As Israel Shuns a Ceasefire and Continues Its “Forever Genocide” in Rafah and Across Gaza, An End Must Be in Sight

15.5.24

Protestors in Nablus, in the occupied West Bank, on October 26, 2023 (Photo: Zain Jaafar/AFP).

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For over seven months, the Israeli military, largely using weapons provided by the United States and Germany, has been bombing the Gaza Strip with an intensity unmatched in modern history. In March, the NGO Humanity & Inclusion assessed that, on average, 500 bombs a day had been dropped on Gaza, meaning that, as of today, the total number of bombs dropped exceeds 100,000.

Hundreds of these bombs have been US-supplied 2,000lb bombs, which, last week, Frank Gardner, the BBC’s Security Correspondent, citing the UN, described as having “a lethal fragmentation radius of 350 metres”, which “can penetrate concrete more than three metres thick”, and which “leave a crater over 15 metres wide, making it completely unsuitable for use in a place heavily populated by civilians.” As Gardner added, “Even for those people several streets away, the effects can be horrific”, with the UN stating that “the pressure from the explosion can rupture lungs, burst sinus cavities and tear off lies hundreds of metres from the blast site.”

The Gaza Strip, which is home to 2.3 million people — largely the descendants of refugees from the brutal and bloody ethnic cleansing that accompanied the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 — covers just 140 square miles (or 365 square kilometres) of land along the eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea — roughly half the size of New York City, and a quarter of the size of London.

We’ve all seen footage and photos of the devastation this relentless bombing has caused in the Gaza Strip — of entire neighbourhoods razed to the ground, and of devastated cityscapes comparable to the very worst excesses of destruction visited on cities in the past. To gain some understanding of the scale of the destruction, it’s perhaps helpful for westerners to imagine the impact of over 100,000 bombs being dropped on, say, Manhattan and Brooklyn, or on eight of the 32 boroughs that make up Greater London.

The Geneva-based NGO Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor, which has been diligently assessing the damage throughout, assesses that 136,700 homes have been completely destroyed, and that a further 298,700 have been partially destroyed since Israel’s bombing raids began on October 7, and, again, it’s useful to imagine the destruction of hundreds of thousands of homes in New York or London.

In inflicting this destruction, Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor also assesses that 43,460 people have been killed in the 220 days since Israel’s genocide began, including 15,971 children and 10,032 women. They also assess that 91% of those killed were civilians. Their figures, largely drawn from health ministry statistics, and other reporting within Gaza (of the missing, for example) also include those unaccounted for under the rubble. The estimated number of civilians tallies with the assessment of Humanity & Inclusion, who noted in March that “[c]ivilians account for 90% of the victims of explosive weapons when they are used in populated areas.”

Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor’s latest assessment of the death toll in Gaza since October 7, 2023, and other key aspects of Israel’s ongoing genocide.

Despite these devastating figures — so devastating that they mean that one child, each one a completely innocent, blameless, non-combatant, has been murdered every 20 minutes on average over the last 220 days — statistics, and even photos and footage cannot even begin to capture the reality what it means to live in an area half the size of New York City, or a quarter of the size of London, in which not only homes, but every aspect of the infrastructure necessary to sustain and support life has been systematically eradicated.

Imagine the stench of death if, in half of New York, or a quarter of London, not only were 136,700 homes completely destroyed, and a further 298,700 partially destroyed, with the loss of over 40,000 lives, but 10,000 of those killed remained buried under the rubble, their bodies decomposing because all fuel supplies were also cut off, preventing the use of any of the heavy machinery required to extract their remains, and to give them a decent burial.

Imagine the stench too if the entire sewage system was destroyed. And imagine too if almost all food and water supplies were cut off, so that deliberately engineered starvation set in, along with communicable diseases caused by all of the above.

Then imagine if there were no more schools or universities, because these were deliberately targeted and destroyed — and, even more horrifically, imagine if all the hospitals were also deliberately targeted and destroyed, with patients, doctors and medical staff murdered, and some buried in mass graves, still bearing the signs of their execution, while others were abducted and taken away to secretive prisons where torture is widespread, where prisoners are occasionally murdered without any explanation being provided, and where any kind of due process is non-existent. Imagine being a pregnant woman, under these circumstances, or anyone with a serious pre-existing health condition. There are many tens of thousands of both, and yet almost no viable medical support now exists for any of them.

