As Israeli forces began their assault on the Gaza Strip, Israel’s leaders and media ramped up a rhetoric offensive, using dehumanizing discourse to garner support for deadly military action in the besieged Palestinian territory.
Operation “Protective Edge” - Israel’s latest military offensive to be given a name with nurturing undertones after “My Brother’s Keeper” and “Pillar of Defense” - has already killed at least 43 Palestinians and bombarded more than 400 locations in the Gaza Strip in less than 48 hours.
Despite the intensity of the Israeli assault on Gaza, Israel’s politicians are framing the military operation as one they entered against their will.
“We are not eager for battle, but the security of our citizens and children takes precedence over all else,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday.
An Israeli official quoted by The Jerusalem Post lamented that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas could not “influence his Hamas partners to exercise restraint and stop kidnapping and murdering Israeli teenagers and sending rocket barrages into Israel.”
“That sort of restraint would have prevented the current crisis,” he added.
The implication of these statements are that Hamas has forced Israel into launching a full-scale military operation against them, conveniently ignoring the recent crackdown on the West Bank after the disappearance of three Israeli youths, which Israel blamed on Hamas without providing evidence to back its claims.
In an op-ed titled ‘Send Gaza to the Stone Age’ published on Wednesday, Israel Hayom’s Editor-in-Chief Amos Regev praised the Israeli government for “the levelheadedness, restraint and sound judgment it exhibited before ordering the Israel Defense Forces [sic] to launch Operation Protective Edge,” calling for a ground operation in Gaza to be “carried out with determination and clenched lips, with the knowledge that this is a war of no choice.”
Israel, its leaders would have you believe, is reluctantly entering an open conflict out of a sense of duty, once again indulging in the self-victimizing rhetoric that all Israeli military actions are defensive or retaliatory.
Israel’s enemy, once again, is Hamas, and Zionist political figures have stepped up their eliminationist discourse.
Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon called for the destruction of Hamas.
“We are continuing to carry out attacks that are exacting a heavy price from Hamas,” Yaalon said. “We are destroying its arms, terrorist infrastructure, command and control systems, institutions, government buildings, terrorists’ homes, and we are killing terrorists in the organizational high command.”
Other politicians echoed the sentiment.
“A sovereign state cannot allow for a bunch of terrorists to run its life; we must cut off the head of the snake and for every Hamas man to know that his blood is upon his head,” Shas party leader Aryeh Deri tweeted on Wednesday.
Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon took it one step further, calling on Israel Wednesday to cut off fuel and electricity supplies to the Gaza Strip.
Neither Yaalon, Deri or Danon have acknowledged the human cost of such actions on Gaza, an enclave already suffering because of the crushing Israeli siege and already struggling with fuel and electricity shortages. Nor did they mention the loss of civilian life which is the inevitable consequence of wide military actions in such a densely populated territory.
Israeli leadership, however, has repeatedly emphasized the plight of Israeli civilians. Israeli news outlets have dutifully reported every siren sounded in Israeli towns since the beginning of Operation “Protective Edge” and lamented the closure of some Israeli summer camps.
Cara Lebenzon, a blogger for The Times of Israel penned a postberating those who have spoken out against Israel’s attacks, saying “I would actually argue we are TOO nice to Hamas and the people of Gaza. I’ve never heard of a single country on earth that supplies their mortal enemies with water, goods and electricity on a daily basis, have you?” For these folk, Palestinians are not people entitled to basic human rights, and an assault on Gaza is not only warranted, but long overdue.
Meanwhile, the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) have bombarded Twitter with stylized graphics trying to garner sympathy for the fearful Israeli population who must run to bomb shelters -- conveniently ignoring Palestinians’ lack of shelters during its deadly air raids.
The argument about Hamas forcing people to stand as human shields is one Israel regularly trots out, despite the fact that such claims have been dismantled in the past, and that the IOF is itself guilty of using such tactics repeatedly.
But the “human shield” argument is a convenient excuse for Israeli forces to continue with tactics that they know full well will lead to many civilian casualties while rejecting any responsibility for these deaths. Palestinians living in Gaza are not granted the luxury of being considered innocent civilians in Israeli rhetoric; dead Palestinian men, women and children are all guilty of standing in the way of Israeli weapons, despite the fact that there is nowhere to run in the open-air prison that is Gaza.
Dehumanization of Palestinians and demonization of the Palestinian struggle are essential tools of the Israeli military machine in order to continue justifying expansive military action while maintaining its discourse of victimization.