Israel’s message: ‘Don’t feed the Palestinians’

The killing of the seven aid workers in Gaza is a direct consequence of Israel’s brutal ‘rules of engagement’.

UN staff inspect the remains of a car used by US-based aid group World Central Kitchen that was hit by an Israeli air raid in Deir el-Balah in the central Gaza Strip on April 2, 2024
UN staff inspect the remains of a car used by US-based aid group World Central Kitchen that was hit by an Israeli air raid in Deir el-Balah in the central Gaza Strip on April 2, 2024 [AFP]

The invading Israeli army ought to have erected signs throughout Gaza that read: “Don’t feed the Palestinians: Punishable by death.”

Here’s why.

To understand why seven aid workers were killed by Israel earlier this week in Gaza only requires a short-term memory.

Their deaths were not a “tragic event … that happens in war”, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed in a statement meant to blunt the “outrage” over the killings.

No, the seven souls, employed by World Central Kitchen (WCK) travelling in a convoy in Deir el-Balah after unloading 100 tonnes of food aid at its central Gaza warehouse, were casualties of a directive issued by Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant on October 9.

Gallant’s remarks were televised to convey to the world Israel’s uncompromising resolve and intent.

“We are imposing a complete siege on Gaza. There will be no electricity, no food, no water, no fuel, everything will be closed. We are fighting human animals, and we are acting accordingly,” Gallant said.

Gallant has kept his word. Famine is rampant in Gaza. Israel’s aim is to starve Palestinians into submission and capitulation. Anyone, from anywhere who feeds the Palestinians is, de facto, a legitimate military target and Israel has acted “accordingly”.

The WCK staff were not considered humanitarians by Israel’s occupation forces, but collaborators aiding and abetting the Palestinians who perpetrated the October 7 assault on Israel and subsequently seized captives turned negotiating pawns.

That is why the WCK convoy was fired upon, and the occupants summarily killed. Gallant made clear the “rules of engagement” on October 9.

No one of any consequence in Washington, London, Paris, Berlin, or Ottawa demurred, let alone objected, to Israel’s designs to lay “siege” to Gaza in any way, and by whatever means, it, and it alone, saw fit.

That is also why the so-called “outrage” that the killings provoked in Western capitals has struck me as largely performative and hypocritical, as have the perfunctory demands for “independent” probes into the lethal attack.

Beyond offering Gallant their unqualified consent to do whatever he wanted to do in Gaza, the presidents and prime ministers now expressing their calibrated outrage have, year after disgraceful year, granted Israel carte blanche to imprison Palestinians, torture Palestinians, invade Palestinian homes, steal Palestinian land, destroy Palestinian crops, and, of course, shoot, maim and kill Palestinians at will.

These same, suddenly outraged presidents and prime ministers have watched, approvingly, as Israel has gone about systematically denying the Palestinians shelter by obliterating their homes and neighbourhoods; denying them care and comfort by storming and obliterating hospitals; denying them education by obliterating their schools and universities; denying them places of worship by obliterating their churches and mosques; denying them their roots and past by obliterating their libraries, museums and historical sites.

These same presidents and prime ministers nodded in fulsome agreement with Gallant: Israel’s adversaries – without distinction – were indeed “human animals” and the inevitable consequences of the “siege” of Gaza were not only acceptable but warranted.

So, count me as unconvinced and unimpressed by this trite, meaningless censure of Israel. For months, these same presidents and prime ministers have been spouting the same hollow bromide: Israel must do more to protect “innocent civilians”; otherwise, we will trot out the same hollow bromide.

It is a pathetic pantomime. These presidents and prime ministers will always choose “Israel’s right to defend itself” over international law and the “rules” of war and the disposable lives of seven humanitarian workers be damned.

Remember, these are the same presidents and prime ministers who instantly dismissed reports produced by human rights groups which established that, for decades, Israel has committed “the crime against humanity of apartheid” in its methodical persecution of Palestinians.

The reports stood not only as indictments, but warnings of what was inevitably to come if the injustices set out in such clinical and persuasive detail were not finally acknowledged and addressed in tangible ways by a galvanised “international community”.

Predictably, those prescient warnings went unheeded. The result: a still unfolding genocide and all the murderous madness on unrelenting display.

Ah, but Israel’s apologists will say: Israel admits its “errors” and punishes those responsible. In this “unfortunate” case, two Israeli officers have been “fired” and three others “reprimanded” for “violating” the “army’s rules of engagement”.

When the outrage ebbs – as it already has – the “punished” will, in due course, be rehabilitated since, as Israel’s National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir has in effect said, the “abandoned” officers were just following Gallant’s orders.

“The chief of staff’s decision to dismiss senior officers is an abandonment of the fighters in the middle of a war and a serious mistake that conveys weakness,” the voluble minister wrote on X. “Even if there are mistakes in identification, soldiers are backed up in war.”

Their penance will be short. I suspect that most Israelis, like Ben-Gvir and Netanyahu, will close ranks behind “the fighters” who did what they were told to do by Gallant on October 9. When your foe is a “human animal”, the only rule of engagement is “acting accordingly”.

The other part of this pantomime is steeped in politics. Nervous Democrats can count. In recent presidential primaries, more than 500,000 Democrats have registered their fury with Joe Biden’s embrace of Netanyahu’s plan to erase Gaza and, ultimately, to absorb it and the occupied West Bank. They have voted “uncommitted” – or a variation of the term – in states that the president had carried by slim margins in 2020.

So, to mollify a movement that some silly observers insisted was confined to Michigan’s suburbs, Biden’s reliable surrogates, including former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, are – surprise, surprise – signing a letter dipped in Pixie dust advising Biden to make US military support to Israel contingent on the protection of Palestinian civilians in the wake of the deadly ambush of the aid workers.

The letter is 33,000 dead Palestinians too late. It is not going to convince the growing legion of “uncommitted” Democratic voters that “Zionist” Joe is poised to change his engrained attitudes towards Israel or his steadfast support for razing Gaza along with extinguishing Hamas.

Come November, the Democratic Party establishment will have to reckon with this fact: A Democratic president sacrificed the presidency and democracy – his strained rhetoric, not mine – to save Netanyahu and assuage Israel’s killing rage.

Well done, Sir.

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