Caught Between Two Fires, The Citizens of Gaza Are The Real Victims

Image via

Image via

Monday morning, the Abu Jameh family pulled 26 bodies, 19 of them children, from the rubble of their home near the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis, the largest toll from a single strike since the battle began July 8. Four people were killed at Al Aqsa Martyrs Hospital, the main one serving the center of the crowded coastal enclave. An airstrike Monday night destroyed the top five floors of an apartment building called Al-Salam — the Peace — in central Gaza City, an area that had been seen as a safe haven, killing 11. But that’s okay, according to the Israeli government, because Hamas violated their human rights first.

According to Israeli military leadership, all civilians in Gaza are being held hostage by Hamas, which is considered a war crime and a gross violation of international law governing armed conflict. This, then, provides legal and moral justification against the accusation that Israel is the one killing civilians. Presumed human rights violations carried out by Palestinians against Palestinians, taking hostages and human shielding, thus become the legitimization of lethal and indiscriminate violence on the part of the occupying force. Hence, the use of human shields is not only a violation; it is also a propaganda opportunity. In contemporary asymmetric urban wars, accusing the enemy of using human shields helps validate the claim that the death of “untargeted civilians” is merely collateral damage. When all civilians are potential human shields, when each and every civilian can become a hostage of the enemy, then all civilians become acceptable targets.

And, critically, Israel is absolved of any moral responsibility for any of it. And that is what worries me. When military might is expended on crowded civilian areas, and all civilian casualties are presumed the responsibilities of others, you get well over 500 dead, including countless women and children, including attacks on hospitals and families breaking the Ramadan fast in their own home. You also get no foreseeable end to the bloodshed.

One war crime against a populace does not excuse another, and pretending that it does is the height of insanity. And yet, some even argue that this horrifying spectacle is actually a moral necessity

The deaths of innocents are not simply outweighed by Israelis’ right to live without daily rockets and terrorists tunneling into a kibbutz playground; but by the defense of a world in which terrorists cannot use morality to achieve victory over those who try to fight morally. It is the protection of that world, one in which moral soldiers still have a fighting chance, that justifies Israel’s operations against Hamas today. And it is that greater cause that decisively outweighs the terrible toll in innocent life.

When you are killing scores of children, it is not enough to argue self-defense (and the fact that the Iron Dome has given Israel about as robust a defense against home-made rockets as you can get undermines the self-defense argument). You have to argue for something grander to nullify the corpses of children. That something grander is notably absent. The dehumanization of those living in Gaza, to the point at which spectators with popcorn cheer their deaths, has led to Israeli indifference to the deaths of human beings that, if they were Jews, would be regarded as the harbinger of calamity. Can you imagine the response in Israel if over 200 Israeli children were killed by a rocket attack by Hamas? Can you imagine anyone saying that the Israelis did this to themselves? That tells you everything about how deep the moral rot has gone, how this kind of zero-sum war and brutalizing occupation over decades cannot do anything but destroy a country’s morals.

There is a trope going around that Gazans forfeited their right to be treated as innocent civilians by voting for Hamas and allowing the group to operate in their communities. This is the worst kind of specious argument, and one preferred by terrorists globally. Non-combatant status can be forfeited only by becoming a combatant, and that doesn’t happen by having voted for the current leadership or simply by living under their rule. By that imagining, Americans would be legitimate targets while living under the leadership of a GOP president; Republicans traveling abroad would be fair game for the crime of having voted for the person.

Forfeiting non-combatant status requires taking up arms or directly assisting those that are fighting, and that doesn’t apply to the civilian victims killed during the current operation at all. It may (and likely will) please Hamas to make use of these victims’ deaths for their own purposes, but that doesn’t absolve the Israeli government of its responsibility for causing those deaths. If Hamas benefits politically from these civilian deaths, and I cannot imagine they won’t, it would seem obvious that Israel should not want to cause any more, and yet, at each step over the last few weeks, Israel’s government has responded with tactics that are guaranteed to continue killing many more non-combatants and continue creating more vengeful families for as long as this operation continues. Nothing could be worse for the ongoing security of Israel.

This is the truth about the state of Israel today. To maintain power for its conservative government, it must crush. The more it crushes, the deeper the resistance will run; the deeper the resistance, the more unthinkable the carnage will have to become. This is an unending spiral of revenge and hatred, the dreadful consequence of every failed utopian scheme in human history. The Israeli leadership is winning with its populace for getting tough on Palestinians and flexing its military might; Hamas is winning by having propaganda and a rich crop of new recruits, strong in hate and a need for revenge against those who killed their family members, handed to them on a silver platter. it is the civilians of Gaza that are losing, and they are losing badly.

Jason Francis

Jason Francis is a red-state liberal, residing in the heart of Dixie where he gets to watch the train wreck of conservative politics up close and personal on a regular basis. He's lived in affluence and poverty, in both urban and rural settings, attended both public and private schools, and has visited most of the US at one point or another.


