Photo courtesy of t13 (winner of the World Press Photo of the Year 2024)

If a modern military combat involves a lot of high explosive such as large bombs and shells, the physical devastation of the area is profound. And the bigger the shell or bomb the wider the radius of devastation, including lethal human damage. If a large bomb or shell, such as that of a 105 mm calibre gun, the principal armament of a typical main battle tank (MBT) such as the Israeli Merkava hits an open area such as a field or an expressway interchange the explosion damage radius would roughly be several hundred square metres.

If an incoming shell from a larger 122 mm calibre artillery gun hits such an open area, as is common in the flat Ukrainian countryside, then the damage radius could be .5 km² half a square kilometre. The more open the area, the lesser the explosion effects as the shock wave and heat dissipates rapidly.

To physically survive an exploding heavy artillery shell, one would have to be at least 300 metres away. And even if one barely lives, one would still suffer bodily injury from intense air pressure wave, heat and shrapnel from the shell casing or metal splinters packed into the shell. In addition to damage to one’s eardrums from the sound, one would also suffer from psychological trauma of the combined sound, blast wave, heat and possibly body injury.

In a densely built up area such as that of Gaza city where the shell explodes in a small, enclosed, area such as a street, alleyways or city block, the shock wave and firestorm is contained inside that neighbourhood and causes far more devastation. Imagine whole families experiencing a salvo of several such 155 mm shells, when several guns (usually 3-6 guns in an artillery battery) fire simultaneously or worse salvo after salvo after salvo for hours on end.

How about for 200 days without end? How must Gaza’s little children feel today, the 200th day of such physical and mental experience? Those who are still alive have gone through  the non-lethal effects. After all that shellshock and added trauma of death of loved ones – their whole families, neighbours and classmates – can Gaza’s children even feel?

Some of them who barely survive are continuously suffering from injury, maiming, loss of limbs, eyes, fingers and other body parts. As they continuously feel their injury pain due to lack of medical painkillers and anaesthetics, their little minds cannot cope with the intensity of their larger experience of an accumulated 200 days.

And tomorrow the horror and agony will be there and the day after and the next week. As aid agency experts are already informing the world, the psychological trauma for Gazans must be so great and widespread that the Gazan people’s ability react to their predicament, to grapple with the immediate conditions of the war and to holistically, resourcefully deal with their ongoing challenges is in doubt; not just in doubt.

As we, the rest of the human community, are compelled to watch, to hear and be emotionally and intellectually shaken by our own experience as reluctant witnesses, we must live with this terrible fact of a whole population having lost its capacity to respond and deal with its collective survival.

But the people of Gaza are indeed coping with their predicament in spite of all their maiming and dislocation. Who else is burying their children, parents, families, friends and neighbours? Who else is searching the rubble for bodies, for valuables and for cherished personal things? Who else is dousing fires? Who is receiving food from aid agencies (if they are allowed to be sent it) and distributing it?

Just as much as there are numbers of threats to life and community survival that can be listed in terms of military weapons and munitions, we also have an unending number of questions to ask about the Palestinian society that has to daily and monthly deal with the impact of the war.

It is likely that while the Palestinian community within this theatre of war are somehow self-aware of the immediate aspects of their existence, the rest of the world outside the strip is also aware of other aspects, equally significant. The world community has been and continues to be well informed on a daily, hourly, real time basis over these same 200 days.

And so informed the rest of the states of the world and its citizens are also responding to this most urgent crisis affecting the world.

But there are stark differences in some priorities between the Gazans and the rest of the world regarding this common, crisis. Most stark was the difference in response to the interim ruling of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) somewhere halfway through these past 200 days.

The vast majority of the rest of the world, except those regimes and nations prosecuting this war, welcomed and rejoiced when the ICJ gave an interim ruling that acknowledged the severity of the war in Gaza and even termed it “plausible genocide” and called for changes in the conduct of the war.

But when the world’s media asked the people in Gaza itself, most of them said they just did not care about judicial rulings (the ICJ is barely judicial, given the role of governments in it). All the Gazans wanted was an end to the military operations and food, water, medicines, functioning hospitals, basic shelter and utilities.

Two hundred days on, other world bodies have ruled against the war in Gaza and strongly criticised its conduct.

Some states of the Global South have reacted against the Western backed Israeli offensives by imposing sanctions. Other states and communities in the West Asian region are reacting very forcefully given their geopolitical proximity and strategic interests. The Houthi tribal confederation, currently dominant in the externally provoked Yemen civil war, has been actively blocking Israeli ships in and around the Red Sea.

