Israel has, for the third time in just five years, commenced a major bombing operation on the Gaza strip. Over a hundred and fifty Palestinians have been killed, most of them civilians. As it was the last three times, my response is sorrow and anger — a strangely physical sensation of anger as a burning in my chest.
It’s easy, even for someone such as myself, who has been following the conflict for years with resignation, to look first at the political significance of the conflict and the strategic policy goals of the war and how it affects the broader conflict.
That’s not what we should be thinking about right now. We should remember instead what war means: it means destruction and death. It means homes destroyed, lives snuffed out; children crushed to death by falling buildings; amputations, hearing loss, perforated lungs; families torn, literally or figuratively, to pieces.
These people killed are people like yourself, the children killed are like your children. Their suffering is as meaningful as any suffering you could experience. If our goal is to end suffering, our goal is to end the war.
This was brought home to me during the last conflict by a friend, a medical professional, returning home from a tour of the Gaza Strip, telling me of a famished country, of amputees, of despair and hopelessness, a life in which death sometimes seems a better option than life. No jobs, no future, not enough resources, not enough power and not enough energy.
A land where people can’t get sleep because of the drones flying overhead, where children are scared of being bombed while on the way to school, where it’s normal to have to think about conserving power on your cell phone during the day so you have enough power at night when the power goes out to at least tweet about the bombings.
And when the Israeli talking points are rolled out, and the IDF spokespersons talk about how the homes that are being bombed are Hamas command centres and how no military force in history has been more careful and respectful of humanitarian law, we should remember not only that these are the most blatant of misdirections, but that they are covering up an unusually sordid truth: that this conflict is a machine that produces suffering, and that the primary force perpetuating the conflict is Israel. Not the inability of Hamas to recognize Israel’s right to exist, but Israel’s lack of ability to honor Palestinians’ right to exist.
That’s the balanced point of view. That’s what’s the objective truth of the matter. I get many complaints when I say this in discussions at home, but a deep meta-truth, a truth about telling the truth, is that a balanced description of an unbalanced conflict is an unbalanced description. When you look at injustice, you can’t report it “proportionally” without losing touch with the truth of what you are describing.
So here is that disproportional report: Israel has needlessly killed almost 200 people in the past few days, and they will likely kill far more. These killings will produce more death and suffering, and will accomplish nothing of value. In all likelihood, more people will die because of what is happening now than would have died had Israel done nothing.
The cause of this suffering, the driver of it is, as it has been for decades now, the Israeli occupation of Palestine. And although the term “unlawful occupation” is overused and has become a dead phrase, it remains true: what Israel is doing is not only cruel, useless and unjust, it is deeply and profoundly illegal.
Occupation is in itself illegal. (And produces a lawful right to resist that occupation, though that is maybe the least of our worries.) And all of the cruelty and all of the terror perpetrated by Hamas does not justify the occupation itself, which remains unlawful and unhelpful.
Legal occupation should always only be a temporary military necessity, and obligates, through the fourth protocol of the Geneva Convention, that the occupier shall undertake to ensure the normal life of the occupied territory, and to not undertake punitive blockades or collective punishments. Israel has never lived up to these obligations, and it continues to pay the price for this injustice both in a deteriorating democratic and moral culture in its own populace, but also in the lifeblood of Palestinian civilians.
It is also deeply unlawful to target private homes, even of enemy combatants. And while Hamas is in flagrant violation of every law of war every day of this conflict, it is still not the engine that perpetuates the violence. That engine is the suffering and injustice produced by the Israeli occupation.
Israel’s war seems more and more to be a war waged on own future, it seems to ensure that it will be living in a region full of people who have reason to hate it. The Israeli leaders should be kept awake at night by that, as should we. And by the lives lost, the suffering experienced and the sleepless nights of the people caught up in the terrible senselessness of this present violence.