The current situation in Gaza and Israel did not come out of the blue. Read critical background left out of breaking news alerts…
by Kathryn Shihadah
On Oct 7, the resistance group Hamas did not invade a peace-loving country. To Israelis, it may have felt tranquil and carefree – they were dancing, raising families on tree-lined streets, planning vacations abroad. Palestinians are pretty much invisible, locked as they are behind high concrete walls and electrified, fortified, barbed wire barriers.
Israelis have never experienced the kind of invasion they got that day. The roles are usually reversed. This time some Palestinians were killing, kidnapping, and causing panic, trauma, and unconscionable violence. Usually it is some Israeli soldiers and settlers that perpetrate such acts.
The Israelis’ experience – and that of their loved ones – is real and significant.
But many of us are dismissing Gazans’ experience out of hand.
If we believe in equality, in the presence of the imago dei in everyone, we ought to be troubled by this. Are Israeli sins forgivable, but Palestinian sins somehow unforgivable?
We ought to make sure we have true and accurate information, and are responding to it responsibly. If we detect any bigotry in our perspective, we must work diligently to weed it out.
What you didn’t know you didn’t know
History did not begin on October 7, 2023. If it had, Hamas militants would have no pertinent reason for the rage they displayed. Their only excuse would be hatred for Jews.
We must acknowledge that each of the young Gazan fighters has experienced a lifetime under a brutal Israeli blockade and multiple major Israeli operations – it’s a stretch to call them “wars,” as the weaponry and the casualty figures were so lopsided (for example, in the 2008-2009 hostilities, 9 Israelis were killed, vs 1,400 Gazans; in 2012, 6 Israelis vs 174 Gazans; in 2014, 72 Israelis vs 2,200 Gazans). These experiences shaped every Gazan (Israeli journalists Amira Hass and Gideon Levy recognize the significance of this fact).
Each fighter in Gaza likely grew up not just fearful and angry, but hungry, malnourished, growth-stunted, and anxious. He has likely seen dead bodies, amputated limbs, and blood. He has likely lost loved ones and played in the shells of bombed-out houses.
The violence against him has not stopped long enough for him to get PTSD. There has been no “post” to his trauma.
(We must also recognize that the United States and Israel helped create and sustain Hamas, and one day decided that Hamas was now the enemy.)
Hamas fighters, like all young people in Gaza, struggle to hold onto hope for the future. Israel’s brutal blockade, plus its destruction of factories, shops, and other businesses, has left an unemployment rate hovering around 45%.
How to restore hope? Not by committing murder, but by winning freedom. That is what every Palestinian wants. Not revenge, not the eradication of Jews. Freedom and hope.
How to achieve freedom?
Obviously, killing hundreds of Israelis is not moral or productive, and will not lead to freedom – at least, not directly.
Similarly, bombing Gaza to rubble is not the way for Israel to gain security. That has been proven again and again, at great cost to Palestinians.
These are irrational actions on both sides, horrible acts.
For years, Palestinians have tried rational, peaceful methods of achieving justice: they have petitioned the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice. They have held thousands of peaceful protests. In the ICC and ICJ, the United States always exercises veto power in Israel’s favor. When it comes to peaceful protests, Israeli soldiers shoot to kill.
(The UN Security Council voted on a resolution Wednesday, October 18, merely calling for Israel to pause its bombing to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza – the United States vetoed it. That is not contributing to anything but carnage.)
When Palestinians are quiet, the world forgets them, leaving them to Israel’s whims; when they protest peacefully, they are killed. Only when they make a lot of noise does the world finally wake up. October 7th was about as noisy as it gets – and millions are now rallying for a ceasefire and Palestinian rights. The international community carries some of the blame for allowing Israel to oppress Palestinians to the breaking point.
That is to say that while each individual member of Hamas is responsible for his own actions – and some or many may have committed atrocities – Israel’s policies of brutal starvation, suffocation, and airstrikes, pushed them into a corner. Israel must own up to that. American foreign policy allowed it, and we must own up to that. The current situation is by no stretch of the imagination all Hamas’ fault.
In every war, individuals commit atrocities that are inexcusable. The members of Hamas had just broken out of the world’s largest prison, where they had been brutalized every day by Israel. Violent retribution on the part of some should not surprise us.
It is also worth noting that at least some of the Israeli hostages held by Hamas were treated well and with respect – so well that some Israelis wished the truth hadn’t been made public. It is understood that they were not captured to be killed, but to be bargaining chips for the release of thousands of Palestinian prisoners wrongly held by Israel.
