Washington and European governments are cheerleading Israel’s genocidal campaign in Gaza. The failure to intervene to halt the carnage threatens to ignite violence throughout the region.
I have been in urban warfare in El Salvador, Iraq, Gaza, Bosnia and Kosovo. Once you fight street by street, apartment block by apartment block, there is only one rule — kill anything that moves. The talk of safe zones, the reassurances of protecting civilians, the promises of “surgical” and “targeted” air strikes, the establishment of “safe” evacuation routes, the fatuous explanation that civilian dead were “caught in the crossfire,” the claim that the homes and apartment buildings bombed into rubble were the abode of terrorists or that errant Hamas rockets were responsible for the destruction of schools and medical clinics, is part of the rhetorical cover to carry out indiscriminate slaughter.
Gaza is such a small area — 25 miles in length and about 5 miles wide —and so densely populated that the only outcome of an Israeli ground and air assault is the mass death of those Israel’s Defence MinisterYoav Gallant calls “human animals” and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calls “human beasts.” Israeli Knesset member Tally Gotliv suggested dropping “doomsday weapons” on Gaza, widely seen as a call for a nuclear strike. Israeli President Isaac Herzog on Friday dismissed calls to protect Palestinian civilians. “It is an entire nation out there that is responsible … this rhetoric about civilians not aware, not involved, it’s absolutely not true,” Herzog said. “They could’ve risen up, they could’ve fought against that evil regime that took over Gaza in a coup d’etat.” He added, “We will break their backbone.”
The demand by Israel that 1.1 million Palestinians — nearly half of Gaza’s population — evacuate northern Gaza, which will become a free fire zone, within 24 hours, ignores the fact that given the overcrowding and sealed borders there is no place for the displaced to go. The north includes Gaza City, the most densely populated part of the strip, with 750,000 residents. It also includes Gaza’s main hospital and the Jabalia and al-Shati refugee camps.
Israel, by employing its military machine against an occupied population that does not have mechanized units, an air force, navy, missiles, heavy artillery and command-and-control, not to mention a U.S. commitment to provide a $38 billion military aid package for Israel over the next decade, is not exercising “the right to defend itself.” This is not a war. It is the obliteration of civilians trapped for 16 years in the world’s largest concentration camp. Gaza is being leveled, flattened, destroyed, reduced to rubble. Hundreds of thousands of its impoverished residents will be killed, wounded or left homeless without food, fuel, water and medical help. Nearly 600 children are already dead.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) has been forced to close 14 food distribution centers leaving half a million people without food relief. Gaza’s only power plant has run out of fuel. The United Nations says 12 of its staff have been killed by Israeli air strikes, 21 out of 22 UNRWA health facilities in Gaza have been damaged and hospitals lack basic medicines and supplies.
Israel, as it has in the past, will block the dissemination of independent reporting and images once some 360,000 soldiers launch a ground assault. It cut internet service in Gaza on Saturday. The brief glimpses of Israeli atrocities that make it out will be dismissed by Israeli leaders as anomalies or blamed on Hamas.
The West refuses to intervene, as 2.3 million people, including 1 million children, are deprived of food, fuel, electricity and water, see their schools and hospitals bombed and are butchered and rendered homeless by one of the most advanced military machines on the planet.
The gruesome images of Israelis gunned down by Hamas is the currency of death. It trades carnage for carnage, a macabre dance that Israel initiated with the massacres and ethnic cleansing that allowed for the creation of the Jewish state, followed by decades of dispossession and violence meted out to the Palestinians. The Israeli army, before the current assault, had killed 7,779 Palestinians in Gaza since 2000 including 1,741 children and 572 women, according to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem. This figure does not include Gazans who died due to drinking contaminated water or being denied access to medical treatment. Nor does it include the rising number of Gazan youth who, having lost all hope and struggling with deep depression, have committed suicide.
I spent seven years reporting on the conflict, four of them as the Middle East Bureau Chief of The New York Times. I stood over the bodies of Israeli victims of bus bombings in Jerusalem by Palestinian suicide-bombers. I saw rows of corpses, including children, in the corridors in Dar Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. I watched Israeli soldiers taunt small boys who in response threw rocks and were then callously shot in the Khan Younis refugee camp. I sheltered from bombs dropped by Israeli warplanes. I climbed over the rubble of demolished Palestinian homes and apartment blocks along the border with Egypt. I interviewed the bloodied and dazed survivors. I heard the soul crushing wails of mothers keening over the corpses of their children.
