect change must avoid pouring oil on an already red-hot pan. Serious energies must now be devoted to ending the occupation and dismantling the Apartheid regime. Anything short of this is unacceptable.

Dr Brendan Ciarán Browne is Assistant Professor of Conflict Resolution and a Fellow of Trinity College Dublin. He is author of several books, including Transitional (in)Justice & Enforcing the Peace on Palestine (nominated for the 2023 Middle East Monitor Palestine Book Awards).

Dr Brendan Ciarán Browne