On the evening of March 20th 2003 when Donald Rumsfeld triumphantly unleashed ‘shock and awe’ on the people of Iraq, I was sitting in the comfort of a suburban Maryland living room with a heavy heart. My host, sensing my discomfort, told me that the decision to invade was very difficult because several innocent people would die, but there was no option because Sadam Hussien was an ‘evil’ man and the United States had the ability and obligation to rid the world of him.
George W Bush framed the conflict in terms of ‘good’ versus ‘evil’. He told Bob Woodward that he launched the invasion “praying for strength to do the Lord’s Will”. In similar fashion, Benjamin Netanyahu posted on X , last month, that “this is a struggle between the children of light and the children of darkness. Between humanity and the law of the jungle.” This familiar claim of righteousness as a rationale for their wars, sets the stage for ruthless obedience to ‘their Lord’s will’, even at an inhuman cost.
If the international community were to force an end to the bombardment of Gaza today, it would be too late. Too late for the thousands who have been killed unnecessarily over the last few weeks. It would, of course, be just in time for whoever is next in the line of fire, but too late for all of us to avoid the stain on our era. In our time it is that this indiscriminate killing is happening, abetted by the unwillingness of enough of us to take a stand against it. The attack of October seventh was so shocking that there was no question that Israel had the obligation to strike back with extreme ferocity. They had the ‘right and duty to defend themselves’, and in this endeavour the American leadership publicly pledged their unquestioning support for the Netanyahu regime.
As the days went on, the US officials sought moral cover by quibbling about the veracity of the number of dead coming out of the Gaza health ministry; they called them ‘Hamas numbers’, as if the evidence of our eyes was not enough for us to demand a stop to the carnage. The highest levels of the Israeli civil and military authorities made the most horrific pronouncements of intent, in some cases using zoological terminology to describe the residents of Gaza. Against this backdrop, the United States secretary of state cut a particularly pathetic spectacle a month into the bombing saying that “far too many Palestinians have been killed in Israeli war in Gaza”, as if he and his colleagues are not some of the few people on earth with the ability to stop the killing.
As the initial four-day pause in hostilities was beingnegotiated, the Washington DC–based publication Politico reported that “There was some concern in the Biden administration about unintended consequences of the pause; that it would allow journalists broader access to Gaza and an opportunity to further illuminate the devastation there.”
What is happening? What are we witnessing? Some say that we need not worry, it is just the triumph of the children of light over the children of darkness.
Military reservist, Maj Gen Giora Eiland, former head of the Israeli National Security Council says, “The state of Israel has no choice but to turn Gaza into a place that is temporarily or permanently impossible to live in. Creating a severe humanitarian crisis in Gaza is a necessary means to achieve the goal in Gaza. Gaza will become a place where no human being can exist.” At the same time, the Israeli government and their allies repeat their mantra that the Israeli army do all they can to protect civilians.
Friends don’t let friends drive drunk. Israel’s friends should tell her the truth that Gen Eiland is wrong, the state does have a choice. Palestinian hearts feel the same loss and pain that Israeli hearts do; and regardless what Netanyahu or his allies say, neither Hamas killers nor IDF killers are doing righteous work when they kill innocent men, women or children.
Israel needs friends who are honest brokers, honest enough to stop calling her a democracy in the Middle East. There is a spectrum of governing systems at one end of which is a democracy which assures the rights for all citizens, at the other is an ethnocracy aka apartheid which limits rights of citizenship to certain ethnicities. Israel‘s insistence on being an ethnostate is the impediment that makes the idea of a democratic state for all dwelling between the river and the sea impossible. This insistence is unequivocally supported by their European and American friends who carry the generational guilt for their historical oppression and cleansing of Jews from their own countries.
Bereavement abounds on both sides of the wire. Rami Elhanan is a member of The Parents Circle, a group founded in 1995 made up of Israeli and Palestinian families who had lost immediate family members to the ongoing conflict. His 14 year old daughter was killed 26 years ago in a Hamas suicide bombing. He says that the region has been trapped in a cycle of blood letting for 75 years, and this is just a particularly startling and brutal, though not unexpected round of it. “It will not stop unless we talk.” he says. “We are doomed to live here together and we have to choose to share the land or share the graveyard beneath it.”
Sadly the current Israeli government sees things in a less enlightened way than Parents Circle. They speak of victory won by bombs and bullets at the expense, so far, of 10,000 people and counting. Government spokespeople make the dubious argument that Israel is faced with the choice of launching the war or doing nothing which will allow Hamas to attack again. That has never been the choice, Israel of all countries can devise another way, the Israel which built a fearsome global reputation after the second world war for doggedly pursuing and capturing the architects and operators of the European death camps.
THE WOUNDS OF WAR
On their website, The Parents Circle Families Forum a group of Israeli and Palestinian relatives of victims of the insane cycle of violence say:
‘The toll of violence is not just counted in numbers; it is measured in the shattered dreams, the untapped potential, and the irreplaceable bonds severed by these horrifying actions. The victims, both seen and unseen, deserve our unwavering support and empathy as they grapple with the profound trauma inflicted upon them.
It is an undeniable truth that the time has come to change the situation. This region has endured too much pain, too much bloodshed, and too many tears. It is a moment for all parties involved to reflect on the senselessness of this continued conflict and to recognise the shared humanity that binds us all.
Let us all remember that violence begets violence, and the only way forward is through peaceful dialogue, diplomacy, and a commitment to finding common ground. It is a call to action for leaders, communities and individuals alike to seek solutions that prioritise reconciliation, justice, and lasting peace … let us reaffirm our commitment to peace, empathy, and the belief that a better future is possible. It is our fervent hope that this statement serves as a testament to our shared determination to bring an end to this ugly occupation, the violence and suffering that have plagued this region for far too long.’