Gaza is one big ‘kill zone’

After six months of apocalyptic war, Gaza today is a bunch of ‘kill zones’ within a larger kill zone.

Smoke rises following an Israeli airstrike in the central Gaza Strip, Monday, April 1, 2024. [AP Photo/Abdel Kareem Hana]

Four Palestinian men are walking in the city of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip through an area largely pulverised by Israeli bombardments. There is no indication that they are carrying weapons or doing anything aside from putting one foot in front of the other, as humans do to get from one place to the next.

Suddenly, a direct air strike on the pedestrians takes out two of the men. The third continues walking and is quickly blasted to bits as well. The fourth is eliminated by yet another strike after falling to his knees.

This episode, which reportedly took place in February, is depicted in Israeli drone footage released in March by Al Jazeera. Watching the defenceless men systematically picked off from the sky in a fanatical display of firepower, one is reminded of the Collateral Murder video published by WikiLeaks in 2010, in which a dozen Iraqi civilians were exuberantly massacred by helicopter-borne United States military personnel.

In the Khan Younis incident, it appears that the “crime” of the four men – meriting an instant death sentence – was their presence in one of the Israeli military’s so-called “kill zones” in Gaza, the subject of a recent expose in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. The article specifies that “there is no written order” stipulating kill zones in the Israeli army’s “rule book”, but it’s abundantly clear that they are a very real phenomenon with very little institutional oversight. “Ultimately, the boundaries of these zones and the exact procedures of operation are subject to interpretation by commanders in that specific area,” the newspaper found.

Speaking to Haaretz, one Israeli reserve officer described the business as follows: “In every combat zone, commanders define such kill zones. … As soon as people enter [a zone], mainly adult males, orders are to shoot and kill, even if that person is unarmed.”

So much for the world’s “most moral army”.

In sum, then, Palestinians can be slaughtered simply for finding themselves in an area that happens to have been arbitrarily designated a “kill zone” by some Israeli commander or another.

And if you’re killed in a “kill zone”, chances are you’ll be marked down by Israel as a “terrorist”, which certainly helps in terms of inflating the casualty count of “bad guys” in a war that as of mid-March had already killed more than 13,000 Palestinian children.

According to Haaretz, of the more than 32,000 Palestinians estimated to have been killed in Gaza over the past six months, the Israeli army says 9,000 or so were “terrorists” – a claim that has failed to convince even many army commanders. As one officer who previously served in Gaza commented to the newspaper: “In practice, a terrorist is anyone the [military] has killed in the areas in which its forces operate.”

Not that the Zionist politico-military establishment hasn’t been known to deploy the terms “Palestinian” and “terrorist” more or less interchangeably. Indeed, 75 years of perverse propaganda has sought to persuade the world that the victims of continuous terrorisation by Israel are in fact the ones doing the terrorising.

Now the victims of “kill zones” get to be terrorists too. Never mind that, regarding the case of the four pedestrians in Khan Younis, a senior Israeli military officer remarked to Haaretz: “They were unarmed. They didn’t endanger our forces in the area in which they were walking.”

The article goes on to quote the same officer’s speculation that many civilians in Gaza had met their demise after entering areas they thought the army had already abandoned, possibly in the hopes of finding food that had been left behind: “When they went to such places, they were shot, perceived as people who could harm our forces.”

An Israeli military spokesperson has huffily denied the “kill zone” reports. And yet at the end of the day, the Gaza Strip is one big kill zone – with literally no space off limits to killing. How else do you explain massacres at Palestinian hospitals and United Nations shelters or the slaughter of people waiting in line for food aid as children starve to death?

To be sure, Israel has long boasted of its alleged prowess in conducting surgically precise air strikes and targeted killings. But even if the figure of 9,000 dead “terrorists” tallied by the Israeli army had any basis in reality, it’s difficult to account for more than 23,000 “collateral murders”, to borrow the WikiLeaks phrasing.

Unless, of course, collaterality has nothing to do with it and Israel is simply straight up targeting civilians – which, after all, is how genocide works, isn’t it?

After six months of apocalyptic war, Gaza today is a bunch of “kill zones” within a larger kill zone. And as Israel continues its quest to normalise depravity across the board, the current Israeli monopoly on terrorism will certainly be tough to break.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.