One possible culpability loophole for us everyday folks: if you are one of the millions who know nothing about Palestinians except the October 7 massacre, realize this: our mainstream media has for years been working to keep you in the dark (see this, this, and this, for example).
So. Why did they do it? Do Hamas militants have a deep, inbred hatred of Jews?
The one thing most Palestinians know for sure about Jews is that they come in two types: those who embrace Zionism and those who don’t.
The people who took over the Palestinian homeland in 1948 and sent 700,000 Palestinians to refugee camps – those were Zionists. The people who, ever since, have dropped bombs, withheld human rights, and stripped Palestinians of their humanity – those are Zionists. Palestinians hate Zionism. Not Judaism. Not Jews (in fact, in the decades before Israel was born, the majority of Jews were against the very idea of a Jewish state; many were anti-Zionist).
Palestinians are highly intelligent, highly educated – and their education did not include being “taught to hate Jews.” They didn’t need to be taught to hate their occupier – each boy and girl from Gaza to the West Bank, from East Jerusalem to Israel, figured out all by themselves that the ones shooting their family members and withholding blankets and baby food are despicable.
Nor is the distinction between “Jew” and “Zionist” too hard for Palestinians to comprehend.
(For some Israel apologists, including but not limited to Jonathan Greenblatt, the distinction between Jew and Zionist is lost. Wait…does that mean Palestinians are smarter than Zionists?)
The whole world is aware of Hamas’ October 7th attack – its brutality is already legendary. People who should know better are publicly calling them “animals” and “barbarians.” “These are not human beings! They killed babies, raped women.”
Look, several thousand militants entered Israel that day. If they were all animals, killing babies and raping women, there would have been a lot more victims (I have yet to see actual evidence of a rapes of Israeli women that day – if you have, please share it with me). Governments lie during wars, and this appears to be one of those times (that said, there is documentation of Israeli soldiers raping Palestinian women (and men, and children) that stretch from Israel’s founding to the present).
Members of Hamas and other resistance groups in Gaza absolutely have a cruel streak. Would anyone expect them not to?
Israel and its self-proclaimed “most moral army in the world” reinforce their cruel streak with one of the most powerful militaries in the world and (apparently) complete exemption from international law.
Palestinians really have two choices: resist and be labeled “terrorist/subhuman,” or sit quietly and let Israel starve and shoot and humiliate them. There are no good options. (Most can not afford to emigrate, nor do they want to leave their homeland.)
Here are the questions we must grapple with.
Do Palestinians have the right to be free of Israeli occupation?
Do they have the right to self-determination?
Do they have the right to a dignified life?
These are yes/no questions. They are unrelated to Hamas. Do Palestinians have these rights?
If you are grieved by the loss of Israeli life – in spite of Israel’s many sins – but Palestinian casualties still do not move you, what you are feeling is probably not righteous anger, but prejudice.
Cleanse your palette of judgmentalism toward two million people for the faults of a few, for being born Palestinian, for desiring a better life.
Understand that legitimate grievances, left to fester, will beget hostility and violence.
Discern the difference between recognizing these grievances and approving the violence.
Acknowledge that America has been complicit in the carnage we’ve witnessed in the past weeks.
As long as we cheer for Israel – or stay silent about the slaughter of Palestinians – we are part of the problem.
Palestinians are people, and that’s the bottom line.
Kathryn Shihadah is an editor and staff writer for If Americans Knew. This is reposted from Patheos – Grace Colored Glasses – Kathy’s blog on Patheos, an online destination to engage in the global dialogue about religion and spirituality. She also occasionally blogs at Palestine Home.
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Palestinian death toll: at least 14,571* (~14,329 in Gaza** (including at least 6,150 children and 4,000 women), and at least 242 in the West Bank). It remains unknown how many Americans are among the casualties.
*IAK does not yet include 471 Gazans killed in the Al Ahli hospital blast since the source of the projectile is being disputed; although much evidence points to Israel as the culprit, experts are still looking into the incident. Israel is blocking an international investigation. Israel killed more Palestinians in a little over a month after Oct. 7 than in all the previous 22 years combined.
Palestinian injuries: 39,093** (including at least 36,000 in Gaza** and 3,093 in the West Bank). **NOTE: it is impossible to offer an accurate number of injuries in Gaza due to the ongoing bombardment and communication disruption.
in Gaza**, About 1.8 million people have been forcibly displaced (nearly 80% of the population); 7,000 are missing (4,700 women and children) and presumed to be under rubble.
About 200,000 Israelis internally displaced – “Hotels are near capacity as government orders evacuations of dozens of communities” near Gaza Strip, Lebanon border
Some of the Israelis were killed by Israeli fire, see below:
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