I'm Angry About Palestine. Should You Be?
A people may lose a war, but they should never be treated as less than human.
There is a sense of having been here before. We were here before. Periodically, there are wars in Gaza. They tend to end as they start: inconclusively. There is a period of calm, but the calm is always temporary in the absence of anything resembling a permanent peace. What is the appropriate response to this?
For me, there has been frustration, although that's putting it quite mildly considering the rising death toll. At the time of writing, in Gaza, at least 120 Palestinians have died, 31 of them children. In the matter of a few days. The last war lasted seven weeks. Around 2200 Palestinians died. 1492 were civilians, including more than 500 children. One hopes that we do not begin approaching these numbers this time around.
I have to say that I've been surprised by the way these dead Palestinians have been discussed, on Twitter and in pro-Israel outlets. Stripped of dignity in this life, they have been denied it in death. Perhaps I am naive, but even if you think Israel is completely in the right, it shouldn't be too hard to offer the pretense of sympathy, even if it is not deeply felt, or perhaps not felt at all. There are recurring narratives that I see, and I find them difficult to fully grasp. I expect the Israeli government to put forward these narratives. It is fighting a war. Propaganda is part of war. It is less clear to me why others feel a need to say things that, as far as I can tell, aren't merely false. If only they were.
First of all, it is simply incorrect to say that Israel is aiming for proportionality. Disproportionality has always been at the heart of Israel's strategy in Gaza. As Dan Byman writes: "Disproportional military operations...are at the core of deterrence, which demands disproportionate 'eye for a tooth' operations to succeed." The goal, in other words, is to inflict overwhelming pain on Palestinians in order to reestablish deterrence.
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This is not new. Every few years or so, at particularly tense moments, Hamas makes a play for relevance by launching rockets into Israel. These are war crimes. Indiscriminate as they are, the intention of terrorizing Israelis is clear enough. At this point, Israel has a certain range of choices. And from Israel's perspective, Hamas must be reminded of the price. This means using the full extent of its might, and this requires escalating and excessive force. As a certain logic, it is understandable, if morally abhorrent. But governments don't generally do morality. More precise targeting—say, by not leveling entire 30-story apartment blocks—would defeat Israel's purpose. Hamas would be able to recover quickly if all they lost was operational resources and their own men. They would be emboldened and claim victory. They will, of course, claim victory anyway. But if they are claiming victory in a pile of rubble, then Israel and an Israeli electorate that (understandably) demands decisive action will be satisfied.
There is also the hope that if enough suffering is inflicted, Palestinians will turn their anger toward Hamas for inviting Israeli punishment. But this is a hope that never comes to pass. The problem with collective punishment of large populations is that the targets aren't inclined to blame their own "side," at least not primarily. This is human nature. If an Israeli missile kills someone's kid, it would be logical to expect that person to blame Israel first, and then perhaps Hamas second, if at all. Hamas might be the indirect cause of their child's death, but the Israeli army would be the proximate cause.
The New York Times documented one particular case, where a family was droned in the middle of a street. Not one drone strike but two.
Less than a minute after the first strike, a second drone strike ruptured the street, killing two more men: a worker at a laundry on the block and a passerby. Another man, a barber whose shop was next to the laundry, was so badly wounded that his leg had to be amputated.
As the reporters archly observed: "If there was an explanation for why missiles found their way to Al Mughrabi Street, it was not readily apparent to those who make their lives there." Do we really think that the residents of Al Mughrabi Street are going to join an uprising against Hamas?