An armed and violent repeat offender has published a list of the places he intends to bomb next. Will we allow it?
The Israeli armed forces (IDF) have released a target list for their next bombardment of Gaza ‘in an apparent bid to pre-emptively justify collateral damage from any future strikes in the densely populated enclave.’ They would like to forestall the sort of ‘harsh scrutiny’ that was directed at their 2021 bombardment. The Palestinian Ministry of Health reported that the IDF killed at least 243 Palestinians including 66 children in that eleven-day assault. Israel says that it killed ‘225 terrorist operatives’ – an admission that Israel sees few if any civilians among Gaza’s two million inhabitants.
Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz told the press that Hamas operates in close proximity to civilian and protected installations. ‘“The whole world should be exposed to the crimes committed by Hamas, and a heavy price should be exacted from it today.”’ Before he entered politics, Benny Gantz was the 20th IDF Chief of the General Staff from 2011–2015. He led Israel’s 50-day bombardment of Gaza in 2014.
I read about the IDF’s new target list on July 29 – a date whose sensations are imprinted on my body. I spent the night of July 29 2014 on the floor of my office in Gaza City while the building shuddered from the bombs landing around us. The nearness of the explosions made the furniture jump. Security reports counted 132 IDF air strikes, 1275 IDF tank shells and 430 IDF naval shells. One night: 1837 IDF explosive strikes in 720 minutes.
Someone indeed operates in Gaza’s civilian places, General Gantz. And you are asking our permission to bomb even closer.
Action On Armed Violence studied Israel’s 2014 targeting policies, documenting how ‘recent changes to Israel’s military rules of engagement have increased the risk to civilians in Gaza.’ AOAV found that the IDF was permitting explosive weapons to be used nearer to Palestinian civilians than ever before, and nearer than it allowed if an Israeli might be in the area. Israel – not Hamas, Israel – was bombing ever-closer to civilians.
The IDF’s current target list extends their policy of progressively endangering Palestinian civilians, and blaming Hamas for their deaths. Their maps measure the distances between targets and protected buildings in a bid to direct our conversation to Hamas’s choices. This rhetorical overlay avoids all the homes between their points of interest. If we see the people who live beneath all those roofs, we will recall that this should be a conversation about the civilian community of Gaza. Our task is to hold the IDF responsible for choosing to drop bombs on their cities.
The IDF’s current target list seeks to bolster the double standard by which we tolerate the Gaza blockade and repeated IDF assaults upon its occupied, legally protected residents. This double standard sees and values life in Palestine and Israel differently.
The blockade of Gaza densely intermingles civilian and military space. They are also tangled in Israel because the military is so thoroughly integrated into daily life. On the streets of Israel and Gaza, one routinely encounters uniformed and / or armed individuals. Israel’s Ministry of Defense is headquartered in a commercial Tel Aviv centre. General Gantz tries to attribute criminal intent to the mixed nature of space in Gaza – but not in Israel.
Israel maintains an aggressive force-protection policy, which it has justified by calling its soldiers ‘civilians in uniform’. Notwithstanding their lifelong military service, Israelis demand and receive full civilian protection throughout their lives.
Not so Gazans. Hamas is the governing authority of the Gaza Strip employing teachers, bureaucrats, rubbish collectors. They, their families and the families of fighters are all civilians. Yet Hamas family homes, police stations and other buildings are targeted by the IDF, and many more of Israel’s targets simply go unexplained. It suffices to call them ‘Hamas’.
That is the enabling language: ‘responding to Hamas’ sounds more palatable than ‘bombing Gaza’. But Hamas is not Gaza, and Gaza is not Hamas. We must de-link these terms, and reject the claim that Hamas bears the blame for the IDF’s choices or for the policies which guide its assaults upon the cities and the civilians of Gaza.
Hamas is not the place that the IDF bombs. They bomb the Gaza Strip, which is one of the most densely populated places on this earth. A list of ‘Hamas targets’ implies that the next Israeli bombs will land in a distinct, guilty, child-free Hamas-place. No such location exists.
Israel’s blockade allows Gazans no target-free space in which to live. With the IDF’s repeated destruction of homes and other structures, everyone and every function is crushed more closely together. This does not make Gazans any less civilian.
The IDF says that it ‘responds’ to Hamas, as if cause and effect begin anew with each story. They are much older: Hamas did not start this, Nakba started this. Settler-colonialism imagined it and structural violence perpetuates it. Blockade, bombardment and profound deprivation provoke Palestinian resistance.
An occupied community has a legal right to armed resistance and one day the International Criminal Court will better define that right. In the meantime, we should direct our censure and our outrage in proportion to the harms being done by the IDF and by Hamas. In 2014, Palestinian fighters fired up to 7000 rockets and artillery shells toward Israel. Within the IDF’s policy of progressive endangerment, the IDF dispatched 5000 tons of munitions to fire into Gaza. Five hundred and fifty Gazan children were killed by those munitions, and one Israeli child. These are the proportions that should guide our response to the IDF’s next plans.
No Hamas act releases Israel from its obligations under the laws of war and occupation. In the laws of war, each belligerent is independently responsible and accountable for each of its actions. Unlike Hamas, the IDF fires at will because Gaza has no defensive weapons capable of threatening them. Our tolerance is the IDF’s only constraint – and our tolerance is the aim of their new target list.
Hamas does not ‘make’ Israel bomb. Israeli military and political decision-makers choose to bombard the cities of Gaza, intensively and repeatedly. Israelis shrug – ein breira – that they have no choice. But their policy is a choice, and they have a better choice: don’t drop bombs on cities. Address the causes of Palestinians’ resistance.
The IDF’s 2022 target list is ‘part of a new military effort to maintain its freedom of action in Gaza, which officials said heavily relies on international legitimacy.’ This target list reflects the IDF’s fear that we will revoke our tacit permission for the next rain of destruction. Now is the time to revoke that permission, not later, not after the bombs have fallen.
I deny the legitimacy of pouring thousands of tons of explosives into crowded, blockaded cities. Freedom of action? I see madness set free by our indifference to the wreckage of bodies and buildings. I see a confined community, defenseless before one of the world’s most powerful military machines.
I see crimes past and future, General Gantz. You belong in court rather than in government.