Hamas has launched an unprecedented attack against Israel, taking aim at the apartheid and colonial regime that has subjugated Palestinians for 75 years. Western reaction and media coverage of the attack have emphasized the fallibility of Israel’s military apparatus as well as Hamas’s tactics, which have not distinguished between military and civilian targets.
Few Western observers have highlighted the context of Israel’s structural violence that has condemned Palestinians to a slow death, thus missing a critical opportunity to advance a true, durable solution in the region.
Two million Palestinians in Gaza, a 225-square mile Mediterranean coastal enclave, have been besieged by a comprehensive naval blockade and land siege imposed by Israel for 16 years. The UN and humanitarian organizations have condemned the blockade as illegal and described its impact as “catastrophic”. In 2015, a UN Agency predicted that Gaza would be unlivable by 2020 due to a lack of hygiene, access to clean water, and food shortages caused by Israel. It is now 2023. Today, more than a quarter of all reported diseases in Gaza are caused by poor water quality and access. Fifty-three percent of the population is living below the poverty line and dependence on food aid for survival has increased from less than ten percent in 2000 to an estimated 70 percent in 2017. Between the fall of 2016 and the summer of 2017, 186 facilities providing health, water, sanitation, and solid waste collection services were shut down due to power shortages due to the siege and blockade
This is to say nothing of the death and destruction wrought by repeated, massive Israeli military assaults. Since 2008, Israel has launched four large-scale military offensives against a predominantly refugee population trapped in one of the most densely populated places on earth while denying a humanitarian corridor for people to escape. During these attacks, Israel has killed entire families - spanning several generations - with missile strikes at their homes. Israel has also repeatedly bombed UN hospitals and schools sheltering civilians, bearing the UN’s unmistakable blue emblem. Despite the litany of well-documented war crimes, no one has been held to account and the siege has only tightened.
Worse, Palestinians have been blamed for their own suffering for democratically electing Hamas to lead the Palestinian Authority in 2006. This victim-blaming narrative obscures the fact that Hamas was not established until 1987 – twenty years after Israel’s occupation of Gaza and the West Bank began and nearly four decades after the mass expulsion and dispossession of Palestinians during Israel’s establishment in 1948.
Hamas could disappear tomorrow, and Israel’s policy of settler colonial expansion would continue. Consider its policy in the West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority headed by Mahmoud Abbas, Palestine’s most compliant leader to date, operates under the control of Israel’s occupying army Abbas has engaged in security coordination with Israel to protect illegal settlers as they steal Palestinian land and has been complicit in Israel’s siege suffocating Palestinians in Gaza. In return for his acquiescence, Israel has relentlessly expanded its settlement enterprise, declared an intention to annex the Jordan Valley, and shifted oversight of the West Bank from military to civilian governance indicating the permanence of its occupation.
Fixating on Palestinians as imperfect victims is the absolution of, and complicity with, Israel’s colonial domination.
This is only compounded by an abject failure to uplift and celebrate the thousands of Palestinians who have attempted to resist Israel’s cruel domination through non-violent protest. These include the 40,000 Palestinians who, weekly, participated in the Great March of Return in 2018 demanding their right to return to the homeland they were expelled from and the end of the siege, only to be shot down like birds by Israeli snipers. It includes the thousands of Palestinians and their allies globally who have engaged in boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaigns aimed at isolating Israel and incapacitating its lethal threat. It includes the civilian flotillas that attempted to break the naval blockade of Gaza as well as the multiple legal challenges within national courts, the International Court of Justice, and now the International Criminal Court. These efforts have not only been marginalized by Western governments; they have been demonized and smeared.
The message to Palestinians is not that they must resist more peacefully but that they cannot resist Israeli occupation and aggression at all.
Meanwhile, Israel has killed nearly 215 Palestinians this year alone, not including the recent death toll in Gaza. As the most far-right Israeli government in history oversaw three settler pogroms against Palestinians in the towns of Huwara and Turmus ‘Aya and launched an aerial and ground offensive against the Jenin refugee camp, Western media remained more concerned with Israel’s judicial crisis. While there is a mounting consensus among human rights organizations that Israel is an apartheid regime, President Biden has advanced and celebrated Israeli normalization with Arab regimes, ignoring Palestinian suffering and the overt racism and dangerous extremism of Israel’s government. International diplomacy together with biased reporting has only perpetuated Israel’s failed policy aimed at containing Palestinians in open-air prisons in the hope that they will just surrender, or at least become a manageable “problem.”
Hamas’ attack should make clear that the problem is not the Palestinian people’s insatiable thirst for freedom but an international status quo that has aimed to normalize Israel’s permanent subjugation of Palestinians. This crisis and looming war must be understood as more than a hostage situation of significant magnitude. It is a crisis of political will to challenge the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Israel which have led us to this point. Ongoing failure to properly contend with this context is tantamount to telling Palestinians that they must die quietly. This is an immoral and impossible demand that threatens far more than Palestinian life. Any condemnation of Palestinian violence now must begin and end with demands to lift the siege, end the occupation, and dismantle Israel’s apartheid system.