Article last updated Wednesday, Oct. 18. Photo courtesy of Hosnysalah via Pixabay.
On Oct. 7, over a thousand Israeli civilians and military personnel were killed by Hamas, the governing authority in Gaza, a Palestinian territory. The coordinated attack saw a quick and ongoing retaliation by Israel declaring war on Gaza. Lead by Israel’s thirst for revenge, an utterly catastrophic human rights disaster is being manufactured.
This recent escalation is a part of a much greater conflict that goes back more than 75 years. The basic picture is that starting in the 1940s, many Jews, primarily fleeing in the wake of the Holocaust and other repression, relocated to the region of Palestine due to ancient ties to the land. The region was populated mainly by Palestinian Muslims, with a small Christian and Jewish population. Through wars and settler colonialism, indigenous Palestinians were continuously displaced in mass. Violent conflict has persisted ever since.
But, recent events can not be understood on their own. There is a much-needed but mostly ignored context.
“A Complex Issue”
If the Israel-Palestine conflict has become widely known for anything, it is its apparent complexity. It is presented as a difficult conflict that requires intense and deeply thoughtful consideration. Both sides need to be carefully considered. The problem, blame, and solutions are as far from straightforward as it gets.
However, the late Jewish political activist Michael Brooks countered this notion. “It’s super simple. There is one group who has enormous Power. It’s the most powerful country in the Middle East. It’s backed by the United States. It acts on another population of people with total impunity. It is never held accountable for anything.”
Brooks continued, imagine the conditions of the Palestinians but with one simple change: call them Jews. Imagine 5.4 million “Jewish refugees ended up in the West Bank and Gaza, and an Arabic government in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv had an open-air prison… [In] Jewish Gaza, they bombed with white phosphorus, they killed civilians indiscriminately, and they had no provisions for medicine. They had an embargo that blocked food. The electricity wasn’t running. There was an over 48% unemployment rate, and life expectancy and malnutrition statistics were horrifying. One of the major policymakers in this hypothetical ‘Arabic Palestinian state’ said, ‘We need to put those Jews on a diet.’…we’d all have no problem understanding what that was.”
Gaza: Concentration Camp of 2.2 Million
Over 2 million Palestinians, 40% of whom are children under 14 years old, are born and forcefully condemned to a life of utter misery in Gaza, which has been described as the “world’s largest open-air prison.”
The plight of the Palestinians has one simple explanation: it’s intentional Israeli policy. The incredibly dense metropolitan area does not have even the slightest sliver of sovereignty. Israel maintains an illegal and inhumane blockade. This deadly sea blockade deprives Gazans of delivery of essential water, food, medicine, and fuel. By land, Gaza is enclosed by a multi-billion dollar border wall. Moving and visiting the West Bank, the other major Palestinian territory, is practically impossible for Palestinians. The one land crossing to Egypt, which is ruled by a tyrannical US-backed (and actively supported) military dictatorship, also remains closed. Gaza air space is also restricted.
Even before the recent escalation, 96% of water consumed in Gaza was unfit for human consumption. Half the working-age population is unemployed. Even the flow of something as basic as concrete is banned from importation. The UN estimates that in 2023 (prior to the current intensification), 58% of Gazans depended on humanitarian aid, and 29% lived in households in extreme or catastrophic conditions– a dramatic rise from only 10% in 2020.
It is no surprise that in 2021, Amnesty International, the world’s largest human rights group, investigated Israel and conclusively decided that their treatment of Palestinians is Apartheid, the institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over another.
This isn’t a well-kept secret. Israel’s current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, openly says it: “Israel is not a state of all its citizens,’ but rather ‘the national state of the Jewish people, and them alone.” In 2018, the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, passed a law “affirming Israel as the ‘nation-state of the Jewish people’…[and] the right to self-determination ‘is unique to the Jewish people,’ and [have] establish[ed] ‘Jewish settlement’ as a national value.”
