Israel had the world’s sympathy and squandered it

A window with tattered posters listing the names of Israeli hostages taken by Hamas

[Previous: Netanyahu speaks the language of genocide]

There was a moment when Israel had the whole world’s sympathy.

That moment was right after the October 7 attacks, when Hamas massacred hundreds of defenseless civilians and took hundreds more hostage. It was the single bloodiest day for Jewish people since the Holocaust. However, Hamas’ violence was indiscriminate, and the victims weren’t just Israelis. They were from many countries, including Thailand, Argentia, Germany, France, Russia, China and America.

Immediately after that brutal assault, it’s fair to say the world was on Israel’s side. Hamas committed an act of war, and no nation would have blamed Israel for responding in kind. If they’d targeted Hamas in a targeted and proportionate way, they could have had an international coalition to support them.

But Israel’s government has utterly squandered that sympathy. Instead of trying to limit civilian casualties – or even pretending to – they’re engaging in massive and indiscriminate bombing of Gaza. They’ve destroyed homes, hospitals, refugee camps, entire neighborhoods. It’s an unprecedented act of collective punishment.

Even worse, the Israeli military has blockaded Gaza, cutting off food to the Palestinian people. It’s a deliberate effort to create famine, and it’s working:

On October 9, Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, declared a “complete siege” of Gaza, stating, “There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel, everything is closed.” Since then, the Israeli bombing campaign has destroyed Gaza’s agriculture and infrastructure, and Israel has restricted aid coming from outside the Strip.

…In February, the deputy executive director of the World Food Programme, Carl Skau, announced that one out of every six Gazan children under the age of 2 was acutely malnourished.

That brings us to this week, when Chef José Andrés of the charity World Central Kitchen says that Israel intentionally bombed a convoy of volunteers delivering food aid, killing seven:

“This was not just a bad luck situation where, ‘Oops, we dropped a bomb in the wrong place,'” Andrés told the Reuters news agency, stressing that his team’s vehicles were clearly marked and “it’s very clear who we are and what we do.”

“They were targeting us in a deconflicting zone, in an area controlled by IDF. They, knowing that it was our teams moving on that road… with three cars,” he said, adding that he believed the seven aid workers killed by the strike in Gaza were targeted “systematically, car by car.”

Whatever crimes Hamas has committed, there’s no possible justification for preventing the delivery of supplies to starving people. This, more than anything else, shows that Israel’s plan is to commit genocide against the Palestinian people. I don’t use that word lightly, but there’s no other word that fits.

I agree with Bernie Sanders’ remarks:

“Too many people do not understand that the Israel of today is not the Israel of…20 to 30 years ago,” Mr Sanders told news outlet Crooked Media. “It is a right-wing country, increasingly becoming a religious fundamentalist country where you have some of these guys in office believe that God told them they have a right to control the entire area.”

… “So bottom line, Hamas committed an atrocity in my view, Israel certainly had the right to defend itself, but it did not and does not have the right to go to war against the entire Palestinian people,” Mr Sanders continued. “Two-thirds of the casualties and deaths are women and children. Unacceptable.”

Israel has even lost Senator Chuck Schumer, one of the most senior Jewish elected officials in America and for a long time one of its staunchest defenders. In a blistering speech, he called Netanyahu an obstacle to peace and argued that Israel is making itself a pariah state:

“I also believe Prime Minister Netanyahu has lost his way by allowing his political survival to take precedence over the best interests of Israel.

He has put himself in coalition with far-right extremists like Ministers Smotrich and Ben Gvir, and as a result, he has been too willing to tolerate the civilian toll in Gaza, which is pushing support for Israel worldwide to historic lows. Israel cannot survive if it becomes a pariah.”

(If you don’t know these names: Itamar Ben-Gvir is an Israeli politician who heads a party called Jewish Power, and the ideological descendant of a Jewish supremacist named Meir Kahane who called for ending democracy and replacing it with theocratic law based on the Torah. Bezalel Smotrich is a religious nationalist who advocates illegal settlements in both Gaza and the West Bank and expelling all Palestinians who object. Netanyahu has brought both their parties into his coalition, forming the most right-wing government in Israel’s history.)