I arrived in Jerusalem in 1988. Israel was busy discrediting and marginalizing the secular, aristocratic Palestinian leadership of Faisel al-Husseini and driving Jordanian administrators from the occupied West Bank. This secular and moderate leadership was replaced by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Yasser Arafat. But Arafat, very likely poisoned by Israel, and the PLO were also ruthlessly pushed aside by Israel. The PLO was replaced by Hamas, which Israel openly fostered as a counterweight to the PLO.
The escalating savagery of Israel against the Palestinians is reflected in the escalating savagery of the Palestinians. The resistance groups are Israel’s doppelgängers. Israel believes that with the eradication of Hamas the Palestinians will become docile. But history has shown that once one Palestinian resistance movement is destroyed, a more virulent and radical one takes its place.
The killers feed off each other. I saw this in the ethnic wars in Bosnia. When religion and nationalism are used to sanctify murder there are no rules. It is a battle between light and dark, good and evil, God and Satan. Rational discourse is banished.
“The sleep of reason,” as Francisco Goya said, “brings forth monsters.”
The Jewish extremists, fanatic Zionists and religious bigots in the current Israeli government need Hamas. Revenge is the psychological engine of war. Those targeted for slaughter are rendered inhuman. They are not worthy of empathy or justice. Pity and grief are felt exclusively for one’s own. Israel vows to eradicate a dehumanized mass that embodies absolute evil. The maimed and dead in Gaza, and the maimed and dead in Israeli towns and kibbutzim, are victims of the same dark lusts.
“From violence only violence is born,” Primo Levi writes, “following a pendular action that, as time goes by, rather than dying down, becomes more frenzied.”
The Biden administration has promised unconditional Israeli support and weapons shipments. The USS Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group has been deployed to the eastern Mediterranean Sea to “deter any actor” who might widen the conflict between Israel and Hamas. The carrier group includes the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford; its eight squadrons of attack and support aircraft; the Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser USS Normandy; and the Arleigh-Burke class guided missile destroyers USS Thomas Hudner, USS Ramage, USS Carney and USS Roosevelt, according to a Pentagon statement.
The U.S., as in the past, ignores the far greater death and destruction, as well as the illegal occupation, meted out by Israel to the Palestinians or the periodic military campaigns — this is the fifth major military assault by Israel on Gaza in 15 years — against civilians.
Israel says it recovered 1,500 bodies of Hamas fighters after the incursion. This is a number greater than the 1,300 Israeli victims. Nearly all the dead Hamas fighters, I suspect, were young men born inside the Gaza concentration camp who had never seen the outside of the open-air prison until they burst through the security barriers erected by Israel. If Hamas fighters possessed Israel’s technological arsenal of death, they would be able to do their killing more efficiently. But they do not. Their tactics are cruder versions of those Israel has used against them for decades.
I know this disease, the exaltation of race, religion and nation, the deification of the warrior, the martyr and violence, the celebration of victimhood. Holy warriors believe they alone possess virtue and courage, while their enemy is perfidious, cowardly and evil. They believe they alone have the right to revenge. Pain for pain. Blood for blood. Horror for horror. There is a fearsome symmetry to the madness, the abandonment of what it means to be humane and just.
T.E. Lawrence calls this cycle of violence “the rings of sorrow.”
Once these fires are lit they can easily become a conflagration.
Israeli tanks and soldiers, to thwart an attack by Hezbollah in support of the Palestinians, have been deployed to the border with Lebanon. The Israeli forces killed fighters from Hezbollah, as well as a Reuters journalist, which saw Hezbollah fire a salvo of rockets in retaliation. Israel’s National Security Minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir announced he would distribute 10,000 assault rifles to Israeli settlers, who have carried out murderous rampages in Palestinian villages in the West Bank. Israel has killed at least 51 Palestinians in the occupied West Bank since Hamas launched its attack on October 7.
Psychologist Rollo May writes:
At the outset of every war…we hastily transform our enemy into the image of the daimonic; and then, since it is the devil we are fighting, we can shift onto a war footing without asking ourselves all the troublesome and spiritual questions that the war arouses. We no longer have to face the realization that those we are killing are persons like ourselves.
The killing and torture, the more they endure, contaminate the perpetrators and the society that condones their actions. They sever the professional inquisitors and killers from the capacity to feel. They feed the death instinct. They expand the moral injury of war.
Israel taught the Palestinians to communicate in the primitive howl of hatred, war, death and annihilation. But it is not Israel’s assault on Gaza I fear most. It is the complicity of an international community that licenses Israel’s genocidal slaughter and accelerates a cycle of violence it may not be able to control.
c. Information Clearing House