The horror in the Middle East is growing. Hamas, the Sunni Islamist movement that governs
the Gaza Strip and violently opposes Israel, triggered the current catastrophe when its surprise
attack in Israel killed 1400 Israelis, including many children. In rage and retaliation, Israel has
responded by assaulting Gaza, launching mass bombing raids, cutting off access to water, food,
electricity and fuel, warning over one million Gazans to evacuate to the South, and beginning a
ground operation in the North. As this is written, an estimated 8005 Palestinians have been
killed, including over 3000 children, and UN agencies warn the humanitarian crisis has reached
an” unprecedented point.”
Across the world and across this country, citizens have marched to decry the Hamas terrorist
attacks, to protest the Israeli assault on Gaza, to demand a ceasefire, emergency humanitarian
assistance, and negotiations to end the violence. Antisemitism and anti-Arab passions are rising
here and elsewhere.
We should not forget. It is possible to be pro-Palestinian without being pro-Hamas. Indeed,
most Palestinians do not support Hamas. It is possible to oppose Israel’s policies without being
antisemitic. Indeed, most Israelis oppose the current government of Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Israeli rage, fear and desire to strike back after the terrorist attacks is understandable. That
does not justify mass retaliation against civilians living in Gaza. The anger and desperation of
those living in Gaza – termed an “open air prison” even before the current crisis – is
understandable. That does not justify terrorist attacks on civilians, and children in Israel.
President Biden has supported Israel in this crisis, while calling on the Netanyahu government
to adhere to the laws of war and mobilizing efforts to get humanitarian aid into Gaza. The US
has moved warships into the Eastern Mediterranean, and reinforced its troops in the region,
warning Iran and outside forces not to expand the conflict. The Biden administration’s call for
billions in aid – largely armaments –to Israel has bipartisan support in the Congress.
While the BIden administration reportedly advised against the ground invasion that now seems
to be underway. It has refused to call for a ceasefire and vetoed UN Security Council
resolutions calling for one.
In this, the US is increasingly isolated. A Jordanian resolution calling for a “sustained”
humanitarian truce was passed in the UN General Assembly 120 to 14 (with 45 abstentions)
over US opposition. More American allies abstained or supported the resolution than opposed
The reason is clear. Israel’s mass retaliation against the residents of Gaza is indefensible. In
this age of terrorism, the laws of war are too often ignored. Modernized in treaties and statues
after World War II, they represent the collective effort to put humane restrictions on the use of
military force, to protect civilians from being targeted and slaughtered, to outlaw violence
intended to eradicate national, ethnic, racial or religious groups in whole or in part.
Francis Boyle, international law professor at the University of Illinois College of Law, charges
Israel with violating the laws of war. He cites the Nuremberg Charter, enacted in response to
the Nazi horrors inflicted on Jews and others in World War II, which outlaws, in Article VIB, “the
wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages or devastation not justified by military
necessity,” and Article VIC “inhumane acts committed against any civilian population before or
during war.” A central purpose of the laws of war is to limit mass retaliation against civilian
populations. Israel’s bombing campaign, the cut off of basic necessities and its demand for
mass evacuation are causing massive civilian casualties.
A ceasefire is imperative, so that food, water, fuel and medical supplies can be rushed into Gaza
to avoid an unimaginable humanitarian catastrophe. The hostages held by Hamas should be
released. Rather than adding to the violence and destruction, regional powers should join with
the US and Israel to restart negotiations on the conditions of a durable peace. Israel’s security
would be better served by isolating and targeting those who commit terror rather than treating
all Palestinians as terrorists, isolating itself, and involving more and more of its neighbors in the
violence. The US can’t make decisions for the Israeli government –but it can and should make
its position clear. A ceasefire is a moral
We are on the verge of unimaginable cataclysm in the Middle East.
