Sunday, April 7, 2024



As we today mark precisely six month's since the Hamas terrorist organization's brutally violent attack on Israeli citizens, it is no longer possible for anyone with even a glimmer of humanitarian moral conscience to condone Israel’s disproportionate response to that heinous attack suffered last October 7, in which twelve hundred Israeli citizens tragically lost their lives. Here’s a piece of data to back this pronouncement: In the ensuing months, Israeli bombs and artillery have slaughtered more innocent Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip than have been killed in all other worldwide conflicts combined over the past four years recorded.

I should be clear here that, when I refer to Israel, I am not talking about Israelis as a whole, but rather, about the extreme right-wing government of Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu. Indeed, for a combination of reasons that range from the strictly humanitarian to the purely political—such as the sagacious argument that Netanyahu’s brutal policies are creating more terrorists than they are destroying—the prime minister and his administration are facing ever-increasing and expanding internal protests and unrest.

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu

And it is clear too that he represents only a scant minority of his people, since latest polls show his popularity crashing and burning at well under twenty percent of the population. In other words, it’s not difficult to surmise that it is in Netanyahu’s selfish political interests to ensure that he can make his personal war on the Palestinian people (make no mistake, Hamas is a mere excuse for the genocidal policies the prime minister is employing against an entire people) last as long as he can possibly stretch it. Or better said, as long as the United States will not only put up with this outrage, but also keep shipping him all the fire-power he needs to wipe the Gaza Strip off the map, and a large segment of its general population with it. Hence, his staunch resistance to any sort of ceasefire or negotiation—especially any negotiation that includes the slightest hint of an eventual two-state solution, which, as diplomats and foreign policy experts all over the world agree, is the only sort of solution that will ever permit peace in that area of the Near/Middle East. In simple terms, when and if the war ends, Netanyahu’s time as head of the Israeli government will very like end with it.

As with former President Donald Trump in the US, losing office is, for Netanyahu, a much bigger problem than a mere political setback. He has also long been facing investigations surrounding corruption during his former terms as prime minister. These have not gone away, but have merely been put on hold since he returned to office at the end of 2022. He had previously served as Israeli PM between 1996 and 1999, and between 2009 and 2021.

For anyone who might feel that the title of this essay is a bit over the top, people a great deal more in touch with the issue than I am are also calling the brutal and indiscriminate attacks on the Gaza Strip “a war against children.”

To this point, Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini of the United Nations Relief Work Agency has said, “This war is a war on children. It is a war on their childhood and their future.”  Lazzarini used the term “staggering” to describe the cold hard facts. He said that latest Gaza health authority reports indicate that at least 12,300 youngsters have died in the Israeli attacks on the Gaza enclave in the months since Netanyahu’s war began. He compared that figure with the 12,193 children killed in all other worldwide conflicts combined in the four years between 2019 and 2022 (the last years for which final data is available). Seen in this light, it seems ludicrous to keep referring to the mass slaughter of civilians in Gaza as “collateral damage.”

The UN relief official described the leveling of entire neighborhoods in Israeli shelling and bombing raids, and repeated international calls for an immediate ceasefire. Latest data from local health authorities indicate that, since the beginning of the scorched-earth attacks unleashed by Netanyahu’s government, 31,184 Palestinians have been killed and 72,889 injured, the vast majority of them innocent civilians. By comparison, as of March 12, Israel had lost 247 Israeli soldiers in ground operations following weeks of shelling and bombing. Another 1,475 Israeli troops have been injured, according to information from the Israeli Army. Also by comparison, unverified estimates reported in Israel claim that five thousand Hamas militants have been killed out of some thirty thousand that existed before the war.

News agency reports indicate that, just in the first hundred days of the war, Israeli forces dropped at least 30,000 bombs (nearly all supplied by the United States as “defensive” weaponry) in its air raids on infrastructure and on the homes of Gazan citizens.  According to Lebanese-born Mohamad Safa, a diplomat and UN-accredited human rights activist, the total of bombs that Israel had dropped on the Gaza Strip in those first one hundred days was equivalent to eight times the number that the United States released over Iraq in six years of war. Some observers say that in terms of use of firepower and destruction per square kilometer, there has been no heavier bombing anywhere since the US carpet-bombing of North Vietnam in 1972 (Operation Linebacker II).

Reporting in The American Prospect, a respected online liberal bimonthly publication that specializes in discussions on public policy, editorialist Harold Meyerson recalled that, in public remarks about Israel’s war in Gaza, US President  Joe Biden had urged Israel not to make the same mistakes America made in responding to the attacks of 9/11: overreacting, which, in the case of the United States, consisted of taking the war to a country (Iraq) that wasn’t even involved in the attacks, and to another country (Afghanistan) where Americans remained enmeshed for 20 years. But Meyerson points out that, if anything, “Israel has opted to ape an even greater American folly. It is waging war on Gaza much as we waged war on Vietnam.”

