On Saturday, October 7, the Islamic Resistance Movement, or Hamas, attacked Israeli military outposts and towns with thousands of rockets, overtaking Israel’s missile defense system. Hamas, a political party and militant group, took Israeli military and civilian hostages into the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli Defense Force is conducting “retaliatory” airstrikes. Hundreds of Israelis and Palestinians have been killed over the weekend. Casualties are expected to rise (CNN). The Israel-Hamas War adds to an astounding civilian toll from decades of conflict:
But most Western media only covers civilian deaths on one side. Understanding the broader context of the conflict isn’t justifying atrocities by any of the combatants. It’s the only way to find a just peace.
What is the Gaza Strip?
The Gaza Strip is a strip of land between Israel and Egypt roughly the size of Detroit, Michigan. It’s home to more than 2 million residents, making it “one of the world’s most densely populated places,” according to Israeli NGO Gisha. The Gaza Strip was part of Egypt until Israel’s occupation in the 1967 Six-Day War (NBC News). This timeline breaks down the preceding events from the late 1880s to the present.
• Support the Palestinian Youth Movement, the Palestinian Feminist Collective, and Students for Justice in Palestine.
• Support Jewish Voice for Peace and If Not Now.
• Support B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.
• Read and share this guide by Solutions Not Sides on how to denounce antisemitism and Islamophobia when discussing the Israel-Palestine conflict.
What’s life like in the Gaza Strip?
Human Rights Watch calls the Gaza Strip an “open-air prison,” the largest one in the world. Though “Israelis, Jewish settlers, and foreigners” may enter and leave the area as they please, millions of Palestinian residents are prohibited from leaving (Human Rights Watch). Many are descendants of those forced into refugee camps only because they were Palestinian Arabs when Israel was founded (Al Jazeera).
For the last 16 years, the Israeli government has enforced an almost total blockade on goods entering or leaving the Gaza Strip. The unemployment rate is 40%. 65% of people live below the poverty line. Under the status quo, residents of Gaza—most of whom are children under the age of 18—will be forced to remain within the 25-by-7-mile region for their entire lives (NBC News). They are stateless people without Israeli citizenship (Amnesty International).
As progressive Jewish organization If Not Now said in a statement, “We cannot and will not say that today’s actions by Palestinian militants are unprovoked. The strangling siege on Gaza is a provocation” (@IfNotNowOrg).
What historical examples can help us understand the current conflict?
The attacks by Hamas on Saturday are being called “Israel’s 9/11.” Hundreds of Israelis have been killed or taken hostage, including 260 slain music festival attendees. And just like the Bush regime after 9/11, Israel’s right-wing government is vowing “retaliatory” attacks (Business Insider).
For another historical example, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International both compared Israel’s legal system, which “methodically privileges Jewish Israelis and discriminates against Palestinians,” with the apartheid regime of white-ruled South Africa (HRW, Amnesty International).
In South Africa, multiracial democracy only arrived after apartheid fell due to international condemnation and a domestic struggle for human rights waged by groups like the African National Congress (ANC). The ANC’s armed paramilitary wing was led by future Nobel Peace Prize laureate Nelson Mandela (South African History Online).
“I know first-hand that Israel has created an apartheid reality within its borders and through its occupation. The parallels to my own beloved South Africa are painfully stark indeed,” said Archbishop Desmond Tutu (The Guardian).
What’s happening now?
On Monday, Israeli Defense Minister Yoah Gallant announced an indefinite blackout and “complete siege on Gaza” that blocks water, food, and fuel since Israel is fighting “human animals.” The 2.3 million residents of the Gaza Strip are overwhelmingly civilians, not members of Hamas in any capacity, though the fact that Hamas runs the government of the Gaza Strip means that attacks on “Hamas infrastructure” could target anything from residential buildings to hospitals and post offices (MSN). Most Gaza residents are children. Soldiers prevent them from leaving Gaza while the Israeli military levels entire neighborhoods.
“There are no safe places in Gaza right now, you see decent people being killed every day. I am genuinely afraid for my life,” said journalist Hasan Jabar (MSN). The Biden administration had harsh words for the tragic deaths of Israeli civilians, but nothing to say about the devastating attacks on civilians in Gaza carried out with American weaponry. Biden “did not try to press” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to allow food or water to enter the Gaza Strip or refrain from subjecting millions of civilians to urban warfare (Axios). “You can’t coexist” with the people of Gaza, said Senator Marco Rubio. “They have to be eradicated” (The New Republic). Such dehumanizing language has historically preceded horrifying atrocities (The Conversation).
What’s the solution?
We must rally for an end to the bloodshed, but forcing millions of Palestinians back into effective incarceration is not peace. As former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said:
“Those who care about humans without any discrimination, those who care equally about a Jew and an Arab, must ask themselves a very simple question: What exactly is their idea of a cessation of hostilities? That the Palestinians are going to lay down their arms and go back into the largest open-air prison in the world, where they are constantly suffocated by the apartheid state?” (Common Dreams).
Progressive Jewish organizations support Palestinian liberation because the Israeli state no more represents all Jewish people than the former Trump administration represents all Americans. We must denounce any institution that supports the Israeli government while saying nothing about the Palestinians being killed with American-produced bombs. We must oppose any unconditional weapons transfers that will be used to flatten apartment buildings, schools, and places of worship.
The Palestinian liberation movement is larger than any one organization. The end of the occupation is the first step towards real peace.
• After Hamas attacked Israeli settlements and military bases, Israel responded with airstrikes and a “siege” against the Gaza Strip.
• The Gaza Strip is an “open-air prison camp” where 2.3 million residents are being denied food, water, and fuel as collective punishment.
• Anti-racism requires ending Israeli apartheid and discrimination against Palestinians as a precondition for peace.