Then imagine that, while all this was happening, those responsible for the relentless bombings and the deadly siege ordered everyone to evacuate from the north to the south, so that two-thirds of the population — 1.5 million people, including 600,000 children — ended up living in makeshift tents, without food, clean water, sanitation or medicine in and around the last city that had not yet been bombed into annihilation.

That last city is Rafah, and, in February, the Israeli government openly announced its intention to launch a ground invasion, a move that was condemned by NGOs, and that also finally provoked criticism from the Biden administration, which expressed humanitarian concerns for the Palestinian civilians trapped there, hemmed in against the border wall with Egypt, and with nowhere else to go.

As the wrangling continued — and, it must be noted, Israel’s murderous assaults on Gaza continued on numerous fronts, including the murder of civilians trying to secure food from trucks delivering humanitarian aid, and almost indescribably barbaric attacks on the handful of hospitals that had survived efforts to destroy them months ago — efforts to negotiate a ceasefire, brokered by Qatar and Egypt, began again in April, leading to an agreement, signed by Qatar, Egypt, the US and the UN as guarantors, which was accepted by Hamas on May 6.

The ceasefire deal agreed to by Hamas, but not by Israel

The agreement consisted of three phases, each lasting for six weeks. The first phase proposed a temporary cessation of hostilities, the withdrawal eastwards of Israeli forces and the unhindered entry of humanitarian aid, with displaced Palestinians allowed to return home. In addition, Hamas would release 33 hostages (out of those still alive out of the 240 seized by Hamas and other militants during the bloody massacres of October 7, minus the 100 released during the only pause in hostilities to date, at the end of November), while Israel would release between 30 and 50 Palestinian prisoners for each hostage freed. In addition, reconstruction work would begin, providing at least 60,000 temporary homes and 200,000 tents.

The second phase proposed a permanent end to military operations, including Israel’s complete withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, and the release of the remaining hostages along with more Palestinian prisoners, while the third phase proposed the start of a three-to-five year reconstruction plan, and a complete end to Israel’s siege.

Al-Jazeera’s infographic about the ceasefire deal, as agreed by Hamas, but not by Israel.

Despite the huge effort that had gone into the ceasefire proposal, which finally envisioned an end to Israel’s relentless genocidal assault on Gaza, Benjamin Netanyahu rejected it outright.

Ostensibly, this was because the invasion of Rafah was required to fulfil the government’s commitment to “eradicating Hamas”, but that argument was, essentially, starting to wear thin, as, even back in February, US intelligence officials, in a closed-door meeting with members of the US Congress, had stated that Israel was “nowhere near its goal of destroying Hamas”, and that, as the New York Times described it, the officials had “raised doubts about whether the destruction or elimination of Hamas is a realistic objective, given it operates like a guerrilla force, hidden in a network of tunnels that are difficult to penetrate.”

Politically, Netanyahu’s main incentive for refusing to accept a ceasefire and to bullishly press ahead with the invasion of Rafah is for his own political survival. As the Guardian’s reasonably balanced foreign affairs commentator Simon Tisdall stated in an article last week, “The key problem, as many Israelis and foreign diplomats see it, is that ongoing war is actually Netanyahu’s preferred choice. He fears that even a truce or pause, let alone enduring peace, could hasten his political demise, his defenestration as prime minister and, potentially, his condemnation in court on various longstanding corruption charges.”

Just as significant, however, is the role played by the two openly genocidal far-right settlers in Netanyahu’s government, Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, whose support is necessary for Netanyahu to cling to power. The day before Hamas approved the ceasefire deal, Ben-Gvir, after meeting with Netanyahu, and “invoking divine support”, as the Guardian described it, said that Netanyahu had “promised that Israel would enter Rafah [and] that the war would not end”, and had also “promised that there will be no irresponsible deal.”

Mostly, however, the overriding conclusion to be drawn from Netanyahu’s unflinching enthusiasm for the Rafah offensive is that he and other ministers are obsessed with the destruction of the Gaza Strip, and, specifically, with destroying Rafah not because of Hamas but because it is the last city still standing, the only one that they have not yet razed to the ground.

That said, it is also imperative to realize that the entire Israeli political establishment has no desire to stop attacking Gaza even if Rafah is destroyed.

