The soldiers “are going through a series of exercises so that they will be ready for the operation,” an Israeli military spokesman stressed on Monday. This irrelevant piece of information was emphasized in order to balance out a much more important piece of news that said something very different: the ground invasion in the Gaza Strip has been postponed.
The military spokesman was referring to the infantry only; the air force has never stopped its “exercises,” as Palestinians in the range of the bombs know all too well. While we’re waiting for the impending carnage on land, the carnage from the air that has already happened seems to be relegated to a mere detail. But more than 5,000 Palestinians have died since the beginning of the siege, mostly women and children, while the Israeli government spoke of hundreds of Hamas leaders hit – thus confirming, with the force of the numbers, that the war is being waged against civilians. Nearly 500 died between Sunday and Monday alone, according to sources from the Strip – despite the fact that the invasion has been delayed. They died waiting for it.
On Monday, the UN Office of Humanitarian Affairs reported that more than half the population of Gaza is now displaced. They have left their homes, which they’re very unlikely to ever see again, whether a collective expulsion is forced on them or not, because those homes will all have been destroyed in the meantime. As the UN has reminded us, mass forced relocation is also a crime.
And it’s a particularly heinous crime in this case, since on several occasions the people who were displaced to the south with the promise of safe corridors were bombed regardless. So much so that they fled north again, seeking a safety that is harder and harder to find, inside a cage that is becoming smaller and smaller and more and more of a target.
But according to the “realism” of those egging on Israel’s rage, the very concept of crime, and even the concept of international law, are now irrelevant. The UN and international tribunals are no longer of any use – at a point when even Russia, notorious for its aggression against Ukraine, is now asking the Security Council to condemn Tel Aviv – and those who still believe in them are hopelessly naïve. Except that we’ve all discovered that if diplomacy is set aside and lawfulness thrown to the winds, all that remains is the barbarity of violence. This is what has been unfolding for 17 days now, with only a few timid calls for restraint from the sidelines, of no consequence.
Stopping the slaughter Israel is carrying out has nothing to do with recognizing its right to defend itself – this is where Israel’s supporters, whether in good or bad faith, are wrong. Rather, the new development everyone must reckon with is Israel’s vulnerability in the face of the barbaric Hamas attack: even the most unyielding critics of the Tel Aviv government must come to terms with that. This new development should be thoroughly investigated to understand what really made the terrorists’ success possible (probably beyond their own expectations), how much this was influenced by the incompetence of the most right-wing government in the country’s history, how it was all affected by the rifts the government fomented across Israeli society and in its relationship with the armed forces.
Meanwhile, giving Netanyahu a free hand in vengeance, even advocating for his supposed right to collective punishment, and singing paeans to the god of war as we have come to do (usually more boisterously in Italy than elsewhere), do not correspond to a desire to protect Israel. They only come in response to an impulse to exterminate, with cynical arrogance, a problem that one has failed to address; to eliminate it even from one’s own thoughts. But that “problem” is the very existence of the people who inhabit those lands, the Palestinian children, women and men who are dying, murdered, by the thousands.
Nothing, not even Israel’s illegal and violent longtime occupation, justifies Hamas’s obscene butchery. But just as much, nothing justifies the slaughter that Israel is carrying out with impunity – not even the Hamas attack, and not even the fact that the framework of international law is now fractured in several places. If someone who openly flouts the rules is the same person who is claiming they don’t apply anymore, Netanyahu’s absolutist realists should do some serious reflection.
What stands in the way of such an elementary realization, now that even the numbers of deaths are no longer in balance between the two sides? Many of the Israelis slaughtered by Hamas were children; and many Palestinians killed by Israeli bombs were also children. The discourse on the causes of such extraordinary pain can wait for later. Violence is a recurring fact of history, including when it is mad and blind, but now Israel must be stopped, not in the name of what has been but in the name of what can still be.
There will be no possible peace, not even the most flimsy and temporary, if Netanyahu is allowed to continue on the path of bloodshed; or downright pushed to do so. Only an immediate ceasefire can leave at least a glimmer visible of a path towards peace.
Those who are refusing to ask for a ceasefire – i.e. almost all Western governments, with the Italian one front and center – bear joint responsibility for the war-torn future that is being built today. And which the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are already paying for, as they wait for the ground invasion.
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