A wounded child is brought to UAE Hospital in Rafah after Israel bombed tents full of displaced Gazans, killing at least 45 and severely wounding hundreds
A wounded child at UAE Hospital after Israel bombed tents full of displaced Gazans in Rafah, killing at least 45 and severely wounding hundreds.
(Photo: Hani Alshaer/Anadolu via Getty Images)

The Rafah Tents Massacre Exemplifies Israeli and US Disdain for Palestinian Life

This reality is a disastrous tragedy for Palestinians, defining the United States for generations in a negative light and ultimately harming Washington’s soft power and any genuine effort to do good in the region.

“Today, my body was a TV’d massacre that had to fit into sound bites and word limits filled enough with statistics to counter measured response. And I perfected my English and I learned my U.N. resolutions,” Rafeef Ziadah recited in a presentation of her now-famous 2011 poem, “We Teach Life, Sir.”

Palestinians have long been melted down into various data points, often relegating them to vague and dehumanizing categories in the so-called “modern” world. Israel’s latest invasion of Rafah in southern Gaza and the May 26 massacre of roughly 45 Palestinians—where most were burned alive in the strike on their displacement tents—exemplifies this reality as Israeli leaders and the United States continue to show disdain for Palestinian life. This reality is a disastrous tragedy for Palestinians, defining the United States for generations in a negative light and ultimately harming Washington’s soft power and any genuine effort to do good in West Asia and the Arab world at large.

No one should confuse this utter disdain for Palestinian lives as a new phenomenon. A now-viral lecture clip by Refaat Alareer, a Palestinian poet and writer killed in Gaza in December 2023, highlighted Israel’s approach to Palestinian life not long before his death. Our Harsh Logic, a book authored by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) veterans group Breaking the Silence, highlights Israel’s tacit elimination strategy against Palestine and Palestinians.

The grotesque images of a beheaded child and lifeless, charred bodies of the victims—including a father and his young son burned alive while embracing each other—should constitute Biden’s red line.

According to the group and additional Israeli veterans hoping to shine a light on their country’s atrocities, Israel arbitrarily kills Palestinians based on whimsical criteria like a person’s gate, the color of their car, or what number they are in line as part of its larger plan to eradicate Palestinians. Central to this strategy is Israel’s claims that these atrocities are “accidental” when murders occur.

This strategy is prominent in Israel’s genocidal assault on Gaza, which has killed, maimed, and starved Palestinians to “thin” the population. Israeli leaders clearly defined this effort early in the invasion. Major human rights groups—including those in Israel—have identified atrocity after atrocity in this regard, from strikes on churches and mosques to massive bombardments of entire neighborhoods.

In nearly every instance, Israel has played a game of deception, first denying the strikes took place and later conducting dead-end “investigations” into the matter. Israeli investigative journalists even managed to identify artificial intelligence mechanisms in place for targeting, which incorporates the criteria identified in Our Harsh Logic on an industrial scale with far fewer protections for innocent civilians.

In this context, Israel’s massacre in the designated safe zone of Tal al-Sultan—just outside of Rafah—marks one of the darkest moments since Israel invaded Gaza last October. This strike killed 45 people, burning alive mostly women and children stuck in their United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) displacement tents.The Israeli attack was less than 200 meters from a major UNRWA shelter and Israel likely knew of explosive materials near their target that risked igniting surrounding tents.

Like clockwork, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attempted to claim it was an “accident” the next day, arguing that the “tragedy” would be investigated. Yet, the bombings of tents and safe zones continue—including in the same area as the May 26 massacre.

Such an incident amid a broader Israeli assault on Rafah raises serious questions about U.S. President Joe Biden’s so-called red line on a Rafah invasion. The grotesque images of a beheaded child and lifeless, charred bodies of the victims—including a father and his young son burned alive while embracing each other—should constitute Biden’s red line.

Yet Washington refuses to budge, reflecting the lack of a serious red line when it comes to Israel. Such inaction carries consequences, ultimately resulting in the United States’ ongoing decline in popularity across the Arab world—a problem that may become generationally irredeemable without a major course correction.

Indeed, the region understands the double standards defining U.S. foreign policy, as if the differences in response to the wars in Ukraine and Gaza are not obvious enough. To be sure, Arab publics have long experienced the realities of a “human rights and democracy for me, but not for thee” approach to the region. Accountability for atrocities often ends in West Asia and the broader so-called “Global South,” as witnessed in places like Syria, Yemen, and Libya. Democratic backsliding in Tunisia and Egypt offers additional examples of how Washington and the West reserve people-centric policies for their societies and not for those countries where they desire a more extractive relationship.

Yet even when the United States works to advance human rights and democracy initiatives in the region, its inaction on Israel and Palestine ultimately leaks into its broader regional efforts. Any good Washington hopes to provide through such initiatives faces setbacks as local partners refuse U.S. money on principle. The people selected to implement U.S. contracts—key allies to advance a brighter future for the region—understand the hypocrisy of any such cooperation.

This ultimately harms both the region and U.S. interests, highlighting the sheer absurdity of Biden’s approach to Israel’s genocidal war. Washington’s regional popularity is taking a beating at a time when it proclaims to be fighting a protracted battle between good and evil—purportedly those who support human rights, democracy, and dignity versus repression, autocracy, and shame. Yet any casual observation of U.S. action and inaction on Palestine suggests the United States sits on the wrong side of that equation—effectively operating in a “might makes right” mindset.

As such, no one wins. Palestinians suffer under the boot of Israeli fascism while the broader region continues to function along the lines of autocracy and repression. Meanwhile, the United States sheds any semblance of benevolence—as if it had much in the first place—as the region confirms its negative views of the principal supporter of their repressive regimes and Israel.

One could define the outcome of U.S. soft power as poetic justice if it were not for the tragedy of it all—for Palestinians in particular. Yet Rafeef perfectly encapsulated this feeling in her poem:

I wish I could wail over their bodies.
I wish I could just run barefoot in every refugee camp and hold every child, cover their ears so they wouldn’t have to hear the sound of bombing for the rest of their life the way I do.
Today, my body was a TV’d massacre
And let me just tell you, there’s nothing your U.N. resolutions have ever done about this.
And no sound bite, no sound bite I come up with, no matter how good my English gets, no sound bite, no sound bite, no sound bite, no sound bite will bring them back to life.

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