“There is no feasible or achievable military goal, legitimate or otherwise, for Israel’s bloody campaign in Gaza.”
The following is a guest post by Muhammad Ali Khalidi, Presidential Professor of Philosophy at City University of New York Graduate Center.
It is part of the ongoing series, “Philosophers On the Israel-Hamas Conflict“.
There Is No Military Objective In Gaza
by Muhammad Ali Khalidi
Many of the philosophical discussions about the brutal conflagration currently taking place in Gaza are premised on the idea that there is a viable military objective for the Israeli onslaught, namely the elimination or deterrence of Hamas. But there is no need to wade into discussions of the niceties of proportionality or the doctrine of double effect. That is because there is no feasible or achievable military goal, legitimate or otherwise, for Israel’s bloody campaign in Gaza.
The stated goal of the Israeli military campaign is the elimination, destruction, or deterrence of Hamas. But it is clear from the five previous major assaults on Gaza since 2006 that Hamas has not been eliminated, destroyed, or deterred one bit. Israel has repeatedly attacked Gaza with the declared aim of eliminating or dealing a decisive blow to Hamas, has assassinated its top political and military leaders, and has destroyed Gaza’s infrastructure, and each time Hamas has emerged stronger and more determined. The current commander of Hamas’ military wing, Mohammed Deif, lost his wife, 7-month infant son, and 3-year-old daughter in an Israeli airstrike in 2014. Mass killings don’t deter, they just breed more violence.
Could this be the final battle in which Hamas is smitten once and for all? Even if it were, there will be other Palestinian militants waiting to take on Hamas’ role, as long as Palestinians are denied the right of self-determination and subject to unspeakable systemic violence. Even if Hamas is eliminated militarily, some other group will rise up to take its place. In fact, there are organizations like Islamic Jihad waiting in the wings. For the past 16 years, Israel has prevented the importation into Gaza of anything that could conceivably be used to make a weapon (including concrete, glass, fishing ropes, and numerous other items), yet Palestinian militants have always found a way around even the most draconian Israeli methods of siege and control.
As of this writing, Israel’s bombardment of Gaza has killed over 10,000 Palestinians, including more than 4,000 children, more children than have been killed in global armed conflict in each of the past four years. Since 2000, and before this assault, Israeli forces have killed 7,779 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, with many more injured, some permanently; of those, 1,741 were minors, according to the Israeli human rights organization B’tselem. Any Palestinian living in Gaza today who is over 20 years old has experienced the trauma of numerous major Israeli attacks, has endured life under aerial bombardment multiple times, and is likely to know someone, a relative, friend, neighbor, or acquaintance, who has been killed or injured by the successive Israeli onslaughts.
As long as millions of people are living under a form of military occupation enforced through a total blockade on the movement of people and goods, and as long as they live under an apartheid regime, they will find ways to resist. They will sometimes do so peacefully (as in the Great March of Return in Gaza in 2018-2019), and at other times violently, but they will not drop their demand to live with justice and dignity.
So what’s the Israeli government supposed to do? It could reach roughly the same conclusion that the government in South Africa arrived at in the early 1990s and dismantle the system of apartheid and military occupation, giving every person between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River equal citizenship rights, regardless of religion or ethnicity.
Of course, it will be objected that Hamas is not the African National Congress and that the Israeli government cannot be expected to make an accommodation with terrorists. But the ANC was once branded a terrorist organization by both the US and UK. In the late 1980s, the ANC mounted multiple attacks against South African civilians in its effort to overthrow apartheid. Those attacks were not on the scale of the latest brutal Hamas assault, but the point is that the ANC military wing deliberately targeted civilians just a few years before the dismantling of apartheid.
It is sometimes said that Hamas will not rest until it has eliminated all Jews from historic Palestine. But just a few days ago, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said they were ready to start negotiations for a two-state solution with Jerusalem as its capital. If that solution is off the table because successive Israeli governments have made sure that the two-state solution is unattainable (through rampant settlement and land expropriation), then the one-state solution would seem to be the only option. If Israel dismantles apartheid and acknowledges the right of self-determination for all, no credible Palestinian leader or organization could possibly resist.
The problem is that the Israeli government sees no room for self-determination for anyone but Jews in the land of Israel, including the occupied territories. The current Israeli cabinet’s statement of principles reads: “The Jewish people have an exclusive and inalienable right to all parts of the Land of Israel.” And Article 1 of the infamous Jewish Nation State Law of 2018 states: “the right to national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish People.” Despite its blatantly racist character, that law was upheld as constitutional by the Israeli Supreme Court, which is supposed to curb the legislature’s more extreme excesses.
It might seem utopian to call for one state in Israel-Palestine. But earlier this year, hundreds of thousands of Israeli Jews took to the streets to protest what many considered to be their country’s move towards a far-right Jewish theocracy. Enfranchising the Palestinians who live in their midst, enclosed by walls and separated by fences, might be the best way of avoiding such a dystopian outcome.
The regime in South Africa did not decide to end apartheid as a result of a moral epiphany. It happened partly under international pressure and increasing isolation, thanks to the global boycott campaign, led initially by students and trade unions. That campaign is emulated by the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestine, including the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), which has now been endorsed by over 100 philosophers (and counting) in this statement on Gaza.
Philosophers are generally not much good at history, but I’m lucky to have lived long enough now to be able to draw some lessons from it. I survived the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, which left around 20,000 Lebanese and Palestinians killed, at least half of them civilians. The objective of that campaign was to eliminate the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Several years later, Israel was negotiating with the PLO. I also lived through the Israeli onslaught on Lebanon in 2006, which left over 1,000 civilians dead, 30% of whom were under the age of 13. The announced objective: to destroy Hizbullah—which is much stronger today than it was 17 years ago.
People can argue over whether Israel’s military ends justify the means that it’s pursuing to wage its war on Gaza, and whether the obscenely high number of innocent Palestinian civilians killed is proportionate to its objectives. But that all presupposes that there is a viable military objective, and there just isn’t.