The bleak irony is that none of this death and destruction is likely to break Hamas’ grip on power. Israel doesn’t even appear to have a plan for accomplishing that. It’s tempting to view their attacks on the Palestinians as motivated by sheer rage. It’s destruction with no goal other than “you made us suffer, so we’ll make you suffer more”.

However, I can’t help wondering if there’s a strategy behind all the bloodshed – a bottomlessly cynical and cruel strategy, but a strategy nonetheless. It’s not about getting rid of Hamas. It may be an attempt to create an us-against-the-world mentality.

It could well be that Netanyahu’s goal is to make Israel – and by extension, all Jewish people – so despised that Jews everywhere will feel as if they have to suppress their own opinions and throw their support to Israel, because they’ll have no other allies anywhere. It allows him to say, “The world will always hate you, and only strong leaders like me can protect you.” Or at least, if this isn’t his goal, he may view it as a beneficial side effect.

War is a potent driver of tribalism; that’s one reason why fundamentalists and fanatics glorify it. It coerces everyone to fall in line and obey, to keep the boundaries between Us and Them sharp and unbridgeable. It tamps down empathy and discourages people from trying to understand different viewpoints. Whether they’re Jewish or Muslim, Israeli or Palestinian, or for that matter American, Russian, evangelical Christian or Orthodox, all warmongers desire a world where everyone outside their own tribe is an enemy to be oppressed or destroyed without mercy. It serves the interests of the worst people on every side.


  1. JM says

    I suspect there is some strategy involved but for Netanyahu it doesn’t go beyond what Netanyahu has to do to stay in power. From Netanyahu’s perspective he has to keep the extreme right behind him because there is no way he can get the moderates or left wing to support his government. So he has to do what the right want, let the Israeli army loose with no constraints to take revenge on Palestinians in general. The rest is just side effects.

  2. Katydid says

    Don’t forget the stated goal of removing all those pesky “sub-human/animals” from the land so Jared Kushner can build luxury beachfront condos.

    Or, heck, just removing those pesky “sub-human/animals” from the land completely. Israel was plopped down in the middle of an established land with natives whose roots go back at least 3,000 years, and Israel has been trying to wipe them all out ever since.

    It’s a telling bit of projection that Israel rants about the fertility of the Palestinians, when the land grabs in the West Bank and Gaza are to provide homes for the ultra-Orthodox, who themselves average 6.5 children.

    • says

      I’m not trying to be pedantic, but it’s important to point out: if you go back 3,000 years, the inhabitants of this land were Jews. That’s where the ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah were situated (even if their control of it was never as complete as the Bible depicts).

      It’s not wrong to say that the Jewish people have a historical claim on this land. They were expelled from it by a conquering empire, scattered across the world for two millennia of persecution, and they were dreaming of return long before the modern state of Israel was established. Whether that historical claim should grant them any rights today, or whether there should be a statute of limitations, is a more difficult question.

      • says

        That’s really not that difficult a question: special pleading (as in, the Jewish people’s unique historical circumstances leading up to the creation if Israel) should not trump anyone’s basic human rights. All these history lessons are well and good, but they’re not leading anyone to a just and stable settlement of their disputes — they’re just being used by all the various parties to show why they can’t, and should never be expected to, give an inch or make any substantial concession to achieve a just and lasting peace.

        This is why I keep saying that, regardless of who is right or wrong, it’s simply not in America’s interests to keep on supporting Israel at all. Right or wrong, we’ve done what we could to help and support them, and this is where it’s got us: hopelessly divided against ourselves, to the benefit of nearly all of our enemies, foreign and domestic. We really should just step back from the Middle East and pay more attention to Ukraine. And China. And Iran….

  3. says

    Yes, there IS a strategy behind this genocidal war on Palestinian people; and it’s a strategy in which Likud, Hamas and the Iranian mullocrats/Kuds Klan are knowingly and actively cooperating. All three of those ruling factions — but especially Beginyahu and his corrupt chums — are waging war to silence and marginalize domestic opposition to their own failures to properly serve their own respective peoples. And all of those factions are using this war to divide the American people against ourselves and undermine our ability to work for our own interests abroad. (And I’m pretty sure Putin also has no problem with how this is all playing out; and neither do the US Republicans.)

