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Gaza's Death Toll Is Out Of Control, But Why?
Let's put it into context because the reasons behind this conflict are murkier than you might think.
It goes without saying that the situation in Gaza and Israel is dire. The horrific scenes of October 7th have deeply scared the Israeli people and their supporters. The attack emboldened Israel’s extreme right-wing leader, Netanyahu, to undertake an indiscriminate onslaught against Gaza and enforce his hard-line Zionist stance on the state. Since October 7th, Israeli forces have attacked Gaza hospitals, blocked aid, water and fuel and bombarded the densely populated region with the equivalent of two Hiroshima’s worth of munitions, leading to the deaths of at least 13,000 Gazans, the vast majority of which are innocent children and women. Not only has this been condemned by many in the international community as an act of genocide and war crimes, but many Israelis are outraged at Netanyahu’s brutalisation of Gaza. This is reflected in a recent poll that found his approval rating has tanked to just 4% (undertaken on November 14th). I am writing this article on November 20th, which is both World Children’s Day, a global initiative promoting children’s rights, safety, education, health and happiness, and also my daughter’s birthday. So, I want to put this profoundly troubling conflict into context, especially the devastating toll it is taking on innocent children, and get a clearer understanding of how such a cataclysmic situation was allowed to transpire.
Let’s start with the extent of the damage in Gaza. Since October 7th, Israeli forces have killed over 13,000 Palestinians, of which 5,500 are children, according to Palestinian officials, which have historically been found to accurately report deaths. That means a Palestinian child has died every ten minutes for well over a month. In addition, 1,800 children are missing and likely trapped under rubble, many of whom are highly likely to be dead but not yet exhumed and counted among the dead. A further 9,000 children have sustained life-altering injuries, such as severe burns and amputations. These figures are backed up by independent sources. The UN has stated that over 13,000 Palestinians have died, 70% of which are women and children. The Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor recently said that they estimate the current total death toll to be over 20,000, as many of the deceased remain buried under rubble.
This happens when a force doesn’t target military targets, but instead targets civilian infrastructure. Israel doesn’t hide this either, as they adopted the Dahiya doctrine after their failed 2006 Lebanon war. This doctrine champions asymmetrical warfare, which encompasses the destruction of civilian infrastructure and maximum humanitarian impact to bolster Israel’s deterrence to groups such as Hamas, the PA and Hezbollah. What’s more, they have openly used this doctrine before during Operation Cast Lead, which was widely condemned by the international community as constituting war crimes and worryingly mirrors much of the rhetoric and strategic turning points of the current conflict.
In basic terms, the Dahiya doctrine is terrorism in all but name, and to create that terror, the innocent population of Gaza has to pay the ultimate price. Some see this as a legitimate tactic to safeguard Israel; others do not.
But let’s put this ultimate price into context. The US has a child population of roughly 74 million. If the US were to have a similar proportion of their child population die, it would equate to 370,000 child deaths. Imagine if a single enemy solidly attacked the US for six weeks and caused over a third of a million innocent children to lose their lives. There would be outrage.
No wonder French President Emmanuel Macron has broken rank with the Western supporters of Israel and told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu there were “too many civilian losses” in Israel’s war in Gaza. Macron is one of the few Western leaders who are happy to state that Israel has a right to defend itself, but also that the death toll of innocents is too far to be justifiable. By taking this stance, Macron is coming head-to-head with Israel’s Dahiya doctrine. As such, many within the Israel state and the IDF see his stance as dangerous to their national security, despite his sympathetic and reasonable position.
Especially when you consider that Macron is still technically pro-Israel. Many humanitarian experts and organisations, such as Amnesty International and the United Nations, have labelled Israel’s attack on Gaza as a genocide and highlighted how their asymmetrical warfare constitutes multiple heinous war crimes. The evidence for these accusations is mounting, and there is rising international pressure to crack down on Israel. Particularly as the IDF (Israel Defence Force) continues to fail to provide concrete evidence that Al-Shifa hospital, which they brutally targetted, was a Hamas HQ. If they can’t prove this, then this attack constitutes a war crime that can’t go unpunished, as hospitals are protected in war under international law. Yet, Macron and almost all Western leaders have failed to condemn Israel for this.
But what about the October 7th attacks? They were a horrific act of terrorism against Israel that should be met with retribution and punishment.
Well, yes. Absolutely. But that isn’t the whole story here.
On October 7th, Hamas killed 1,200 Israelis. That is roughly equivalent to 9% of the Palestinians who are currently confirmed dead and just 6% of the predicted total deceased. However, of those 1,200 Israelis, a third (400) were military and police, according to the Times of Israel. This means that proportionately, the Hamas attack did target Israeli state personnel at a better rate than Israel’s response. Now, they still cause an utterly unacceptable level of civilian casualties and should be held accountable for such a heinous act (more on that later). After all, if we scale this attack up to the US population as we did earlier, 42,533 Americans would have died during the attack, 14,178 of which would be military or police.
Put like this, you can see the Dahiya doctrine in action. The asymmetry of the damage and unproportionate response is staggering. Particularly when you realise that more than 80% of Gaza’s population lives in poverty, according to the United Nations, because of decades of Israel’s border control, blockades and occupation of the area.
But recent news has come to light that makes this asymmetry even more stark.
