Zoltan Nemeth

Ethical considerations on the war in Gaza

Both Israeli and Palestinian lives matter

After the horrific terrorist attack on October 7, on the holiday of Simchat Torah, Jews around the world (including the author of this article) held commemorations, prayed for the deceased and for the return of the hostages, expressed solidarity with their Israeli brothers and sisters, and tried to draw the world’s attention to the dire situation of the Jewish state. In the first days, much of the world was united in its support of Israel and condemned the barbaric acts of Hamas. However, as the intensity of the Israeli response increased, this support gradually declined. Today, the vast majority of the world is calling for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza.

Israel’s war goal is to eradicate the terrorist organization Hamas and free the kidnapped hostages, for which the use of military force is essential, so it seems incomprehensible why the world expects Israel to stop the war.

Many countries see however a discrepancy between Israel’s declared goals and the reality of the war. Even Israel’s most important ally, the United States, is calling on Israel to “stop the indiscriminate bombing of Gaza”. At the time of writing, the death toll in Gaza has exceeded 22 000, more than two thirds of whom are women and children. The number of wounded has risen over 58 000 and hundreds more may still be under the rubble.

Israel blames Hamas for the civilian deaths, which uses the Palestinian population as human shields. Hamas deploys its combat units near residential areas, schools and hospitals, and its tunnel system runs underneath them, so they could only be eradicated at the cost of civilian lives. Israel claims that it only attacks Hamas units and infrastructure. So why are more and more people accusing Israel of deliberately attacking civilians?

One reason for this may be Israel’s war rhetoric, which often fails to distinguish between Hamas and the Palestinians in Gaza.

For example, Israel’s President, Isaac Herzog said in a press conference that “the entire nation of Gaza are responsible for what happened in Israel”. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu compared the fight against Hamas to the biblical war against Amalek. In the Bible, however, after Amalek attacked the Jewish people, God called on Israel to wipe out not only the warriors, but the entire people of Amalek, every man, woman and child. Accordingly, Likud MKs posted on Twitter about the total destruction of Gaza, even the use of nuclear bomb. And former Knesset Deputy Speaker Moshe Feiglin said in a TV interview: “Gaza must be destroyed, burned like Dresden [in World War II]”.

Beyond the words, the implementation is also a cause for concern. IDF spokesman Daniel Hagari said about the bombardments of northern Gaza: “The aim of the attacks is not to be precise, but to cause maximum damage”. The results support this statement. Two thirds of the buildings in northern Gaza were destroyed or damaged. The northern part of Gaza is practically uninhabitable. According to US intelligence, almost half of the bombs dropped were unguided, less accurate and therefore posed an even greater threat to the densely populated civilian population of Gaza.

Israel has a military strategy, the Dahiya doctrine, which is consistent with the above. It was developed by former IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot during the 2006 Lebanon war. According to this, if the enemy deploys its weapons among civilians, a disproportionate response is required, destroying civilian infrastructure, causing massive damage and destruction, in order to turn the population against the terrorists. Gadi Eisenkot is a member of the current war cabinet.

Israel’s response to these accusations is that before bombing the northern territories, it called on the population to leave the area, and therefore does not take any responsibility for those who remain. At the same time, a number of people who fled to the south have also been victims of Israeli bombardments. There are reports of air strikes on fleeing civilians and on people seeking shelter near refugee camps and hospitals. Some people turned back when they saw that they were not safe in the south either, so at least they could die in their own environment, while others did not want to leave old or sick relatives alone in the north.

Meanwhile, Israel is capable of targeting Hamas members, even in densely populated residential areas, as demonstrated recently in Beirut. Instead, the destruction of high-rise buildings in which civilians are located, using bombs weighing hundreds of kilograms, is causing resentment for many. It is particularly painful that this strategy has led to the deaths of several Israeli hostages, therefore Israel is endangering the lives not only of Palestinians but also of its own citizens. The brutal treatment of civilians remaining in the north was also demonstrated by the tragic case of three Israeli hostages who were shot dead by IDF soldiers while waving white scarves and shouting for help in Hebrew.

At the start of the war, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said about the terrorists: “They are human animals, and we will act accordingly”. However, the implementation was aimed at the entire population of Gaza: “Gaza will be under total siege, there will be no electricity, no food, no water, no fuel”. Accordingly, Israel has cut off electricity and drinking water supplies and denied foreign aid to enter Gaza. Although this was later partially lifted, it led to the collapse of the healthcare system in Gaza. According to the WHO, a quarter of the population in Gaza is now starving, and half a million more are on the verge of starvation. In addition, the lack of clean drinking water has led to mass infections, which are expected to cause even more deaths.

Many praise Israel for giving Gazans time to leave northern Gaza before the ground operations began. However, it has since become clear that Israel had other motives for doing so too, because it has no intention of letting the former residents to return. An initial plan was to create a buffer zone between Gaza and Israel, but others, including Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, have called on the government to reestablish Jewish settlements in Gaza and encourage Palestinians to “voluntarily emigrate” from the area. Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter bluntly said that “what is happening now is the Nakba of Gaza”. To date, 85% of Gaza’s population, some 1.9 million people, have been displaced.

All this information can leave us with mixed feelings.

As Jews, we have a moral obligation to help our Israeli brothers and sisters, to draw the world’s attention to the horrors of October 7, to stand up for Israel’s right and duty to defend itself, and to do everything in our power for the immediate release of the hostages. We must make the world understand that the destruction of Hamas is not only in the interests of Israel but also of the Palestinians, and that unfortunately, civilian casualties are inevitable in the fight against a terrorist organisation that has set up its combat units specifically in residential areas and has a complete tunnel system under the entire Gaza Strip. We also need to speak out against the growing anti-Semitism in the world, and to point out that the slogan “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” chanted regularly at pro-Palestinian demonstrations, is a veiled call for the destruction of Israel, which must be unacceptable to everyone.

But we can only do this credibly if we also confront the violations that are unfortunately being committed by the Israeli government and the IDF. Depriving the entire population of Gaza of basic necessities is a form of collective punishment, which is a war crime. Similarly, forcing the people of northern Gaza to leave and not allowing them to return is also a war crime. Of course, the horrific terrorist attack of Hamas, the taking and holding of hostages and the use of civilians as human shields are also war crimes, but they do not give Israel the right to commit crimes against humanity against the Palestinian people.

While we stand with Israel, let’s bring all this to the attention of our Jewish brothers and sisters, so they can better understand why many countries around the world, including the United States, are asking Israel to change its military strategy and allow the humanitarian disaster in Gaza to be averted. By doing so, we can preserve our moral integrity and demonstrate that it is possible to both support Israel and show solidarity with Palestinian civilians fleeing from war. After all, Hamas is our common enemy.

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About the Author
Zoltan lives in Budapest. He has a BA in Jewish Studies, and an MA in Psychology. He is a member of the Ohel Avraham Neolog Jewish Congregation in Hungary.
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