The Bombing of Gaza and the Dehumanization of the Palestinian People

In light of Israel’s bombing of Gaza, we can arrive at one conclusion: in order to support it one must show a complete and total disregard for the lives of Palestinians, or at the very least believe them to be worth less than that of their Israeli counterparts. Proponents of the bombing, including the Israeli government, maintain that they are merely defending human life from the unacceptable assault of the rockets. Yet, their own actions in just a few weeks have already taken far more human lives than the rockets have in over a decade. Even more jarring is the topsy-turvy world the Israeli government and their supporters seem to inhabit. In this world aggression is labeled defense and the narrative used to justify said inversions bares little relation to realty. No mention is made of what precipitated the latest round of violence nor is any mention made of the larger context—decades long policies of oppression directed towards the Palestinian people. None of this matters since after all the Palestinians don’t seem to matter.

The loss of civilian life is always a tragedy. Indeed, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have declared the rockets fired on Israel from Gaza to be a war crime. Yet, the death and destruction of these rockets, which has claimed 61 lives in an eleven year period, hardly begins to compare to the destruction and death rote on by Israel’s so-called defense. So far Israel’s actions, which have lasted just a few weeks, have claimed the lives of more than 100 Palestinians living in Gaza. This number can sadly only be expected to rise. During the last Israeli bombing of Gaza, which can only be described a massacre, 1,4000 Palestinians were killed during what Amnesty International called “22 days of death and destruction.” Body counts are never a legitimate war aim and there is no magic number of human lives taken that makes a war justified or unjustified. However, it is totally fallacious for a party to declare itself to be defending human life when its actions kill far more people than the actions it purports to stop.

The asymmetry and disproportionate violence is not the only problem with the pro-war narrative. The centerpiece of this narrative, that Israel is “responding” to the rocket fire of Hamas therefore we must forgive Israel for killing scores of civilians, is false. During this round of violence, like during Operation Cast Lead, it is Israel that broke the ceasefire by killing a Palestinian child. The simple reality is that Israel’s defense isn’t defense at all, it is aggression.

This narrative also neglects the fact that Gaza is completely blockaded by Israel. Noam Chomsky has called Gaza an “open-air prison”— a sentiment shared by the Conservative Prime Minister of the United Kingdom David Cameron. Human rights groups and humanitarian bodies like Amnesty International and the International Commission of the Red Cross have used another word to describe situation—”collective punishment”—a practice that is illegal under the Geneva Conventions.

How does one justify overlooking the factual reality that Israel’s actions are not a response to the rockets, that it is Israel who time and time again has broken the ceasefire, and has engaged in decades old policy of oppression and occupation? Simple: Israel’s actions are defensible only if one takes the view that Palestinian life is worth less than Israeli life. This is why Israel’s right to “defense” is infinite and extends to “defending” itself from responses to its aggression while the Palestinians only recourse to the latest round of aggressive military action or much older policies of colonization, occupation, blockades, etc. can only be tacit acceptance. This critique is not even one of violent or nonviolent resistance—nonviolent actions, such as the global civil society campaign for Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions, or the call for an arms embargo on Israel, are denied as being illegitimate responses. No resistance by the Palestinian people to Israel’s multifaceted aggression and oppression is ever allowable.

War always rests on the dehumanization of the “enemy.” The dehumanization of the Palestinian people long predates the latest violence—indeed, it is a prerequisite for Israel’s decades-long expansionist policies. Certainly, Israel and its defenders will claim that these policies too are for security, but a state that refuses to define its borders while building colonial outposts for civilian populations in an allegedly hostile territory is not a state that seeks security.