Israel’s military on October 13 directed the evacuation of northern Gaza, a region that is home to 1.1 million people, about half of the territory’s population, within 24 hours. The order could signal an impending ground offensive against Hamas militants. The U.N. has called the evacuation “impossible” without “devastating humanitarian consequences.”
In a bitter, ravaged Middle East where both sides seek to out-war-crime each other – Hamas kills innocents, Israel rains down genocidal hellfire on a trapped populace – moral distortions and misinformation keep pace with atrocities.
For the record: Hamas is not Palestine; Bibi and his gang of racist thugs are not Israel; sometimes evil, whether dressed in the language of liberation or righteous vengeance, is just evil; and amidst searing oppression and the carnage it begets, “Neither tragedy negates the other.”
Officials say at least 1,200 Israelis were killed when Hamas stormed into an unprepared Israel, rampaged through Kibbutzim along the border, and took over 100 captives back to Gaza. Israel, with its long history of brutal collective punishment, swiftly retaliated, leveling an already-besieged Gaza with murderous airstrikes they boasted were intent “on damage and not accuracy;” in grim parity, Gaza’s death toll has now reached over 1,500 people, with nearly 6,000 wounded.
Both those numbers are expected to rise sharply in a densely-packed 140 square miles – roughly twice the size of Washington DC – where over two million Gazans, nearly half under 18, struggle to live under a 16-year Israeli blockade that has left them with no jobs, sporadic power, little food, contaminated water, decimated infrastructure, widespread trauma, and living conditions so bleak Israeli animal rights groups have objected to donkeys working there.
Now, Israel’s airstrikes have reduced already-gutted neighborhoods to rubble, buried entire families under tons of concrete, forced over 338,000 people to flee in terror and rendered Benjamin Netanyahu’s warning to “leave now” a cruel joke; everyone knows “there is no safe place in Gaza,” and nowhere else to go.
That hard truth was evident without the chilling rhetoric that preceded the assault: Israeli ministers declared, “We are fighting human animals,” promised “a Nakba that will overshadow the Nakba of ’48,” and vowed, “It’s time to be cruel.” And so they were. The IDF boasts 170,000 active military and 465,000 reserves; Hamas has about 20,000 fighters scattered amidst a populace of two million.
Israel warned every Hamas member was “a dead man,” but with no I.D. cards and an Israeli military blinded with rage more untethered than ever from concern for civilian casualties, “It’s all collateral damage.” “We are all civilians, normal doctors, nurses, teachers, students – we’re not Hamas,” said a Palestinian doctor. “It’s the children who are dying” – to date, 447 kids. The relentless bombings – and “pure panic everywhere you look” – moved some residents to huddle outside Gaza’s Al-Shifa Hospital, though in fact it confers no more safety.
One described fleeing to a mosque, where a missile decapitated his two-year-old son and sent shrapnel into the leg of his five-year-old. Another fled with his pregnant wife, father, brothers, cousins; they went to one refugee camp that was attacked, then another where an airstrike killed them all except him: “We escaped from danger into death.”
Having declared a brutal, total siege of Gaza earlier this week – no food, fuel, water, nothing – Israel on Thursday rejected pleas from human rights advocates to lift the blockade amidst news that Gaza’s only power station had run out of fuel, its hospitals were struggling to care for their wounded, and a humanitarian crisis was looming. “Humanitarian aid to Gaza?” Energy Minister Israel Katz posted on social media.
“No electrical switch will be turned on, no water hydrant will be opened, and no fuel truck will enter until the Israeli abductees are returned home. Humanitarian for humanitarian. And no one will preach us morals.” The tactic of “using starvation as a weapon of war,” noted many advocates, is a war crime. So is collective punishment – here, “depriving the entire population of Gaza of electricity (for) the actions of individuals” – which Israel has long practiced against Palestinians in multiple ways, from bombings and demolitions to random arrests and revenge killings.
Noted one observer on the dubious notion of Israel claiming the moral high ground, “Ministers calling to kill, destroy, crush and even starve the residents of Gaza forget that this is already Israeli policy.”
Contributing to the fervor, of course, was the fact Hamas also committed war crimes during their assault. Over 100 bodies were found at Kibbutz Be’eri, a longtime, agrarian community of about 1,000 people.
In an awful irony, it was one of several kibbutzimlargely peopled by left-leaning Jews like Vivian Silver, 74, who founded Women Wage Peace, ran an Arab-Jewish Center helping the Bedouin community, was a board member of B’Tselem, and regularly drove sick Gazans to Israel for medical care; she is missing and presumed held captive.
