Hamas attacked Israel with no regard for civilians earlier this month, on the 7th of October to be precise. This is touted as a provocation — an initial instigatory event that demands a response. From another perspective, it’s just another chapter of the same affair, a predictable and repeated response to ongoing acts and injustices against the captive and sieged Palestinians. It takes little memory to have not seen this many times, the last time being in 2021. Even the rhetoric is the usual copy-and-paste hasbara.
Last time we were haunted by the image of an IDF soldier being dragged into an underground tunnel to a dark and unknown fate. This time it’s beheaded children. That first image turned out to be fiction, but the mind (or rather emotions) cannot forget so easily, if the redaction is even heard. Bodies of children were found, but there was no evidence of beheading, even among the eyewitnesses who found them. But again, we can’t unsee with the mind’s eye and the insinuation served its political purpose. We could say the embellishment is immaterial since they are dead and it is a tragedy nonetheless. But it may have been another clever attempt to associate the incident with insidious religious zeal rather than fanatical political wrath. After all, Israeli rhetoric has always painted its perceived enemies as barbaric and antisemitic to stifle any criticism of national policy, no matter how justified.
Political perspectives aside, this is a measurable thing. Every attack by a pro-Palestinian group or uprising by the Palestinian people results in several-fold retribution upon their remaining towns, cities, and lands. It is hard to say it’s not both indiscriminate and disproportionate, so much so that over a hundred Holocaust survivors signed a joint letter condemning these actions last time around. International agencies have many times claimed that many targets had no bearing on a conflict. Given this, it’s even more concerning that after Netanyahu told everyone in Northern Gaza to vacate southward, Southern Gaza was bombed.
The go-to “explanation” why there are (always) so many civilian deaths, including the bombing of hospitals, is the use of “human shields”. If you squint your eyes and don’t think too hard, this excuses a lot of sins. There is a huge debate if that has even been a regular tactic of Hamas or other groups, and the evidence is nothing more than an assertion by one side in most cases (contrary witnesses being not just Palestinians but Doctors Without Borders and other groups).
If this point is conceded, the goalpost is moved to say that not vacating an entire area when told to by the attacking force makes the civilians present all human shields. The questionability of that argument aside, the NGOs involved have made it clear vacating so many people so quickly isn’t even physically possible and has already become a humanitarian crisis. This is the main point in the call for a ceasefire. The other consideration is that leaving their lands comes with the reasonable expectation it will quickly become prime real estate for Israeli-only settlements as we have seen in the West Bank. Time and outcomes will tell.
But let us assume Hamas is purposely placing itself below hospitals and schools. Two things show this is mathematically unreasonable. First, it is unlikely all targets struck could be shields given the number of bomb craters being fewer than the reasonable estimate of operational and weapon stockpile locations. Secondly, last time I checked, less than 100 Hamas members were killed among the over 11,000 Palestinians dead. This means if one Hamas agent is in your neighborhood, you may all expect to die.
If you think this is an acceptable risk (or rather certainty) given how dangerous you feel Hamas is, you have to ask yourself: If it was an Israeli city harboring (knowingly or not, willfully or not) terrorists, would you want the air strikes to continue? Of course, you could say there would be no reason because the IDF could swoop in and take out the terrorists and not hurt their citizens. That’s exactly the point. We’ve had days of bombing before any ground forces were even deployed. And only just now has there been any talk of hostage exchanges (which was one of the motivations of Hamas, meaning there likely would have been a solid ceasefire all around).
The other motivation of Hamas was to stoke the fires on an issue that has subsided from news headlines. Once again, the efficacy of tactics depends more on ad space values than human values. The peaceful initiatives and movements (such as BDS) against the Occupation and settlements, et alia, have faded from the headlines. Worse yet, even boycotting is being treated as an act of terrorism by some politicians, meaning there is little or no advantage in employing civil means. But that is for another discussion.
To conclude this, let’s take it to a hypothetical extreme. What if the Palestinians as a whole WANT to shelter Hamas and are defiant against evacuation for reasons beyond fear of no return? What if they want to see if the IDF — and the people who support them — are capable and willing to kill women and children en masse to kill a few bad guys? It reminds me of the women and children marching for Civil Rights in the 1960s, and the public tide turning once TV sets showed images of hoses and dogs being used against them. Some BLM marches featured White folks in the front to shield People of Color from harsh actions of overzealous crowd control. It’s a sort of challenge to test the opponent’s humanity.
Perhaps this is a bad comparison. After all, we can agree Hamas aren’t the good guys. And maybe some Palestinians are complicit, the justifications of which can be debated another time. The real question is if the lives of so many women and children are inconsequential, even under the worst imagined assumptions. The answer to that says more about us than it does about Hamas.
All actions being branded “right to defend oneself ” is either the motte or the bailey here. That notion is the first bullet in the hasbara chamber whenever Israel’s response or policy is questioned. As we can see from worldwide reactions, people aren’t buying it anymore, especially the newer generation who weren’t exposed to so many decades of unquestioned myths.
However, those who live in such a clear-cut reality where they must do such evil to fight such evil should at least be honest about it. But the end justifying the means is always the gateway to every great evil. It is nothing to be proud of, and makes us the evil we say we fight. And if we want people we ally or ethnically identify with to be spared from crossfire, while others should not, then be honest about that, too, and have mercy on your soul.