For most casual observers, I imagine the war seems like a tired news story. Didn’t the Israel Defense Forces already destroy Gaza? Indeed they did: in December 2008, during which over 1,000 Palestinian and 13 Israeli civilians were killed. Israel has threatened similar damage this time. As the spokesperson for the Israeli police said, “If they dare to strike Tel Aviv, we will wipe the whole place out.” Such is the Israeli military’s mentality: Any Palestinian death is justified as “collateral damage” in the hypothetical protection of Israeli Jewish lives.
It is unclear what set the IDF off this time, and timelines of the events vary according to political leanings. To summarize, border skirmishes escalated in recent weeks, with Israeli artillery firing at Palestinians and Gaza militants firing rockets into southern Israel. But sources say Israel and Hamas were close to solidifying a truce until Israel began the all-out air assault called “Pillar of Cloud” that precipitated the assassination of high-ranking Hamas militant, Ahmed Jabari.
The IDF released a poster through its social media outlets that read “ELIMINATED!” over a blood-red background with a silhouette of Jabari. The Israeli public mobilized behind the war, with some 90 percent supporting the air assault — though significantly fewer support the use of ground troops.
Israel’s defenders have justified the attack as a necessary albeit painful response for the preservation of Israel’s security. This is undeniably a valid concern: No people deserve to live with this kind of fear. Israel has used this Palestinian terror as a justification for the significantly greater damage on the Palestinian side, which critics have previously called “disproportionate force.”
But when Israel critics use the term “disproportionate force” they are not simply referencing casualty statistics — though those numbers are certainly disproportionate. What is disproportionate is the relationship between Israel and Gaza, which extends beyond the current warfare.
That relationship extends back to the expulsion of Palestinians in 1948, to the occupation and illegal settlement of the West Bank since 1967 and the military blockade of Gaza since 2006. There is no denying Israel is an oppressive power that has continually imprisoned and expelled the Palestinian people; this war is a product of that relationship.
Many Israel supporters, such as Samson Schatz here, have bemoaned the loss of life, yet still ultimately place the burden for this conflict on Hamas. I personally approach the conflict from a different angle: I do not believe focusing on the “humanity” of this conflict’s victims is productive in seeking peace and justice. We can all recognize the humanity of children like Mutassim and Jumana Essifan, ages 5 and 1, killed in the Jabaliya Refugee Camp on Sunday, but such recognition is not productive on its own.
Rather, we really need to focus our attention on the monstrous nature of this war. It is a monstrosity that an occupying power saw fit to assassinate an opposing political leader, no matter how evil. It is a monstrosity that dozens of civilians are dying as “collateral damage” in a war that Israeli leaders have threatened may end just short of genocide. It is a monstrosity that Israel has placed Gaza under economic and physical blockade for six years. And it is a monstrosity that our U.S. government has continually given Israel the green light to pursue these policies through ever-increasing military aid and diplomatic backing in international political institutions.
Hamas’ actions are also certainly monstrous, and Schatz is right to point this out. Hamas militants have reportedly killed six Palestinians accused of collaborating with Israel, and they are responsible for three Israeli civilian deaths. While these actions must be understood in the context of Israeli-Palestinian power relations, Hamas officials are still accountable for these crimes. But in no way does this justify support for Israel’s bombing campaign.
Make no mistake: Hamas certainly has blood on its hands. But Israel’s warfare will only bring about further death and destruction, not the peace and justice Israel claims to seek.
Brandon Davis is an anthropology major from Westport, Conn. writing on behalf of Princeton Committee for Palestine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.