  4. drken says

    The fact that a lot of otherwise very pro-Israel people in the US are starting to call for a cease-fire is a good sign that some sort of sanity is starting to take over. Unfortunately, US support of Israel is not for the benefit of US Jews (although there are a lot of Jews who are unconditional defenders of whatever atrocity Israel is involved with at the moment), but for the Evangelists and associated conservative Christians who don’t actually support Israel, it just fits into their plans for Jesus (the only Jew they actually care about) to come back. At least most hardcore Jewish Zionists go after Palestinians because they think they’ll never get a sincere peace deal from them, the Evangelicals would turn one down.

  5. Katydid says

    Well, Israel has found two patsies to take the blame for the WCK volunteers–the latest in a long string of assassinations of aid workers and journalists. No doubt they’ll be given a huge “pension” and ride off into the sunset.

  6. Allison says

    IMHO, the genocide of the Palestinian people which we’re seeing is the logical, if horrible, consequence of the founding myth of Israel — that this was the land that God gave exclusively to the Jews. Displacing and/or elimination of the native population was an inevitable consequence. (See “Manifest Destiny” and what happened to the native inhabitants of what is now the USA.) For a long time, the leaders and intelligentsia of Israel have tried to come up with some policy which would allow them to claim their ancestral land without (overtly) committing genocide. But their actions — replacing Palestinian-owned land with Jewish settlements (thus making them obvious targets) and undermining any attempt by the Palestinians to form a government — have led inevitably to what we’re seeing today. I could see this happening already 50 years ago. It’s like Manifest Destiny in what is now USA, and the European settlers did to the native inhabitants what Israel is doing to the Palestinians.

    There’s always been a feeling among Jews, especially Israelis, that the non-Jewish world is against them, so I don’t know that Netanyahu had to do anything to stoke this.

    • says

      What’s been happening in the last few decades is NOT “inevitable” or a “logical consequence.” It is, in large part, the result of a long train of incompetent and shortsighted choices made by pro-Palestinian terror groups like the PLO, and by nearly all of the surrounding Arab states (and, yes, by the USA too). Those Arab states could have chosen peaceful relations with Israel, but instead chose to allow their turf to be used as a launch-pad for continuing terrorist attacks against Israelis, and to pretend-promise they’d all get together and wipe Israel off the map, sometime in some near-but-not-really-visible future. And it was their spineless vacillation that perpetuated the cycle of eliminationist violence that Israel uses to justify its eliminationist violence.

      • Silentbob says

        What’s been happening in the last few decades is NOT “inevitable” or a “logical consequence.” It is, in large part, the result of a long train of incompetent and shortsighted choices made by pro-Palestinian terror groups like the PLO, and by nearly all of the surrounding Arab states (and, yes, by the USA too). Those Arab states could have chosen peaceful relations with Israel, but instead chose to allow their turf to be used as a launch-pad for continuing terrorist attacks against Israelis, and to pretend-promise they’d all get together and wipe Israel off the map, sometime in some near-but-not-really-visible future.

        Wow, this is astonishingly naive. The PLO tried multiple times to make peace with Israel. They wanted a “two-state solution”. Israel deliberately scuppered peace talks routinely by making impossible demands, and promoted Hamas as a rival to the PLO. Yes, you read that right. Israel promoted Hamas.

        In a 2019 Likud party meeting, Netanyahu gloated to his compatriots: “Anyone who wants to thwart the establishment of a Palestinian state has to support bolstering Hamas and transferring money to Hamas. This is part of our strategy – to isolate the Palestinians in Gaza from the Palestinians in the West Bank.”

        And an Israeli Ministry of Intelligence document published by +972 magazine on Oct. 30 makes it even more explicit. In it, officials refer to the option of the Palestinian Authority taking control of Gaza as the worst possible outcome – because it would remove “one of the central obstacles preventing the establishment of a Palestinian state.”

        Indeed, Netanyahu has been intent on keeping the Palestinians divided under two ruling groups: the diplomatically successful Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and the militant Hamas in Gaza. (The Palestinian Authority, led by the vestiges of the PLO, was created as an interim self-governing body meant to pave the way for an independent Palestinian state, but that has not happened.)