Horrifyingly, the endless destruction of Gaza has become the sole focus of Israel’s existence, embraced by Netanyahu, his ministers, and vast swathes of the population, a death cult whose horrors cannot be extinguished while a single building remains standing in Gaza, and, chillingly, while Palestinians still remain alive.

Alon Mizrahi, an Arab Israeli commentator, who has been vocal about Israel’s crimes and failures on X, captured perfectly, in a post on May 11, how empty — and completely devoid of military justification — Israel’s ongoing violence is.

As he stated:

There is nothing left to target in Gaza. Nothing.

No headquarters, no military camps, no office buildings, no government compounds, no residences of high-ranking officials, no airports or seaports, no emergency depots, no naval bases, no munition storages, no intelligence-gathering equipment, no telecommunication infrastructure, no tanks, no airplanes, no submarines, no command posts — absolutely nothing that resembles an armed opponent. NOTHING.

In Gaza there is only children’s flesh to burn, sever, and shred. Only mothers to torture and bereave, and fathers to kill a million times. Only rubble to bomb, again and again, to make sure no child survives intact.

And they do it and continue to do it.

Moreover, when Netanyahu turned down the ceasefire deal, he arrogantly and provocatively began bombing Rafah immediately and intensively, shutting the border crossings that are essential for providing fuel for hospitals, and food and water for a starving and dehydrated population, many of whom are barely surviving on 200 calories a day, and ordering the eastern third of the city to evacuate — back to the already destroyed city of Khan Younis — but compounding the grim reality that nowhere is safe by also increasing bombing raids throughout the whole of the Gaza Strip.

As the Palestinian journalist Hossam Shabat reported on the night of May 12, “We thought the first days were the worst, then we thought the starvation was the worst, but this bombing is like nothing we’ve seen. Today alone, Jabalia refugee camp [in northern Gaza, bombed repeatedly since October 7] was bombed at least 100 times.”

Is there any way out of this endless destruction and slaughter?

On the face of it, there is, politically, no end in sight to Israel’s apparently insatiable thirst for the lives of Palestinian civilians. Just as the endless and ever-growing mountains of dead children excite Netanyahu and his equally soulless ministers, the same is also true of President Biden, fixated with broken and completely false visions of murdered Israeli children and mass rapes, and with a complete disregard for Palestinian lives. It is also true of the German government, as Israel’s second biggest supplier of arms, and of the leaders (and opposition leaders) of most of the rest of the western world, who also continue to provide almost entirely uncritical support to a regime that is still murdering children, women and men — all civilians — in intolerable numbers.

The dehumanization of the Palestinians has revived a malevolent and deep-seated racism that convulsed the US after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and that led to the atrocities of the subsequent “war on terror”, and one day, I hope, all these grotesque individuals will be held legally complicit for their enthusiastic embrace of the callousness, cruelty and inhumanity that their predecessors indulged in for centuries in their colonial endeavours, and which, we have discovered since October, 7 they all look back on as a golden age.

If this genocide is ever to be brought to an end, without us watching, ever more aghast, as the death toll reaches — what would suffice? 100,000? half a million? a million? — one solution may be that military analyses gain precedence over the genocidal populism that has reduced all our leaders, most of our media, and far too many of our fellow citizens to a state of depravity.

Militarily, however, because Netanyahu and his ministers have given no thought whatsoever to what happens when the bombing stops, “there is emerging concern within the IDF”, as the Middle East security analyst Seth Frantzman explained in a thread on X on May 12, “about the policy of going into neighborhoods like Jabalya and Zaytun again and again without a plan of who will run them after; essentially returning them to Hamas.”

Echoing these concerns, the US government also seems to be recognizing that questions need to be asked about Israel’s endgame. Yesterday, the US Deputy Secretary of State, Kurt Campbell, was wheeled out to say that the Biden administration “does not see it likely or possible that Israel will achieve ‘total victory’ in defeating Hamas in Gaza.” Campbell added, “In some respects, we are struggling over what the theory of victory is. This looks a lot like situations that we found ourselves in after 9/11, where, after civilian populations had been moved and [after] lots of violence, the insurrections continue.”

If the military view is beginning to sour, other reasons for hoping that an endgame might finally have to be envisioned, despite the persistent enthusiasm of Netanyahu and his ministers for endless destruction, concern the Israeli hostages, repeatedly cited as a reason for the endless slaughter in Gaza, and incessantly mentioned by virulent supporters of Israel online, even though Netanyahu’s every action — except for during the brief pause for hostage and prisoner exchanges in November — has demonstrated, without a shadow of a doubt, that the hostages’ lives mean nothing to him, compared to the infinite glee of relentlessly murdering Palestinian civilians.