Gaza is a “place where large numbers of people (such as… refugees or the members of an ethnic or religious minority) are detained or confined under armed guard.” That is Merriam-Webster’s definition of a concentration camp. Gaza is a concentration camp. Half the population, over a million people, are children. The borders are firm. There is no escape.
Israel Apartheid: Jim Crow on Steroids
For 75 years since the birth of the state of Israel, Palestinians have been, and continue to be, erased from their land. Their homes and businesses are demolished, their crops uprooted, and their rights denied.
Before the founding of Israel in 1948, 90% of the land was inhabited by indigenous Palestinians. But war broke out, and the cleansing of Palestine began. 1948 saw 800,000 Palestinians forced out of their homes and off their land. Today, 3% of land in Israel and East Jerusalem is owned by Palestinians. Only 40% of the land in the West Bank is inhabited by Palestinians. The land here is fragmented, and Palestinians are subject to harsh security checkpoints and can not easily travel through the West Bank. Today, in total, 6 million Palestinians are denied the right to return to their homes.
Roads are segregated. Families are denied the right to live together if they have a different legal status, which is determined by where they are born. Palestinian citizens in Israel are denied living in 68% of all the towns. A quarter of Palestinian prisoners are held without charge or trial.
The continued theft of Palestinian land is concentrated in the West Bank. Jewish settlements, illegal under international law, are at an all-time high. In 2020, 18 Palestinian structures were demolished in a week. Over 1,000 building permits were issued to Jewish settlers–a single one was given to a Palestinian.
The same disparities extend to murders. Between 2008 and before the recent escalation, for every 100 deaths, 5 were Israeli, and 95 were Palestinian. 1,793 Palestinian children were killed in conflict between 2000-2017.
In response to the recent atrocities committed by Hamas, Israel has supercharged its campaign of ethnic cleansing with no regard for international law or basic human decency. Following the Hamas attacks, Israel has ordered a “complete siege” of Gaza. Water, food, electricity, and all imports are banned. Targeting a whole civilian population is collective punishment, a war crime. Hospitals are on the brink of collapse and are running out of backup fuel. The Red Cross warns that “without electricity, hospitals risk turning into morgues.”
Gaza, a dense urban area, is being reduced to rubble. In six days, Israel dropped 6,000 bombs; the most the US dropped in Afghanistan in one year was 7,423. Gaza is the size of the city of Detroit. It doesn’t stop there; Israel is using the chemical weapon white phosphorus in their bombing of civilian population centers.
Israel has ordered all 1.1 million Palestinians, including all those in hospitals, in Northern Gaza to relocate to the south. Originally, giving them just 24 hours. The UN has called this demand “impossible” and warned of “devastating humanitarian consequences.” Force transfer is a war crime, and it is ethnic cleansing at an unprecedented scale.
400,000 Palestinians are displaced inside Gaza. UN relief workers are rationed under 32 oz of water a day. “Gaza is running out of water, and Gaza is running out of life,” said UN Rescue Workers chief Philippe Lazzarini. Without power, no desalination and sewage control is making the water even more toxic.
The Israeli government and media are quick to frame this as the “Israel-Hamas” war. This is propaganda. Hamas can’t be singled out. Six Hamas leaders have been killed; it only came at the price of over 800 dead Palestinian children. Israel can destroy Hamas, but only if they are willing to eliminate all of Gaza too.
As of the morning of Wednesday, Oct 10, Israel has bombed a hospital, killing an additional 500 Palestinians, Palestinians allege. Already, there are at least 3,478 dead, 1,300 trapped under rubble, and over 12,000 wounded Palestinians. There are no signs of this stopping as the bombs continue and the Israeli invasion of Gaza looms.
