Tue 11-June-2024

Killing humanitarian workers as a strategy: Israel’s endgame in Gaza

Wednesday 10-April-2024

Israel described its clearly deliberate killing of seven humanitarian aid workers in Gaza on 1 April as a “grave mistake”, a “tragic event” of a kind that “happens in war”. Obviously, Israel was lying. In fact, this entire so-called war in Gaza — which is in reality a genocide — has been based on a series of lies, some of which Israel and its supporters continue to peddle.

For some in the mainstream media, it took months to accept the obvious fact that Israel has been lying about the events that led to its military offensive and the objectives of its constant targeting of hospitals, schools, shelters and other civilian facilities. As such, it was only logical for the occupation state to lie about killing the six internationals and their Palestinian driver working with the World Central Kitchen (WCK) charity. Notwithstanding an event as atrocious as this undoubtedly was, it is implausible for Israel to start telling the truth now.

Fortunately, few seem to believe Israel’s version of the WCK incident or, indeed, its ongoing massacres elsewhere in Gaza. The state “cannot credibly investigate its own failure in Gaza,” said the US-based NGO on 5 April.

The issue of targeting these internationals, however, has to be placed within a larger context.

Israel was hardly secretive about its intentions to deny Palestinians even the most basic necessities of survival in Gaza, epitomized in the words of Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant way back on 9 October: “There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel, no water, everything is closed.”

This statement, like many others, was understood at the time to be due to Israel’s desire to punish Palestinians for the 7 October Operation Al-Aqsa Flood by resorting to its usual tactic of collective punishment. Based on statements made by other Israeli officials, though, it soon became clear that the occupation state wanted to ethnically cleanse Palestinians from the enclave altogether.

The Israeli stratagem was rejected immediately by Egypt, Jordan, other Arab countries and, eventually, governments around the world. Israel, however, persisted. Far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich described the “voluntary migration” of Palestinians in Gaza as the “right humanitarian solution”. Benjamin Netanyahu concurred. “Our problem is [finding] countries that are willing to absorb Gazans [sic], and we are working on it,” said the Israeli prime minister.

However, for ethnic cleansing to take place, several prerequisites had to be fulfilled. For a start, the bulk of Gaza’s 2.3 million people had to be forced to the south, as close to the Egyptian border as possible. This has been achieved. Then everything conducive to life had to be destroyed throughout Gaza, including all hospitals and clinics.

Thus, we saw the grisly massacre at Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital on 17 October, for example, and the bloodbath and eventual total destruction of Gaza’s largest medical complex, Al-Shifa, on 1 April. When the Israeli military pulled out of the Shifa area, troops left behind one of the most tragic scenes in the history of modern warfare. Hundreds of bodies were hurriedly buried in mass graves amid charred buildings and indescribable destruction. Limbs of children stuck out of the dirt, and whole families were tied together and executed; and there were other crimes that will take the world a long time to fathom, let alone explain. And yet former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett claimed nonchalantly that “not one civilian” was killed in Al-Shifa. Another blatant lie.

Most civilian shelters, bakeries, markets, electricity grids and water generators also had to be targeted so that the hapless population, especially in northern Gaza, would understand that life there would simply be unsustainable. Becoming fully aware of Israel’s ultimate plan of inducing a famine in Gaza, though, the Palestinians fought back. Their counterstrategy was predicated on ensuring that as many of them as possible remained in northern Gaza, and that those concentrated in Rafah were not pushed into the Sinai desert.

Aside from the ongoing battle between the Israeli army and Palestinian resistance movements in Gaza, there was thus another deadly struggle taking place: Israel’s push for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and the latter’s desire to survive and remain within the nominal borders of their land.

This is why Israel has killed countless Palestinians involved in the life-sustaining work in northern and central Gaza.

According to the UN, prior to the killing of the six internationals on 1 April, Israeli troops had already killed 196 humanitarian aid workers in the Palestinian territory. This figure does not include doctors, medical staff, civil defense workers, police chiefs and officers, and anyone else contributing to day-to-day life in areas that Israel wanted to empty of its inhabitants.

Even when, under international pressure, the rogue state allowed limited aid to enter northern Gaza, its army killed and wounded Palestinian civilians on a number of occasions as they gathered in desperation hoping to get some life-saving supplies. According to a 4 April report by Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor, Israel has killed 563 Palestinians and injured 1,523 by bombing and shooting people waiting for aid at designated spots in northern Gaza, or when it bombed distribution centers and workers responsible for distributing the aid. The Kuwait roundabout area in Gaza City alone witnessed the murder of 256 starving refugees, while 230 others were killed on Al-Rashid Street elsewhere in the city.

Israel’s bombing was not random, as it also targeted and killed 41 police officers who had worked with volunteers from various Gaza clans to help the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) to distribute aid among the famine-stricken population. Even the clans themselves were targeted in equally merciless bombardments.

On each occasion, just as happened after the attack on the WCK workers, the entity responsible for the aid would declare that it would no longer be involved in aid distribution. This is how Gaza’s hunger turned into famine. It was Israel’s very deliberate strategy.

The killing of the internationals in Gaza served the same goal of ensuring that no aid distribution mechanism was in place, because Israel would not allow it. Ironically, the involvement of World Central Kitchen was itself the outcome of a US-negotiated agreement that would deny the Gaza authorities and even UNRWA any role in the distribution of aid.

The apartheid state of Israel must be stopped at any cost. Moreover, that cost must include Israeli war criminals being held accountable for one of the worst genocides in modern history.

-Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the Editor of the Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of five books. His latest is ‘These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons’. Baroud is a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA) and also at the Afro-Middle East Center (AMEC).

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