Hope among the horror
by Mick Rhodes | firstname.lastname@example.org
I took some heat from readers for my October 13 column [“Israel-Hamas war is a teaching moment, but what is the lesson?”], which was written days after Hamas’ barbaric October 7 attack on Israel.
My critics contended the moral high ground in the conflict belonged to Israel, and at the time I wrote my column, that seemed possible. Hamas’ inhuman brutalization, rape, and killing of more than 1,400 mostly Israeli children, women, and men, all innocent civilians, was atrocity on an unimaginable scale. Everyone — Hamas included — understood Israel’s response would be immediate and overwhelming.
The actions of Hamas, which both the US and EU have designated a terrorist organization, may very well constitute crimes against humanity. Hamas’ subsequent taking of hostages is a war crime. That the extremist group has used its own people as human shields in the weeks since, thus maximizing their suffering and death from Israel’s inevitable response, is also a war crime.
Israel’s response was predictably swift and decisive.
On October 9 Defense Minister Yoav Gallant ordered a “complete siege” of Gaza. “There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel,” he said. “We are fighting human animals and are acting accordingly.” Apologists for this rhetoric have since claimed Gallant was referring only to Hamas, and not to Palestinians in Gaza as a whole. But on October 13, President Isaac Herzog declared, “It is an entire nation out there that is responsible. It is not true this rhetoric about civilians not being aware, not involved. It’s absolutely not true.” That same day, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government instructed all Gazans to head south in front of a ground offensive. But as one might imagine, for myriad reasons great swaths of the millions of Gazans living in the north not affiliated with Hamas were never going to be able to comply with this order.
Since October 7 Israel’s military campaign to eradicate Hamas has killed more than 10,000 Palestinians in Gaza, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, including entire families, and many, many children (4,104 as of November 6). It’s unclear how many of the dead are Hamas fighters. U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said Monday that Gaza is becoming a “graveyard for children.”
Water and medicine were already in short supply when the Netanyahu government cut off Gazans’ food, electricity, and fuel on October 9. As of press time Israel had twice cut off telecommunication and internet service to Gaza during the conflict, making it impossible to both document the war in real time and allow communication among families fleeing the violence.
When the internet service is active, our social media feeds are flooded with images of sobbing mothers and fathers carrying their dead Palestinian children, many missing limbs, their bodies literally torn apart. In particular, American journalist and activist Shaun King’s Instagram feed has for weeks been a grim repository of the most heartbreaking and gruesome footage and images imaginable. One cannot peruse the past month’s posts on his account and not come away with doubts about the Israeli military’s commitment to the Geneva Conventions, which it voted to ratify in 1951.
The United States is complicit in this slaughter. Our bombs are raining down on Gaza as we speak. President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have both called on Netanyahu to call for a humanitarian pause in the fighting so that food, water, medicine, and medical care can be delivered to Palestinian civilians caught in the crossfire. The prime minister had steadfastly refused any such efforts, vowing to continue on until Hamas releases the 240 hostages taken October 7.
Thankfully, just prior to press time Thursday word emerged out of Washington that Israel has agreed to daily, four-hour pauses in its operations inside Gaza to allow citizens to escape the north and increase incoming humanitarian aid. This is wonderful news.
Israel has a right to defend itself. Its aim to once and for all eliminate Hamas from Gaza is understandable, considering the barbarity of October 7. It cannot continue to live with a neighboring extremist group that has the destruction of Israel in its charter.
But isn’t Israel, in how it is conducting its campaign to destroy Hamas, combined with the steady stream of images of dead innocent Palestinian children flooding our social media feeds, very likely creating a far more dangerous enemy? By pulverizing its enemy with its overwhelming military firepower and accepting as “collateral damage” thousands of dead children, Israel is creating an entire new generation of antisemites, and not just in Gaza. That’s not my opinion, it’s what’s happening. On October 24 the Anti-Defamation League reported incidents of harassment, vandalism and assault against Jews in the U.S. had increased by 388% since October 7.
On October 15, a group of 800 international scholars signed a statement warning of possible genocide in Gaza. Previously peaceful Palestinians who lived in Gaza for generations have seen their entire families killed by artillery made in the United States and delivered by Israel. It’s reasonable to assume that a great many of these traumatized people are likely now much more sympathetic to Hamas’ and other extremist’s antisemitic ideologies.
This is not to infer or presume that formerly peace-loving Israelis who lived through or saw the horrific footage from October 7, or know victims who were slaughtered, injured, or kidnapped, have not similarly — and again understandably — hardened their positions against Palestinians.
But proportionality is a thing, and Israel is well past that point.
My hope is Thursday’s acknowledgement of the need for daily humanitarian pauses in the fighting is the first indication that Israel is listening to the voices of those pleading for the killing of innocents to stop.