Meyerson writes that, despite killing millions in Vietnam with its carpet-bombing raids, the US was unable to stop the advance of the Vietcong, or prevent them from rolling into Saigon in 1975, while the US beat a hasty and humiliating retreat, after a decade of futile war. The crux of Meyerson’s impeccably researched article was simple: “Mass bombing didn’t destroy the Vietnamese Communists and won’t destroy Hamas, but it sure kills lots of civilians.”

Another patent sign of Netanyahu’s intentionality in crushing not just Hamas, but the Palestinian people as a whole, is his utilization of famine as a weapon of war, as is the intentional bombing of housing, hospitals and other vital infrastructure. While the US has soft-pedalled in its “requests”,  rather than demands backed by action (for instance, the suspension of military aid until said requests are fulfilled) to ensure that food, water, medical supplies and other humanitarian assistance are getting to the civilian population in Gaza, Netanyahu has pursued a cruel and internationally illegal policy of purposely withholding even the most basic of assistance, adding this to the destruction of an estimated seventy percent of all Gazan housing and infrastructure, as a means of bringing the entire Palestinian population to its knees.

Even the much-touted reopening of the Erez border crossing between Gaza and Israel—closed since the Hamas attacks on Israel last October—following a reportedly tense phone call between Netanyahu and US President Biden, appears to be little more than a publicity stunt, since news correspondents on the ground, who were forced to leave the immediate area by IDF personnel, reported hearing continued shelling and gunfire on the Gaza side of the crossing. They also reported that the road on the Gaza side had been heavily shelled and was full of bomb craters, as well as having been mined near the border, which didn’t bode well for the chances of semi-trucks and trailers carrying food and medical supplies being able to actually cross into Gazan territory, particularly not in any great numbers.

Aid workers' truck targeted by Israel
In addition to these hazards have been clearly intentional attacks on aid workers and convoys. An appropriately great deal has been made of a missile attack last week that killed seven humanitarian workers traveling in an unmistakably well-marked vehicle belonging to the World Kitchen group. But it is important to note that this was only one of many times that aide workers and convoys have come under Israeli attack.

UNRWA Commissioner-General Lazzarini recently reported a targeted attack on one of his group’s facilities. In that attack on a UNRWA food distribution center in Rafah, at the southern edge of the Gaza Strip, one of the UN group’s staffers was killed and twenty-two others were injured. Said Lazzarini, “Today’s attack on one of the very few remaining UNRWA distribution centers in the Gaza Strip comes as food supplies are running out, hunger is widespread and, in some areas, turning into famine.”

He was clear about the intentionality of that attack as well: “Every day, we share the coordinates of all our facilities across the Gaza Strip with parties to the conflict. The Israeli army received the coordinates including of this facility…”

Since Netanyahu initiated his war of attrition on the Palestinian people half a year ago,
the UNRWA has recorded an unprecedented number of violations against its staff and facilities. At least one hundred sixty-five UNRWA team members have been killed, including while in the line of duty. More than one hundred fifty of the agency’s facilities have been hit, many schools among them. And there are reports of at least another thirty-five combat-related deaths among aid workers from other organizations making an effort to help Palestinian civilians.

These are all tactics that have been vigorously condemned when employed by regimes considered to be enemies of the West. The best example is that of Syria, where the cruel regime of Bashar Al Assad, with the enthusiastic backing of the even crueler regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has employed exactly the same methods to end opposition to his authoritarian rule, and, in the process, slaughtered at least a quarter-million Syrian civilians. But so far, the US has led the West in giving Netanyahu a mildly reluctant pass in this sense, far too long supporting Israel’s claims of mere defensive action with a certain amount of “collateral damage.” In point of fact, civilian deaths due to “collateral damage” have already topped fatal enemy combatant casualties by a rate of six to one. And that doesn’t begin to take into account the number of Palestinians who face death daily due to induced dehydration, starvation and deprivation of medical supplies and attention.

Before and after - greenhouses and gardens targeted

UN aid workers reiterate daily their warnings regarding the catastrophically perilous situation in Gaza.  UN estimates indicate that one in four Gazan Palestinians are living in a state of near-famine. This comes to a total of at least 576,000 people. Already, twenty-five people have died of acute malnutrition. Again, children are the most vulnerable, and twenty-one of those deaths were child fatalities.  UNICEF estimates that 1.7 million Gazan—out of a total of 2.2 million total—have been uprooted from their homes. Of those displaced, a million are children, and some seventeen thousand of those are kids who are either separated from their parents or who have evacuated war zones unaccompanied. This renders them even more vulnerable, since children are among the people least able to cope with hunger, disease and general neglect.

The international watchdog organization Human Rights Watch terms the tactics employed by Israel under Netanyahu “a war crime.” HRW clearly accuses Israeli forces of “deliberately blocking the delivery of water, food, and fuel, while willfully impeding humanitarian assistance, apparently razing agricultural areas, and depriving the civilian population of objects indispensable to their survival.”