        So long as these two groups are divided, Israel has cover to avoid negotiating with the Palestinian Authority on the grounds that the group doesn’t represent all Palestinians.

        Hamas has become a convenient foe for Israel, in contrast with the diplomatic success of the Palestinian Authority. In a 2015 interview, Israel’s Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich explained that Hamas’s militancy, and therefore its illegitimacy on the world stage, was a boon for his government’s political strategy.

        “The Palestinian Authority is a burden, and Hamas is an asset,” Smotrich said. “It’s a terrorist organization, no one will recognize it, no one will give it status at the [International Criminal Court], no one will let it put forth a resolution at the U.N. Security Council.”

        The point was to keep a perpetual state of war, so Israel could have an excuse to never recognise Palestine, and keep grabbing more and more land. With apologies to Adam and Raging Bee, anyone who still believes Israel ever wanted peace, or would ever accept any kind of Palestinian state, is kidding themselves. There was even an Israeli prime minister (Rabin) who was assassinated by Israelis for even considering peace with Palestine. The total destruction of Palestine was always the goal, since 1948. It’s just a decades long project of perpetuating a state of war, and grabbing more and more land until there’s nothing left.

        • says

          The PLO tried multiple times to make peace with Israel.

          AFTER years of terrorist acts against Israelis — with support and encouragement from their Arab “allies” — that: a) alienated huge numbers of people all over the world who would have otherwise been sympathetic to their cause and grievances; and b) gave Israel the excuse they needed for their initial occupations of the Sinai, Gaza, West Bank, Golan Heights, and southern Lebanon. Where do you think Beginyahu got the idea to support their most extreme, eliminationist enemies? It was the PLO who showed how such enemies could work to Israel’s advantage.

          Mind you, I’m not saying Israel is or ever was blameless here. To adapt a line from “Kingdom of Heaven,” “All have claim, all have blame.”

  7. Lind O says

    Yes, OF COURSE theres a ‘strategy’- OF COURSE it was never about getting rid of hamas.

    its about genocide. full stop. for the entire israeli state, by the way.

    israel was *built* on genocide. it *needs* genocide to continue existing. therefore, it must by its own definition of existence, love genocide. And unlike the u.s or australia, its neither large enough nor old enough to have people who can claim otherwise with a strait face and not lie. (plus they indoctrinate all their kids in school)

    the only difference between the israeli left and the israeli right, is ‘how much genocide’. thats the only difference.

    is it possible your theory is the case *in addition*? sure. but don’t fool yourself into thinking the plan was ever to let palestine exist, or to let palestinians exist as anything other then effective slaves.

    Any conversation with a palestinian or anyone who’s knowledgable about the past 100 years will tell you this.

    • says

      I’m going to push back on some of this.

      Israel in its modern incarnation as a state has existed for 75 years. The original settlers, who pushed the Palestinians out and took the land, are long dead.

      Of course there are Israelis who want to continue this process of colonization; many of them are in Netanyahu’s government. But it must also be the case that there are millions of people who live there not because they “love genocide”, but because they were born there and because it’s the only home they’ve ever known. Was this only enabled by conquest and dispossession of the previous residents? Yes, very much so, but you could say the same for almost any patch of habitable ground on the planet.

      I don’t think the eradication of the Palestinians was inevitable or was the goal from the beginning. I think there was a time when coexistence and a two-state solution was conceivable. Unfortunately, because of decisions made by powerful parties on both sides, it’s very hard to see how that could happen now.

  8. says

    There was a moment when Israel had the whole world’s sympathy.

    There was a moment after 9/11 when the US had the whole world’s sympathy.

    Then, the US lashed out like a stupid, enraged, imperial power, and crushed a couple of minor nations like they were bugs. There are parallels. Ironically, 9/11 was (arguably) a response to US imperialism in the Middle East, and its unilateral support of Israel. But we don’t want to talk about that.

  9. says

    Marcus: I tend to believe that Islamist terrorist acts against Western nations, and 9/11 in particular, were motivated more by the sight of Muslim people starting to discuss, if not embrace, Western secular and democratic ideas and Western culture; of which Arabs and Iranians calling for greater personal freedoms and democracy are examples. The bigoted extremists realized they were starting to lose their exclusive hold on their own people, and incited conflict, mistrust and hatred to stop that from happening. And thanks to the willing (if not knowing) cooperation of bigots on our side, they succeeded.

