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When you’ve lost The Atlantic


The argument may not be original, but the venue is striking:

Finally, I’m an American. My country is supporting Israel militarily and diplomatically, and so I have a stake in answering this question: Is the United States enabling Israel to make the same terrible mistakes we did after 9/11?

In principle, Israel has a case for military action in Gaza, and it goes something like this. Across its border sat an army of tens of thousands of men intent on massacring civilians. Ghazi Hamad, from Hamas’s political bureau, declared that the atrocities of October 7 were “just the first time, and there will be a second, a third, a fourth.” Yes, rooting out Hamas would be brutal—the group welcomes civilian collateral damage and has entrenched itself in hundreds of miles of tunnels honeycombed through civilian infrastructure. But peace is illusory as long as Hamas remains in power.

Perhaps, in an alternate world, Israel could have fought such a war with restraint, in order to degrade Hamas’s military power without playing into its hands by causing unnecessary civilian suffering. Israel would have helped, rather than hindered, the efforts of outside states to funnel humanitarian aid into Gaza—showing that it distinguished the Palestinian people from Hamas battalions and valued their lives. If Israel had very different internal politics, it might even have signaled a positive vision for the war’s end—one premised on rebuilding a Gazan government led by Palestinians not committed to Israel’s destruction but to a fair-minded two-state solution that would ensure full political rights for Gazans. But this is not the war that Israel has fought.

“Sometimes it sounds like certain officials, it’s almost as if they support a hypothetical war, instead of the actual war that Israel is fighting,” Adil Haque, an executive editor at Just Security and an international-law professor at Rutgers University, told me.

Friends of mine who support Israel have compared the Gaza campaign to the American and Iraqi fight against the Islamic State in Mosul, another large urban area of about 2 million people defended by an entrenched enemy hiding among civilians. At least 9,000 innocents died, many from American air strikes.

I walked through the devastation in Mosul two years after the battle, and it was like nothing I’d ever seen. Blocks of rubble, the skeletal remains of homes and shops, survivors living in the shatters who spoke of starvation and horror, collecting rainwater or risking their lives to go to the river, where soldiers shot at them. “It’s like Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” one man told me in the ruins of his home. But he also said that ISIS was gone from Mosul forever. “Even if all I have is a piece of wood,” he said, “I would fight them rather than let them return.”

The war Israel is actually fighting in Gaza bears little resemblance to that brutal and far from perfect, but necessary, campaign. Rather, in Gaza, Israel has shown itself willing to cause heavy civilian casualties and unwilling to care for a population left without basic necessities for survival. It has offered no realistic plan for an eventual political settlement. Far from the hypothetical war for Israeli security, this looks like a war of revenge.

Just as there are no easy political solutions for the broader American left, there is no easy path to getting the bloodthirsty maniacs in charge of Israel to stop the war. Netanyahu has no incentive to call an election he would certainly lose, and prolonging the mass killing of civilians has the perverse effect of making it more likely that a more supportive president will be in power in the United States next year. But one thing we can be clear about is that the actual war Israel is fighting now is an indefensible catastrophe for human rights.

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