A man holds an injured child in a Gaza hospital.

Injured Palestinians evacuated from the Indonesian hospital in the north of the Gaza Strip receive care at Nasser hospital in the Palestinian territory’s southern city of Khan Yunis, on November 20, 2023, amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas movement.

(Photo: -/AFP via Getty Images)

If Israel’s Assault on Gaza Isn’t Terrorism, What Is?

I realize my own gaping hypocrisy if I were to say that when an Israeli child is killed by a zealot’s rocket it is terrorism, but when a Palestinian child is killed by a government’s carpet bomb, it is justice.

When I last wrote about the pulverization of the Gaza Strip, only 8,500 people had been killed, a mere 12,000 tons of high explosives dropped. That was then. What has happened since would make my prior writings seem as though I was describing a time of relative peace.

In total, Israel has pounded Gaza with 25,000 tons of high explosives, resulting in 19,667 ( reported) deaths so far, an estimated 70% of which being children and women, and injuring over 52,000. An injury in Gaza does not connote a sprained ankle; here it could mean a blown-off limb, disfigurement, shrapnel to the eyes, paralysis, brain or hearing damage (and that doesn’t even account for the psychological toll). And, in Gaza, where nearly half the population is children, more than 6,000 youngsters have been killed—not counting those still missing or buried beneath a heap of rubble. Over 85% of the population has been displaced as well.

What has been documented in the Gaza Strip sounds like a macabre description of hell; many Palestinians who have survived the bombardment are suffering from bloody diarrhea, jaundice, hepatitis, and a slew of other illnesses. To such suffering the local medical system can merely shrug, for supply cuts by the IDF have brought Gaza’s healthcare to its knees.

When children, women, and men are hammered with bombs, not attacked by a ragtag group of Muslim insurgents, but by a government’s multimillion dollar warplanes, we consider it what? Revenge? Warfare? Justice?

Now, let’s imagine those figures reflected Israeli casualties. One can assume, with reasonable supposition, how the international community may react. If 19,667 Israelis were dead, more than a third of which kids, celebrities would be posting the Israeli flag captioned with messages of solidarity, university heads would be issuing statements condemning antisemitism, idealogues and pundits would articulate fierce arguments on behalf of the Jewish nation. I draw this conclusion because, well, this has been happening. An act of antisemitism abroad is magnified by the media and condemned across domains. An act of Islamophobia, however, like the six-year-old Palestinian-American boy fatally stabbed 26 times for being Muslim or the three Palestinian students shot in Vermont, fritters through the newscycle, ends up in Western society’s periphery, and is ultimately dismissed. These examples are symbolic of the international community’s general indifference to one sort of murder and its outrage at another. All those dead Palestinians are stomachable. Those dead Israelis? Absolutely not.

Clearly, we, as a global society, do not respect Israeli and Palestinian lives in equal measure. As a Palestinian friend told me in a WhatsApp voice recording: “To try and justify our humanity to the world is perhaps what disheartens me the most.”

We must be firm and consistent in our application of the label ‘terrorist.’ What constitutes ‘terrorism’? What makes a person a ‘terrorist’? A keffiyeh-wearing, Arabic-speaking, Allah-worshiping young man who commits a violent act for political reasons is easily assigned the label of terrorist. What was done to Israel on October 7 was considered a terrorist act, and rightfully so. What was done to the World Trade Center in 2001 was considered a terrorist act, and rightfully so. But how then is Israel’s response, which will likely kill 20,000 people before Christmas, not state-sanctioned terrorism?

Likewise, how was the American invasion of Afghanistan and then Iraq not an incarnation of terrorism? The answer is that we are selective with our use of the term. Yes, global Islamic terrorist franchises, be they Daesh or Al Qaeda, commit heinous acts and are swiftly designated by governments as terrorist organizations—indeed a warranted title. But when children, women, and men are hammered with bombs, not attacked by a ragtag group of Muslim insurgents, but by a government’s multimillion dollar warplanes, we consider it what? Revenge? Warfare? Justice?

Valid arguments can be made that Israel is, in the macro, jeopardizing its national security by incubating hostilities internally and stoking similar flames abroad. Rising from the ashes of Gaza will be the traumatized orphans and nothing-left-to-lose widowers whose sole interest will be to exact revenge against those who stole their families, homes, and livelihoods. Bombs, unless used to eliminate a population entirely, create more, not fewer, terrorists. Never fewer. Through one form of terrorism another is created.

But the issue at hand is far greater. It is not a matter of semantics, but instead a dangerously choosy moral hierarchy. I am afraid what has been unfolding within this tiny speck on the planet that has so captivated the world highlights a blindspot of hypocrisy in our collective response to mass murder. Lets suppose a political entity launched an attack killing more than 19,000 people, the majority being women and children; it cut off electricity, food, and medical supplies; referred to its opposition as “human animals”; stifled resources and aid which left infants unattended, dead, and decomposing in the abandoned Al-Nasr hospital; bulldozed sleeping civilians to death who were sheltering outside a hospital; sniped a mother and daughter inside a church; and whose offensive claimed the lives of more than 60 journalists. Let us pretend the aforementioned is not Israel’s rap sheet. What term best describes such an operation? If it is not terrorism, then I am not sure what is.

The New York Times recently reported that Israel’s military was in possession of a 40-page plan, code-named “Jericho Wall,” that outlined Hamas’ attack on southern Israeli communities more than a year prior. Reports also suggested that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked one of his closest aides to explore ways to “thin out” Gaza’s population. Such revelations underscore suspicions that what is being done now in Gaza has little to do with countering terrorism, and is instead motivated in large part for political and territorial gain, using a tragic event to garner public support for a war effort and to justify the occupation of the strip.

Bombings are perhaps not the most egregious thing on the IDF’s record. Recent reports circulating now indicate Israeli soldiers shot civilians sheltering inside a school point blank, execution-style. Israel has targeted medical facilities, notably the Al Shifa hospital. Evidence suggests the IDF has used white phosphorus artillery rounds, and has abused detainees by blindfolding, stripping naked, binding their hands and feet, and beating them. The killing of Reuters photojournalist Issam Abdallah has been said to be a deliberate act by Israel. All of this is simply terrorism by another name.

But a German friend tells me otherwise. She cannot criticize anything Israeli, she explains, for the residual guilt of the Holocaust has rendered Israel itself as synonymous with the Jewish people. To this I disagree. We honor victims of the Holocaust not by withholding criticism of Israel, but by holding the state accountable. No government ought to be allowed to act with impunity.

In seeing the hell unfolding in Gaza—visceral, stomach-twisting imagery of mutilated boys and girls, charred, mangled bodies sprouting from the rubble of a once-home—I argue that a series of terror acts, perpetuated by the American-backed Israelis, is why so much blood has been spilled. In saying this I do not exonerate Hamas, as they are a terrorist organization too, but I realize my own gaping hypocrisy if I were to say that when an Israeli child is killed by a zealot’s rocket it is terrorism, but when a Palestinian child is killed by a government’s carpet bomb, it is justice. Terrorism takes many forms. Israel and its American benefactors are just the latest example.

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