What would you call the horrific October 7 attack on Israel by Hamas? An act of valour? Or an invitation to death, destruction, and retaliatory violence of unspeakable proportions? The answer is obvious. Given that there has been little or no bifurcation between dehumanising ordinary Gazans and Hamas militants, what the hapless Palestinians have suffered in the name of retributive war on Hamas over 48 days, before the “temporary pause” in hostilities, is an unmitigated disaster. With no end in sight to the military campaign in absence of a ceasefire, resumption in hostilities “with full force” will result into more violence, death, and destruction. Already the punitive action has caused massacre of over 14,000 Palestinians, including nearly 5,000 children, besides displacement of nearly two million people.
The ceaseless bombing of refugee camps, hospitals, ambulances, buildings, and schools raises the question whether Israel’s punitive action was directed at Gazans, though the prime objective of the war was decimation of Hamas. The non-stop collective punishment of Gazans over weeks and collective silence of the West, particularly the US, as well as apathy of the Arab world towards Palestinians not only suggests lack of humanity but also complicity in the name of “war on terror”. While wartime death tolls will never be exact, experts say that even a conservative reading of the casualty figures reported from Gaza shows that the pace of death during Israel’s campaign has few precedents in this century. It is not just the scale of strikes, but also the nature of the weaponry used in dense urban areas.
There is no verifiable data on the number of Hamas fighters killed. But people have been killed in Gaza more quickly, according to conflict-casualty experts, than even in the deadliest moments of the US-led attacks in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan. The scale of death and destruction that Israel has brought upon Gaza leaves little doubt that the October 7 attack provided a pretext for Israel to make Gaza a battlefield like few others. The “right to defend itself” argument that Israel and its Western allies have used to justify the Jewish state’s unchecked retributive action holds little water, given the complete asymmetry between Hamas’ action and Israel’s excessive response. If Hamas’ abominable attack was a crime under International Humanitarian Law, Israel’s response is a bigger crime under the same law and the Geneva Conventions which prohibits collective punishment.
Israel was a victim on October 7; it is now a villain in the conflict because of its asymmetrical strength and indiscriminate military operation, which tells a horrid story of suffering and helplessness beyond words. That Israel has failed the rules of war is obvious; its lack of humanity towards Palestinians and unchecked aggression is not justice for 1,200 lives lost in the monstrous Hamas attack of October 7. History of the Israel-Palestine conflict tells us that blind retribution and killing of over 14,000 Palestinians is not going to bring peace to the contentious land of conflicting claims that has seen hundreds of thousands innocent people dead since the first Nakba (catastrophe) in 1948, which resulted in mass displacement and dispossession of Palestinians.
The verbal assaults dehumanising Gazans — “human animals” and “children of darkness’ — that preceded the military assault showed Israel’s intent behind its punitive action — “not just for the end of Hamas but for the obliteration of Gaza”, as some members of the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) said. Complete siege of Gaza, depriving an already penurious population of over two million by cutting off water, food, electricity, fuel, and medicines and forcing people to move from north to south Gaza is what human rights activists say amounts to war crimes. Amidst terror and bloodshed, real humanitarianism would have been to stop Israel from imposing collective punishment on all Gazans. But Israel’s Western allies, who claim to be champions of human rights, refused to call for a ceasefire.
Whatever little help and humanitarian aid trickled into Gaza before the temporary pause in fighting, after blockading and starving innocent men, women, and children for days and weeks, can hardly be called humanism. US president Joe Biden’s support for “safe passage for Gaza civilians seeking safety” was meaningless because there is no safe place in Gaza. The horrific assault on Gaza, which Craig Mokhiber, director of the New York office of the UN High Commission for Human Rights, called in his resignation letter a “textbook case of genocide” could not have happened without tacit support from Israel’s Western allies — the US, UK, France and much of Europe.
As there is rarely a conflict in the Middle East without the US being involved in some form or other, America’s unwavering support for Israel in earlier conflicts and the ongoing attack on Gaza means that Israel has the liberty to continue doing what they do. Its unchecked aggression, no respect for international law and United Nations resolutions, illegal occupation of the West Bank, reckless expansion of settlements in the occupied territory and US’ continuous military patronage means endless suffering for Palestinians. By backing Israel unconditionally in the current conflict and promising more wartime aid, while failing to champion Palestinians’ rights, Biden has made the US complicit in whatever Israel has done over the last seven weeks.
If the West’s hypocrisy is obvious, America’s cavalier approach to the current conflict and a blank cheque to Israel’s most right-wing leadership to do what they have done so far is equally obvious. Now the US finds itself following Israel’s lead in a brutal war “of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences”, as Barack Obama, then a senator, described the invasion of Iraq before it began. As Israeli occupation of the Palestinian land and mounting settler vioelce in the West Bank lies at the core of the conflict, continuous support to Israel for its security and deflective ideological language — “Terrorists will not win. Freedom will win” — ignores the fact that Israeli occupation and Palestinian terrorism are reinforcing injustices, both of which stand in the way of peace.
It is wrong to describe Palestinians, as Biden has done, either as evil terrorists or as innocent civilians deserving of humanitarian protection. Palestinians are political agents who seek (and deserve) self-determination and refuse to be ignored. The problem with the Western world is that it thinks Israel’s concerns about its security is the world’s problem while the Palestinians’ endless suffering and occupation of their land is a problem that should concern none. This duplicity will not end the conflict. There must be a serious way towards a Palestinian state.
The writer is a senior independent Mumbai-based journalist. He tweets at @ali_chougule