“Are you seriously asking me about Palestinian civilians?” Bennett shouted in response. “What is wrong with you? Have you not seen what’s happened? We’re fighting Nazis.”
The brutal Hamas attack, which saw mass executions, incidents of torture and the hideous slaughter of children, marked the single bloodiest day in Israeli history since the founding of the Jewish state. More than 1,300 people were killed by Hamas militants. As Israelis mourn the dead and worry over the fate of the at least 64 captives abducted and taken to Gaza as hostages, the Israeli military has embarked on a full-scale mission to root out Hamas and its allies in Gaza. In their messaging, Israeli authorities have likened their quarry not just to Nazis, but to “human animals” and to the Islamic State, the extremist militant group that beheaded hostages, enslaved women and children, and carried out myriad terrorist attacks in the Middle East and elsewhere.
The Islamic State analogy is instructive for other reasons, too: Over the span of half a decade, the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition dropped roughly 2,000 to 5,000 munitions on Iraq and Syria each month. In just six days, Israeli warplanes have dropped 6,000 bombs on the Gaza Strip. The scale of the destruction is already staggering, with more than 1,500 Palestinians killed, including at least 447 children, and hospitals overwhelmed by the flow of those seeking help. More than 338,000 Palestinians have been displaced by the constant bombing, according to the United Nations.
The Israeli military warned the United Nations late on Thursday that more than a million people in northern Gaza should evacuate south within 24 hours, according to the U.N.
“The United Nations considers it impossible for such a movement to take place without devastating humanitarian consequences,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.
For Israel’s leadership and its supporters, now is the time for retribution and punishment, for a campaign that goes far beyond the periodic exercises in “mowing the lawn” that saw Israel regularly pummel Gaza with airstrikes aimed at degrading Hamas’s capabilities. “Unlike other operations, we are collapsing the governance and sovereignty of the Hamas organization,” Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, a spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces, said in a televised briefing Thursday.
In this effort, Israel has won significant outside support. A phalanx of Western officials are trooping through Tel Aviv. Before heading out to other capitals in the region, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the Israeli public on Thursday: “You may be strong enough on your own to defend yourself, but as long as America exists, you will never, ever have to.” In a televised national address, French President Emmanuel Macron denounced the “blind murderous hatred” of Hamas. He later tweeted that the “terrorist organization … exposes, in a criminal and cynical way, the people of Gaza.”
Macron’s remarks came on the heels of a speech by President Biden earlier this week that was widely interpreted by analysts as a green light for Israel to do what it deems necessary to defeat Hamas. There’s consensus that the appalling nature of the militant group’s actions demands an unflinching response. Absent in most of the Western statements of solidarity and support for Israel were requests for restraint, even as civilian casualties mount.
Indeed, in the United States, prominent Republican lawmakers are cheering on the Israeli onslaught. “Do whatever the hell you have to do to defend yourself. Level the place,” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said during a Fox News segment where he cast the conflict as a “religious” war.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) explicitly demanded a disproportionate Israeli response that would lead to Hamas being “eradicated.” Republican presidential hopeful Nikki Haley said “we have to treat sick people the way they deserve to be treated and eliminate them.”
In another Fox News segment, Rep. Max L. Miller (R-Ohio) described Gaza as “a territory that’s about to probably get eviscerated and go away here shortly, as we’re going to turn that into a parking lot.” And Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), ever the proponent of heavy-handed measures, likened Israel’s next steps to the United States’ bombing campaigns in Japan toward the end of the World War II, which killed tens of thousands of Japanese civilians.
An angry Israeli political class is putting forward its own dark visions of the fight ahead. Israeli lawmaker Revital Gotliv urged the use of a nuclear weapon on Gaza, to punish Hamas. “Only an explosion that shakes the Middle East will restore this country’s dignity, strength, and security!” he posted on social media. “It’s time to kiss doomsday.” An Israeli security official told the country’s Channel 13 news network that “Gaza will eventually turn into a city of tents,” all its buildings razed.
Yehuda Shaul, an Israeli peace advocate, suggested that Hamas’s war crimes have presented an already emboldened Israeli right “an opportunity” to “advance their messianic agenda.” He pointed to some lawmakers’ existing plans and proposals to resettle and reoccupy Gaza — which Israel withdrew from in 2005, and later implemented an economic blockade after Hamas seized de facto control of the territory in 2007. One of the reasons Egypt is not opening its Gaza border crossing to a stream of countless Palestinian refugees is a widespread Arab fear that this would enable a wholesale Israeli takeover of the land.
“For the far-right demagogues in power [in Israel] … this is a historical opportunity to fulfill as much of their wish list as possible: the destruction of large parts of Gaza, the elimination of Hamas’s political and military apparatus, and, if possible, the expulsion of thousands of Palestinians into the Egyptian Sinai,” noted Palestinian analyst Amjad Iraqi.
Meanwhile, ordinary Palestinians are already paying the price of Hamas’s terrorism and Israel’s quest for retribution. “You never want to become the story,” said Gaza-based BBC Arabic journalist Adnan El-Bursh in a wrenching Thursday dispatch where he and his colleagues visited a hospital where they found wounded and slain friends. “But, in my city, I feel helpless.”