Israel-Hamas War
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Israel has lost its mind

Recent history provides numerous examples of dictatorships that have committed similar or greater atrocities, but there are not so many precedents among democracies

Israel-Hamas War

The destruction of human lives and infrastructure in Gaza has sparked incredulity. At the time of writing, Palestinian deaths are estimated at over 30,000 in a period of only five months. The Gaza Strip is being razed to the ground and the living conditions of the population are extreme and critical. The videos, reports and testimonies of what is happening there are unbearably harsh. It is difficult to take in that a democratic regime, “one of ours,” could do something like this. Recent history provides numerous examples of dictatorships that have committed similar or greater atrocities, but there are not so many precedents among democracies.

The data on Israeli public opinion are also shocking. The Israel Democracy Institute conducted a survey between February 12 and 15 with questions about the conflict. The sample consisted of 510 respondents who answered in Hebrew and 102 in Arabic. These figures roughly reflect the proportion of Jews (73%) and Israeli Arabs (21%) living in Israel, to which must be added 6% of people who do not belong to either of these two groups (these figures exclude Palestinians in the occupied territories). For obvious reasons I am focusing on the responses of Jews, who are the dominant and hegemonic group in Israel.

The survey showed 67.5% oppose Israel allowing humanitarian aid (food and medicine) to reach Gazan residents through international organizations that are not connected to either Hamas or the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA). Likewise, 63% oppose the idea of Israel accepting the creation of an independent, demilitarized Palestinian state, while 73% think that if a Palestinian state were created, terrorism against Israel would not be reduced (27% think it would remain the same and 44% think it would be higher). Let me add just one more fact: 55% disagree with ending the war through a peace plan that includes the release of all hostages, a prolonged cessation of U.S.-guaranteed military strikes, a peace agreement with Saudi Arabia, the release of a large number of Palestinian prisoners, a lasting Palestinian ceasefire and an agreement to create a demilitarized Palestinian state in the long term.

Of all these percentages, the most telling is the firm refusal to allow humanitarian aid to reach the Palestinian population in Gaza. What could have caused such a hardening of attitudes? One might think the answer is obvious: the Hamas attack of October 7, which killed 1,139 people (766 of them civilians), an unprecedented attack in Israel’s history and the worst slaughter of Jews since the end of World War II. However, it should be remembered that during the Second Intifada, between 2000 and 2005, more than 1,000 Israelis were killed in terrorist attacks, many of which were carried out by suicide missions. Hamas and other Palestinian extremist groups bombed restaurants, buses and public spaces. Israel, in its counter-terrorism strategy, killed nearly 5,000 Palestinians. In addition, it built the separation wall along the West Bank. The Second Intifada was extremely traumatic for Israeli society — probably triggering more fear and insecurity than the October 7 attacks — but the response, while harsh and terrible, was proportionate. Israeli citizens were not, for the most part, driven by a boundless spirit of revenge.

What is happening now is unusual. While it is true that the Hamas attack was devastating, it should be noted that it was made possible because of a profound flaw in Israel’s security systems. By this I do not mean that the ultimate responsibility lies with Israel (it is clear that Hamas was responsible), but only that the attack was not the beginning of a campaign by Hamas, which has neither the infrastructure nor the resources to engage in a protracted war with Israel. I realize that this is not easy to say, but Hamas, as brutal as its October attack was, does not pose an existential threat to Israel. This does not mean that Israel has to resign itself, but it does mean that there is no possible justification for the carnage of the civilian population that is taking place in Gaza. Never before has Israel reacted in the way it is reacting now, with total disregard for the dignity and human rights of the civilian population in Gaza.

Many Israelis react angrily to criticism from abroad. They believe that the rest of us do not understand what the threat of Palestinian terrorism means or, at worst, that we are complicit in it. It is inconceivable to them that we in other countries do not share the legitimacy of an indiscriminate attack to wipe out Hamas at any cost in Palestinian lives, and in violation of the most basic humanitarian principles.

The reasons given by Israel are very flimsy. It makes no sense at this point, after what we have seen, to continue to argue that Israel seeks only to wipe out Hamas and that it is making a commendable effort to select its real targets. This only stands on the assumption that Israel could have gone even further and exterminated the population of the Gaza Strip for good. If that is the benchmark, Israel is making an effort at containment, but no one can take such a comparison seriously. Israel is a democracy and cannot violate human rights as it is doing.

Nor is the appeal to “human shields” convincing: according to many Israelis, the responsibility for the deaths of so many civilians lies with Hamas members, who are hiding among the population. It is the same excuse that ETA used to defend its attacks against Civil Guard installations in Spain. Josu Ternera, a former ETA terrorist, continues to resort to the theory of human shields to exonerate the dissolved Basque separatist organization from any blame for the deaths of the agents’ relatives. If ETA’s theory of human shields was offensive and unacceptable in its day, we should have the same judgment today regarding its use by Israel.

No one is asking Israel to remain impassive in the face of an attack like that of October 7. But the response must respect international legality, humanitarian principles and the rules of war. It is distressing to contemplate the drift of the majority of Israeli society. It is no coincidence that all this is happening under the most right-wing, ultranationalist and authoritarian government that Israel has had since its creation.

The massacre of Palestinians is not accompanied by a clear plan for the future that would help to avoid further repetitions of this endless conflict. What history teaches us is that after every attack on Israel, it has responded with measures that reduce the viability of a two-state solution. Never, however, has Israel gone as far as it has now and never has Israel lost its mind as it has on this occasion.

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