Is freeing the hostages the priority?
It has now been 25 days since Hamas breached the barriers between Israel and Gaza and went on a murderous rampage, taking approximately 240 Israelis hostage. Israel responded by cutting off all food, water, medicine and electricity to Gaza and then bombing it for the last 25 days, killing over 8,000 people, 70% of them women and children.
They’ve rescued one hostage so far, apparently.
Defenders of Israel’s assault say that it is aimed at destroying Hamas. We’ll return to that in a moment, but what about the hostages? It is hard to believe current Israeli strategy aims at freeing the hostages. They are faced with a group of murderous militants willing both to shed innocent Israeli blood and to use their own people as human shields — I reject the idea that the egregious number of deaths in Gaza are a result of that, but there is clear evidence that they have done so. The Israeli strategy, as far as one can tell, is to push Gaza to the brink of destruction and disempower Hamas as much as possible, and then demand the hostages in exchange for not killing everyone?
Does this seem absolutely mad to anyone else? Isn’t it just as, or even more likely, that they will push Hamas to begin killing hostages, or even to simply execute them in nihilistic vengeance?
As far as destroying Hamas goes, not only is that unlikely, it seems that the Israeli assault will simply breed a new generation of traumatized Palestinians who both hate Israel and have little offered to them in life other than becoming the next legion of warriors. The war has already fomented anti-Semitic attacks around the world, triggered a major uptick in terrorist threats towards Israel’s main financial backer, the US, and increased the likelihood of a broader regional war.
What is the strategy here?
It seems that the Israeli government is betting all on their ability to accomplish certain objectives and come through the political-military storm unscathed, whatever the cost in human lives or global political instability.
Well then, what are those objectives?
As Israeli philosopher Omri Boehm points out in his small masterpiece Haifa Republic, it is likely the Israeli government has never seriously pursued a two state solution. Since the 1970s they have moved 400,000 settlers into the area which would have constituted the Palestinian state, and have done so in a way that carves up the land and disrupts such a possibility. Ariel Sharon was totally open about this plan, saying in 1980, “I don’t see now any area that can be handed over to anybody.”
In recent years prominent members of the Israeli government have made their sympathies with ethnic cleansing clear, something polls show a substantial amount of Israelis favor as well. As Boehm writes:
Israel’s Basic Laws, which stand in for the country’s constitution, are currently being rapidly revised….Though Israel’s 1948 Declaration of Independence asserts somewhat generally that Jews have the “right for self-determination” in Eretz Israel — thus accommodating the possibility, at least, of Palestinian self-determination — Israel’s 2018 nation-state law specifies that this right is “unique to the Jewish people.” Preparing the legal infrastructure for massive annexations — anticipating the moment at which “too many” Arabs will live within Israel’s declared borders — the law also revokes the status of Arabic as an official language in Israel, and defines “Jewish settlement” of Eretz Israel as a “national value,” thus undermining the declaration’s pledge to equality, irrespective of “religion or race”….
“Amiram Levin, a former top Israel Defense Forces major general publicly perceived as a liberal Zionist, suggested in 2017 that in the next round of hostilities, Israel should “tear the Palestinians apart,” to make sure that “they do not stay.” He proposed “kick[ing] them to the other side of the Jordan River.” In 2019, Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the religious Zionist party Tkuma, said to Israel Hayom, Israel’s largest daily: “As far as I’m concerned, let Gaza rot, let them die of hunger, of thirst and of malaria.” This policy, he says, should be accompanied by opening “Gaza’s gates to massive emigration,” otherwise known in Israel as “voluntary transfer.” Smotrich may be the leader of an extreme-right religious Zionist party, but as he drafted this plan, in 2019, he was also a minister and a member of cabinet. For that matter, Trump’s so-called Deal of the Century also raised the possibility of population swaps and the denaturalization of Arab Israeli citizens in what is sometimes called the Triangle Area — a region that is heavily populated with Arab Israelis and borders the West Bank. As Israel’s former defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman, tweeted immediately after the announcement of the plan: “In 2004, when I suggested a plan for population swaps, everybody raised an eyebrow. But just now President Trump adopted the full plan . . . Standing by your principles and being patient pays off.” In 2014, when he was Israel’s foreign minister, Lieberman ran on a platform calling for the transfer of Arab Israelis from Acre, Haifa, and Jaffa to the West Bank and neighboring Arab countries.
In the wake of the October 7 attacks, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said, “I have ordered a complete siege on the Gaza Strip. There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel, everything is closed….We are fighting human animals and we are acting accordingly.”
“The emphasis is on damage, not accuracy,” declared the Israel Defence Forces (IDF). “Gaza will eventually turn into a city of tents,” said one IDF official, adding, “There will be no buildings.” Israel’s economy minister, Nir Barkat, told ABC News that hostages and civilian casualties will be secondary to destroying Hamas, “even if takes a year”.
Meanwhile, as the UN is warning of “mass ethnic cleansing”, has denounced “crimes against humanity” and is even arguing that “there is a risk of genocide” against the Palestinians, +972 Magazine recently revealed that the Israeli Defence Ministry is indeed considering expelling the Palestinians of Gaza to the Sinai Peninsula.
In the West Bank in the last year settlers have seized another 110km square of Palestinian land, more than they had seized in total since 1967 (80 square km). 122 Palestinians in the West Bank have been killed either by the IDF or Israeli civilians since Oct 7, as Jewish settlers have been engaging in vandalism, revenge killings, and acts of terror including breaking into Palestinian homes and accosting families.
It is very hard to say out loud what is going on here, but it is all too easy to see. We are watching the slow burn campaign of annexation, apartheid, and disempowerment burst into the flames of ethnic cleansing and genocide. What Hamas did on Oct 7 was unjustifiable, but it’s main legacy may be to finally provide the pretext for extremist Zionist forces to accomplish what they have been wanting to do for decades.
Genocide Watch (GW), founded by Gregory Stanton, an expert in Genocide studies with a track record of successfully predicting them, recently issued a Genocide Emergency Alert for Israel/Palestine. GW recommends the following:
- All hostages held by Hamas must be freed immediately and returned to Israel.
- The Israeli blockade of medicines, food, and water to Gaza should end immediately.
- Military aid to Israel should be conditional on Israel’s adherence to the laws of war.
- Humanitarian corridors to safe areas must be free from bombing and ground attacks.
- Hamas and Israel must halt all attacks that kill or injure civilians.
- Reports of Israel’s use of incendiary weapons must be investigated by the UN.
- Israeli officials in the occupied West Bank must ensure the safety of all civilians.
- Israel should not invade Gaza unless Israel lifts its blockade, stops its bombing, and enforces rigorous rules of engagement to prevent civilian casualties.
This is the political program, the list of demands, we should all be getting behind right now.