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In Defense Of What?

Fatima Shbair/Getty Images

The Israel Defense Forces have spent the last week conducting bombing raids throughout the Gaza Strip. Israel’s planes and missiles have leveled numerous buildings and streets within the open-air prison that two million Palestinians are confined to by the Israeli apartheid state. The latest series of air strikes, carried out early Sunday morning, were the deadliest yet, leaving at least 33 Palestinians dead. The total number of Palestinians to have been killed in the last week is estimated to be more than 180, including at least 52 children.

How to excuse the mass slaughter of children? Israel, like the United States, is all too aware of the fact that the very concepts of international law and criminal acts can be erased through the invocation of a few magic words. If a nuclear superpower wants to get away with calling down a missile on a wedding or a residential tower, it need only claim that those targets were chosen due to the presence of terrorists. And of course, it is a nation’s right to defend itself that calls for the killing of these terrorists, along with anyone unlucky enough to be within the blast radius.

Israel has found its exculpatory target in Hamas, the de facto governing authority within the Gaza Strip. Hamas, which does not have an air force or standing army, started firing rockets into Israel last week. The rocket attacks have reportedly killed 10 Israelis; they began in response to Israel’s escalating attempts to displace Palestinian residents from East Jerusalem, and to a series of raids conducted by Israeli police at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third-holiest site. Israel has labeled Hamas a terrorist organization, and thus its presence in Gaza has necessitated several days of bombing. When the IDF brought down a 12-story building in Gaza that contained offices for both the Associated Press and Al Jazeera, it claimed that the building was a valid military target because it contained “Hamas military intelligence assets.”

On some level, this all works, mostly because it has worked so many times before. It’s easy to imagine a Western audience, inured to the sight of Middle Eastern cities being reduced to rubble in the name of “defending our freedoms,” seeing what’s happening in Gaza and concluding that, yes, Israel is simply defending itself. It’s certainly an argument that works on the President of the United States.

But the spell of propaganda is harder to maintain when one’s attention leaves Gaza and settles on a place like Sheikh Jarrah, one of the neighborhoods in East Jerusalem in which Israel has increased its efforts to evict Palestinian residents and replace them with Jewish settlers. There we’ve seen Israeli police shoving Palestinian women to the ground, throwing a stun grenade into a crowd of civilians, and violently dragging Palestinians out of their own homes. What exactly is being defended against when Israeli police storm into a Palestinian home in Haifa and start swinging clubs?

It’s in the cop bloodying a protester, the soldier terrorizing worshippers in Al-Aqsa, and the anti-Arab mobs roaming the streets that we can see what Israel’s missiles and warplanes are actually defending: the right to act with impunity. Every building that falls in Gaza is a reminder to Palestinians everywhere that there is no justice available to them. Whether they seek it in peace or in violence, all that waits for them at the end of their struggle is an adversary, supported and funded by the United States, who is willing to take everything, be it with a club, a court order, or a missile. 

On Saturday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the IDF would continue bombing Gaza until “until we reach our targets.” More are reached every day.

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