‘The Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) building in Gaza City, which was destroyed in the so-called “Operation Cast Lead” in December 2008/January 2009, in September 2009.’ Image: Expertista. Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

Six months on from 7 October, the Israeli war on Gaza continues. The recent withdrawal of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) from Gaza should not be misunderstood. It is a tactical decision, made in response to the ongoing hostage negotiations taking place in Cairo, as well as growing international pressure on Israel to temper its bellicosity towards the civilian population.

Last month, Israel killed seven aid workers from World Central Kitchen (WCK). These deaths brought the number of aid workers killed in Gaza to over 196, but since then the number has risen to 203. Israel apologised for the strikes on the WCK convoy, declared them to have been a mistake resulting from significant errors and protocol violations, and removed two senior officers from their posts. However, there is reason to think the strikes were a deliberate targeting of the aid convoy as a means of undermining humanitarian efforts in Gaza. Firstly, the WCK convoy had agreed and coordinated its movements with the IDF beforehand. Secondly, the IDF launched three separate strikes on the WCK vehicles in turn. Finally, the convoy was marked with the WCK logo, and all the passengers were civilians. Another example, taking place earlier this year, illustrates why this incident cannot be considered in isolation.

In January 2024, Israel made unsubstantiated claims about the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA); Israel claimed that a dozen or so employees of the agency were members of Hamas. The US, alongside the UK and several other Western countries, decided to suspend their funding to UNRWA based on Israel’s word alone. Even if the accusation against UNRWA was true, the organisation employs 30,000 people across the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. The complicity of a negligible amount of people in atrocities would not justify the suspension of funds to an organisation responsible for the provision of humanitarian relief to millions of people.

The United States admitted its inability to verify Israel’s claims. Moreover, the EU’s humanitarian chief said in March that there was no evidence from Israel to back up its claims about UNRWA. A UN-led review likewise found no evidence to support Israel’s claims, but, as the title of Julian Borger’s Guardian articles ruefully notes, the ‘damage to [the] aid agency is done’. Most recently, the German government announced that it would resume the funding to UNRWA that it had suspended. This is especially telling, given the virtually unconditional support Germany has otherwise provided Israel.

We therefore find ourselves in a situation in which Israel is responsible for the destruction of the healthcare infrastructure of Gaza and makes unfounded claims about the only relief agency able to provide significant help, while simultaneously urging its allies to suspend funding to this very same agency. In doing so, Israel has denied itself the right to be trusted when it declares that attacks against aid convoys are mere accidents. The BBC reported on 5 April that:

‘The Erez Gate in northern Gaza will be reopened for the first time since the start of the war, and the Israeli container port of Ashdod—which is close to Gaza—will accept humanitarian supplies. More aid from Jordan will also be allowed to enter via the Kerem Shalom Crossing.’

If Israel could reopen the Erez crossing and begin to use the port of Ashdod before, and had chosen not to do so, despite the displacement of 1.7 million Palestinians, the logical implication is that it has been intentionally withholding aid. A Palestinian physician, Dr Duha Shellah, commenting on the distribution of aid into Gaza, told me that the ‘Volunteer committees responsible for coordinating and delivering aid have been targeted by the Israeli military.’ Likewise, hearing from colleagues, family, and friends, she speaks of ‘people eating grass, animal food, anything to survive.’ Israel’s claims about UNRWA led to $450 million worth of funding being suspended; in light of the dire plight of many Palestinians, this shows the fatal consequences of false—or at the very least unfounded—claims.

The essential negation of the human in the loop in the use of Lavender shows the depths of callousness the IDF have reached in their war on the people of Gaza.

Recent revelations about the Israeli military’s application of Artificial Intelligence (AI) programs in the war on Gaza by the IDF also provide a sinister window into how Israel has been conducting its war. The Israeli journalist and filmmaker Yuval Abraham, writing for +972 Magazine, has reported that ‘The Israeli army has marked tens of thousands of Gazans as suspects for assassination, using an AI targeting system with little human oversight and a permissive policy for casualties’. The system is called ‘Lavender’ and its existence and use in the current war was revealed by six Israeli intelligence officers. The obvious question arises—are these Hamas or Islamic Jihad militants being targeted? And, even if they are, would using AI to target them be justified?

Well, Abraham reports that the six Israeli officers say ‘the Israeli army systematically attacked the targeted individuals while they were in their homes—usually at night while their whole families were present—rather than during the course of military activity.’ The explanation for this was simple. One of the intelligence officers declared that ‘We were not interested in killing [Hamas] operatives only when they were in a military building or engaged in a military activity. On the contrary, the IDF bombed them in homes without hesitation, as a first option. It’s much easier to bomb a family’s home. The system is built to look for them in these situations.’

In The Guardian’s report, one Israeli officer said that, in using Lavender, ‘I would invest 20 seconds for each target at this stage, and do dozens of them every day. I had zero added-value as a human, apart from being a stamp of approval. It saved a lot of time.’ In the field of AI the idea of the ‘human in the loop’ is a cornerstone of ethical and practical thinking. The idea is that human beings, informed (and constrained by) their reason and ethics, can be accountable for the actions of AI. The essential negation of the human in the loop in the use of Lavender shows the depths of callousness the IDF have reached in their war on the people of Gaza.

The figures for the dead in Gaza are unlikely to be exact. However, given the ID numbers provided to residents in the small enclave and the corroboration of figures from various sources, it seems probable that the figure of over 30,000 dead is accurate. As of April, Save the Children reported that over 13,800 children had been killed in Gaza. In the face of this catastrophe, what role have Western powers played?