Facebook comments

  • Rational Left

    As a progressive, I like to surf around various left-wing blogs. My personal favorite is: www(dot)WinningProgressive(dot)org. I quite agree with this statement on their blog of why they very rarely cover this conflict: “Achieving peace between Israelis and Palestinians is a critical issue of
    human rights, justice, and global security. But it is also an issue
    that Winning Progressive rarely writes about because there are few
    issues that we find more frustrating. Rarely do we find an issue where
    the solution is so obvious yet the parties involved on all sides are so
    unwilling to work in good faith towards such solution. Instead, Israelis
    and Palestinians are trapped in an accelerating cycle of violence, and
    even discussions of the issue rapidly devolve into finger pointing and

    • Asher B. Garber

      To be honest, there is a peace deal on the table since 2000 that Israel has accepted and the Palestinians rejected w/o a counter proposal. This peace deal gives all of Gaza and 97% of the West Bank, with the remaining 3% land swapped from current Israeli control to the PA. Monetary compensation was to be made to 1967 refugees.

      That offer is the culmination of the Oslo Accords. It is based on more than a decade of discussions. Yasser Arafat rejected this notion without a reason, and then started the 2nd Intifada less than a month later. That is when things really turned to shit.

      3 Israeli Prime Ministers endorsed this peace treaty since while Arafat died with $1 billion in the bank.

      • Jason

        “The moderate Palestinian leadership had already accepted all the conditions Netanyahu demanded. They renounced violence, recognized the state of Israel, and embraced a demilitarized Palestinian state. But in response, the Israeli government made no concessions, the result of which was to effectively destroy the moderate leadership within Palestinian society. Conversely, when Israel negotiated with Hamas and released more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Israel sent the perverse message that it only negotiates with those who engage in violence, while moderates such as Abbas, who attempt to negotiate in good faith, are humiliated and ignored. The recently reported “secret negotiations” between Hamas and Israel are in keeping with this policy.” Google “Bombing and Invading Gaza is Israel’s Peace Plan” on The Daily Beast for a comprehensive debunking of your mistaken “facts”.

  • wawoo

    Those living in Gaza before open hostilities broke were already suffering indignity after indignity.
    Their bill of grievances against Israel is for longer and far more serious than the American Patriots had against the British.
    The only solution is a single state with equal rights for all. A secular state.
    That means the return of the lands and properties taken by force by the Israeli’s.
    The main impediment being Israel’s right wing and religious parties.
    And yes HAMAS needs to be either marginalized or stop calling for the destruction of Israel.

    • Asher B. Garber

      Bullshit. Kidnapping Israelis and attacking and murdering civilians is not justified. Those actions have led directly to this war. Do not play the morally righteous card while shooting rockets into Israeli cities. Ridiculous.

      • wawoo

        Bullshit to you sir.
        How many have IDF snipers wounded and killed over the past few years?
        How many Palestinians can get whatever they want as to food and supplies in Gaza?That is before he open conflict.Can palestinians freely transit in and out of Gaza?
        Which is an open air prison camp/reservation for Palestinians.
        And on and on and on.

      • Asher B. Garber

        Bullshit to logic. How many peace proposals have the Palestinians been offered? How many bombs have they set off in schools, pizzerias, rock clubs, shopping malls, bus lines? And the best you’ve got is the insinuation that Gaza is an open air prison? Cheapass sloganeering.

        That’s all you’ve got, Sir….

      • wawoo

        Your neighbor takes 90 perccent of your property nad possesions and then generously puts you on a section of land under armed guard that can deal with 1/3 of your family.
        They then make sure you and your family and their chidren have no meaningful prospects.
        Suprisingly some get very, very angry and want vengeance.
        Then they offer to return 10% of your property and tell you how generous they are.

  • Asher B. Garber

    Israel is attacking various neighborhoods in Northern Gaza. They dropped leaflets and have made phone calls and sent thousands of text messages warning civilians to leave the area. Walking 5 miles south could have saved these families, but they decided to stay. Why? I say it’s because of Hamas.

    Think about it. Kids from Honduras can make the futile trek to the American border on a whim, but families in the Gaza Strip who know their neighborhood is about to be a war zone decide that it’s not important to find safe shelter. Why?

    Israel has been missiled thousands of times from Hamas and IJ in both Gaza and S Lebanon. Why do the terrorists do this? They were given hundreds of millions of international dollars and Hamas invested in tunnels and missiles. How come?

    • Asher B. Garber

      I agree that the Gazans are caught in the crossfire. But I also think Hamas isn’t just going to stop shooting missiles into Israel. They have to be taken out of power, and those rockets need to be extinguished. Gaza can be its own state the moment they accept co-existence with Israel. Getting down to it, NOBODY in Hamas or IJ or ISIS for that matter (i.e. the Muslim Brotherhood) believes that Israel has a right to exist. That is the only reason for this war. Israel is not trying to recapture Gaza. They are not there to kill people. On the other hand, Hamas isn’t giving up Gaza w/o a fight in which, they hope, thousands can be killed. Fuck Hamas.

  • Christian Left

    When I asked a moderator on another progressive blog concerning the issue of whether or not Israel is getting away with war crimes, here is what he said:

    quote –

    I am also tormented by this war, and want it to end, but the security of any nation requires that Israel do what they must do.
    As far as a war crime is concerned, that is a subjective term.
    Certainly, Hamas has committed many war crimes as they have warred on
    Israel over the years. I am not defending the Israeli government,
    believe me, but it is not wise to believe all the hyperbole coming from
    the media, which tends to blame Israel for wanting to survive.

    – unquote

    I think that is wise advice from him.