Death in a Small Place

Gaza is being reduced to rubble while the world watches on YouTube and CNN. It has been as dispiriting a display of inhumanity and failure as one can imagine, yet it has not been enough to compel either side to accept a halt to the carnage. Each night new images of what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described as “telegenically dead Palestinians” are paraded across television and computer screens.

The prime minister accuses Hamas of deploying the people of Gaza as human shields, “forcing” Israel to kill Gaza’s men, women and children in a cynical, ruthless campaign. If so, he has enthusiastically partnered with Hamas leadership in the effort.

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The Israeli Defense Forces’ incursion each day drives up the Palestinian casualty figures while offering Hamas fighters the opportunity to restore what had been the organization’s diminishing esteem through combat that has taken 64 I.D.F. lives. The I.D.F. has managed to kill 200 or so of Hamas’s 10,000 fighters, but this most recent assault has claimed more than 1,800 lives. The U.N. estimates that 69 percent of the victims of the increasingly indiscriminate shelling have been noncombatants.

Gaza, one of the most densely peopled places on earth, has been further diminished during this minor apocalypse. The incursion has demolished more than 4,000 homes and inhabitable area of the territory by 44 percent. With its electric grid destroyed and water and sewage capacity compromised, Gaza is on the verge of becoming essentially uninhabitable.

In response to the crisis, the U.S. Congress declared unanimous support for the Israeli war effort and called on Hamas to disarm itself and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to terminate the unity government with Hamas. The Obama administration offered pro forma expressions of concern as the civilian death toll went higher, but did little else to stay the Netanyahu government’s hand. A more pointed gesture, and one that might have restored U.S. status as a credible broker for peace, would have been to decline Israel’s request for munitions to restock supplies exhausted over the skies of Gaza.

This latest conflict will eventually end with or without a negotiated cease-fire. It seems likely that its only “victors” will be located at the extremes of Palestinian and Israeli societies. What comes next? When the fighting stops, finding ways to encourage the beleaguered forces of moderation will be the primary obligation of all people of good will. (See Signs of the Times, pg. 8.)

As in past conflicts in Gaza, the United Nations has described Hamas and I.D.F. actions, including indiscriminate rocket attacks and the shelling of U.N. refuges, as possible war crimes. Perhaps this time the United Nations should pursue such serious accusations to their logical and just conclusion. Acts of terror by Gaza militants should be prosecuted, and decisive action against violations of both international law and human dignity should not be construed as efforts to demonize Israel.

America’s editors have repeatedly addressed the Israel-Palestinian problem, urging restraint, dialogue and even a reassessment of a U.S. policy of unblinking diplomatic and military support for the State of Israel and pressing for the two-state solution both sides claimed to be seeking. Now, judging by comments made by Prime Minister Netanyahu during the crisis, the current Israeli leadership is no longer interested in that option. But a one-state solution will surely mean either further segregation of Palestinians in an apartheid state or a criminal policy of mass expulsion. Neither is an outcome that the United States should be willing to accept.

The Obama administration was stoned from all sides as it fruitlessly pursued the usual suspects in negotiating a ceasefire during this current crisis. Now it should just as energetically locate and support new actors in Palestinian and Israeli civil society who offer some hope of breaking through the calcified positions of the current political establishment. Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders of the Holy Land should revisit the commitments they made in Alexandria, Egypt, in 2002 to “seek to live together as neighbors, respecting the integrity of each other’s historical and religious inheritance” and decide what a practical expression of that pledge means today.

At the Vatican’s invocation for peace in Israel and Palestine in June, Pope Francis said: “Peacemaking calls for courage, much more so than warfare. It calls for the courage to say yes to encounter and no to conflict: yes to dialogue and no to violence…yes to sincerity and no to duplicity.” But beyond courage, the pope said peacemaking “takes strength and tenacity.”

