What seemed likely is happening in real time. The Israeli assault on Gaza, destructive and deadly as it was, is only getting worse, much worse. The stream of ground troops in this besieged strip of land is turning into a steady and growing wave. Meanwhile the bombing is turning Gaza into a dispiriting scene of rubble and death.
If anybody really believed that the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) would strictly follow the rules and restraints of engagement in their pursuit of Hamas, we now have an answer. They won’t.
We are seeing enough images and stories, grimly revealing the battering that Gaza and its people are absorbing, to know that there is nothing “surgical” about Israeli surgical bombing.
Unrelenting – yes. Indiscriminate – much of the time. Devastating – for sure.
The mentality of the prosecutors of this punishing military action was unintentionally captured by an Israeli general who in a revealing moment declared, “We are fighting human animals.” Ironically, the enemies of the Jewish people in previous centuries – the 3rd Reich in the first place – dehumanized and animalized Jews to set the stage to physically annihilate them.
Only a few weeks ago, Hamas, as we know, went on a murderous rampage in Israel and by the time it was over the lives of more than 1400 innocent people – overwhelmingly Israeli Jews – had been erased forever. Children in the springtime of their lives as well as the elderly in the final years of theirs were among the victims of Hamas’s bloody antisemitic bloodbath.
250 hostages were also captured.
Predictably, the same is happening in Gaza now, but on a much larger scale and an unrestrained ferocity. And no one who aspires to make this world a more just and humane place should suggest even the slightest justification for either bloodbath.
So far death has claimed 10,000 Gazans and nearly 2000 others are missing. And these numbers will only grow.
Children as well as the elderly fill the ledger of death here too, not Hamas militants. Everything, save dead bodies, bomb craters, and widespread misery, is in short supply.
The loss of lives in Gaza, as you would expect, is accompanied by massive destruction to its infrastructure – food, water, electricity, housing, hospitals, mosques – that sustains day to day life in this small territory of two million and is only going to get worse.
But this racialized catastrophe is but a prologue, not a final curtain, as the invasion shifts into a more deadly and destructive phase to be followed by an extended occupation, notwithstanding international pressure for a ceasefire.
There is no terrible beauty being born here. Strands of hope are hard to find, as the Israeli government and military press their offensive with the support, for now anyway, of the overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews, existentially shocked and traumatized by Hamas’ sordid massacre.
To characterize the deaths and destruction in Gaza as “collateral damage,” as some have, is an affront to anyone who has eyes to see and a heart to feel. Such antiseptic language, creeping into media accounts of the war, hides what is a living hell for the people there.
It makes one think that the unspoken objective of this air and ground offensive, is, in the first place, to make Gaza uninhabitable and its survivors into an exhausted, dispirited, beaten, and, once again, forcibly uprooted people in search of a safe home, a shelter from the storm where they can breathe and rest and sleep again.
Should anyone be surprised that young people here and elsewhere, not yet inured to the violence of the world, call this full throttle assault on Gaza genocide?
What is happening in Gaza finds its companion in the illegal and at times violent expropriation of Palestinian land by 700,000 Israeli settlers in the illegally occupied West Bank. Here too the force of the Israeli state and the extremist governing coalition – a coalition that resembles the Trump-Maga movement – is the political prosecutor of this land theft.
What is left in Palestinian hands is a patchwork of plots surrounded by Israeli settlements and police checkpoints to monitor the movement of Palestinians. In a real sense, Palestinians in the West Bank are “strangers in their own land.”
In its totality, the death and destruction in Gaza and land expropriation in the West Bank make a mockery of the defiant cry “Never Again,” while ironically revealing the transformation of a historically subjugated, despised, unwanted, and homeless people – permanently marked by the horror of the Holocaust – into the builders of an apartheid, colonialist state.
If Israel had moral ground to stand on October 7 – and it did – it has, by its actions since then, squandered it.
As for Hamas, will it be crushed? Will it be extirpated forever from Gaza and the West Bank? Will it be ignominiously transported into history in a pool of blood? Will it bleed out of the imagination and memory of Israelis Jews?
More likely, it will, like the Taliban, regroup and live to fight another day. It’s not lacking in friends in the Middle East. Even if it doesn’t, it’s almost as certain as night follows day that another iteration of Hamas will fill the vacuum as long as the conditions of occupation, land confiscation, and daily indignities are the lived experience of Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel.
Israel, like other states, has a right to defend itself from and respond to an attack. And what happened on October 7 was a vicious, indefensible attack. Thus the overarching question was: how would the Israeli state and military respond? We didn’t have to wait long for an answer to that question. To no one’s surprise, the ruling coalition decided to use its massive military might to relentlessly punish the innocent and defenseless people of Gaza.
One hopes that at some point the Israeli people, if not their government, will realize that their security won’t come out of the barrel of a gun. But rather it is inextricably tied to the cessation of the bombardment of Gaza and the right of th ePalestinian people to secure their full democratic and national rights, including the right to a viable homeland and loudly demand a cessation of the war on Gaza. But for the moment that is wishful thinking, notwithstanding the courageous action of a sliver of Israeli – Jews and Palestinians – to rein in their government and the invasion into Gaza.