It is without a doubt true to say that virtually unanimous and unconditional support has been provided to Israel, particularly from the United States. A recent Human Rights Watch (HRW) report documents that ‘The US has approved more than 100 weapons transfers to Israel since October 7, and exported 8,000 military rifles and 43,000 handguns in 2023’. The BBC, in an article documenting where Israel gets its arms from, reported that ‘The US is by far the biggest supplier of arms to Israel, having helped it build one of the most technologically sophisticated militaries in the world.’

‘What is happening in Gaza now is more like a mediaeval siege, in which the whole population is punished in retaliation for crimes committed by a small minority of combatants.’

The exact percentage figure of Israeli imported arms coming from the US is 65.6%. Trailing in second place is Germany, responsible for 29.7%. Although the United Kingdom does not provide as much as the other two powers, it nonetheless sold £42 million worth of arms to Israel in 2022 and since 2015 has granted arms export licences to Israel worth £442 million. This includes helicopters, aircraft, missiles, grenades, armoured vehicles, and tanks. Whatever drop in the larger ocean this constitutes, the UK has armed Israel and continues to provide it with diplomatic and political support at the United Nations.

Apologists for Israel tend to recycle the well-worn phrase that ‘Israel has a right to defend itself’. Ahmed Benchemsi, the MENA spokesman for HRW, however, described the situation differently to me: ‘What is happening in Gaza now is more like a mediaeval siege, in which the whole population is punished in retaliation for crimes committed by a small minority of combatants.’ Collective punishment is illegal under international law, so all of Hamas’s crimes on 7 October notwithstanding, Israel’s actions against the population of Gaza are illegal. A recent HRW report covering the West Bank also noted that:

‘Israeli settlers have assaulted, tortured, and committed sexual violence against Palestinians, stolen their belongings and livestock, threatened to kill them if they did not leave permanently, and destroyed their homes and schools under the cover of the ongoing hostilities in Gaza.’

This is corroborated by Dr Mahmoud Wohoush, a doctor working in the West Bank, who told me that ‘Settler violence in the West Bank tremendously increased after Oct 7th and…the Israeli forces protect them [the settlers] and provide any needed support as many of the settlers are their relatives and friends.’ He goes on to say that ‘This escalation has been fostered by the politicians, particularly the extremists in the current right wing government. They are following the instructions from their religious leaders to kill the Palestinians to uproot them from their land.’ We often hear of the fanaticism of Hamas, sometimes generalised to the Palestinians at large, yet how often do we hear on Western airwaves of the fanaticism of Israeli settlers in the West Bank who think, by divine right, that the land of ‘Judea and Samaria’ should be granted to them alone?

These accounts, by HRW and by Palestinians on the ground, are crucial to note for two reasons. Firstly, the Israelis are committing crimes in the West Bank, where there is no Hamas, nor any seriously organised armed Palestinian resistance group fighting them. Secondly, the war in Gaza is giving cover to the dispossession and abuse of Palestinians in the West Bank, something which has been ongoing for decades, long before 7 October.

The war in Gaza represents—and is—a war on the Palestinian people. The high civilian death toll, combined with the suspension of funding to UNRWA, the application of AI, and increasing settler violence in the West Bank, prove that beyond a reasonable doubt.

Further reading

Religion and the Arab-Israeli conflict, by Kunwar Khuldune Shahid

Bloodshed in Gaza: Islamists, leftist ideologues, and the prospects of a two-state solution, by Kunwar Khuldune Shahid

An Islamic (mis)education about Israel, by Hina Husain

Is the Israel-Palestine conflict fundamentally a nationalist, not a religious, war? by Ralph Leonard

Young, radical and morally confused, by Gerfried Ambrosch

    1. Israel has consistently said it is waging a war against Hamas and not the Palestinian Arabs per se. The fact that Hamas refuse to give up their hostages perpetuates this war (and in breach of the interim ruling by the International Criminal Court of Justice). The unique nature of this war (urban warfare where Hamas, a militant group who do not wear uniforms, hides amongst its population) unsurprisingly results in the destruction of infrastructure including the homes of civilians. If Israel did want to wage war against the entire Gazan population all would be dead by now such is the scale of destruction so far. It is Hamas who have chosen the battlefield and it is they who are entirely responsible for all the casualties following the atrocity committed by them on 7 October 2023. It should not be forgotten that Israel left Gaza in 2005 and in 2006 Hamas took control of Government in a violent coup. Since then there have been rockets fired into Israel on a daily basis resulting in a blockade of weaponry. As for humanitarian aid Israel has consistently stated there is no limit to aid entering Gaza. The problem is one of distribution particularly from Hamas stealing the food and selling it on the black market. https://twitter.com/cogatonline/status/1786405284157509687

      1. Sorry Tim for the late reply, I’m only seeing this now.

        Israel has consistently said many things, but the words of a belligerent is hardly to be trusted. Israel’s actions, even if inadvertent, or indifferent, have created intolerable conditions for Palestinians in Gaza. As both the occupying power and the one with overwhelming power it has a responsibility to protect civilians. It has failed to do this. No references to Hamas will absolve Israel. Secondly, There is no evidence whatsoever that the hostages are the reason for Israel’s actions, given the largest numbers of hostages released came from negotiations. However repulsive you think it may be to negotiate with Hamas, it is nonetheless a fact that no Israeli military operation has been as successful as negotiations with Hamas. This is without even mentioning the hostages killed by Israel as a result of their own actions. There the argument for the necessity of the war falls apart, on this point alone.

        The ‘Israel left Gaza argument’ is only true so far as Israeli battalions and settlers had left in 2005/2006. But to think Gaza was not de facto monitored, contained and circumscribed by Israel by air, land and sea is an absurdity.

        Happy to argue this further but we must get past vague talking points and be willing to contest the details of the case in exact and precise terms.

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