When Russia targets civilian infrastructure, uses white phosphorus bombs, and occupies foreign land, there is no problem seeing what it is, calling it out, and sanctioning the crimes. How does this apply to Israel, a nation founded on ethnic cleansing? It’s simple: they are the largest recipient of US weapons of war since WWII. Support is overwhelmingly bipartisan, but President Biden and the Washington establishment continue to give Israel “unwavering US support.” Biden even said previously, “If there weren’t an Israel, the US would have to invent an Israel.” Why the double standards?
It is easy to reduce this conflict to one deplorable side vs. another deplorable side. This ignores the asymmetry. Which people continue to be forced off their land, are racially segregated and regularly have cease-fires broken against them? One side builds rockets from water pipes; the other, we have given $317 billion in aid. If the forced eviction of half a population doesn’t show how subjected Gazans are to Israeli rule, what can?
Hamas are horrible, but their violence pales in comparison to Israel’s. There is a great deal of concern over the 190 hostages taken by Hamas, but what about the 2.3 million hostages in Gaza? Or the over 1,200 Palestinians imprisoned without charges?
It is beyond human empathy and comprehension to know what it would feel like to spend one’s whole life in such an inhospitable open-air prison while having your land, rights, and people actively being destroyed. What options do Palestinians have? What should they do while the world (particularly the Western world) stands by and supports their oppressors?
The idea of a “perfect victim” must be rejected. The horrific retaliatory crimes of victims do not disqualify them from justice. American slaves rebelled and slaughtered men, women and children indiscriminately. Native Americans murdered and scalped European settlers. Yet, this violence is largely irrelevant, as it should be no surprise when the violence of brutal colonial systems produces brutal retaliation.
“The Israeli government may have just declared war, but its war on Palestinians started over 75 years ago. Israeli apartheid and occupation — and United States complicity in that oppression — are the source of all this violence,” a statement by the Jewish Voice for Peace.
Again, this doesn’t justify Hamas’ actions, but it does explain it; “As long as the occupation persists, as long as the apartheid system persists, resistance to it is going to persist,” says Mohammed El-Kurd, Palestinian writer.
To focus predominantly on the crimes of the victims preserves the violent structure of oppression that produces such desperation.
Finding Humanity Amidst the Rubble
The attack on Israel, the slaughter of innocent men, women, and children, the blatant disregard for human life, and the desire to ethnically cleanse all Jewish people from Israel and the occupied territory is atrocious. What happened on Oct. 7 was a crime. Antisemitism hasn’t gone away. There are antisemites who co-opt Israeli violence to spread their hate and lies.
However, being against a system of explicit Jewish supremacy isn’t antisemitic. Equating all criticism of Israel with antisemitism is antisemitic. It undermines and suppresses the diverse voices of the countless Jewish academics, politicians, religious leaders, activists and ordinary people who condemn and resist Israel’s brutal occupation and Apartheid.
NDSU has a land acknowledgment. We recognized our horrific crimes of settler colonialism and the genocide of indigenous peoples. Likewise, we take a firm stance against racism and discrimination. While I could never speak for the Indigenous community, these statements are stained by hypocrisy with our continued support of ethnic cleansing in Israel and around the globe. Settler colonialism and racism, both in the past and in the present, must be denounced.
NDSU leadership can not bathe in the same water of hypocrisy. Our university leadership showed solidarity with the Ukrainians. It is time to do the same for Palestinians, too. Cowardice is not an option.
Perpetrators, financiers, arms dealers and public and military leadership who facilitate these crimes against humanity and war crimes must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. No one is above the law. If rule-based international order is supposed to be taken seriously, it starts at home. We can’t lecture others on the global stage while our government and close allies have their hands soaked in blood.
There must be an unconditional cease-fire immediately. Palestinians must be allowed to return home and restored with their land and dignity. Arabs and Jews have a long history of peaceful coexistence in the region. Racism and division aren’t inherent. The racist colonial domination must be uprooted so compassion and solidarity can grow once again.
While North Dakota has criminalized boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel, a strategy instrumental in the takedown of Apartheid in South Africa, this is no excuse for inaction. Divided, we beg; organized, we demand. Free Palestine.