According to several sources, such as the trustworthy Israel-based Haaretz, the devastation of October 7th might not be entirely Hamas’s fault. Multiple testimonies from survivors of the attack have independently reported that Israeli forces conducted friendly fire during the terrorist attack, inflating the Israeli casualties. There are even reports that Israeli tanks shelled civilians and helicopters fired on Israeli homes that reportedly had Hamas operatives in them, despite knowing there were plenty of Israeli civilians inside the building and at risk. There is no official investigation into these allegations by bodies like the UN yet; however, in time, they will hopefully come to light. Until then, we don’t know what proportion of the deaths from October 7th can be attributed to Israel or Hamas. But either way, this shows Israel’s lack of transparency and inhuman approach to this war, whether it is Palestinians or their own civilians.
But how was Hamas able to mount such a horrific attack from Gaza, which has been called an “open-air prison” for years now? We can, in part, thank Netanyahu, the current Israeli Prime Minister, for that.
For years, the PA (Palestinian National Authority), which is in control of the West Bank, has been fighting for control over Palestine against Hamas, who controlled Gaza since 2007 (both through democratic elections). The PA became increasingly annoyed at Hamas’s attacks on Israel and saw them as a threat to peace treaties, so they sanctioned them, cutting off the transfer of funds from Qatar to Hamas, upon which they extensively relied.
But Netanyahu openly stated he needed Hamas. He told members of a parliament committee that “Palestinian hopes of establishing a sovereign state must be eliminated.” The easiest way to do this? Support Hamas and keep power centres between the West Bank and Gaza separate. This divide-and-conquer tactic was brutally effective. You see, the PA was on the cusp of uniting all of Palestine and pressurising Israel to sign a peace treaty that would make Israel concede the Palestinian land it has illegally occupied since 1967. If the PA could unite Palestine, there would be immense international support for such a peace treaty, as there is scant argument against it in international law and nowhere for Israel to hide. According to statements from his associates and documented in a Hebrew-language book by former cabinet member Haim Ramon, Netanyahu’s strategy was to use Hamas as a tool to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state and such a peace treaty. Critics of this policy argue that Netanyahu has resulted in the loss of over a thousand Israeli lives even before October 7th.
In fact, Netanyahu’s predecessor nearly signed a similar peace deal to that the PA wanted to propose, and Netanyahu peddled hateful rhetoric against him that ended up emboldening a far-right extremist to assassinate the Prime Minister and open the door for Netanyahu to take control. Needless to say, Netanyahu is intent on conquering the entirety of Palestine and makes no bones about the fact.
So, how did Netanyahu prop up Hamas?
He enabled a route of funds to bypass PA sanctions upon Hamas. A vehicle was caught taking $15 million of Qatari funds to Hamas through the Erez Crossing in suitcases. Netanyahu was caught having a direct hand in allowing these shady transactions. Hamas’s total budget is around $300 million, meaning Netanyahu enabled a significant amount of their funding. For a sense of scale, if the US got a payment in similar proportion to their budget, it would amount to $306.72 billion! And that is only the payments Netanyahu allowed that were caught. We have yet to determine the total.
Needless to say, those within the Israeli state were not happy about Netanyahu’s actions and rhetoric. One official said that The prime minister “has sold out our security to his associates and has purchased temporary quiet from Hamas,” she added, “Netanyahu has to go.” There are also multiple articles written in the Times of Israel and Haaretz that lambast Netanyahu for his misinformation, propaganda and manipulation of the media to control the narrative and mislead the Israeli population into a war they do not want.
This brings me full circle to Netanyahu’s recent 4% approval poll. The Israeli people are fed up with his undermining of the truth, propping up terrorist organisations to legitimise Israeli expansion and risking Israeli lives in the process, inhumane use of military force and brutal actions against a defenceless population, and constant resistance to any form of peace with their oppressed neighbours.
The devastation of October 7th was utterly unacceptable. No question there. But, when you consider that Netanyahu had a hand in creating it, both via Israeli force’s unreported friendly fire and open support of Hamas, the reactionary apocalypse he has unleashed on Gaza is even worse. How can we in the West sit here and openly support Netanyahu and his genocidal government? I don’t mean that in a loose sense. The US sends Israel billions of dollars worth of military aid each year, and Britain alone does over $6 billion dollars worth of trade with them. Netanyahu can only conduct his heinous crimes thanks to this Western support. Yet, there is no hint or even threat from the West of removing funding or sanctions against Netanyahu and his war-crime-riddled government. Not even the Israeli people, who are the ones who suffered from the October 7th attack, support him. There is an argument that we are more complicit in the death of these innocent Palestinian children than the Israeli population. It’s time we did more to uphold international law and stop this inane and one-sided conflict.
I will end this article with a book recommendation. If you want to understand more about the plight of Gaza, I highly recommend Norman G Finkelstein’s “Gaza, an inquest into its martyrdom.” Norman is a highly regarded political professor and a Jew whose family was wiped out during the holocaust. His voice is one of the most relative, reliable, well-cited, prudent and prominent in the defence of Gaza against Israel.
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Sources: Al-Jazeera, Al-Jazeera, Children's Defense Fund, Relief Web, Relief Web, Times Of Israel, The Real News Network, J Post, Indian Today, Reuters, GV Wire, DoT, Al-Jazeera, Axios, The Grey Zone, Al-Jazeera, NBC, Times of Israel, USA Facts, IMEU, Haaretz