The heinous Hamas terror attacks on Israeli civilians triggered a fierce
retaliation on Gaza by Israel’s Netanyahu government. If Israel’s
announced plans to invade Gaza go forward, the civilians in Gaza –
half of them children –will suffer untold horrors and threaten a
regional war that will be catastrophic for the Palestinians, the Israelis
and US interests across the world.
The fire has started. When the wind blows, the flames will spread. The
Biden administration should push now for a cease-fire, emergency
humanitarian aid to Gazans, and an international effort to bring
security to both Israelis and Palestinians, ending all outside support
for Hamas while bringing its leaders to justice.
The abhorrent Hamas terror attacks repulsed the world. The ferocious
Israeli response on Gaza is also widely condemned. Anti-Arab and
antisemitic hatreds are aroused in this country and elsewhere.
Beneath the rage is a reality best summarized in an op ed by Daniel
Levy and Zaha Hassan, former negotiators for Israel and the
They laid out “three truths:”
1. The Hamas attack on Israeli civilians was “unconscionable,
inhumane and in violation of international law.”
2. Israel’s collective punishment of Palestinian civilians in Gaza is
unconscionable, inhumane and in violation of international law.”
3. One must address the context of occupation to be able to find a
strategy in which “both Palestinians and Israelis can live in
freedom and security.”
And that strategy can only be grounded in a two state solution
that provides both with a secure land to live.
The shocking terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians – killing 1400
people, many of them children, was the single bloodiest day in Israel’s
history. Any government would strike back.
Yet, while you cannot determine how you are violated, you can
determine your response. The Netanyahu’s government response was
collective reprisal: cutting off water, electricity, gas and food, while
unleashing widespread bombing. It then ordered over a million
Gazans to evacuate to the South, even as it continued to bomb targets
in the South. Over 5000 have died already, including over 2000
children. An estimated million are homeless. International agencies
warn of a humanitarian horror from starvation, lack of water, and
The world knows, as President Biden stated, that Hamas does not
represent the Palestinian people trapped in Gaza and the West Bank.
Virtually the entire world has opposed the scope of Netanyahu’s
retaliation. Only a US veto stood in the way of a UN Security Council
resolution introduced by Brazil calling for a “humanitarian pause.”
President Biden announced US support for Israel in the wake of the
Hamas attacks. He has offered more military aid, and moved US
warships to the Eastern Mediterranean, warning others against
widening the conflict. Largely in private, he has urged Israel to show
“restraint,” and led efforts to gain agreement for humanitarian aid to
those besieged in Gaza. There are conflicting reports as to whether he
urged Netanyahu to put off the announced invasion plans.
To date, the Netanyahu government has shown little sign of changing
course. The violence is spreading. Israel has struck at Hezbollah
targets in Lebanon and at Syria. US outposts have been hit in Syria
and Iraq. All of this before an invasion which inevitably will level
villages, force tens of thousands more from their homes and rack up
more and more civilian casualties in what will be fierce fighting
between Israeli and Hamas forces. The humanitarian horror will
surely spark reactions not only in the region but across the world.
It is vital now that the Biden administration join with our allies in
redoubling efforts for a cease-fire, massive and immediate
humanitarian relief, and the launching of a new effort to deal with the
underlying conditions so that Hamas can be isolated and eliminated,
and Palestinians and Israeli’s can find a way to live with security.
After years of failed negotiations, the last may appear to be a faint
hope, but surely it has a far more realistic chance of succeeding than
an invasion that will be long, brutal and likely to spread violence
across the region, isolate Israel and only feed the hatred and
desperation that generate more terrorism. Arab countries like Saudi
Arabia and others will find it impossible to go forward with trade and
normalized relations with Israel.
In the wake of the Hamas attacks, President Biden reaffirmed US
support for Israel, and demonstrated the strength of his commitment
by traveling to Israel. He warned them publicly to avoid making the
mistakes that the US made after 9/11 when we squandered our global
support by invading Iraq. Now he should push harder—privately and
publicly – to save them from allowing their rage and pain to lead them
into an unimaginable calamity.