More than three weeks after Hamas terrorists slaughtered 1,400 Israelis and kidnapped more than 220 civilians held as hostages on Oct. 7, Israel’s military continues its relentless bombing of the densely populated Gaza Strip and has launched a ground offensive. Palestinian health officials report that as of Oct. 31 more than 8,000 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed by Israeli bombs since Oct. 7, with 40 percent of these deaths children. Israel confirmed that it bombed the crowded Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza on Oct. 31, killing and wounding hundreds, claiming the attack targeted a Hamas commander.
This admission fueled protests and condemnation of Israel’s indifference to the loss of Palestinian civilian lives, and renewed calls for a ceasefire to permit humanitarian aid to reach the 2.3 million residents of Gaza. On Oct. 27, the United Nations General Assembly approved a resolution calling for an “urgent, durable, and permanent humanitarian ceasefire.” One hundred twenty nations voted in favor, 12 governments joined the U.S. and Israel opposing the measure and 45 abstained. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected a ceasefire, maintaining that those calling for a ceasefire are calling for Israel to surrender to Hamas.
Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Zachary Lockman, professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, and history at New York University. Here, Lockman, former president of the Middle East Studies Association, discusses the catastrophic level of civilian deaths resulting from the Israel-Hamas war, and the U.S. role in the conflict.
ZACHARY LOCKMAN: I don’t think anyone is forcing Israel to go after civilians. Again, you know, we’ve heard this before. This has been a long-standing Israeli claim that they have to bomb civilians. Civilians get killed as collateral damage, but it’s really the fault of Hamas. Before that, it was the fault of the various organizations of the PLO in Beirut and other conflicts. It’s the fault of Hezbollah, when Israel had a war with Hezbollah in 2006. They’ve always made the same argument.
First of all, from a legal point of view, it really doesn’t matter. You can’t bomb civilians. Right? So. And beyond that, to expect that Hamas fighters or before that, PLO fighters would stand out in the open to be bombed by the Israelis or shot by the Israelis isn’t very realistic.
It’s clear that thousands and thousands of Palestinians, civilians, are taking refuge in the remaining more or less functioning hospitals because they hope that they’re safe. Israel ordered the evacuation of northern Gaza in 24 hours, which was, of course, ridiculous. But then they continued bombing the southern part of the Gaza Strip and caused lots of deaths and casualties.
So, you know, the Israeli public was deeply shocked by the attacks of Oct. 7. And we can understand that. Of course, it was a profound blow. I think pretty much everybody in Israel knew somebody who was killed or wounded or affected by the Hamas attack of that day. And so, there’s a great deal of support in Israel for — I think, to put it crudely — revenge.
Right now, the government says they’re going to destroy Hamas. But they’re acting as if history began on Oct. 7th. Right? There’s a long history of violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The great preponderance of the deaths in that conflict over the years and the decades have been Palestinians, usually in a ratio of 10 to 1, 20 to 1, 50 to 1. Fifty Palestinians killed for every one Israeli.
And this is a continuation of it in that ratio now, right? At least 8,000 dead, probably more among the Palestinians and 1,400 Israelis. So this kind of approach, this massive use of violence — and Israel has a very powerful army, again, the Palestinian civilians of Gaza, who have no defense whatsoever, basically — is not going to lead anywhere.
It’ll kill a lot of Palestinians. It’ll embitter the next generation of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, but also elsewhere who are watching this. There is no military solution. And by adopting this policy of massive retaliation, Israel is sowing the seeds for the conflict as it stretches into the next generations.
SCOTT HARRIS: Professor Lockman, as you and our listeners well know, President Biden has extended support for Israel’s right to self-defense. But in recent days, he’s warned that Israel’s military must observe the rules of war. It’s kind of a tepid way to address the mass killing of Palestinian civilians in Gaza.
What else do you believe that President Biden should be doing right now? I think many Americans and the world are watching in horror as Israel’s most important ally, the United States, is really standing back and doing very little.
ZACHARY LOCKMAN: Well, it’s not actually standing back and doing little, it’s supporting Israel, right? It’s vetoed resolutions calling for a ceasefire in the Security Council. And again, there’s a very long history of this, of the United States since the late 1960s, not only giving Israel billions upon billions of dollars in military aid and economic aid, which continues down to the present. I think the figures about $3.8 billion every year that goes to Israel, which has long been the single largest recipient of American aid. But also political support, again, vetoing any effort — including by the allies of the United States and Europe, by France and Germany and others — to hold Israel to account, to criticize the settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, to criticize the repression of the Palestinians.
So in that sense, even though the U.S. administrations going way back have said, “Well, those settlements are not in conformity with international law and mildly criticizing Israeli violations of Palestinian rights,” Israelis are not stupid. Right? They watch what the United States does and not what it says.
And the United States has provided massive support. It’s moved aircraft carriers closer to deter Hezbollah and to threaten Iran, and it’s basically endorsed what Israel’s doing. Now, President Biden has made a few remarks urging the Israelis to be a little cautious, but they’ve ignored it, basically. They haven’t, as far as I can see, done much to restrain themselves.
So this is empty talk, basically. And until the United States basically lays down the law and says, “Look, this has got to stop and we have to think about this very differently and withdraw the blank check that’s given Israel,” I don’t see the Israelis feeling any need to do anything different.
For more information, visit Middle East Children’s Alliance at mecaforpeace.org.
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