OPINIONS

Fri 10 Nov 2023 4:12 am - Jerusalem Time

Israel’s war crimes in Gaza are by design, not default

For Israel, violence is not incidental, accidental or coincidental. It is part and parcel of its colonial DNA.

Marwan Bishara


Palestinians look for survivors following an Israeli airstrike in Khan Younis refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023 [AP Photo/Mohammed Dahman]

The gruesome scenes of death and destruction in Gaza are a reminder that for Israel, violence is not incidental, accidental or coincidental. It is part and parcel of its colonial DNA. Like the French in Algeria, the Dutch in Indonesia and South Africa, the Belgians in the Congo, the Spaniards in South America and the Europeans in North America, the Zionists have also dehumanized the natives of the land as a precursor to or justification for guilt-free repression and violence. But colonialism must not be conflated with Judaism. If anything, the Jews have historically been the victims of racism for centuries, rendering many of them anti-colonialists.


In 1948, Israel was established on the ruins of another people, the Palestinians. It was made into a Jewish majority state through the deliberate ethnic cleansing of the land’s 750,000 Palestinian inhabitants. Since then, Israel has maintained security through state repression, military occupation, bloody wars and countless massacres against civilians. 


Nazareth, the city of my birth, was one of the few to be spared from ethnic cleansing but only because a military commander named Benjamin Dunkelman, a Canadian Jew who led the 7th Brigade of the Israeli army, refused to carry out his superiors’ evacuation order for this Christian majority city, as he later wrote, mainly out of fear of the international repercussions. 

About 400 other Palestinian towns and villages were not so lucky. They were all depopulated, and a majority was entirely decimated. Their inhabitants were either killed or kicked out. The properties in them were either demolished or confiscated. They were given new Hebrew names. Those Palestinians who tried to return to their homes were either shot or forcibly sent to neighboring countries. 


In his book, Sacred Landscape: The Buried History of the Holy Land Since 1948, Meron Benvenisti, an Israeli political scientist, writes: “Not since the end of the Middle Ages had the civilized world witnessed the wholesale appropriation of the sacred sites of a defeated religious community by members of the victorious one.” Since then, Israel has set its eyes on the people per se, regardless of its leadership or theirs. Palestinians are seen by Israel either as an enemy from within that must be eradicated or as a demographic threat that needs to be removed. It is no coincidence that since its inception, Israel has established an oppressive regime of “Jewish superiority”. This regime was extended after the 1967 war and occupation to the entirety of historic Palestine, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. 

Hence the Palestinian cry, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” For decades, Israel has used disproportionate force and carried out countless massacres against Palestinian civilians as a form of revenge, punishment and deterrence. Last month, the Palestinians commemorated the 70th anniversary of the massacre of Qibya, where, in retaliation for a Palestinian attack on an Israeli settlement that killed three people, including two children, Israeli forces under the leadership of Ariel Sharon attacked the West Bank village of about 2,000 inhabitants, killing 69 Palestinians, mostly women and children. 

That same vengeful mindset has been applied 70 years later in Gaza. It is a deterrence strategy, deliberately aimed at harming civilians to distance them from their leaders and the groups fighting in their name. Today, the Israeli propaganda machine is busy collating desperate and angry cries, real and manufactured, from Gaza residents projecting blame on Hamas for bringing Israel’s wrath upon them. 

Israel never accepts an “eye for an eye” in its confrontations with the Palestinians. It insists on a ratio of 1 to 10 or 20 when it comes to its civilian casualties vs Palestinian civilian casualties. Hence, the Palestinian civilian must pay a heavy price in each and every clash, regardless of any moral or legal consideration.


Nowhere is the dissymmetry more pervasive than in Israel’s 56-year military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, which by its very nature is a perpetual system of violence against civilians. Generation after generation of Palestinians have had to endure a racist, gruesome and illegal military occupation that has included daily humiliations, collective punishment, land confiscations, and the destruction of lives and livelihoods. For Gaza, this has meant a 17-year siege of the strip through a dreadful and inhumane military blockade, military incursions, bombings of civilian infrastructure and more.


Although Israel claims it has “no choice”, its occupation is in fact driven by strategy, not by necessity. Throughout the past six decades, Israel has controlled the Palestinian territories in part to colonize them through hundreds of illegal settlements on stolen Palestinian lands, in part to hold their population hostage until their leaders accept its political dictates, which is by definition a form of state terrorism, which means using violence against civilians for political ends. 

Another important factor behind Israel’s violence against Palestinian civilians, as I explained here, is hatred – hatred that is propelled by fear, envy and anger. 

Israel fears all that is Palestinian steadfastness, Palestinian unity, Palestinian resistance, Palestinian poetry and all Palestinian national symbols. Such fear generates hatred because a state that is always afraid cannot be free. Israel is angry at the Palestinians for refusing to give up or give in, for not going away – far away. They refuse to cede their basic rights, let alone concede defeat. Israel is also envious of Palestinian inner power and outward pride. It is envious of their strong beliefs and readiness to sacrifice. 

In short, Israel hates the people of Palestine for impeding the realization of the Zionist utopia over all historical Palestine. And it especially hates those living in Gaza, as I wrote last year, for turning the dream into a nightmare. 

But the answer in Gaza and the rest of Palestine cannot be more killing and more occupation. In fact, Israel’s ongoing industrial-scale slaughter and nationwide repression of the Palestinians, in retaliation of Hamas’s gruesome October 7 attacks in southern Israel, is both utterly criminal and terribly foolish. Israel has tried to live by the sword for the past 75 years, but it has sowed more of the same insecurity, infamy and anger.


Repeating the same strategy again and again and expecting different results is indeed stupid. If it continues to deny the Palestinians a life and a future, Israel also will end up with no life or future worth living in this Arab region.

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Israel’s war crimes in Gaza are by design, not default