Instead, what captures the mind of the vast majority of Israelis in this moment is the belief that the peace and security of Israel are a derivative of land expropriation and organized violence against the Palestinian people in Gaza as well as elsewhere. Such a logic, however, is running into opposition not only from Palestinians, but millions of people across the globe.
Much of the world, in fact, is clamoring for an immediate ceasefire. People are marching for it. A majority of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents favor it. 18 Democratic House members support it. And a few days ago, the second ranking member of the Democratic Party in the Senate, Dick Durbin, (D-Illinois), spoke in favor of a ceasefire, albeit with some conditions attached.
It is likely more members of Congress will follow suit, even though the pressure not to is enormous.
President Biden should join the chorus too.
Admittedly, he would be going against his own instincts and training as well the practice of the former U.S. presidents over the past half century who faithfully ran interference for and acted as a backstop to Israeli leaders. This alliance of Washington and Tel Aviv, as quiet as it’s kept, turned as much on the convergence of strategic interests as shared values.
Notwithstanding its military superiority vis a vis the rest of the world, U.S. imperialism requires reliable (junior) partners in every region of the world. In that capacity they assist the U.S. to secure and protect its geopolitical and geoeconomic interests. In the Middle East, they found such a partner in Israel.
But Israel’s support, like any protection racket, came at a price. Surrounded by hostile Arab neighbors and dead set on consolidating, expanding, and, not least, defending their young state, Israeli leaders demanded and received over time unqualified political, economic, military, and diplomatic support from the U.S.
Thanks to this largesse (or payoff), Israel, a military powerhouse to begin with, quickly became the biggest military power in the region and showed no hesitancy to deploy that power to defend itself, punish its internal and external Arab enemies, and expand its borders deeper and deeper into the land, historically, occupied by Palestinians.
Moreover, in every eruption of tension, violence and war, the U.S government quickly leaned in on Israel’s side. As a broker of peace, reconciliation, and statehood rights of Palestinians, its commitment always had distinct limits that were never crossed; its loyalty to Israel, notwithstanding some tensions, never wavered.
In this latest shattering of a fragile peace – a “violent equilibrium, some say – between Palestinians and Israel, Biden and his Secretary of State Anthony Blinken never left any doubt as to whose side they were on. The image of Biden’s fulsome embrace of Netanyahu upon arrival in Israel sent a message to the Palestinians and the world as to where the allegiances of the U.S. government lied. His televised speech the evening of his return from Israel only underscored that point.
His entreaties to the Israeli leadership for a measured response while in Israel and later for a humanitarian pause” as the body count of Palestinians dramatically rose never really registered in the highest circles of the Israeli government and its military. If anything, they answered his entreaties with an intensification of the invasion. In fact, what the IDF is doing is a war crime, full stop.
But those words haven’t come out of the mouths of either Biden or Blinken. As Gaza sinks into a living hell and death trap, their repeated calls for a humanitarian pause of this collective butchery are ringing hollow, turning into a modern day version of Nero fiddling as Rome burns. While the story of Nero fiddling is apocryphal, what Biden and Blinken are doing isn’t. Their repeated calls for a “pause” and “humanitarian aid,” well intended early on, have turned at this point into an airbrushing of criminality and criminals.
Isn’t it fair to say that the administration’s “balancing act” and humanitarian appeals have morphed into a charade? Look at the facts: the IDF is unfettered. Ground troops are pouring into Gaza, while the aerial strikes go on unabated. Humanitarian aid is blocked until the hostages are freed. Any “pause” in the fighting, humanitarian or otherwise, has been summarily dismissed by Netanyahu and Israel’s military high command.
The Israeli national unity government, one can only conclude, believes the Biden administration has no stomach to transition in its posture from a humanitarian pause to an immediate ceasefire.
Its calculus, it seems, is that headwinds to such a proposal coming from Israel and powerful political circles here would be fierce. That sounds about right and there’s no way of escaping that reaction. But courageous leaders, notwithstanding their own instincts and political biography, will at times go against the grain, challenge conventional wisdom, look at the world with fresh eyes, and embrace positions unpopular in elite circles. It’s late, but I would hope this is one of those times.
If it is, Biden can expect a supportive reaction from much of the public and a significant section of his own party as well as people and states worldwide. Young people would be among the first to rally around it.
If Biden declines, it is tantamount to taking ownership of the devastation and deaths in Gaza and the danger of a wider war. All of which will generate intense blowback abroad and at home in the near term and next November.
Of course, a ceasefire is only a first step, but a necessary step in a journey to turn swords into plowshares, make good on the promissory note of and legitimate demand for a Palestinian state existing side by side and peacefully with its Israeli neighbor, insure the security of Israel, and, not least, move on to a new generation of Palestinian and Israeli leaders.
Obviously, a two state solution to be viable will require a return to a status quo ante predating the settler movement to the West Bank. The relocation of settlers, among other things, will undoubtedly be an issue of great contention, but it can’t be ducked, finessed, or temporized.
As for a one state solution, it’s wishful thinking in my view, detached from the immediate and long standing political realities on the ground. The resistance from both sides, I would think, would make it completely impractical. Some will surely differ.