As many of you have learned, on Monday Israeli defense minister Yoav Gallant ordered for a “complete siege” of the Gaza Strip, cutting off all electricity, food, water, and fuel supplies. The orders came after multiple foreign ministries from the US, France, Germany, Britain, and other European countries reported that Hamas had kidnapped and killed over one dozen civilians this past weekend – nearly 50 years to the day the Yom Kippur War began.
Before I proceed any further, _ feel the need to make one point absolutely clear: any violence on either side that affects innocent bystanders should be rightfully condemned. No one should have to fear for their own or their loved ones’ safety. In outlining Al-Talib’s position, groups such as Hamas should not target civilians or foreign nationals.
In the wake of recent Israel-Palestine coverage, however, there has been a stark trend in how the two sides are portrayed that is simply misleading at best. A cursory glance at recent headlines cannot begin to express my level of concern:
The New York Times: “Israel Orders ‘Siege’ of Gaza; Hamas Threatens to Kill Hostages”
Some media outlets go so far as to portray those criticizing Israel’s line of attack in a pejorative light – almost to suggest that sympathizing with Palestinians to any degree runs counter to achieving peace in the Gaza Strip. In pointing this out, the contents of said media are not necessarily inaccurate on their merits, nor should the importance of covering the physical toll that Israelis have bore be discounted. Rather, any portrayals of recent events as an “unprovoked attack” or a “war” insulates the Israeli government from any fair criticism regarding their horrid treatment of Palestinians.
As the Human Rights Watch aptly points out, the Israeli government had unlawfully killed 2,000 Palestinian civilians in the last three conflicts in Gaza spanning from 2008-2014. Many of these killings constitute “violations of international humanitarian law due to a failure to take all feasible precautions to spare civilians.” Even after withdrawing troops from Gaza in September 2005, the Israeli government has imposed a continuous land, air, and sea blockade on the region since 2007. The United Nations would characterize the policy as “devastating livelihoods and causing “de-development” in Gaza, while Amnesty International took a stronger stance by condemning the act as a “crime against humanity.” The economic toll has since been unfathomable: Gaza’s GDP has slipped by 23 percent since 1994 while families struggle to access sufficient medical care and educational opportunities that resulted in severe poverty and unemployment. Only a few years later, commandos from the Israeli Defense Force raided six boats carrying aid to Gaza from pro-Palestinian charity groups, resulting in at least 10 casualties. To date, upwards of 1.5 million in Gaza rely on humanitarian assistance due to the blockade.
This only begins to scratch the surface. Among other atrocities that are from exhaustive, the Israeli government also destroyed hundreds of Palestinian homes, shut down Gaza’s only power plant, attacked worshippers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and forcibly evicted hundreds from the Sheikh Jarrrah neighborhood. All in the span of seven years.
In what amounts to a “regime of occupation,” as per the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights, the Israeli government has committed itself to decades of human rights abuses that have crippled the Palestinian economy and left millions in desperate need of aid. This is not to say Hamas was justified in kidnapping and killing foreign nationals last weekend. But when supplied with more context, the atrocities provide more than due skepticism to any claims of an unprovoked attack or that the Israeli government was guiltless in stoking unnecessary tensions.
To some, this may read as an unnecessarily subtle point: why does it matter that Palestinian carnage is not covered as extensively? Why does it matter that Israel’s track record with Palestinians lacks the same level of coverage, and how is it directly relevant to the attacks that transpired last weekend on Israeli soil?
Because to the untrained reader, failing to shed equal light on Palestinian injustice preserves equally damaging stereotypes on the Middle East. In 1978, Palestinian-American Edward Said published Orientalism, which details how past Western intellectuals justified colonialism by portraying Middle Eastern people as “inferior, subservient, and in need of saving.” In the process, Orientalism lumps the entirety of Near Eastern culture as a single monolith that lacks civilization and order. Even with greater awareness of its harm, the distinction between “the West” and “non-West” remains just as relevant today in journalist circles.
So by focusing primarily on Hamas this past weekend, the untrained reader can interpret recent events as lending further credence to these pre-established biases. It blurs much-needed distinctions between Palestinian civilians wanting safer lives for their families and armed militiamen attacking foreign nationals or Israeli citizens. And just as importantly, it enables perpetrators of settler colonialism to distance themselves from the mass atrocities that stem from militarist violence. Despite being geographically inseparable, Western media sources regularly default to Orientalist biases in depicting Israel and Palestine – a beacon of democracy versus a “third-world,” poverty-stricken desert.
It is through this Orientalist lens that commentators frame the issue as a religious conflict rather than another instance of longstanding human rights abuses. It is through this bias that justifies Israel’s illegal use of force while delegitimizing any attempts of self defense from Palestinians. And it is through this bias that enables some to say “give em’ hell” or “finish them” without further thought of the devastation soon to come for innocent Palestinians.
Which now leads us to Minister Gallant’s comments. In ordering a total siege of Palestinian resources in Gaza, he also went on to declare: “We are fighting barbarians [human animals] and will respond accordingly.” Prime Minister Netanyahu also stated that “what we will do to our enemies in the coming days will reverberate with them for generations.” Given what we know now, Minister Gallant’s rhetoric is not only insensitive to the injustices carried out against Palestinians, but it also vindicates the use of excessive force against civilians needlessly thrown into the line of fire.
Just 10 years ago, the Israeli military pledged to stop using artillery shells with white phosphorus due to its harmful effects on civilians. Yet, on October 9th, videos surfaced of Israeli forces using these banned chemical weapons en route to killing over 400 Palestinians in two days and suffocating hundreds more. Israel also went on to unleash 10 hours of consecutive airstrikes, with Prime Minister Netanyahu stating the attacks are only targeting Hamas. But with 2.3 million residents in Gaza sealed off from food, critical supplies, and a reliable means of escape, no amount of “warnings” can wash away the bloodshed, fear, and anguish from Palestinians looking helplessly to the skies and seeing missiles destroying everything they have ever known and loved. Let’s not mince what is actually happening. The Israeli government is responding yet again with war crimes.
Just refer to Article 8 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Given what we know now, how well is the Israeli government abiding by these standards? We’ll leave that up to you.
For a nation that receives well over $3 billion in U.S. military aid, with an additional $728 million soon to come from Europe, Israel receives little to no accountability on how such military aid is deployed and will thus continue to govern with legal impunity. With ill consideration of the potential loss of life and environmental damage, thousands more will needlessly suffer in the rubble that their homes will soon become. And without this valuable context, Palestinians will continue to be needlessly dehumanized in an operation spanning decades. Consider the record straight.