Chicago (Special to Informed Comment; Feature) -In retaliation for Hamas’ vicious and brutal attack of October 7, Israel enforced a total siege on Gaza, denying its 2.3 million inhabitants access to electricity, food, water and fuel while bombarding its population with a massive aerial assault whose targets include mosques, schools, and hospitals. No humanitarian supplies, except for some fuel, have been allowed into Gaza for over a week. The situation in Gaza has reached the “level of genocide,” said Shawan Jabarin, head of the al-Haq rights group. “You wanted hell — you will get hell,” declared Israeli general Ghassan Aliyan.
Israel ordered 1 million Gazans — mostly refugees descended from refugees — to evacuate the northern part of the strip, in advance of an inevitably bloody ground invasion. The only exit from Gaza — the Rafah border crossing into Egypt — was bombed by Israel and remains closed by Egypt as of Tuesday. The United Nations said that it considered the evacuation “logistically impossible.” Therefore, the Israeli expulsion directive looks like a fabricated cover to “excuse” the reckless endangerment of civilian lives, which violates international law.
The mass relocation of Palestinians from their homes and the depopulation of Gaza “will be a second Nakba, or catastrophe,” according to Columbia University professor of modern Arab studies Rashid Khalidi, as the mass displacement of 1948 is called when an estimated 700,000 Palestinians were expelled in order for Israel to be created on their land. For 75 years, Palestinians have been displaced, incarcerated, and murdered.
Trying to “justify” the evacuation of Palestinians and the incineration of Gaza’s remaining noncombatant population — a collective punishment which is a war crime, Israeli president Isaac Herzog said that there are no innocent civilians in Gaza, a morally indefensible position. “It is an entire nation that is responsible. They could have risen up, they could have fought against the evil regime.” Likewise, Israeli defense minister Yoav Gallant defended Palestinian genocide on racist grounds when he said “We are fighting human animals, and we act accordingly.”
Inflaming already heated rhetoric, an enraged Israeli political class emphasized a dark vision of unrestrained retribution. “Israel needs to create a humanitarian crisis” to eradicate Hamas, wrote the former head of the Israeli National Security Council Giora Eiland. “Gaza will become a place where no human being can exist.” On Sunday, the United Nations stated that Gaza “is becoming a hellhole on the bring of collapse” suggesting that this strategy is being dreadfully implemented.
Plunging into Strangelove madness, Israeli lawmaker Revital Gotliv, Likud party member, urged the use of nuclear weapons on Gaza, to punish Hamas. “Let’s use Jericho missiles! Let’s use doomsday weapons!”
This bloodthirsty rhetoric demonstrates that the extremist Israeli government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu despises not just Hamas but all the Palestinians in Gaza — children, women and noncombatant men. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised vengeance that will “reverberate for generations.” As of Tuesday, the Gaza health ministry reported that at least 2,778 people have been killed in Gaza as a result of Israeli military actions, including at least 1,030 children. More than 9,700 have been injured, and over 500,000 people have been displaced as a result of the Israeli strikes.
Despite Israel’s flaunting of international humanitarian law, the U.S. government has done little publicly to discourage Israel from committing war crimes by its blocking of supplies essential to survival, its impossible evacuation order, its collective punishment, and its disproportionate killing of civilians, especially children.
“We’re going to be careful not to get into armchair-quarterbacking the tactics on the ground” of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), said National Security Council spokesman John Kirby last week. “They’re trying to move civilians out of harm’s way and giving them fair warning.” But how fair is the warning when routes out of Gaza, designated by Israel as ”safe,” are bombed by Israel, when residents are stuck in Gaza digging loved ones out of the bombed ruins, or that in fact nowhere in Gaza is secure?
A speech by President Biden last week suggested that the U.S. backed whatever Israel regarded as necessary to defend itself and defeat Hamas. But, the Palestinian people are not Hamas and defending against Hamas terrorism cannot be the mass death of Palestinians.
“Like every nation in the world, Israel has the right to respond to these vicious attacks,” Biden said, suggesting that the Hamas strike was Israel’s 9/11 and encouraging a “swift, decisive, and overwhelming” response.” Biden will travel to Israel, on Wednesday, in a further demonstration of support.
