On October 7, one of the world’s most contentious regions was thrown into chaos once again when Palestinian militant groups, led by Hamas, launched a massive attack on Israel and initiated fighting to a degree not seen since 1948, according to CNN. Thousands have been killed in both Israel and Gaza. Israel declared war on Hamas the following day, halting deliveries of food, water, electricity, and fuel into the occupied territory and warning Palestinians to leave for their own safety. In the crossfire on both sides are thousands of civilians and massacres that threaten to change the face of war in the international system.
I was given the opportunity to visit Israel in May 2022 with a group of college students, with the goal of learning more about how peace might someday develop in this controversial region. I learned quickly that there is no clear answer. Both Israelis and Palestinians believe that they have a fundamental, indigenous right to live on the same land, and neither government has been committed enough, in the 75 years since the United Nations partitioned the land between the two groups, to their peaceful coexistence. While it is unclear exactly what caused the attack to occur now – Al Jazeera hypothesizes three potential triggers, including increasingly right-wing Israeli policies and Arab normalization of Israel’s existence – peace now seems further than it ever has.
One thing must be established – Hamas is a terrorist organization, as declared by the U.S Department of State. Their fundamental goal is the elimination of the Israeli state and the Jewish people. Hamas’s extreme position is shown through the way that they conducted their attacks.
The stories and images of dead lining the streets across Southern Israel are heartbreaking – of the 1,200 killed thus far in Israel, over a thousand are civilians, Al Jazeera adds. Many of the dead are young people, as The New York Times describes. The attack started at a music festival, where hundreds of festivalgoers were killed, and an unknown number were abducted into Gaza. At least 20 were shot in their cars in Sderot, where two years ago I met students who ran programs dedicated to fostering Palestinian-Israeli peace.
And in the small farming Kibbutz, Kfar Azza, the closest Israeli community to Gaza, my group met a woman named Chen, who described the resiliency and hope in humanity required to live in a war zone. She showed us her collection of mortars that had landed in her yard, but emphasized that 99 percent of the time, the community was idyllic. Now, The New York Times reports, the Kibbutz is flattened and hundreds in the community are dead.
But there is inhumanity on the other side, too. The Israeli response has been to fire rockets back into Gaza, where citizens are trapped, CNN adds. At least 950 Palestinians are dead, mostly civilians as well. So many of the Israeli communities along the border, which were hit the hardest as a result, were full of individuals who were critical of their government’s policies oppressing the Palestinian people. As The New York Times describes, an antigovernment banner reading “Shame!” could be seen hanging from a water tower in Kfar Azza, a haunting reminder of government divisiveness and the horrors that have resulted.
The brutal goals of Hamas, however, are one of the reasons why Israeli occupation continues. From a realist perspective, it is clear – Israel understands that if they lift their thumb off of Gaza, they may well cease to exist as a state. But clearly, as Time describes, this solution was both unsustainable and inhumane in its own right. As Israel’s government has grown further to the right, the lid tightened on the pressure cooker. And now it has exploded.
But pressure cookers have been exploding around the world, leading to death and destruction and wars that have no winner, even when they technically do. From Russia in Ukraine, to the Taliban in Afghanistan, to Chinese treatment of Uyghur Muslims, as The Atlantic describes, it seems as though actions committed by so many of the world’s leading powers are flying in the face of international law regarding the laws of war, human rights, and genocide. And it will prove to be nothing short of devastating to the international community.
This is obviously not the first time these norms have been violated – in fact, the argument could be made that they have been violated more than they’ve been kept. But normalizing these violations is inexcusable. The murder of civilians in the name of war is inexcusable. In a world in which so many are desensitized to violence, countries must not fall into the trap of justifying devastation and hatred. In these scenarios, no one wins.
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