“No electricity, no food, no water, no fuel.”
That’s the situation facing Gazans. The quote is from Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant. Israel on Monday declared a “complete siege” of the beleaguered coastal enclave.
If you’re inclined to ask, wryly, “What else is new?” no one will blame you. Well, actually, some people might. Tragedy galvanizes. It also radicalizes. A galvanized, radical polity is an opportunity. Leaders and politicians are never so swept up in grief as to let that opportunity pass.
One of the most widely-circulated videos from Hamas’s weekend attacks on Israel depicted Noa Argamani, a twentysomething woman, being abducted by militants on a motorcycle. She had attended a music festival which became the site of a massacre. Her father was, naturally, beset with fear and grief. And yet, while speaking to reporters, he offered a reminder to the world. “They have also lost loved ones in the war,” he said, of Palestinians. “They also have captives. They also have mourning mothers.”
Gaza is 140 square miles. More than two million Palestinians live there. Every one of them isn’t “a militant.” If they were, Hamas and Islamic Jihad would command the single-largest army on Earth. Gazans are regular people. Men, women and children, trapped in a giant ghetto suffering under a seven-year blockade. Unemployment is 50%, the healthcare system is chronically short of medicine and the already crumbling infrastructure can ill afford another prolonged bombardment by Israeli warplanes.
Whether or not Israel is being disingenuous when it describes airstrikes as “targeted” is largely (completely, even) irrelevant. Gaza is among the most densely populated places in the world. For illustrative purposes, let’s say the civilian-to-militant ratio is 70:1. Given the population density, that still means you can barely walk without stepping on a militant’s boot (“Sorry, I didn’t see you there”). That, in turn, means you can’t heed the advice of the Israeli military when they warn civilians to steer clear of militants and places where they might be congregating. And you can’t leave either. Nobody’s allowed out.
That’s a decidedly suboptimal situation: Trapped in a ghetto that’s under siege by a modern military not famous for mercy. At least 78 children are dead in Gaza since Saturday. That’s already more than the 67 kids who died in the last major round of fighting between the IDF and Hamas in 2021.
Plainly, Israel has to respond to the attacks. More than 700 Israelis were killed over the weekend. The first day of the assault counted as the single deadliest day in any Palestinian attack since Israeli statehood. The massacre at the music festival seems destined to go down in history as a singularly heinous act of wanton, politically-motivated murder — the very definition of “terrorism.”
My only point is to emphasize that if Israel does intend to make this Hamas’s last act, it’s hard to see how that can be accomplished without a staggering loss of life in Gaza, where the majority of the casualties will be civilians, including scores of young children. The human toll of such a campaign — an operation aimed at dismantling and eliminating Hamas altogether — and the accompanying scenes of desolation, could have far-reaching consequences. Tragedy galvanizes. It also radicalizes.
More broadly, religious acrimony in the 21st century is a sad testament to how little progress our species has actually made. As I put it Sunday evening, there’s no more damning indictment of humanity than the persistence, over centuries, of wars and violent conflict rooted in competing branches and interpretations of superstitious myths.