All of the strength and tenacity of the peacemakers will soon be put to the test—again—but how much harder will be their work once this senseless slaughter in Gaza ends.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Eugene Fitzpatrick
3 years 8 months ago
Some comments: The "If so" in paragraph two bestows plausibility to the well disseminated pro-Israel claim that the abhorrent Palestinian civilian casualty rate was secondary to an intended maneuver by Hamas. I submit that the "If so" broaches on libel. The "incursion" in paragraph three reads a bit euphemistic to me. How about "blood-letting" instead. Another sharp elbow is thrown at Hamas by inferring that its combativeness is primarily an effort at bolstering its self-esteem as opposed to an heroic attempt to counter Israel's criminal savagery. In paragraph five the Editors aver that "a more pointed gesture ....... would have been to decline Israel's request (how genteelly the Editors put it) for munitions etc". My, my. The Editors must have been wearing a thick pair of kid-gloves when they penned this piece! How about their averring that the Obama Administration abruptly and totally dry-up the river of money flowing each day to Tel Aviv. We all know that this will be instantly efficacious. Lastly, the Editors might curtail their 'broken record' call for more dialogue, dialogue, dialogue, as they should know by now that for Israel carrying on dialogue has given it the inestimable luxury of procrastination, a very potent weapon for Israel to have in its relentless march towards the total subjugation of the Palestinian People.
JLGEII@aol.com
3 years 8 months ago
I wholeheartedly join the Editors’ lament over the horrific toll this war is taking on the people of Gaza. But to lay the blame at Israel’s feet -- which seems to be the consistent fall back position of America --is neither fair nor accurate. This is especially clear today. The war seemed to be coming to an end, a cease fire had held for days. The war could have been over. But yesterday Hamas broke what could have been a lasting cease fire (with or without an actual agreement on terms) with a barrage of no less than 100 rockets fired into Israel. What is Israel supposed to do? Sit and absorb endless rocket attacks? And this editorial made not one mention of the tunnels. Not one mention. The fact is that the majority of deaths among Palestinian civilians, Hamas militia and Israeli soldiers, came about after Israeli ground troops entered Gaza to disable the tunnels. There was the obvious reality that Israeli troops on the ground in Gaza would lead to large numbers of deaths on the Palestinian side. But Hamas had dug over thirty tunnels which went underground from Gaza into Israel and was planning to use them to murder and kidnap hundreds if not thousands of Israeli civilians and soldiers. Since both the entry and the exit points from these tunnels on the Israel side were hidden from view, the only way Israel could find them and disable them was by getting soldiers in on the ground. What would it take for you not to pretend that Israel was “enthusiastically partner[ing] ” with Hamas? Complete docility in the face of these horrific threats? And while you repeat the UN statistics regarding the percentage of noncombatant Palestinian deaths, you neglect to point out that these statistics are actually provided by the Gaza Health Ministry (not a neutral source) and that Anthony Reuben, the head of Statistics for BBC news, cast strong doubt on the accuracy of that percentage. As Mr. Reuben noted, and as an analysis conducted by the New York times reported: “the population most likely to be militants, men ages 20 to 29, is also the most overrepresented in the death toll. They are 9% of Gaza's 1.7 million residents, but 34% of those killed whose ages were provided.” “At the same time, women and children under 15, the least likely to be legitimate targets, were the most underrepresented, making up 71% of the population and 33% of the known-age casualties.” This makes claims of a 69% civilian death rate highly suspect, yet you report it as fact. As your editorial tells us, Pope Francis said: “Peacemaking calls for . . . .the courage to say …yes to sincerity and no to duplicity.” Biased and inaccurate reporting, especially on such a volatile issue, are forms of insincerity and duplicity. Can we please start getting some accurate and unbiased reporting on this war from America? Fr. Jim Loughran, SA Graymoor Ecumenical & Interreligious Institute New York
RICHARD BRENNAN MR
3 years 8 months ago
Unhappily, I must agree with Fr. Jim's comments. Having followed the painful history of Israel since I was a PolySci/History Major at LU Chicago in the 50's, I am amazed that AMERICA fails to acknowledge any of Israel's efforts to achieve a two state solution, and sides so simplistically with those in GAZA who continue to support HAMAS, even by staying in their homes after being notified in writing and by phone that their homes were in harms' way. Not even St. Francis who attempted negotiations with the Sultan al-Kamil in 1218, could bring HAMAS or it's progeny ISIS to peaceful negotiations today. AMERICA's influence and persuasiveness would be better directed at the Muslim religious leaders who fail to criticize the barbaric beheadings and crucifixions of ISIS and its supporters, HAMAS being one. The failure to even present that side of this tragedy, is a glaring omission that does seem to border on duplicity. Any balanced and rational analysis should begin with a recognition that the Israel/Palestine division has few "good" stories on either side. More robust support for the efforts and plight of the Christians in the Middle East would provide a better story, than suggesting that all of the Yazidi refugees be granted admission to the US. Richard Brennan Apple River, IL
Eugene Fitzpatrick
3 years 8 months ago
Mr. Brennan says that "America" "fails to acknowledge any of Israel's efforts to achieve a two state solution". Well that's because such efforts are non-existent! It would be of interest to know exactly how Mr. Brennan "followed the painful history of Israel since ...... The 50s". Brennan's denigration of Gazans who remain in their home after receiving warnings that its destruction is imminent is, let's be honest, the concoction of a mind out of balance.
Eugene Fitzpatrick
3 years 8 months ago
Commentator Loughran, faced with the daunting task of justifying one of the most criminally barbaric state-sponsored massacres of the 21st Century, grabs on to a BBC article which aims at convincing the public that there wasn't as high a percentage of Gazan women and children killed and maimed as the U.N. Human Rights Council indicated. So Loughran would have the public take comfort in the fact that the Israeli Military, humanitarian to its core, does in fact take pains to kill more Palestinian men than women and children. And I would add, this good deed of theirs will be rewarded in Heaven! Loughran, who denigrates the Gaza Health Ministry as "not a neutral source" (but of course), neglects to inform us that the author of the BBC article, Anthony Reuben, once labored at the Jerusalem Post, an inveterate right-wing cheer-leader for unending Israeli expansionism. One can surmise therefore that Reuban likely is "not a neutral source". Israel's acolytes, like Loughran, habitually go to American Ziocon or Israeli government sources to verify their latest squalid mendacity. That a Catholic priest zealously embraces the philosophy of, and champions the behavior of, a state entity characterized by unrelenting immorality is mind-boggling by its disconnect. Getting at the etiology of this prompts speculation that perhaps the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement need to submit to a spiritual and intellectual health exam to get at the root of a malaise that's festering unappreciated beneath their noses.

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