Since October 7, when Hamas militants attacked southern Israel, killing 1,200 people and taking 240 others hostage, Israel’s response has been a combination of devastating retaliation and equally deadly rhetoric. Senior military and political leaders have consistently used language that blames all Palestinians in Gaza for Hamas atrocities, even as Israel has bombarded the besieged enclave relentlessly, killing more than 15,000 people, including over 6,000 children. This narrative, pushed by many in the Israeli establishment — led by President Isaac Herzog who claimed there were no innocent civilians in Gaza — and some of their Western supporters is factually inaccurate, morally reprehensible and, according to several scholars, potentially demonstrative of genocidal intent. There is adequate evidence that points to how deeply unpopular Hamas has been among the people of Gaza. Most recently, the findings of a survey by a Princeton University researcher show that in the days before October 7, two-thirds of people surveyed in Gaza had little or no trust in Hamas: some of Gaza’s residents even described the militant outfit’s rule as a second occupation. A vast majority said they could not feed their families under Hamas, whose leaders have for long been accused of corruption and authoritarianism by the people of Gaza.
To be clear, even if most Gazans did support Hamas — which was elected in 2006 and has refused to hold elections since then — it would not justify the indiscriminate military campaign unleashed by Israel that has predominantly killed civilians. But the strategy of demonising all Palestinians in Gaza as terrorist sympathisers or as people brainwashed into backing violence is cynically aimed at underplaying the death and the destruction that the world has seen over the past seven weeks. It is this toxic rhetoric that seeks to project innocent children, women and men — as well as the hospitals and schools where they have sought shelter — as legitimate military targets for Israel. Just as Israel’s acts of discrimination, illegal occupation and violence for 75 years against Palestinians can never justify Hamas’ crimes against Israeli civilians, the military targeting of Palestinian civilians is unacceptable. Instead of strengthening moderate factions within the Palestinian movement, including the Palestinian Authority, Israel and its Western supporters have consistently worked to erode their credibility, weaken institutions that could form the nucleus of a future Palestinian State and, in effect, strengthen militant groups like Hamas. If the PA is today seen by many Palestinians as an appendage of the Israeli State, the West’s failure to ensure accountability from Israel for its continued reliance on occupations and sieges is to blame. The people of Gaza are paying the price.