So far, the administration approach is deeply flawed. Absent in Biden’s statements of solidarity were demands for restraint, even as civilian Palestinian casualties soar. In fact, the administration has forbidden State Department officials from releasing statements that call for “de-escalation/ceasefire,” an “end to violence/bloodshed,” or “restoring calm.” Absurdly, the administration views “restoring calm” or “de-escalation” as pro-Hamas or anti-Israeli.
Prior to Hamas’ terrorist assault, the U.S. government unconditionally funded Israel even as Netanyahu’s ultra-nationalist government deepened that country’s apartheid, illegally annexed more territory for settlements, undermined judicial oversight, and enforced brutally racist policies against Palestinians — all of which may have contributed to the conflagration that has been sparked in Israel and Gaza. Muffled criticism of Israel — along with a growing awareness of Palestinian outrage — crept into progressive pockets of Congress, though much of that disappeared after the gruesome attack.
On Capitol Hill, lawmakers from both parties — in a government where pro-Israel political action committees have long ranked among the biggest political donors — have echoed Israel’s war cries for punishment and vengeance, though Republicans were the most enthusiastically savage. The groundswell of support has been reminiscent of post-9/11 rhetoric.
At that time, it was regarded as taboo to deviate from grief, rage, and the desire for revenge. To express concern for the lives and rights of innocent civilians caught in the death trap of the U.S. war on terror was considered unpatriotic. Ultimately, this helped push the U.S. into unimaginable killing, catastrophic destruction, and years of sheer horror in the occupation quagmires of Iraq and Afghanistan.
But, any lessons learned from our wars in the Mideast are mostly ignored. “In terms of Hamas, kill them all,” said the GOP’s counterfeit macho man Sen. Lindsey Graham on Fox News. “Do whatever the hell you have to do to defend yourself. Level the place.” Graham never wavers in his desire to kill Muslims. He even urged the preemptive bombing of Iran.
Other prominent members of the GOP cheered the ferocious Israeli onslaught. Sen. Marco Rubio explicitly demanded a “disproportionate” Israeli response, in violation of international law. Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley said, “We have to treat sick people the way they deserve to be treated and eliminate them.” Expressing his usual bloodlust, Sen. Tom Cotton likened Israel’s bombardment campaign to the U.S. firebombing of Japan toward the end of the World War II, which killed over 80,000 Japanese civilians.
Islamophobic Donald Trump regurgitated his malignant anti-immigrant stance vowing to bar Muslims from the United States if elected president — a terrifying spectacle that could only result from a mass psychotic break-down and democratic suicide.
For some, an unspoken test has emerged, measuring support for Israel not just in the statements of sympathy and political backing, but also in the extent to which each lawmaker encourages Israel to commit any atrocities it deemed necessary to destroy Gaza. “I would like this administration to get out of Israel’s way and to let Israel do what it needs to do best,” said GOP Rep. Max Miller, who was also advocating for “no rules of engagement” and described Gaza as “a territory that‘s about to get eviscerated, as we’re going to turn it into a parking lot.”
Amid the fervor on Capitol Hill last week, there has been little criticism of Israel or mention of Palestinian deaths, except by a few members of the Democratic progressive caucus. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez denounced Israel’s demand that Palestinians evacuate south as “unacceptable” and “impossible” without devastating humanitarian consequences.
Still, she criticized a recent Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) pro-Palestine rally in New York in which a speaker, referring to the Hamas’ massacre of people at a music festival, joked about “the resistance” killing “hipsters.” Ocasio-Cortez condemned what she called “the bigotry and callousness” of the Times Square rally, saying Americans are “capable of rejecting both Hamas’ horrifying attacks against innocent civilians as well as the grave injustices and violence Palestinians face under occupation.”
Urging us to honor the humanity of both innocent Israelis killed and innocent Palestinians killed, Rep. Ilhan Omar — a refugee from violence in Somalia — wrote on X that the U.S. shared responsibility for civilian deaths in Gaza and criticized “unconditional weapons sales and military aid to Israel” while suggesting that the U.S. use its diplomatic might to push for peace. “It sickens me” to hear colleagues question weapons sales to Israel, said Democratic Rep. Josh Gottheimer. Ludicrously, he was appalled at the mere expression of humanitarian concerns, calls for peace, and endorsement of constraints on Israel.
