The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has erupted into a terrible new wave of violence. To date, thousands of people, including over 1,500 Palestinians and over 1,200 people in Israel, have been killed. Thousands more have been injured. If not stopped, the violence seems destined to escalate to ever more devastating levels.
The violence began October 7, when armed members of the militant Palestinian group Hamas — based in the Gaza Strip, the tiny Palestinian territory Hamas controls — began attacking communities in southern Israel.
Mohammed Deif, a commander of Hamas’ military wing, said that the attack was a response to Israeli abuses of Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, and Jerusalem. “In light of the orgy of occupation…and in light of American and western support [for Israel] and international silence, we've decided to put an end to all this," Deif declared.
Hamas gunmen killed hundreds of people, including children, across 20 locations in Israel. Victims included attendees of a music festival, members of kibbutzim communities, and people on the street. Hamas also took an estimated 150 hostages.
As Israeli commander Itai Veruv described the attacks, “It’s not a war or a battlefield; it’s a massacre…It’s something I never saw in my life, something more like a pogrom from our grandparents’ time.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that “We will exact a price that will be remembered by [Hamas] and Israel’s other enemies for decades to come.”
Israeli military forces have launched intensive airstrikes against the densely populated Gaza Strip, their stated purpose being to kill Hamas members. The strikes have hit mosques, hospitals, and schools. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have reportedly fled their homes.
Prior to the Hamas attacks, Gaza already had been under a 16-year Israeli blockade that turned the territory into what humanitarian groups have called “the world’s largest open-air prison.” The Netanyahu government is now intensifying the blockade by cutting off all electricity, food, and water to Gaza’s 2.3 million people until Hamas’ hostages are released.
In the United States, President Biden has said “We stand with Israel” and announced shipments of military assistance to Israel.
As costly as this conflict has been to both sides, it could become worse. Israeli forces could invade Gaza. Hamas could execute its hostages. The conflict could expand to include other nations and organizations: Israeli forces recently both exchanged fire with the militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon and bombed targets in Syria.
The most pressing danger posed by the current violence is the devastating toll the current blockade of Gaza will have on the Palestinians deprived of vital supplies. Gaza’s only power plant has already shut down for lack of fuel. The territory’s largest hospital is dependent on generators likely to run out of fuel in a few days. As the hospital’s director, Dr. Muhammad Abu Salima, commented, “If electricity stops, our hospitals will become nothing but mass graves.”
One possible source of help for Palestinians is the route from Gaza to Egypt, which could allow people to leave and aid to arrive. Egypt has supported Israel’s Gaza blockade in the past but may make an exception now. Egypt, Israel, and the United States are apparently negotiating about this.
Preventing a Disaster
Both Hamas and the Netanyahu government are guilty of using violence indiscriminately to kill civilians. Both are also guilty of using violence recklessly and stupidly in pursuit of goals that violence cannot achieve.
Hamas’ recent attack has not advanced justice for Palestinians but only invited brutal retaliation and empowered the most hawkish elements in Israeli politics. Netanyahu’s collective punishment of Gaza will not advance Israeli security in the long run; it will only deepen hatred of Israel and empower Hamas or similar groups. As Rabbi Miriam Grossman recently said, “The answer to all of this grief cannot be mass murder.”
Israeli forces should secure the border with Gaza to protect against further attacks. However, the Israeli bombing of Gaza must stop, and the flow of food, fuel, and other supplies to the territory must resume. Until that happens, the route through Egypt should be used to get refugees out of — and humanitarian aid into — Gaza.
The United States and other nations must not support, through military aid or other means, the Netanyahu government’s punishment of Gaza’s people. Rather, the international community should encourage an end to this punishment, a de-escalation of the violence, and negotiations between Israel and Hamas for the release of the hostages.
U.S. citizens should consider contacting the Biden administration by phone, at 202-456-1111, or email to advocate the above course of action. They can also contact their representatives in the House and Senate to urge them to support this approach.