The hypocrisy of Israel and “the most moral army in the world” October 14, 2023

first published on substack:

Hamas’ stunning assault in Israel must be condemned as a war crime. Full stop. Some celebrated the attack as a moment of retribution for more than 75 years of Israeli brutality towards Palestinians, but human rights groups and people of conscience understand that attacking and killing civilians is never acceptable. “The killing of civilians, the holding of civilian hostages, and the holding bodies for any political purposes are completely prohibited means and constitute war crimes.” At the same time, a woman in Gaza wrote: “We have been sieged, caged, brutalized, colonized, expelled, and ethnically cleansed, bombed and imprisoned for long enough. Most of Gaza are refugees from the very areas they [Hamas] are now ‘infiltrating.’ The resistance is 100% predictable and justified…We are an occupied people and we have the right to freedom.”

Israel’s vaunted army and intense system of surveillance and legions of collaborators failed to protect Israeli citizens and internationals. Israelis are feeling humiliated, frightened, enraged, and grief-stricken. There will undoubtedly be political repercussions for Netanyahu’s far right government once the calls for revenge and bursts of unity falter, and Israeli citizens finish burying their dead, dealing with the long term physical and emotional consequences of atrocities, and the fate of the hostages.

None of this can justify the genocidal attack on Palestinians. Thousands of tons of bombs have pounded the Gaza Strip this week, a sliver of land 26 by 6 miles. According to international law, “The core principle of jus in bello is that civilians cannot be targeted for military purposes, or disproportionately harmed as a means to a military end. That’s true regardless of the legality of the underlying conflict, and regardless of whether the opposing side has itself violated humanitarian law.”

While Israeli officials have issued racist, inflammatory statements and called for the destruction of all Gazan infrastructure, others keep repeating their commitment to “avoid civilian casualties” while Secretary of State Antony Blinken quietly colludes in this recurrent fantasy.

After six days of the most aggressive Israeli bombing attacks in history, tanks and soldiers have  amassed on Gaza’s borders. Specific directed as well as random bombing from aircraft, naval battleships, and cannons have already begun on Gaza City with many dead and wounded. (personal communication) Human rights groups have accused Israel of using prohibited white phosphorus bombs which Israeli denies. Whole neighborhoods and small cities have been flattened, the Israeli government has halted electricity, water, and fuel. Some 300,000 Gazans are homeless, hospitals are beyond capacity. Friends and colleagues in Gaza document entire families killed in collapsed buildings, others crowded together in small apartments hoping to be safe in a place where no one is safe.

I am getting desperate messages seeking information about missing people. One young writer from We are Not Numbers sent me four essays with the message: “Can you kindly publish the attached stories if I die?!” Another wrote, “For the past 6 days, non-stop bombings were heard from every direction from where I live…The bombings get nearer every day. Just a few minutes ago, an Israeli warplane demolished a house and a mosque just a few meters away from my home. The situation is unprecedented. It is terrifying. 

“There has been no electricity, stable internet, or clean water to drink for the past three days. I had to use the old batteries and connect them to a small, secondhand solar panel to light up my house and to charge phones…As for water,  I stuffed my house’s sinks with sand so that we can keep the water after washing to reuse it in filling the tank of the toilets.

We have not fled our houses yet, but the future is fenced with the unknown…Pray for us.”

Netanyahu instructed “all Gaza citizens should leave the Strip,” although all the exits were sealed and Israeli forces bombed the Rafah crossing into Egypt. On October 14, the Palestinian Ministry of Health reported 2,215 Palestinians killed, including 724 children and 458 women, and 8,714 injured, 2,450 children and 1,536 women. Then came the edict that over one million Gazans should move south along roads that are already bombed and crowded, to areas (under bombardment), “for their safety” as Israel prepares for a ground invasion from the north and east.

Pictures of entire families walking south or packed into cars and trucks, stir chilling echoes of the 1948 Nakba. Where exactly are these displaced people supposed to go? There are no emergency shelters, food supplies, water, or medicine. The main hospitals, including Shifa Hospital, are located in Gaza City and cannot evacuate. Gaza is already one of the most crowded places on earth and the UN is warning of a humanitarian catastrophe. We know that pregnant women moving south may soon deliver in fields or along the road without medical attention, that elderly Palestinians will die of strokes and heart attacks, and patients with kidney failure will perish from lack of dialysis. When stressed, dehydrated nursing mothers no longer produce milk, will their babies starve to death too?

I cannot imagine that Palestinians in Israel, the West Bank and the diaspora, are going to let this happen without massive protests and disruption.  Israeli forces have already killed more than 27 Palestinians in the West Bank and are arming Jewish settlers for more violence. Militants in Lebanon and Syria, not to mention sympathetic citizens in Iraq, Bahrain, and Iran, may be provoked into more aggressive reactions.

Aggressively attacking Gaza in 2008, 2012, 2014, 2018, 2021, and 2022 did not give Israelis a subjugated and docile Palestine. Palestinians have been resisting settler colonialism, occupation and siege for decades and they will continue to resist. The Israeli attacks constitute an arrogant insanity layered with racism, Islamophobia, and vengeance. Their stated concern for civilians is not remotely credible. And when it is over, who will emerge as the next leaders of Palestine? After years of post-Oslo dialogue and concessions that have only produced more losses of land, dehumanization, humiliation, death, and hopelessness, Israelis are not safer and Palestinians still call for their human and civil rights, a recognition of their humanity, and repair and reparations for their decades of ongoing trauma. Once again, the Israel government seems to have no end game besides maximum death and destruction. This is madness.

Alice Rothchild is a physician, author, and filmmaker who works with We Are Not Numbers and the Gaza Community Mental Health Program.  She has published three books on health and human rights issues in Israel/Palestine, contributed to a number of anthologies, published a young adult novel, and directed a documentary film.  A middle grade novel will be published in December. She was last in Gaza in August, 2023. For details:


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