World

Netanyahu faces growing criticism at home and abroad over Gaza and the hostages

While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remains intent on his vow to wipe out Hamas, he is facing increasing criticism abroad for the thousands of civilians killed in Gaza while also dealing with growing anger among his citizens about how the hostage situation is being handled.

'The killing of so many civilians cannot be dismissed as collateral damage,' says UN human rights chief

Israelis march with signs and loved ones from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to call on their government to take more action on returning hostages taken by Hamas in early October.
Israeli protesters, seen on Thursday partway through their five-day march from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, call on their government to take more action for the safe return of hostages held in Gaza. (Corinne Seminoff/CBC)

While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remains intent on his vow to wipe out Hamas, he is facing increasing criticism abroad for the thousands of civilians killed in Gaza. 

It comes as commandos continue to search Gaza's embattled Al-Shifa Hospital, which Israel claims Hamas was using as a command centre. 

The Israeli military said on Thursday it uncovered a Hamas tunnel shaft and a vehicle with weapons at the hospital — the largest in the Gaza Strip. It released video and photos of the discovery on social media, but CBC has not independently verified that content.

Israel is not only facing more international pressure over the human cost of the war but friction with its closest ally, the United States, about what happens after the country wraps up its offensive.

The popularity of Israel's longest-serving leader also appears to be sinking at home, in part due to the Netanyahu government's failure to prevent the Oct. 7 attack, during which Hamas fighters and other militants killed 1,200 people and took around 240 hostages, according to Israeli authorities. 

In this photo collage, a large hole to is surrounded by damaged debris on the left while multiple weapons are laid out on the ground to the right.
Israel's military released these images Thursday of what they said was a tunnel access point near the Al-Shifah Hospital in Gaza City, along with weapons it said were found in a nearby vehicle. (Israel Defense Forces)

"I think there is a lot of support for the operation right now [in Israel], stemming from the massacre," said Ori Givati, advocacy director for Breaking the Silence, an Israeli organization of military veterans who want to end Israel's control over Gaza and the occupied Palestinian Territories. 

"The feeling of frustration, of trauma, of hate — the need for revenge is so, so strong right now, but all of this doesn't mean we can do whatever we want in Gaza."

WATCH | Israel warns Gazans to move — again: 

Israel warns people in southern Gaza to evacuate

5 months ago
Duration 3:13
As Israel releases more images of Hamas weapons and a tunnel shaft beneath a children's hospital, it has told people in three towns who have already evacuated from the north that they must do so again. Fuel has run out, communications with doctors inside hospitals have been cut off and the UN says it will have to halt operations if more fuel isn't delivered soon.

Killing of civilians 'cannot be dismissed as collateral damage'

While Israel's government insists it is taking steps to protect civilians, including dropping leaflets over Gaza to warn residents about impending strikes, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights warned there has been a breakdown of the "most basic respect for humane values."

"The killing of so many civilians cannot be dismissed as collateral damage," said Volker Turk, during a briefing in Geneva on Thursday.

Health authorities in Gaza, which is governed by Hamas, say more than 11,000 people have been killed since the start of the war, about 40 per cent of whom are children. The World Health Organization (WHO) said this week that it hasn't received an update to that death toll from the Health Ministry in Gaza in several days because of the recent escalation in fighting.

Palestinians wounded in Israeli strikes lie on the floor as they are assisted at the Indonesian hospital after Al Shifa hospital has gone out of service amid Israeli ground offensive, in the northern Gaza Strip November 16, 2023.
Palestinians wounded in Israeli strikes lie on the floor of Indonesian Hospital in northern Gaza Thursday after Al-Shifa Hospital stopped functioning as Israeli forces entered the hospital complex. (Fadi Alwhidi/Reuters)

On Thursday, a group of UN experts said there had been "grave violations" committed by Israel during its Gaza offensive that "point to a genocide in the making" against the Palestinian people. 

The group continued to say they were profoundly concerned about the support of "certain governments for Israel's strategy of warfare."

Who will control Gaza?

