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We cannot allow Israel’s campaign of retribution become a campaign of extermination

The latest escalations in the Israel-Palestine conflict have shocked the world in their immediacy and brutality. Certainly, the attacks on Israeli citizens perpetrated by Hamas are horrific actions of unbelievable cruelty and cannot be excused under any circumstances.

Israel has the full right to defend its citizens and to seek revenge against Hamas to the fullest extent that does not harm the citizens of Palestine. However, at no point can we allow these rights to infringe upon the right that Palestinians have to occupy their ancestral homeland. We must acknowledge that this situation is a monster partly of Israel’s creation, and the regime of Benjamin Netanyahu must be tempered in its response. Hamas may have started this conflict, but it will be on Israel to end it.

The stated goal of groups such as Hamas is to initiate the destruction of Israel, which has occupied Palestinian land for several generations now. However, the expulsion of Palestinians from their territory is not some relic of history consigned to the distant past. Nearly the entire nakba (the Arabic word for “catastrophe,” which has been adopted as the term for this process) took place within living memory, and many Palestinians still carry the deeds to their homes from Ottoman times.

Even more recently, Israeli settlements have encroached upon territory that had been designated as Palestinian by international agreements. The remainder of the Palestinian rump state is not even permitted to be physically contiguous. It is split between the West Bank, governed by the legitimate Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), and the Gaza Strip, governed by the militant group Hamas.

Gaza is surrounded by hostile regimes (Israel and Egypt) on all sides, and the freedoms of its people are strictly circumscribed by the whims of the Israeli government. The strip is one of the poorest areas in the world, with no practical opportunities for economic growth and remarkably negative health outcomes. Gaza has existed as, essentially, an open-air concentration camp for nearly two decades.

Now, it has become apparent that the Israeli government will stop at nothing to enact revenge on Hamas. Since the first Hamas attack last week, Israeli munitions have killed over 2,000 Palestinian civilians, according to a figure published by the Palestinian Ministry of Health. Reports have emerged that the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have deployed white phosphorus shells, a chemical weapon that burns so intensely that it can cause fatal burn wounds after mere seconds of exposure.

One of the only hospitals in the zone, the Shifa complex, is under constant barrage and overflowing with dead and wounded. The IDF has initiated a complete blockade of Gaza, cutting off their electricity and access to basic human needs such as food and water. Further, the United Nations has claimed that over one million Gazans have been displaced in just the past week. They are suffering endlessly for crimes that they did not commit. With Hamas being pushed back out of southern Israel, the pain of Israeli civilians has mostly ceased, but the promise of incoming operations by Israeli troops means that the pain of Gazans will only increase, and for much longer at that.

Israel’s recent demand that the entirety of the Gazan north, containing over one million people, be evacuated within one day before the IDF begins operations is outrageously unrealistic. By issuing such a proclamation, Israel has begun the justification for their imminent campaign of obliteration. While this campaign may manifest necessarily as a traditional full-fledged war of annihilation, it has been made incredibly clear that Israel does not intend to tolerate the existence of a Palestinian state any longer.

The Israeli campaign seeks to humiliate and subjugate Palestinians in Gaza as permanently as possible. The rhetoric pushed by Netanyahu and Likud is exterminatory by design; if the nation wishes to crush the terrorist threat, it will have little choice but to occupy and eventually annex the Gaza Strip. If the PLO gets drawn into the war, Israel will likely invade the West Bank as well. To get a sense of the Israeli terms for the cessation of this conflict, this is a quote from Major General Ghassan Alian: “Human animals must be treated as such. There will be no electricity and no water. There will only be destruction. You wanted hell; you will get hell.” Make no mistake: the “ground operation,” if conducted, will manifest as a concerted effort to erase Palestinian statehood forever.

The revelations that the Israeli government had advance knowledge of the attacks, which they chose to ignore, presents a concerning possibility. We must not discount the prospect that Netanyahu, under attack from within his own country and more detested than ever (for myriad reasons, most crucially his totalitarian attempt at judicial reform), willingly chose to disregard the warnings of Egypt and others in order to enhance his volatile position as prime minister. These facts could also mean that knowing that attacks on Israelis would enable the IDF to invade Gaza and potentially the West Bank if the PLO gets drawn into the war, the Netanyahu government ignored these warnings to further its political goals. Even if this is not the case, the sheer scale of the surprise attack represents a cataclysmic failure of Israeli intelligence and should result in his removal as prime minister regardless.

The power discrepancy between Israel and Palestine remains a major source of concern from a humanitarian perspective. Hamas is simply the largest of many Palestinian armed resistance groups, with control over a small strip of land smaller than Rhode Island yet containing over two million people (roughly 40% of whom are under 15). Israel is an advanced, high-income state that has perpetuated a prolonged campaign of systematic ethnic cleansing for more than three-quarters of a century.

Israelis have endured unimaginable horrors in the past week, but we cannot pretend that their militarized regime is somehow the victim of this conflict. That is not to say that Hamas is the victim, either. On both ends, the costs of this conflict will be inflicted primarily on the civilians of Palestine, more so than any other actor in this war.

It is the responsibility of President Biden and Congress, who have unceasingly supported Israel for decades both financially and politically, to intervene and prevent Israel from imposing a reign of terror upon Gaza. They must continue their current work to deliver humanitarian aid to the besieged people of Palestine, and military aid must end if the crimes committed against the civilian population of Gaza continue.

Further, the United States must be willing to guarantee the resumption of statehood and sovereignty for Palestinians at the conclusion of this brutal conflict. Anything less would be a disgusting dereliction of its responsibility as a superpower and as a supposed defender of liberty in the world.

Israel has the right to protect its civilians. It does not have the right to inflict harm upon those of other nations.

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