Massacre in Gaza. Written Dec 7, 2023

by John M Repp, Pacific Call Editor

As the current crisis in Israel-Palestine unfolded, some of the early reports referred to the “laws of war”. One of the most crucial distinctions in the laws of war is that between combatants and non-combatants or civilians. The terrorist attack of Oct 7, 2023, by Hamas on a music concert and some nearby kibbutzim broke the laws of war and started the current crisis. For almost two months after Oct 7, Israel broke those laws of war in its massive response with the bombing of Gaza. The bombardment of Gaza by Israel has killed civilians at an historic pace. They are using two thousand pound bombs, thousands of them. As of Nov 25, 2023 according to The Seattle Times, over 15,000 women and children in Gaza have been killed. One and a half million people have been displaced. A few days ago, there was an exchange of prisoners and a ceasefire, but now the bombing and the Israeli army’s hunt for Hamas leaders continues.

   Tragically, the United States is playing the role of arms supplier, diplomatic supporter, and thus is complicit in these international crimes. The United States gives Israel about $3.8 billion dollars’ worth of military aid to Israel each year. The White House has proposed adding $14 billion because of the current crisis. If President Biden is playing a role in moderating Israel and working towards negotiations between Palestinians and Israel, he is doing that behind the scenes. Over the weekend, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said it is critical that Israel protect Gaza’s civilians: (from The Hill, 12/7/2023) “If you drive them into the arms of the enemy, you replace a tactical victory with a strategic defeat,” he said. “So, I have repeatedly made clear to Israel’s leaders that protecting civilians in Gaza is both a moral responsibility and a strategic imperative.”

After Oct 7, the statements of Netanyahu and his defense minister show the intent to commit genocide and their actions since confirm the same. Launching a siege against Gaza by cutting off all electricity, fuel, food, and water from a civilian population is an international crime. If we don’t have enforcement, international law will mean nothing.

There is also the dynamic of the hard liners compared to accommodationists, in each group. Hamas, the hard line Palestinian position was at one time supported by Netanyahu who is the leader of the hard line position of the Israelis. Netanyahu was adamantly opposed the two-state solution, and he said supporting Hamas “was our strategy”. He supported Hamas to keep the Palestinian side divided. Sadly, the hard line positions of each group reinforce each other.

We must be clear: the crisis did not begin on Oct 7th. There is the largerhistorical context.There has been a fight over land since the beginning of Israel 75 years ago.Before 1948, the land that became Israel was 93% Palestinian. Israel is a settler colonial state on the European model with Jews, called Zionists, as the dominant group in the government.

The residents of Gaza are mostly refugees or the families of refugees whose land was taken during the Nakba (catastrophe) in 1948 during the first Arab Israeli war. Before the Nakba, Palestine was a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society. There have been many wars and uprisings called intifadas since 1948. The actions of Israel since 2007 when all access to Gaza was controlled by Israel made it the “open air” prison. Some non-violent protestors were shot in the legs, or banished from Israel like the current FORUSA chairperson, Ariel Gold. Applicable here is the famous quote by John F. Kennedy: “Those who make nonviolent revolution impossible, make violent revolution probable.”    

The FORUSA chairperson has written: “FOR unequivocally condemns actions of violence that avoid the harder battles of justice. The killing and maiming of civilians, whether by Hamas rockets or Israeli airstrikes is unjustifiable, a war crime under international law. Also, unjustifiable are the actions of Israel that led to this current war: decades of military occupation with no end in sight, apartheid policies, recurrent massacres, and a siege so brutal that has turned Gaza into the largest open-air prison on earth.”

There is no military solution to this crisis. There were massive demonstrations all over the world supporting the Palestinians before the first exchange of prisoners and the ceasefire. And many of the younger generation of Americans as well as groups like Jewish Voices for Peace called for a ceasefire and protested Biden’s public stance.

The United States could play a positive role in the region by using the leverage we could have since we supply Israel with so much of its military arsenal. American geopolitical strategists, focused on U.S. control in an area with key shipping routes and plenty of oil, want a militarily strong ally in Israel.

The two-state solution, a sovereign Palestine beside a sovereign Israel has been the dream of many for years. Many say the Israelis have taken so much land that a two-state solution is no longer possible.

We need less backward looking and more forward dreaming. Why can’t we envision a single democratic nation with autonomous states, with civil rights for all people regardless of their tribal origin, religion, or the language they speak? Not very well known is the fact that more than 90% of the land area inside the boundaries of the current state of Israel is land owned by the Israeli government. In the past, Israel would offer that land to Jewish immigrants as their solution to the very real problem of antisemitism. But with an agreement to create a bi-national state, Israel could give land or sell at a nominal cost land to Palestinians. Also, the violent attacks in the West Bank on Palestinians must stop. The world wants not the replacement of one tribe by another as both the right-wing Zionists and the Hamas fighters imagine, but a state with modern citizenship rights for all.

To step back a minute, at one time, in warfare, there were battlefields, where two armies faced each other for the fight. Civilians would try to steer clear of the battlefield. The battlefield mode was true of the American civil war, and World War I was also mostly a war on battlefields with the two sides dug in, fighting in trenches.

But as soon as armies and air forces started using airplanes, and now rockets, to bomb, all distinctions between combatants and civilians broke down. In the Spanish civil war of 1936 to 1939, the Spanish fascists asked for help from the German Nazi government which was anxious to practice bombing from the air. The famous Picasso painting of 1937 was a powerful protest against the new method of warfare. Then, at the closing days of World War II in the Pacific, the United States dropped two atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing thousands of women, children, and old men.

Guernica, the 1937 oil painting by Pablo Picasso.
An Israeli strike on a refugee camp in Gaza on November 2, 2023. No one knows how many more bodies lay under the rubble.