It’s November 11, 2023, and the Times of Israel acknowledges that a lot of Gazans have died in the month since the October 7 terrorist attacks. Citing the “Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza,” and rightly arguing that the numbers cannot be confirmed and doubtlessly include Hamas fighters and victims of misfired Hamas rockets, they put the number of dead north of 11,000. That’s not the full report from the ministry, however. There are also allegedly 26,000 who have been injured and more than 3,000 that are missing. That adds up to 40,000.
That is carnage.
But I think the full picture only begins to come into view when you consider the recently issued report from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). It estimates, based on aerial surveillance, that 45 percent of Gaza’s housing units have been damaged or destroyed. The CIA estimates that Gaza began 2023 with a population of 2,098,389, so we can calculate that nearly a million people have had their homes damaged or destroyed in the last five weeks. As of November 5, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) estimated that 70 percent of Gazans had been displaced from their homes.
Now, on Friday, French President Emmanuel Macron went on the BBC and argued that there is “no justification” for Israel’s bombing of “these babies, these ladies, these old people” in Gaza and that there must be a cease fire. “There is no reason for that and no legitimacy. So we do urge Israel to stop.”
In response, prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu argued that “Israel is doing everything to refrain from harming civilians.”
I don’t care where you come down on Israel, Gaza and Hamas, it’s very clear that Netanyahu is lying. Maybe you think he’s justified in lying. But you can’t destroy 45 percent of the housing units of a population of 2 million people in a mere five weeks and argue that you are refraining from harming civilians. That’s preposterous.
Now, Netanyahu argues that Hamas is to blame for all this death and damage, and I agree to the extent that they instigated this fight and they are prolonging it by refusing to release the over 200 hostages they’re keeping in holes in the ground. I don’t dispute that Hamas is hiding in bunkers and tunnels under schools, hospitals, mosques and residential buildings. When it comes to assigning blame, Hamas deserves the lion’s share of it.
Having said that, however, it’s very clear to me that Israel is following a very deliberate policy of absolutely wrecking Gaza. For proof of this, I cite Netanyahu himself, who said on October 7 that the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) would turn parts of Gaza’s densely populated urban centers ‘into rubble.” On October 10, Maj. Gen. Ghassan Alian, the Israeli Army’s coordinator of government activities in the territories, stated “Human animals must be treated as such. There will be no electricity and no water. There will only be destruction. You wanted hell, you will get hell.”
Also on October 10, Maj. Gen. Giora Eland, who is admittedly retired, wrote that “The State of Israel has no choice but to turn Gaza into a place that is temporarily or permanently impossible to live in. Creating a severe humanitarian crisis in Gaza is a necessary means to achieving the goal.” He later wrote that “Gaza will become a place where no human being can exist.”
Writing in the Washington Post, Ishaan Tharoor proposes that Israel is following something called the “Dahiya Doctrine.”
The so-called “Dahiya Doctrine” took shape in the wake of the bruising 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Dahiya refers to the southern Beirut suburbs where Hezbollah maintained its strongholds and which were pummeled by Israeli jets after hostilities began when Hezbollah fighters abducted two Israeli soldiers…
…The doctrine that emerged out of the conflict was most famously articulated by IDF commander Gadi Eisenkot. “We will wield disproportionate power against every village from which shots are fired on Israel, and cause immense damage and destruction.
The philosophy behind this strategy was articulated in a paper former Israeli colonel Gabriel Siboni wrote for Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies.
…the necessary response to militant provocations from Lebanon, Syria or Gaza were “disproportionate” strikes that aim only secondarily to hit the enemy’s capacity to launch rockets or other attacks. Rather, the goal should be to inflict lasting damage, no matter the civilian consequences, as a future deterrent.
“With an outbreak of hostilities, the IDF will need to act immediately, decisively, and with force that is disproportionate to the enemy’s actions and the threat it poses,” he wrote. “Such a response aims at inflicting damage and meting out punishment to an extent that will demand long and expensive reconstruction processes.”
When you consider these ideas, it makes more sense that almost half the housing in Gaza has been damaged or destroyed since October 7. It’s well beyond the point of a “long and expensive reconstruction process” already. It’s approaching the point where Gaza is “a place where no human being can exist.”
It’s not just the housing and destruction of infrastructure. There’s no water. There’s no food. There’s no electricity. And, increasingly, there are no medical facilities or supplies. All of this makes living impossible.
Now, Hamas brought this upon the Palestinian people, and they continue to hold hostages which provides Israel with justification for fighting into the heart of Gaza City. If they cared about their people, they would do something to stop it.
But the bigger problem is that they shattered Israel’s sense of security. The Israelis thought they could live next to Gaza and manage the security risk. They no longer believe this. That’s why calls for a cease fire are unrealistic. Israel isn’t going to stop while their people are still held underground and while Hamas is still launching rockets at them. Israel isn’t going to be satisfied until there are no more rockets and there is no imminent threat of cross-border raids.
How can the international community accelerate the process by which that security is reached? To begin with, by getting the hostages released. But then something else needs to be created. It has to police Gaza. It has to reconstruct Gaza. It has to lead to a political autonomy for Palestinians.
If can’t be Fatah or the Palestinian Authority. It has to be an international force.
As for America, figuring this out is urgent, because we can’t be a party to what Israel is doing. It’s immoral and bad for our national security, and it’s ultimately bad for Israel, too. Above all, Netanyahu needs to go. His policies brought this ruin on both Israel and Palestine, and he cannot be a partner or a leader for peace.