Collateral genocide in Nuseirat

In yet another Israeli massacre in Gaza, Palestinians are killed en masse and then summarily erased from the story.

Palestinians walk on the rubble of destroyed buildings following an assault by the Israeli army in the Nuseirat camp, in the central Gaza Strip on June 8, 2024
Palestinians walk on the rubble of destroyed buildings following an assault by the Israeli army on the Nuseirat camp, in the central Gaza Strip on June 8, 2024 [Eyad Baba/AFP]

On June 8, the Israeli military slaughtered at least 274 Palestinians and wounded nearly 700 more in a raid on the Nuseirat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip. Concerned sectors of the international community responded with typical ineffectual handwringing; the European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell condemned the latest Israeli “massacre of civilians”, declaring that “the bloodbath must end immediately”.

Four Israeli captives held by Hamas were also rescued during the assault, which has sent Israeli social media into a jubilant tizzy of self-congratulation and genocidal fanfare. The internet is awash with sensational accounts of the rescue and the captives’ weepy reunification with loved ones – and never mind all those dead Palestinians.

Indeed, the blatant disregard for Palestinian life is hardly shocking in the context of a war that has officially killed more than 37,000 people in Gaza in just over eight months. The actual death toll is without a doubt far higher given the number of bodies remaining under the rubble.

Not that Palestinians have ever been humanised in the Israeli narrative – except, of course, when they can be exploited for propaganda purposes, like when Israel accuses Hamas of using Palestinian civilians as “human shields” and thereby justifies Israeli military attacks on hospitals and schools.

A glance at past episodes from Israel’s perpetual “bloodbath” in Gaza would seem to confirm that, as per Israeli military logic, 200-plus dead Palestinians is perfectly acceptable “collateral damage” in the recuperation of four live Israelis. After all, Israeli life is endowed with a disproportionate worth that works to distract from the fact that Israel kills Palestinians at an astronomically higher rate than Palestinians kill Israelis – who nonetheless remain the self-appointed “victims” throughout it all.

Recall Operation Cast Lead, for example, which Israel launched in Gaza in December 2008 and which killed more than 1,400 Palestinians over a period of 22 days, the vast majority of them civilians and 400 of them children. On the Israeli side, 10 soldiers and three civilians were killed.

Then in 2014, Israel’s 50-day Operation Protective Edge reduced Gaza’s population by 2,251 people, including 551 children, while Israel lost 67 soldiers and six civilians.

In prisoner exchanges, too, the superior value accorded to Israeli life has been displayed time and again; in 2011, captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was released by Hamas in exchange for no fewer than 1,027 Palestinian prisoners.

Now, the slaughter in Nuseirat is not only the latest milestone in Israel’s quest to inure the world to unrestrained depravity. It also symbolises Israeli efforts to disappear the Palestinians both literally and figuratively, as the victims of Saturday’s raid are effectively erased via the celebratory ruckus.

Call it collateral genocide.

In the aftermath of the attack, the Israeli military unleashed a barrage of social media posts that made no mention whatsoever of Palestinian casualties but did offer such captivating analysis as that the captives were held by “Hamas terrorists who only seek to cause pain and suffering”.

For its part, the Jerusalem Post went as far as to complain about Arab social media users who had undertaken to rain on Israel’s parade. Noting that “the heroic Israeli operation that led to the release of four hostages stirred much discourse online”, the Post lamented that “some Hamas supporters attempted to reduce the significance of the operation, accusing Israel of using humanitarian apparatuses to infiltrate the area [around Nuseirat] or claiming that the world is ignoring the alleged death toll of Gazans”.

As for one of the world’s biggest players, United States President Joe Biden praised the return of the four captives at a news conference in Paris, adding: “We won’t stop working until all the hostages come home and a ceasefire is reached.”

Which brings us to the question: How will a ceasefire ever be reached – or the “bloodbath” brought to an end, to borrow Borrell’s words – when the US president himself is essentially praising Israel for conducting said bloodbath?

Just one month ago, Biden warned that he would no longer be supplying offensive weapons to Israel in the event of an all-out assault on Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip because, he said, “civilians have been killed in Gaza as a consequence of those bombs”. And yet it is suddenly inconsequential that civilians continue to be killed, because it’s all about the captives.

Just three days ago, on June 6, an Israeli attack on a United Nations-run school in the Nuseirat camp killed at least 40 Palestinians sheltering there. An Al Jazeera analysis of the weapons fragments revealed them to contain US-manufactured parts.

It seems Biden’s warning has become collateral damage, too. Or perhaps genocide has just become totally normalised.

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