Further, the White House disparaged Democratic progressives for proposing de-escalation and diplomacy to stop the killing. Asked about statements that called for a cease-fire, Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said, “We believe they’re wrong. We believe they’re repugnant and we believe they’re disgraceful. Our condemnation belongs squarely with terrorists. There can be no equivocation about that. There are not two sides.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders, however, thought there were humanitarian abuses on both sides. Though he explicitly criticized “Hamas’ terrorist assault on Israel” and asserted that the United States had “rightly offered support” to Israel, Sanders faced sharp criticism from conservatives after he argued, “The targeting of civilians is a war crime, no matter who does it. Israel’s blanket denial of food, water, and other necessities to Gaza is a serious violation of international law and will do nothing but harm innocent civilians.”
That was not a welcome opinion in official Washington last week; nor, was Rep. Rashida Tlaib‘s statement which deplored the loss of Israeli and Palestinian lives. She added, “The failure to recognize the violent reality of living under siege, occupation, and apartheid makes no one safer.” She urged colleagues to see the humanity in everyone, which in official Washington was a radical opinion to be denounced.
Disgraced GOP Rep. Kevin McCarthy, fired as House speaker by his own party, slammed Tlaib while House Republicans moved to block Tlaib — a Palestinian American — from displaying the Palestinian flag that’s hung outside her office since the opening of the current Congress. She was even chased around by a Fox Reporter asking her why she has a Palestinian flag in her office and does she support the Hamas attack?
Referring to Tlaib’s display of her country’s flag, Rep. Max Miller — who served as an aide to wannabe dictator Donald Trump — said on Fox News, “I will not tolerate hate or anti-Semitism in the halls of congress.” Not surprisingly, he ignores his own hateful rhetoric and that of his sadistic, anti-Palestinian colleagues.
Tlaib even faces censure by the House. GOP Rep. Jack Bergman filed a resolution against her. In a video posted to X, he said that she has a “long history of making anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli remarks.” The censure resolution, as well as aid to Israel and Ukraine, is frozen because the House of Representatives is paralyzed by the GOP who, as of Tuesday, could not agree on a Speaker to lead the caucus. Currently the insurrectionist and Trump co-conspirator Gym Jordan — a “legislative terrorist,” as former speaker John Boehner called him — leads the motley pack.
Bergman’s accusation against Omar went further, “I’d hope we can all agree that the terrorists raping women, taking hostages, and decapitating babies is a crime against all of humanity. There is no moral equivalence between Israel defending itself and Hamas attacking innocent Israeli civilians.” Bergman overtly reflects a racist double standard — shared by House and Senate colleagues — that the only violence that matters is that inflicted on Israelis and the only hostages that matter are Israeli hostages. Further, he repeats debunked accounts of Hamas beheading babies and unverified accusations of rape — both of which Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have reiterated.
Unverified reports of rape and decapitation are part of an Israeli propaganda strategy that reinforces Islamophobic tropes, according to the Palestinian journalist Muhammed El-Kurd, appearing on the Democracy Now television show. He added, “Two million Palestinians have been living as besieged and isolated hostages in Gaza for the past sixteen years in this Israeli blockade that must end.” El-Kurd vehemently criticized journalists and politicians who do not provide the historic context for Palestinian resistance.
Trying to provide the context for Palestinian revolt, measured statements by Tlaib, Omar, and Sanders are not particularly extreme and neither are their calls for de-escalation and negotiation. Yet, merely stressing the basic rules of international humanitarian law is considered sickening, repugnant, and worthy of censure by the U.S. administration and most American politicians, who are apologists for genocide.
Despite getting smeared as anti-Semitic, Tlaib —- along with four other Democratic House members — intends to introduce a resolution urging the administration to “call for an immediate de-escalation and ceasefire in Israel and occupied Palestine, to send humanitarian aid and assistance to Gaza, and to save as many lives as possible.” They believe that destruction, punishment, and vengeance will make the situation worse.
The idea that Israel can eliminate Hamas and its terror tactics by exterminating thousands of Gaza’s civilians is wrong as well as darkly preposterous. This will likely engender more atrocities. Israel might kill the leaders of Hamas and obliterate hundreds of militants. But, new leaders will emerge and new radicals will be born from the rubble of Gaza. As Ilhan Omar rightly argued, “targeting an entire civilian population will only sow more discord and perpetuate the cycle of violence” — the sort of retributive violence that spawned the current nightmare.