Despite this, as was explained by the Guardian’s Peter Beaumont, a series of polls in Israel last week showed that, in relation to the hostages, Netanyahu is “increasingly out of step with the majority of Israelis.” A poll by the Israel Democracy Institute “found that 56% of the Jewish public believe that a deal to secure the release of hostages should take top priority, compared with a third who believe that an offensive against Rafah should be the government’s main focus”, while, as Beaumont added, “A poll for Israel’s Channel 13 tells a similar story of scepticism in the Israel public, with 52% believing a Rafah operation will not deliver victory against Hamas, compared with 30% who believe it will. Perhaps most striking, however, is a poll by rightwing newspaper Israel Hayom, which found that 28% thought the ‘preferred victory picture’ would represent the hostages’ release, while 17% chose an image representing the destruction of Hamas.”

In the US, meanwhile, the emergence of an endgame is increasingly required by the Democrats, who, despite their leader’s addled genocidal delusions, are ever more disturbed to note that, as its stands, their unconditional support for Israel may well lose them the Presidential Election in November, with recent polling showing Trump leading Biden in five key battleground states, all of which were won by Biden in 2020.

Donald Trump’s lead over Joe Biden in five key battleground states won by Biden in 2020.

Beyond the tawdriness of political manoeuvring, one other reason for hoping that an end is in sight is that thinking about, and reflecting on what comes after the bombs stop being dropped and Israeli troops withdraw has suddenly become plausible, after it was mentioned in the ceasefire deal and the media deigned to pick up on information provided by the UN about a forthcoming report by the UN Development Programme, in which experts have estimated that more than 37m tonnes of debris, full of unexploded ordnance, and, of course, the remains of 10,000 dead Palestinians, needs to be cleared before reconstruction can begin, and that rebuilding homes, as well as rebuilding hospitals, schools, universities, roads, sewers, water pipes and other critical infrastructure “could take until 2040 in the most optimistic scenario, with total reconstruction across the territory costing as much as $40bn (£32bn).” No wonder the ceasefire deal involved the provision of at least 60,000 temporary homes and 200,000 tents, which will evidently be needed for many years.

After seven month of relentless genocide, it has become almost impossible to imagine an end to Israel’s unparalleled depravity, but as there has never been any viable endgame for Israel apart from killing every Palestinian in the Gaza Strip, because all its cruel dreams of “relocation” are nothing more than arrogant fantasies (no country wants to take in any refugees, and especially not those who have all been tarred as terrorists or as terrorist sympathizers and supporters), we must focus on every angle that will prevent the world’s only “forever genocide” from taking place — on the hostages’ families’ protests in Israel, on the Democrats’ fears of losing in November, and on the military and intelligence services’ assessments, in both Israel and the US, that Gaza is becoming an endless, pointless quagmire.

And throughout all this, of course, we must also maintain our own insistence that what the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip have endured over the last seven months, and the psychic ripples that has sent out around the world, affecting millions of people, represents an abject failure of humanity, that a solution must be found that guarantees freedom, security and autonomy for the Palestinians (not just in the Gaza Strip, but also in the West Bank and East Jerusalem), and that the Zionist project must be constrained, defunded and, ultimately, dismantled.

* * * * *

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer (of an ongoing photo-journalism project, ‘The State of London’), film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (see the ongoing photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here, or you can watch it online here, via the production company Spectacle, for £2.50).

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of the documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June 2017 that killed over 70 people, and, in 2018, he was part of the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, to try to prevent its destruction — and that of 16 structurally sound council flats next door — by Lewisham Council and Peabody.

Since 2019, Andy has become increasingly involved in environmental activism, recognizing that climate change poses an unprecedented threat to life on earth, and that the window for change — requiring a severe reduction in the emission of all greenhouse gases, and the dismantling of our suicidal global capitalist system — is rapidly shrinking, as tipping points are reached that are occurring much quicker than even pessimistic climate scientists expected. You can read his articles about the climate crisis here.

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2 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    In my latest article about Israel’s ongoing genocide in Gaza, I reflect on the latest death toll and the scale of the destruction, and invite western readers to reflect on what this scale of death and destruction would mean if over 100,000 bombs had been dropped on comparable areas in the west — half of New York, or a quarter of London — in a seven-month period.

