By Arab News
By Baria Alamuddin
The killing of hundreds of Israeli children, mothers, pensioners and innocent young people was a horrific atrocity. But the angry momentum created by this horror has unleashed a new slaughter of the innocents on an industrial scale, through massive, indiscriminate bombing across Gaza. Israel’s Defense Minister boasted of the “complete siege” of Gaza’s two million citizens: “No electricity, no food, no water, no gas… We are fighting human animals, and we act accordingly.”
Entrapping and bombing a civilian population with tons of munitions is straightforwardly a war crime. No wonder Benjamin Netanyahu’s stony face when US Secretary of State Blinken stood next to him and declared that it was “vitally important” that Israel respect international humanitarian law. “It’s what distinguishes us from terrorist organizations”, Blinken said.
These appalling scenes of slaughter did not erupt from nowhere. They occurred in the context of an inexorable escalation in tension over recent months — or arguably decades: in early 2023 there was sustained escalation in state violence against Palestinians, with 200 killed in the West Bank alone. There was massive anger at military assaults against the revered Al-Aqsa Mosque, and hundreds of attacks against Palestinian farmers by militant settlers, overseen by a cabal of extremists committed to the eradication of the Palestinians as a nation.
All this contributed to the increasing inevitability of an explosive response from the Palestinian side. Statements in recent days from the GCC, Saudi Arabia and the Arab world held Israel’s authorities responsible for creating this situation through “depriving Palestinian people of their legitimate rights and systematic provocations against their holy sites.”
These developments are catastrophic for Netanyahu’s credibility. Israel was direly unprepared because it has spent the past few years at war with itself, with mass protests against Netanyahu’s outright lurch toward the far right. Israeli commentators have highlighted the calamitous impact of appointing hellraising extremists such as Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir to sensitive ministerial positions for managing security and oversight of occupied territories.
With Hezbollah and Israel exchanging missile fire over the Lebanon border, Israel fears what could happen if Hezbollah fully entered the conflict, with its exponentially greater missile capabilities and the prospect that its fighters could replicate the Gaza breakout throughout villages in northern Israel. Despite Joe Biden’s warning to Iran’s proxies not to exploit the situation, Hassan Nasrallah urged Arab states to rethink normalization with Israel, and pro-Hezbollah cleric Ahmed Qablan denounced Israel as a “lie which soon will be eradicated from the face of the earth.” In Lebanon, memories of Israel’s brutally vengeful 2006 military campaign are still deeply raw.
Western leaders who had been privately disdainful of Netanyahu’s wholesale embrace of the extreme right nevertheless raced to support Israel’s “absolute right to defend itself” — offering a blank slate of impunity for whatever acts of collective punishment Israel unleashes, including a ground invasion. This excessive Western tolerance has contributed to bringing us to where we are today: offering Israel unlimited military support to perpetuate the occupation, turning a blind eye to decades of human rights abuses and war crimes, and diplomatic language that portrayed Palestinian lives as expendable.
This provided immaculate diplomatic cover for 70 years of brutal occupation, and remorseless devouring of Palestinian territories. Militant West Bank settlers this year embarked on an unprecedented campaign to brutalize and displace Arab farmers, with an estimated 140 sq km of Palestinian lands seized in recent months. As demographics relatively favor Palestinian population growth, Israeli political power is increasingly monopolized by a theocratic, extremist, anti-democratic minority, among whom fantasies of extermination and genocide are mooted as long-term solutions to the Palestine question.
The images of death and trauma we have witnessed on both sides in recent days are an unforgivable tragedy. Human rights must be universal, sacred and unconditional. There have been well over 2,000 Palestinian and Israeli deaths, and Palestinians are already disproportionately bearing the brunt of thousands more fatalities, with tens of thousands of others bereaved and rendered homeless.
Netanyahu’s rhetoric about “eradicating” Hamas is nonsense, given that disproportionate Israeli violence only drives more disenfranchised youths toward armed groups. Young boys in Gaza will witness mothers and siblings being slaughtered, and will grow up consumed by hatred, desiring nothing more than to end their own miserable existence in a gesture of destruction against those they blame for their plight.
As with illegal West Bank settlement activity, the dense network of settlements built around Gaza was provocatively calculated to constrain and suppress the Palestinian population. As an Al-Hayat journalist in 1994, I had several days of exclusive access to Yasser Arafat immediately before his return to Palestine after the Oslo accords. He was rightly skeptical about Israel’s readiness for peace, but desperately wanted to believe that peace was possible.
Netanyahu’s arrival as prime minister in 1996, following the murder of Yitzhak Rabin by a Jewish extremist, came to represent a rejection by the Israeli public of Oslo’s aspirations for a just peace. October 2023 marks another decisive turning point, when Netanyahu’s assertion that Israelis could enjoy permanent peace without peacemaking was decisively exposed as a lie.
If Israelis desire to spare their descendants future reruns of the anarchy, tragedy and carnage of recent days, they should compel their leaders to embrace the principles of “land for peace” enshrined in the Oslo accords and Arab Peace Initiative.
Instead, these inhuman acts of vengeance playing out before the horrified eyes of the world are the surest guarantor of further generations of slaughter, genocide and annihilation yet to come.
- Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state.