Iran, provoked by Israeli attacks and assassination of its key personnel, is also acting militarily.

The numbers of protesting citizens of the principal states sponsoring the Israeli military operations are now record breaking. The West has not experienced such massive and sustained popular protests since the Vietnam War. All indications are that numbers of protestors and protest actions will surpass even that historic phase of world civilisation.

But the most intimidating numbers are that of the casualties in Palestine, especially among the Palestinian people.

On the basis of the loss of 1,300 persons, only about half of them civilians (including many killed by Israeli military firing) in the attack on Israeli siege lines the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), with the endorsement and material support of the Western bloc, have launched a continuous offensive in Gaza.

The mounting death toll in Gaza alone within weeks of that fateful Hamas-led attack on October 7 topped 10,000. Soon it became 25,000.

By then, the nature of the IDF’s military operations were being questioned by many across the world including political movements in states financing and resupplying IDF operations.

Israel’s military operation in Gaza is seen as totally disproportionate to the cause attributed by the Likud Party-led Israeli government. The West and Israel say with one voice and their combined lethal military force that the IDF offensive is firstly, self-defence for the October 7 single day’s Gazan attack led by Hamas’ militia along with four other anti-Occupation Resistance militia.

Secondly, the West-Israel says they must rescue some one hundred prisoners taken by the Gazan attacking force. Thirdly, Israel alone claims that it is attempting to eliminate the Hamas movement.

Two hundred days on, the richest and mightiest alliance of states in human history (also historically the most destructive by its colonialism), declares that it is still actively and destructively attempting to accomplish these three objectives. This alliance of NATO, EU and Israel, led by the sole current world superpower the US, in claiming that it is still busy with this endeavour is actually admitting its massive failure more than half a year on.

The use of munitions and weapons systems in this military-political endeavour is now beginning to surpass some previous wars waged for far bigger reasons. The first Gulf War allowed the West to militarily torch the Gulf oil production region while weakening Iraq and also the unity of the whole complex of Persian Gulf states. The reason, Iraq’s arbitrary invasion of Kuwait, was actually quite serious and logically needed to be addressed.

The Second Gulf War was conducted for what was later revealed as a totally fabricated reason: Iraq’s supposed amassing of “weapons of mass destruction”. If those allegations were true, the West would have had a significant reason for that war. That war enabled the West to severely weaken one emergent regional power, Iraq and also unwittingly enable Iran to emerge as a regional power.

In terms of scale of warfare the IDF is deploying more bombs, missiles and shells in Gaza than was expended in any one of those wars. Last week alone, the US transferred some 65,000 artillery shells and bombs to resupply the IDF.

These numbers, this huge scale of modern destructive endeavour, are surpassed by another statistic – the one that is most highlighted to counter the mounting global horror and distaste at the 33,000 confirmed deaths in Gaza. That overpowering statistic is the death toll in the mass killing of an estimated six million European Jews by Nazi Germany. The Nazi human extermination programme killed a few million more of Poles, Roma, homosexuals, disabled and religiously dissenting people. That non-Jewish number has never been finalised.

The world’s Jewish community terms the killing of Jews by the Nazis as the Holocaust, adopting an ancient Greek military term for total destruction.

The Holocaust is the most popularly attributed reason for the establishment of the state of Israel. In terms of accurate history, the movement of European Jews to create their own political state predates the Nazi Holocaust by centuries. The Jewish Zionist movement itself was formally set up in Europe in the late 19th century. Jewish Zionism emerged as early as the 18th century primarily as a means of escaping mounting violence against Jewish communities across Europe.

The Holocaust of six million Jews is the most convenient and symbolically powerful historical fact to justify and legitimise the state of Israel. Unfortunately, the geopolitics of Western colonialism and imperial interests in oil-rich West Asia has enabled the use of the Holocaust as an excuse for a hegemonic role for Israel in that region on behalf of the West.

Thus, as the Gaza war goes beyond 200 days, all these other numbers are stumped by the six million of the Holocaust as the ready legitimisation of this war and the extent of its brutality.

After all, how can the deaths of a mere 33,000 Gazans compare with the killing of 6,000,000?

The world may be shocked and disgusted with the various numbers characterising the ongoing war from the munitions deployed, the colossal waste of resources, the square km reduced to rubble, the 270,000 homes destroyed, the number of dead, missing and injured but there always is that 6,000,000 number prevailing.

The numbers serve to shock and prompt society into actions in response. At the same time, these same numbers are cruelly used to emasculate that social response and to stymie humanities aspirations to end immediate crises notwithstanding past events and perpetrations.