  10. Katydid says

    There’s a very good Youtube on the topic of whose land it is: “This Land is Mine” –>

    The land does not and has not ever “belonged” to any one people because throughout history, one group or another has claimed it. However, in the 20th century before 1948, there was a mixture of ethniticies and religions that lived more-or-less peacefully with one another, the Palestinian Muslims being the largest segment.

    Then, because of a situation in Germany, the UK and the US and other European nations chose that land for the European survivors of the Holocaust–despite the fact there was already an established population living there, some of them with roots going back 3000 years. Thus the Nakba, which Wikipedia succinctly puts it, “The Nakba was the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in Mandatory Palestine during the 1948 Palestine war through their violent displacement and dispossession of land, property and belongings, along with the destruction of their society, culture, identity, political rights, and national aspirations.”

    And it never stopped. White Europeans kept murdering the native population and pushing them off their own land to provide room for more white, hyperfertile ultra-Orthodox “settlers”. With weapons countries like the US send them because they feel guilty over what happened in Germany a century ago.

    Meanwhile, what does Israel do for the US, the hand that feeds it? They spy on them–over and over and over again their spies are caught. And during the 7 days war when the US was supplying them weapons against the native population and providing American military, Israel bombed the USS Liberty–a ship they knew was there for their benefit and was clearly identified–and claimed “Ooopsies!” (Does any of that sound familiar? Of course it does, it’s their go-to move!)

    South Africa–a country that’s certainly an expert on apartheid–is sickened by Israel’s policies. Ireland–a country that experienced religious violence and apartheid in the north–is also sickened by Israel’s policies. They both have gone to the ICJ for justice for the Palestinians. Other countries are waking up and realizing the myth of Israel doesn’t excuse the decades of atrocity it’s committed.

  11. Gwen the Devout says

    I’m not justifying the killing of civilians by any means (and that bloody “settlement” BS has got to stop; I’m firmly in the “Netanyahu must go” camp), but one issue a lot of people seem to be ignoring is the vast tunnel system beneath Gaza, which represents a very real security threat to Israel. Getting rid of the tunnels is going to take a long time. It will almost certainly be necessary to find a new home for the Gazans.

    On a related note: does anyone have any ideas for a realistic path to long-term peace once this war is at an end?

  12. Katydid says

    Israel itself dug tunnels and used them, but I suspect a lot of their screaming and carrying on is sheer fantasy. Just like they insist every toddler is a dreaded Hamas operative and must be starved and bombed to pieces, every electrical/internet conduit is now a Hamas tunnel.

    As for finding a new home for the Gazans; how about the land Israel stole from them in order to claim a land their ancestors had never lived? Before the latest genocide attempt, many Palestinians still had keys to the houses their grandparents lived in before they were forced off their own land into ghettos.

    The whole thing is ridiculous, along the lines of someone from Venezuela demanding a farm in Virginia, claiming at some point in time thousands of years ago, some putative Native American ancestor might or might not have lived in Virginia and the Venezuelan is partially descended from the population that crossed the Bering Strait and migrated down into the Americas, so therefore some Virginia farmer whose family has owned that farmland since the 1600s must now go live in a ghetto, stripped of food and electricity, to satisfy the Venezuelan’s demands.

  13. lpetrich says

    I agree. I would have been sympathetic to that war, because I have zero love of Hamas, but Israel’s leadership and armed forces totally blew it by the way that they are fighting this war. They have been gratuitously destructive, and sometimes downright murderous, and they made no effort to get Gazan civilians on their side. Just the opposite — consider numerous online videos of Israeli soldiers showing extreme disrespect for Gazans.

    They deserve to be suspected of genocide. I’ve seen their apologists argue that what Israel is doing is not genocide because it is mass negligent homicide rather than mass murder.

    • says

      Actually, that would make Israel’s actions MORE of a genocide, since all those years of knowing, negligent homicide amount to a PREMEDITATED mass-murder campaign. Those apologists owe someone an apology for not being able to even apologize right.

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