    I also examine the ceasefire proposal recently agreed to by Hamas, but turned down by Israel, and assess Benjamin Netanyahu’s obsession with invading Rafah as the continuation of what has now become Israel’s sole purpose: the continued eradication of the whole of the Gaza Strip, and the murder of as many Palestinians as possible.

    I also look at the few hopeful signs that an end could possibly be in sight — increasing anger within Israel that the hostages in Gaza are being sacrificed for Netanyahu’s quenchless thirst for genocide, alarm in military circles in both Israel and the US about the risks of Israel’s actions in Gaza turning into an endless, pointless quagmire, alarm within the Democratic Party that they will lose to Donald Trump in November unless the conflict is brought to an end, and the emerging awareness of what “the day after” would mean in practice — reconstruction efforts that, as the UN Development Programme has estimated, will take until 2040 and cost at least $40bn (£32bn), even if an end to hostilities takes place soon.

    The alternative, as I point out, is the completely unacceptable realization of the darkest wish of Netanyahu and his ministers — a truly alarming “forever genocide.”

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    For a compelling analysis of what’s happening in Israel, and what it means for Gaza, please check out this commentary by Israeli writer Ori Goldberg, who posted the following as a thread on X:

    “The illusion of genocide is one of control. Genocide requires intent and planning. It was defined as the most ‘modern’ of international crimes, reflecting sovereign decision making and a systemic mindset. Genocide is perceived as an expression of centralized strength.

    “The Israeli genocide in Gaza, however, seems to expand in markedly different fashion. Israel is literally out of control. The political leadership has split into warring factions. Netanyahu and the religious right are fighting the former generals leading the ‘center’, and while support for the ‘war’ remains broad among Israeli Jews, words are losing their meaning.

    “When Netanyahu and his cohorts talk about ‘destroying Hamas’, they are actually advocating for an Israeli occupation of Gaza and the ‘removal’ of the Gazans. When [Yoav] Gallant and [Benny] Gantz talk about ‘plans for the day after’ (the end of the ‘war’), they are talking about Israel retreating from Gaza, leaving the desolation for others to rebuild, and preserving the right to ‘raid’ Gaza whenever Israel deems it necessary.

    “In both cases Israel rejects (denies, actually) the very notion of accountability. In both cases Gazans receive no reprieve from Israel’s lethal force. Still, the debate itself demonstrates the degree to which Israeli control and authority have deteriorated.

    “This reflects on the military. Over the past several days Israeli forces have made several lethal mistakes in the field, after ‘returning’ to the refugee camps of Gaza City. At least eight Israeli soldiers have been killed by friendly fire. This is not random. Israeli military leadership is losing control over forces in the field. Battalion and brigade commanders do just about whatever they want, from killing aid workers to bombing humanitarian centers and ultimately to firing haphazardly and killing their own men.

    “Israeli soldiers have no ‘real’ military ‘achievements’ in Gaza. They cannot rescue the hostages. They cannot defeat Hamas. The Israeli military has been soundly defeated. Senior IDF command still has tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of soldiers at its disposal, but these soldiers have nothing to do but ‘raid.’ Such raids are meaningless against a physically entrenched organization like Hamas. Israel cannot destroy Hamas’ subterranean infrastructure. Bored soldiers, armed to the teeth, are on a rampage reminiscent of Sherman’s march.

    “The longer Israel stays in Gaza — and remember that Netanyahu and his supporters want to stay indefinitely — the greater the chaos and loss of control. Israeli leadership encourages the chaos. Israel can argue before the ICJ that no genocidal orders have been given, but that is of no consequence. There is a direct relation between the intensity of the chaos and the intensity of the genocide. The Israeli genocide grows not through control and central planning but through the leveraging of a threatened political axiom — Jewish supremacy.

    “All political players in Israel are stoking fear and breeding hatred. The basic object of hatred is the Palestinians but the sad truth is that their deaths are completely absent from Israeli discourse. Nobody cares. The dehumanization is utter and complete. A society built on dehumanization dehumanizes itself. The warring factions within Israel now view each other as less than human. Israel is dismantling itself. We are all the worst, full of passionate intensity. We are the rough beast, slouching toward Bethlehem.”

    https://twitter.com/ori_goldberg/status/1790991043539636590

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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