After the attacks, anger was also fanned by wild disinformation. Journalists who visited Kfar Aza reported, without evidence, that Hamas fighters had beheaded 40 babies there; the story was eventually traced to one soldier who told a reporter, “They are very bad. They cut heads of children, but we are stronger than them.”
Media spread the claim, which was amplified by Netanyahu, then Biden, who later disavowed it; after even the Israeli military refused to confirm it and reporters backtracked or equivocated, Israeli Major General Itai Veruvit turned it into a still-grisly story of 15 teenagers in a room where someone “threw in a hand grenade, and it’s over.” “We will hit Gaza, we will hit Hamas,” he said. “And we will destroy.”
Justified outrage at the bloodshed, lurid or well-meaning distortions of it, and ongoing Israeli propaganda have all contributed to the growing rhetoric of genocide. While American media has begun offering a Palestinian perspective to offset the inevitable drums of war, calls to raze Gaza and celebrate open brutality are common, and likely to escalate as the conflict drags on.
Many argue such calls are born of Israel’s decades-long impunity, its historical lack of accountability for myriad abuses – killing civilians, taking hostages, collective punishment – that have bred a culture of disregard for international law, and with it the concept of a “rules-based world order.” This “preparing public opinion for mass slaughter” has been long in the making: In 2018, Netanyahu declared the “simple truth” that in the Middle East “there is no place for the weak.”
“The weak crumble, are slaughtered and are erased from history,” Netanyahu said, “while the strong, for good or for ill, survive. In the end, peace is made with the strong.” Like the “tribal journey” promised by the ill-fated desert rave where Hamas murdered over 200 young Israelis, he echoes the theme song from the jingoistic movie Exodus: ““This land is mine, God gave this land to me/ If I must fight I’ll fight to make this land our own.”
Haaretz offered a blistering critique of Netanyahu as a key, corrupt cause of the carnage, with his policies of dispossession, fascist allies who claimed there’s “no such thing” as the Palestinian people, accomplices who “mobilized to kosher this abomination.”
History will or should also hold to account the U.S., U.K., EU, “the Free World, those self-described guarantors of international law in the West” who now support unconditionally “Israel’s right to defend itself” after decades of telling Palestinians they must not use violence against a violent Occupation, of blocking or criminalizing other forms of pressure on Israel – BDS, protests, a request the ICC investigate Israeli war crimes – and of “preaching nonviolence” while consistently sending Israel more and more sophisticated weaponry.
Thus, today, “Palestinians see their cause sold out with a fist bump (by an) American president…for a jigsaw killer’s petrodollars.” Such is Mark Twain’s War Prayer: “For our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, Amen.”
Still, the hard, true part: Israel has committed war crimes; Hamas, with its massacre of civilians, killing of families and children in their beds, holding of captives and threats to execute them has also committed war crimes. As we reel from the gut-wrenching brutality on all sides, it be incumbent on us to remember that in “the unimaginable violence and the unimaginable oppression from which it came, neither tragedy negates the other.”
“Spare me the whataboutisms,” wrote Charlie Sykes of “the moral depravity of the pro-Hamas left” who seek to excuse the inexcusable. Eric Levitz echoed him, insisting a Left that abandons its moral authority by refusing to condemn mass murder or excusing the slaughter of 260 young people for “partying on stolen land” or calling Hamas’ atrocities “heroic progress toward decolonization” is “doomed.”
The best counter to the toxic notion of “force alone (as) the only conceivable response to any and all threats,” suggested Naomi Klein, is “true solidarity. Humanism that unites people across ethnic and religious lines … An international left rooted in values that side with the child over the gun every single time, no matter whose gun and no matter whose child … Love.”
“‘An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind,’ Gandhi said. What about a hundred eyes for an eye?” – Norman Solomon in 2008 on the “moral imbecility” cited by I.F. Stone after the Six-Day War in 1967: “The Others are always either less than human, and thus their interests may be ignored, or more than human and therefore so dangerous that it is right to destroy them.”
Ali Mahmoud (AP), Ohad Zwigenberg (AP), Adel Hana (AP), Hatem Moussa (AP), Francisco Seco (AP), Ariel Schalit (AP), Ohad Zwigenberg (AP), Hatem Ali (AP), Fatima Shbair (AP), Mohammad Al Masri (AP), and Mahmoud Illean (AP)