Last Saturday, the militant group Hamas launched some 500 rockets from Gaza into southern Israel, overwhelming the country’s Iron Dome missile defense system and hitting residential neighborhoods as well as a hospital. Militants then stormed blockaded areas, shooting at civilians, and kidnapping men, women, children, and the elderly. The death toll has climbed to 1,200 and Americans are among the captives.
The attack represented the deadliest incursion into Israel in 50 years. In a video claiming responsibility, Mohammed Deif, commander in chief of the Hamas military arm Al Qassam Brigades, called the violence retaliation for "The Zionist colonial occupation.”
Israel has responded with violence. Israeli jets have been carrying out indiscriminate retaliatory airstrikes. According to the Israeli Defense Forces, more than 6,000 bombs have already been dropped on Gaza. Israel has also cut off the region from fuel, power, and water, demanding the hostages be freed.
In a televised address immediately following the attack, Israel’s right-wing prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared war and warned that “The Israel Defense Forces will act immediately to destroy Hamas’s capabilities." Netanyahu told residents of Gaza to “get out now.” On Friday, the Israeli Ministry of Defense and the Israeli Defense Forces echoed this warning, telling the UN to evacuate the northern Gaza strip within 24 hours.
Gaza is a densely populated region. It is about double the size of Washington, D.C., and has 2.2 million residents, about half of whom are children. The northern strip alone is home to 1.1 million people. Watchdog group Human Rights Watch and other observers describe Gaza as an “open air prison” due to the movement restrictions faced by the residents.
The UN has said warned that the evacuation Israel is demanding is impossible.
Israel's government has made clear that disregard for the wellbeing of civilians in Gaza is policy. Israeli President Isaac Herzog, defended Israel's actions, which observers have called "collective punishment," declaring, “It is an entire nation out there that is responsible.”
“It is not true this rhetoric about civilians not being aware, not involved,” he said at a press conference Friday. “It’s absolutely not true. They could have risen up. They could have fought against that evil regime which took over Gaza in a coup d’etat.”
According the Gaza Ministry of Health, the airstrikes have already killed 1,500 Gazans, including 500 children. According to UN experts, “Indiscriminately killing civilians in the context of hostilities, with no regard for the principles of distinction, precaution and proportionality, is a war crime.”
The U.S. under the Biden administration, meanwhile, has voiced complete support for Israel and its right-wing government, which threatens to potentially widen the conflict, which has been simmering for years. Gaza has been under blockade by Israel for 16 years and Palestinians are heavily restricted in their movements. Moreover, Netanyahu's right-wing government has overseen an expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
In the wake of last weekend's attack, Netanyahu's leadership has come under fire for fueling the violence. Haaretz. The Israeli newspaper put blame on his government for the escalating violence, writing that "Signs of an outbreak of hostilities began in the West Bank, where Palestinians started feeling the heavier hand of the Israeli occupier,” and noting that "Hamas exploited the opportunity in order to launch its surprise attack." A recent poll showed Israeli’s losing their appetite for Netanyahu’s government.
For more on the Israel-Gaza situation, check out these pieces by OptOut participating outlets:
- “Yes, This Is Israel’s 9/11” from The Intercept
- "Israel Warns Palestinians on Facebook – But Bombings Decimated Gaza Internet Access" also from The Intercept
- "In Israel-Gaza Conflict, Solutions Are In Short Supply" from WhoWhatWhy
- "War in Israel further highlights dysfunction in U.S. Congress" from Indiana Capital Chronicle
- "We’re facing unprecedented horror. Why is Biden adding fuel to the fire?" from +972 Magazine
- "Israel’s Response to Its 9/11 Risks Missing the Lessons of America’s 9/11" from The Nation
- "Hamas assault echoes 1973 Arab-Israeli war" from New Jersey Monitor
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