While the UN Security Council adopted a resolution calling for extended humanitarian pauses and immediate release of Israeli hostages, the United Kingdom and United States abstained from voting, along with Russia. 

In a statement to reporters along the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) summit in San Francisco, U.S. President Joe Biden defended his decision not to push for a ceasefire in Gaza, saying Hamas would go on to "slaughter Israelis" again. 

He offered tacit support for what Israel calls its "precise and targeted" operation inside the Al-Shifa Hospital, by saying the military didn't go in with a large number of troops. Biden did, however, reiterate that he thinks it would be a "big mistake" for Israel to occupy Gaza once its military offensive is over. 

According to a new Reuters/Ipsos poll, U.S. public support for Israel's war against Hamas militants in Gaza is eroding and most Americans think Israel should call a ceasefire to a conflict that has ballooned into a humanitarian crisis. 

The share saying "the U.S. should support Israel" dropped to 32 per cent in Wednesday's poll results from 41 per cent a month earlier. There was also increased interest in having the U.S. act as a neutral mediator.

Israeli officials have spoken about its need to maintain control of Gaza after the war. Netanyahu told ABC News last week that Israel would maintain security over the enclave for an "indefinite period."

"In my mind, then, we are going to have a conflict with the United States and the other international community," said Shalom Ben Hanan, who worked for more than two decades with Shin Bet, Israel's internal security agency. 

Hanan spoke to CBC News on Sunday at his home in Gan Yavne, where the sound of explosions from Gaza could be heard in the distance. 

He says he doesn't think a two-state solution would work at the current time and says Israel cannot allow "terrorist capabilities" to be rebuilt once Israel has destroyed them. 

Shalom Ben Hanan, who worked for more than two decades with the Israeli Security Agency, stands in stairwell.
Former Shin Bet official Shalom Ben Hanan says he doesn't think a two-state solution will work to resolve the Gaza conflict despite calls from allies like the United States. (Corinne Seminoff/CBC)

As far as Israel's offensive, Hanan says the country needs to obey international law, but that it would be a mistake to bend to growing global concern over what's happening in Gaza. 

"With all due respect to international pressure, Israel has suffered … a great massacre," he said. "If we want to rebuild our deterrence, we must consider only Israeli interests."

'A lot of people ... are very angry'

Hanan thinks most of the population supports the size and scale of Israel's military action but that there are two camps of thought when it comes to the prime minister: those who think criticism should be set aside while Israel is at war and those who think the country's senior leadership needs to be replaced now. 

Some of the hostages' relatives, along with their supporters, are taking part in a five-day march this week to demand the government do more to secure the release of their loved ones. 

The march started in Tel Aviv Tuesday and will end in Jerusalem outside of Netanyahu's house on Saturday. 

Noa Porat came out to support the few hundred people marching Thursday afternoon and says while the country is united now, there will be a big political debate and likely change after the crisis is over.

Noa Pora stands in front of Israelis marching to Jerusalem to call for more action on the safe return of Israeli hostages from Gaza.
Noa Porat came out to show her support for the hundreds who are marching to Jerusalem. (Corinne Seminoff/CBC)

"A lot of people, including myself, are very angry," she said. 

But her anger extends beyond her own government to the international community, which, she says, has "turned against" Israel. 

"No one wants to see collateral damage. No one wants to see people killed," said Porat. 

"I keep asking the world, 'If you were Israel, what do you think we should do? Shouldn't we protect ourselves as citizens?'"

WATCH | What the families of hostages are going through: 

Hamas took their daughters, mothers, nieces, nephews

5 months ago
Duration 7:05
More than 200 people are still being held hostage by Hamas, all of them with a family desperately waiting for their return. CBC’s Ioanna Roumeliotis spoke to some about what they’re going through and how they’re finding hope in the agonizing uncertainty.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Briar Stewart

Foreign correspondent

Briar Stewart is CBC's Russia correspondent, currently based in London. During her nearly two decades with CBC, she has reported across Canada and internationally. She can be reached at briar.stewart@cbc.ca or on X @briarstewart

With files from Reuters

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