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Densely Populated Palestinian Areas Are Not Killing Fields for Israel

The world—except the United States—has begun to muster itself. But still, innocents die.

Palestinians view the destruction after Israel bombed their tents and shelters in Rafah, Gaza
Hani Alshaer/Anadolu/Getty Images
Palestinians view the destruction after Israel bombed their tents and shelters in Rafah, Gaza, on May 27.

The images are hard to forget. Charred and mutilated bodies of children as a result of the Israeli shelling of Palestinians who were in the Israeli-designated safe areas. The bombs used were made in the United States, according to weapons experts.

The world community, global agencies, and Israel’s best ally all warned against the ground invasion of Rafah precisely because of the dense population, which tripled in size due to the escape from the Israeli shelling in earlier attacks in the north and center of Gaza. The Israeli strike on a Rafah tent camp killed 45 innocent civilians who had taken refuge in the tents after being instructed to go there by the Israeli army.

For its part, Israel has issued a half-baked public acceptance of responsibility while at the same time offering excuses and justifications for what happened. Israel insists that the damage was due to a spark from a shell landing nearby that hit a fuel container. Even if that’s true, the whole idea of avoiding shelling populated areas is exactly to prevent accidents like this. Calling it a mistake doesn’t bring back precious lives.

The Israeli war of revenge is based on two stated goals. One, rescuing Israelis held hostage by the Islamic movement, is something any country would do. At one point, Hamas was prepared to do this, in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners. But the second, the destruction of Hamas as a political-military movement, is unattainable, as Benjamin Netanyahu surely knows.

As the Israeli war on Gaza has continued, international pressure escalated, with the World Court issuing a strong statement calling on the Israeli army to stop. International leaders have made similar statements, and various efforts to stop or delay the delivery of weapons were taking place or being seriously considered (although not by the United States). After more than seven months of war, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim Khan, said that he had reasonable grounds to believe that five men—Netanyahu, his defense minister, and three Hamas officials—“bear criminal responsibility” for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity. He submitted to a tribunal a recommendation for their arrest.

The U.N. Security Council president, Pedro Comissário Afonso of Mozambique, was asked by Riyad Mansour, the permanent representative of Palestine, to convene the council, and Algeria circulated a draft resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire.

But despite all the international efforts, as well as the growing protest movement in Israel calling for the resignation of the Netanyahu government and early elections, nothing happened on the ground. The Biden administration continued diplomatic efforts for the parties to accept a cease-fire allowing for the exchange of hostages held by Hamas and Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. But the Biden administration made clear at the same time that even the grotesque Rafah assault didn’t cross its “red line” for the Israeli government of not launching a massive ground attack.

The Palestinian Prisoner’s Club said that 8,900 Palestinians are incarcerated, among them 3,500 held without charge or trial. The club also said that 14 Palestinian prisoners died in Israeli jails and noted that over 600 children and 24 women were being held, most of them administratively. But despite the meeting of the head of the American CIA, the prime minister of Qatar, and the head of Israel’s Mossad in Paris, Biden’s hope of an agreement among the warring parties continues to be hampered by Israel’s insistence on not ending the war, despite the rising casualties both among Palestinian civilians and the occupying Israeli soldiers.

The massacre of innocent Palestinians has not yet moved the U.S. president to demand an immediate cease-fire. He clearly shares the ambitions of the Israeli leadership to annihilate Hamas, even though his own security officials have repeatedly said that the Israeli goals are untenable, as has Biden himself on occasion.

A backhanded effort to suspend military delivery to Israel failed to cause a dent in the efforts of an Israeli prime minister who knows that the end of the war will mean the end of his political career and may even end his personal freedom due to four criminal cases of corruption awaiting him.

Most of Europe is also frustrated but has yet to do anything substantial. One way to send a political message to the Israelis has been spearheaded by Spain, Ireland, and Norway, which decided collectively to recognize Palestine. According to Palestinian leaders, many other European countries are considering joining them.

The recognition of Palestine by Western countries is aimed at telegraphing to Israel that there needs to be a political solution to the conflict and not a military one. The events since October 7 have raised global and generational awareness of the 75 years of the 1948 Nakba (catastrophe) that caused the Palestinian refugee problem. The Israeli violence led to 750,000 Palestinians being forced to leave their homes and towns, and they have not been allowed to return since. Western foot-dragging has also led to the continuation of the 57-year occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the decade and a half of an unlawful siege of the Gaza Strip.

Despite the bloodbath in Rafah and the stubborn Israeli refusal to accept a cease-fire that can produce the release of their men and women, there continues to be a major responsibility for Western countries, the United States obviously chief among them, that have for decades sheltered Israel from criticism and have directly or indirectly been accomplices to the oppression, occupation, and settler colonialism that has existed in the occupied Palestinian territories. The time has come to end this war on Gaza and to work diligently to ensure that peace based on justice and equality replaces the lull in fighting and war that has been the hallmark of the situation in Palestine-Israel for decades.