So you ignored the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza for the past couple years and now suddenly you have to present a reasonable opinion on the current ground operation? We are here to help.
The Israel-Palestine conflict is strange. While so many people try to be “balanced,” say that both sides are in the wrong, that Israel has the right to defend itself, the situation is easily read the same as any oppressor-oppressed relationship. This dynamic of discrimination, dehumanization, and violence is something many people are practiced at recognizing, but for some reason, this is much more difficult when we talk about Israel. When we talk about Israel, it’s totally impossible, too labyrinthine, something people would rather stay out of and not drive themselves crazy dissecting. Look, it is a complicated situation. Let no one say it isn’t. But there are inescapable truths in play that make “it’s complicated” a staggeringly false equivalency.
In 1948, Israel’s existence was secured through a civil war within Mandatory Palestine, a space that was itself the result of British military occupation, and a larger war against the coalition of Arab nations that allied against Israel. At the end of it, 700,000 Arab Palestinians were driven out of their homes to make home for the new state. The war and subsequent exodus are colloquially known among Palestinians as the Nakba.
After the Six Day War in 1967, Israel had held onto its territory and seized control of land previously owned by its hostile neighbors, including the Gaza strip. This expelled a further 300,000 Palestinians, creating zones Israel would need to administrate with military force, and even more resentment against the young country. In doing this, Israel created a military threat within a civilian area. The occupation of Gaza ended officially in 1994, but Israel’s grip over it has hardly loosened.
Israel Has Military Control Over Gaza and is Actively Preventing it From Prospering and Caring for its Citizens
Because of the ongoing climate of hostility and vague threats of violence, Israel has finagled its way into having Israeli-only roads in and out of the country, checkpoints that stop only Palestinians and can take hours to pass through, and military law enforcement whose many fatal mistakes are shrugged off. Illegal settlers encroach on what remains of Palestinian territory, protected and sometimes even assisted by the IDF. Being Israeli Jews, they enjoy the protection of Israel, and Palestine is completely unable to prevent or undo the theft of their land. Violent resistance seems perfectly understandable. But of course you can only count on one response to violent resistance—violent reprisal. And Israel’s response far outweighs Palestine’s actions. All this is done in the name of protecting Israel and its citizens, and many people, mostly Americans, consider it justified.
The other response to Gaza’s token resistance is the blockade. Under the auspices of preventing Hamas from building military hardware and facilities, Israel and Egypt manage either end of what goes into the Gaza strip. In practice, though, the blockade has banned pasta, tomato paste, cement, medical supplies (what if a terrorist used them??), glass, fuel, shoes, and other things at various times. Even goods that aren’t barred will sometimes spoil as they wait for authorities to examine them. This has left Gaza unable to meaningfully expand, with high levels of food insecurity and malnutrition, and a medical apparatus that’s in a constant state of crisis. In response to this, Palestinians dig smuggling tunnels to bring in goods such as canned fruit and chocolate, and, Israel points out as it destroys these lifelines, weapons and supplies for militants.
Israel will probably always be in a position of feeling existentially threatened, but they’re financially and militarily backed by the most powerful country in the world, and hold heavy power and nuclear weapons over its neighbors and occupied territories. So yeah, Hamas’ rockets are genuinely scary, there’s absolutely tons of people surrounding Israel that hate the country, many who hate its citizens, fewer but still many who just hate Jews in general. But we can’t let that stand as an excuse for the way Israel’s charges are treated.
Israel is a Racist Apartheid State
“Apartheid” is a contested term for what goes on in Israel, but that doesn’t change the facts. The conditions of occupied Gaza are intolerable, but even inside Israel, non-Jews (and non-white Jews) suffer under laws stacked heavily and explicitly against them.
All Israelis are required to hold ID and present them when requested. This policy is rarely applied to white Jews. Israel is open to all Jews, but non-citizen Arabs are barred from entering the country, even to be with family members that have citizenship. Citizenship itself is under threat, as several bills have been put forth that would allow Israel to revoke the citizenship of those it deems to be “disloyal.” Residency is arbitrated by Jewish committee, which can reject applicants on grounds of “social suitability.” As a result, no Palestinian residential community has been formed in Israel since 1948, and 80% of Israel is de facto blocked from Palestinian lease or purchase. Other minorities, including non-white Jews, live under similarly discriminatory laws and practices.
Israeli politicians say some horrible shit. They’re dismissed as outliers or extremists. While one could produce truckloads of Israelis who are genuinely disgusted by such remarks, it’s not as if that kind of sentiment pops out of the void. It’s an expression of existing attitudes towards Palestinians. Just like how a politician in America saying some bullshit about black people is demonstrating the existence of a race problem in this country (though this, too, is often waved off as “some crazy asshole”). With its racial attitudes and discriminatory government out in the open, what can we conclude about Israel?
This isn’t about body count, though Israel can be roundly criticized for that as well. Even if the numbers were reversed, if 12.3 Israeli children were killed for each Palestinian child, Israel would still be a country that maintains a system explicitly favoring one ethnic group over another. A country that does little to stop its people from stealing land, and everything to stop the wronged from fighting back. A country that prevents its captive territory from becoming a functional state, that bars staple goods, the means to build and rebuild, and even harmless luxuries from the people under its guns. Beyond the muddy moral struggle between civilian-targeting forces, it really isn’t complicated at all.