The Al Jazeera reporter screamed and fell back in shock. As she was telling of the tense atmosphere in Gaza city, with an Israeli military assault imminent, a rocket struck the roof of a nearby high-rise building. As the studio host asked whether she was okay to come back to camera, a colleague shouted that this was a warning shot, typically fired by the Israeli air force before full destruction. Indeed, merely nine minutes later, the building was struck with terrible force from above, its eleven floors collapsing into dust. It would not have been possible for all inhabitants (perhaps in the hundreds) to have left in time.
The Israeli armed forces did not wait to exact revenge on the Gaza Strip, from where terrorists had launched a deadly attack on settlements including a Kibbutz. The Israeli death toll was over a thousand, mostly defenceless civilians, but also some soldiers. A big question is whether the authorities, with all their high-tech intelligence, knew of this carefully planned operation beforehand. Intriguingly, a music festival, where 260 partygoers were slaughtered, was moved 48 hours before the event to a vulnerable setting near the border. But that’s a debate for another day.
More pressing is the plight of the people incurring the wrath of the Knesset. On the day of the terror, prime minister Netanyahu declared that Israel was at war. The defence minister called the Gazans ‘animals’ and announced a ‘complete siege’ on the territory, which has been described as the world’s largest prison. The denizens of Gaza are caged, with no means of escape by land or sea. The Israelis control the water and electricity supply, and they cut the power despite the dire need of hospitals and other basic services for the 2.3 million inhabitants.
Many Western political leaders and commentators are openly supporting Israeli vengeance. Few have called for restraint. A Labour councillor in Newport, Miqdad al-Nuaimi, was suspended after tweeting: –
‘A final solution for the Gazans. 2 million people. Genocidal annihilation’.
As Gaza is pummelled and the carnage continues, it is hardly inappropriate to accuse the Israeli state of genocide. The target is not only the fighters of Hamas, but anyone with the misfortune to live in the dismal concrete enclosure. This is collective punishment, and a crime against humanity. Whatever the vile deeds of the insurgents, the blitz on Gaza is unconscionable for a supposedly civil government: this is premeditated mass murder.
When the IRA was bombing British cities in the 1970s and 1980s, the Westminster government did not determine that all Catholics in Northern Ireland were subhuman, and order missile attacks on West Belfast. Controversy over ‘shoot to kill’ policy and Blood Sunday raged, but any extrajudicial killings involving the army were on a scale incomparable to the Israeli reaction to this and previous acts of terrorism.
The fundamental difference between terrorists and government must be emphasised. The former are by definition criminal, and the latter is bound by law. The state has the mechanism to bring murderers to justice, and this may be a frustrating and sometimes futile quest. But if the state behaves in the same way as the fanatics in balaclavas with Kalashnikovs, it has lost any moral authority.
For decades Western critics of Muslim terrorists and their supporters have been accused of Islamophobia. Indeed, major incidents such as the Manchester Arena horror and the Tube bombings were followed by warnings about a right-wing backlash (which never happened) and exhortations for a spirit of unity. Now, the establishment is brazenly in favour of Israel killing Muslims because they are Muslims living in the same place as some armed militia who they may or may not support. Who are the Islamophobes now?
Hamas was accused of beheading babies, without any evidence. This was almost certainly a lie for propaganda purpose, but it was lapped up by Western media for their dehumanising narrative. In fact, the baby killers are in F16 jets, dropping devastating explosives on the residential blocks of Gaza. British newspapers are unequivocal on the right of Israel to eradicate its foes. Even the Daily Scepticrefuses to take any article challenging the massacre (wait a couple of weeks, I was told). .
Home secretary Suella Braverman has written to police demanding that any protestors showing support for Hamas is arrested, and she has even called for the Palestinian flag to be criminalised. She will have a hard job enforcing this on Saturday, when a huge rally will be on the streets of London. By that time, Gaza may have been levelled, as Israeli politicians have urged. If that happens, Israeli leaders should face trial at the international court for war crimes. Their response to the nightmare last weekend is not proportionate, but a sickening solution that they – wrongly – think will be final.