‘The smell of death in Gaza sends the message that life will never be normal after Israel’s barbarism ends’ says Abdallah Attari

Are we at a point where people dying by the thousands and hostages missing in the hundreds have become a daily norm? With the war in Gaza raging for over a month and no end in sight, what will normal even look like when the dust has settled? And what will be the price?

The violence of October 7 will go down in history for the trauma it unleashed for generations to come. Hamas massacred 1,200 Israelis at the Be’eri kibbutz and Nova music festival, in a security breach that shocked the world. More than 230 Israeli hostages were kidnapped – weeks have gone by and only a few have been returned, amid increasing reports of some found or believed dead.

Since then, Israel has killed thousands of Palestinians and cut off Gaza from electricity, water, fuel, medicine and, at times, its communications. The situation has been described as dire, as sewage now runs through the streets and hospitals are left without power. Without access to medical supplies, doctors are forced to carry out procedures on patients without anaesthetic.

For Palestinian ambassador to Cyprus Abdallah Attari, up until October 7, he believed the worst thing he could tell the world about Gaza was that it was the largest open-air prison.

“I did not know fate had worse things in store for us. It is now turning into a mass grave.”

No conflict is as immensely divisive as the Israeli-Palestine one. In an interview with the Cyprus Mail, Attari argues that the double standards and hypocrisy which have raged for the 75 years of this long-standing problem, have effectively given Israel carte blanche “to do whatever it wants” and “driven Palestinians to despair”.

The ambassador highlights he is in favour of the hostages being returned home “but there are 6,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons. Women, children. There are people there for more than 30 years. They should go back home too.”

Ultimately, Attari stresses everyone should go back home. The hostages returned to their homes, the prisoners to their own homes and “the Israeli army officers in Gaza should go home and leave us alone and go back to the 1967 borders. From there on we can live in peace.”

He says it goes without saying that the loss of any human life cannot be justified – including the Israeli lives on October 7 – and urges people to hold Israel to the same degree of accountability as the Palestinians.

“These children that you see on TV, four years old, five years old. In 10 years, do you have the gall to ask this child why they are fanatical? Why they have a gun in hand? After they have buried their family, friends, after they themselves were buried under the rubble for two, three days.”

Attari looks at the war between Russia and Ukraine, and the rallying voices supporting sanctions in the former, but says “no one is allowed to ask Israel such questions. This means they have developed complete impunity.”

Israel, on the other hand, describes the war as part of its struggle to ensure its very survival, seeing Hamas’ ideology as an existential threat to Israel and Jews. For Israel it is seen as a battle for survival against terrorism.

The Palestinian ambassador refuses to call the violence in Gaza a war. “What is happening is genocide, it is ethnic cleansing, it is slaughter. I do not hesitate to use these words.”

The backdrop to his comments come amid an Israeli raid at Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza. Israel maintains it has intelligence the hospital has been used as a Hamas base, and has published images showing assault rifles, grenades and a laptop found within Shifa. It argues it is Hamas which is violating international law by operating from a hospital and using human shields.

Attari counters asking “who cuts off oxygen and electricity from an incubator with 39 infants?” while also endangering thousands of patients, women and children who have taken refuge there? And though the world’s eyes may be turned to Gaza, the ambassador says there is another genocide unfolding in the Palestinian Authority-controlled West Bank.

“It is a different type of genocide. More light, but still a genocide.”

Since October 7, more than 180 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank after a surge in violence from Israeli forces and settlers, which has spurred bodies such as the UN to condemn the incidents.

Israel says it is carrying out counter-terrorism raids against Hamas and other armed factions in the West Bank, as part of its efforts to prevent any other potential planned attacks.

Attari believes the onslaught of raids and strikes are part of a broader strategy by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to develop a ‘New Middle East’, where Palestine does not exist.

The ambassador recalls that Netanyahu demonstrated this in a map which he showed before the United Nations General Assembly two months ago, which had no Gaza, West Bank or East Jerusalem. Instead, the territories fell under Israel.

“He rubbed it in our faces. He was not ashamed.”

As such, Attari feels it is no exaggeration to say that Israel has a plan. “This barbarism and genocide happening in Gaza serves a goal. To displace Palestinians from Gaza to Egypt and from the West Bank to Jordan.”

file photo: newborns taken off incubators in gaza's al shifa hospital after power outage

Newborns are placed in bed after being taken off incubators in Gaza’s Al Shifa hospital after power outage

Indeed, the Palestinian approach to refugees is like no other. Attari looks to Jordan and Egypt with great pride and gratitude for refusing to accept Palestinian refugees. In any other conflict, such views from officials would be abhorrent.

“What happened in 1948 will never happen again and we will not allow it,” the ambassador underscores. “We lived through the suffering of the Nakba and became refugees. This will never happen again. We will die standing in our land. Whether it’s called Gaza, West Bank, East Jerusalem. We will never leave.”

For Palestinians, the Nakba, which means ‘catastrophe’ in Arabic, refers to the mass displacement during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

Attari is reticent to look at the deaths since October 7 as raw numbers – currently more than 11,400, with the figures not being updated since the health system in Gaza collapsed earlier this week. Over 4,700 are children.

“I want to avoid the numbers. Because people will become used to it. They will wake up and ask how many Palestinians died today? Only 200? 250? That’s how it goes.”

He points out that though the world’s eyes may have turned to Gaza due to how quickly the violence escalated, “and perhaps because this time it was Jewish, Israeli blood that was shed”, the violence that Palestinians have been enduring has been persistent for 75 years.

He completely rejects the Israeli narrative that the massacres of October 7 do not fall within the context of the decades-long Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

“It dates back decades, specifically from 1948, during the Nakba.”

“Since then, we are living through an ongoing Nakba…If there was no occupation and violence against our people, then there would be no Hamas, Fatah or Popular Front. All these organisations were created because of the occupation.”

The death, division and destruction that have been borne out of this war in just over one month leave little doubt that nothing will be the same for generations to come for people in Palestine and Israel. An already fraught conflict, the horrors of sirens, strikes and suffering have wedged divides that at present seem impossible to overcome.

“The smell of death in Gaza sends the message that life will never be normal after Israel’s barbarism ends.” As such, Attari says it is clear a comprehensive solution must be found: “End occupation.”

There is ‘next day’ for Israel too, however, he adds. Internally, it will have to explain where all the cameras surveilling Gaza were turned to on October 7, but on a global level “they have to answer to international courts for war crimes.”

Attari ends on a sobering note: “In the rest of the world, they say time is money. In Gaza, time is blood.” It is clear the lines have been drawn. Perhaps in blood.

The views presented are those of the Palestinian ambassador. Read last week’s interview with the Israeli ambassador here.