For Israel, There’s No Such Thing As An Innocent Gazan

Neve Gordon and Nicola Perugini scrutinize the logic by which Israel treats virtually any building in Gaza as a legitimate target and any civilian killed as a “human shield”:

All civilians in Gaza are being held hostage by Hamas, which is considered a war crime and a gross violation of international law governing armed conflict. This, then, provides legal and moral justification against the accusation that Israel is the one killing civilians. Presumed human rights violations carried out by Palestinians against Palestinians – taking hostages and human shielding – thus become the legitimization of lethal and indiscriminate violence on the part of the occupying force. Hence, the use of human shields is not only a violation. In contemporary asymmetric urban wars, accusing the enemy of using human shields helps validate the claim that the death of “untargeted civilians” is merely collateral damage. When all civilians are potential human shields, when each and every civilian can become a hostage of the enemy, then all enemy civilians become killable.

And, critically, Israel is absolved of any moral responsibility for any of it. That’s what worries me. When military might is expended on crowded civilian areas and all civilian casualties are presumed the responsibilities of others … you get well over 500 dead, including countless women and children, including attacks on hospitals and families breaking the Ramadan fast in their own home. You get this:

Monday morning, the Abu Jameh family pulled 26 bodies, 19 of them children, from the rubble of their home near the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis, the largest toll from a single strike since the battle began July 8. Four people were killed at Al Aqsa Martyrs Hospital, the main one serving the center of the crowded coastal enclave. An airstrike Monday night destroyed the top five floors of an apartment building called Al-Salam — the Peace — in central Gaza City, an area that had been seen as a safe haven, killing 11.

And yet some even argue that this horrifying spectacle is actually a moral necessity:

The deaths of innocents are not simply outweighed by Israelis’ right to live without daily rockets and terrorists tunneling into a kibbutz playground; but by the defense of a world in which terrorists cannot use morality to achieve victory over those who try to fight morally. It is the protection of that world, one in which moral soldiers still have a fighting chance, that justifies Israel’s operations against Hamas today. And it is that greater cause that decisively outweighs the terrible toll in innocent life.

When you are killing scores of children, it is not enough to argue self-defense (even though the Iron Dome has given Israel about as robust a defense against home-made rockets as you can get). You have to argue for something grander to nullify the corpses of children. And the dehumanization of those living in Gaza – to the point at which spectators with popcorn cheer their deaths – has led to Israeli indifference to the deaths of human beings that, if they were Jews, would be regarded as the harbinger of calamity. Can you imagine the response in Israel if over 200 Israeli children were killed by a rocket attack by Hamas? Can you imagine anyone saying that the Israelis did this to themselves? That tells you everything about how deep the moral rot has gone, how this kind of zero-sum war and brutalizing occupation over decades cannot but destroy a country’s soul.

Larison, meanwhile, tackles the trope that Gazans forfeited their right to be treated as innocent civilians by voting for Hamas and allowing the group to operate in their communities:

Non-combatant status can be forfeited only by becoming a combatant, and that doesn’t happen by having voted for the current rulers or simply by living under their rule. Forfeiting non-combatant status requires taking up arms or directly lending aid to those that are fighting, and that doesn’t appear to apply to the civilian victims killed during the current operation at all. It may please Hamas to make use of these victims’ deaths for their own purposes, but that doesn’t absolve the Israeli government of its responsibility for causing those deaths. If Hamas benefits politically from these civilian deaths, and it seems likely that they do, it would seem obvious that Israel should not want to cause any more, and yet at each step over the last few weeks Israel’s government has responded with tactics that are guaranteed to continue killing many more non-combatants for as long as this operation continues.

And this is the truth about the state of Israel today. To endure it must crush. The more it crushes the deeper the resistance will run; the deeper the resistance the more unthinkable the carnage will have to go. This is an abyss of revenge and hatred, the dreadful consequence of every utopian scheme in human history.