The human rights group points to public statements from Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and Energy Minister Israel Katz from the beginning of the war, indicating that their aim is to deprive Gaza civilians of food, water and fuel, an apparent policy reflected in the concrete actions of IDF officers and troops. Some Israeli officials have also indicated that aid would be withheld as a sort of ransom, until Israeli hostages are released or until Hamas has been destroyed.
Two days after the brutal Hamas attack on Israel last October, Defense Minister Gallant said: “We are imposing a complete siege on [Gaza]. No electricity, no food, no water, no fuel–everything is closed. We are fighting human animals and we must act accordingly.”

National Security Minister Ben-Gvir tweeted a week later, “So long as Hamas does not release the hostages, the only thing that should enter Gaza is hundreds of tons of air force explosives, not an ounce of humanitarian aid.”

And five days after the Hamas attack, Energy Minister Katz said:

“Humanitarian aid to Gaza? Not a switch will be flicked on, not a valve will be opened, not a fuel truck will enter until the Israeli hostages come home. Humanitarian for humanitarian. Let no one lecture us about morality.”

In support of its claims that Israel is not only withholding food but is also destroying Palestinians’ own essential food production capabilities, HRW has provided before-and-after satellite images showing thriving Gazan fields, orchards and greenhouses apparently bulldozed by Israeli operatives just days after the Israeli war on the Gaza strip began. High resolution satellite imagery of farmland near the Erez border crossing shows both bulldozer tracks and soil bulldozed into mounds surrounding former agricultural plots.

According to Human Rights Watch Israel and Palestine Director Omar Shakir: “…Israel has been depriving Gaza's population of food and water, a policy spurred on or endorsed by high-ranking Israeli officials and reflecting an intent to starve civilians as a method of warfare. World leaders should be speaking out against this abhorrent war crime, which has devastating effects on Gaza’s population.”

And there can be little doubt that human rights leaders are justified in referring to Netanyahu’s actions as a war crime. According to international humanitarian law and internationally accepted rules of war, intentionally starving civilians as a method of warfare is prohibited.  The Rome Statute, under which the International Criminal Court operates, takes this a step further by providing that “depriving (civilians in war zones) of objects indispensable to their survival, including willfully impeding relief supplies” is a war crime. Nor does criminal intent require the attacker’s admission of such acts. These can be inferred from the totality of evidence and of the circumstances involved in any military campaign.

Additionally, Physicians for Human Rights Israel reports, with regard to thousands of Palestinian prisoners who have been held without charge over the course of the last six months, “Since October 7th, any semblance of restraint has been cast aside regarding the treatment of Palestinians in Israeli incarceration and detention facilities. Forced disappearances, torture, and severe violations of human rights, particularly in terms of health, are now inherent in the practices and policies of Israeli security bodies responsible for Palestinians in custody. These actions have garnered support and, at times, were explicitly demanded by the political ranks. Simultaneously, the judicial system has allowed these blatant deviations from professional and ethical standards to persist without intervention.”

According to human rights activists and newspaper reports from media ranging from Al Jazeera to The New York Times, this trend has only worsened over the course of the war, with the number of Palestinians detained, many innocent bystanders and random men of military age, having burgeoned to some nine thousand. According the Physicians for Human Rights report published in ReliefWeb, “Efforts to push Israeli courts to intervene and prevent the systematic disregard of reasonable incarceration standards have so far been unsuccessful. Similarly, efforts to encourage the medical community to safeguard the right to adequate care have also failed. As a result, Israel’s vindictive policies and unofficial punitive measures in prisons continue unchecked and unchallenged.”

Accusations including holding prisoners for extended periods naked, hooded and shackled in infra-human conditions, systematic humiliation and beatings, denial of basic medical care, as well as other forms of torture and sexual assault. Sadly, there has been nearly no international outcry regarding these blatant rights violations other than those coming from the world human rights community.  

We Americans have always stood with Israel. We recall the Holocaust and the fact that the Jewish people have been the most persecuted and victimized social group of modern times. We remember this as a major rallying call for rising up against fascism and crushing it in the deadliest war of all time. We recall and hold as nothing short of sacred the memory of the six million Jews exterminated by Nazi Germany during World War II, in what was the worst genocide in history. In much the same way, we remember the twelve hundred Israelis and foreign visitors murdered by Hamas terrorists last year.

But Benjamin Netanyahu is taking unfair advantage of the deference that the West has bestowed on Jews in general and on the State of Israel in particular. Worse still, he is employing, in a sense, the same sort of indiscriminate and genocidal tactics in his personal war on the Palestinians that led to the Holocaust during World War II. While he insists that his only purpose is to wipe out the Hamas terrorist organization, his mass killing of Palestinian civilians can no longer be ignored, condoned or excused.

Netanyahu’s war is an all-out war on the Palestinian people. It is a war that shows no mercy for civilians in general, or for women and children in particular. And making war on children is clearly contrary to his stated aim of doing away with Hamas. Making war on children definitively guarantees a whole new generation of ever more ruthless, anti-Israeli fighters. As such, this will be the cruel and dangerous legacy of Netanyahu’s war, bequeathed by him both to the people of Israel, and to the Palestinian people.




Anonymous said...

Thank you, Dan! Excellent article!

Dan Newland said...

Thanks so much for reading it.