For six months, Israel has been deliberately killing civilians in Gaza and destroying infrastructure to make the area uninhabitable. Israeli academic Lee Mordechai summarizes the horrific results of an operation that is wholly immoral and criminal.

A Palestinian man reacts near the debris of Abu Bakr al-Siddiq mosque and surrounding buildings in Deir Balah following an Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip on April 13, 2024. (Ashraf Amra / Anadolu via Getty Images)

Over the last six months, Israel has repeatedly massacred Palestinians in Gaza, resulting in the deaths of well over thirty thousand Palestinians, some 70 percent of whom are women and children. Tens of thousands more have been injured. These numbers are probably an undercount considering Israel’s deliberate destruction of Gaza’s health care system, which is the sole independent source of these numbers (which are also used by Israel, including its prime minister and the military).

Israel has actively attempted to cause the death of the civilian population of Gaza. This has been done through the destruction of institutions that support life — such as hospitals or aid agencies — as well as by strangling the Gaza Strip from its necessities: food, water, and medicine. As a result, people in Gaza (mainly children) have already begun to die from starvation and dehydration.

Because of the lack of medicine, difficult medical procedures such as amputations and caesareans are conducted with no anaesthetic. Israel has gone further in attempting to destroy the fabric of Palestinian society by deliberately targeting cultural institutions such as universities, libraries, archives, religious buildings, and historical sites.

Dehumanization

Israeli discourse has dehumanized Palestinians to such an extent that the vast majority of Israeli Jews support the aforementioned measures. Countless videos from the Gaza Strip uploaded by soldiers in the Israeli military attest to widespread abuse of Palestinians (including cruel violence and dehumanization), ubiquitous and normalized looting, and wanton destruction of all kinds of property with little consequences. This content is confirmed by Palestinian testimonials that depict the Palestinian experience of death, destruction, and abuse during their detainment by the Israeli security apparatus.

All the evidence I have seen strongly suggests that one of Israel’s objectives has been to ethnically cleanse the Gaza Strip, whether in part or in total.

All the evidence I have seen strongly suggests that one of Israel’s objectives has been to ethnically cleanse the Gaza Strip, whether in part or in total. Key members in Israel’s government have made statements confirming this intent at different points throughout the war.

Several of Israel’s government ministries have planned or worked to facilitate such an end. Israel has been clearing significant parts of the Gaza strip by demolition and bulldozing, while also constructing Israeli military infrastructure and attempting to corral Palestinians in limited areas of the already densely populated Gaza Strip.

The global attention to Gaza has drawn attention away from the West Bank. There, Israel’s operations through its miliary or settlers since the beginning of the war have resulted in the killing of hundreds of Palestinians, the ethnic cleansing of at least fifteen local communities, and a sharp increase in levels of violence and abuse by both the Israeli state and Jewish settlers.

All of the above has been made possible through the strong support of most mainstream media in Israel as well as the West, primarily in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany. The pro-war campaign — supported by both the state and the mainstream media in these locations — has legitimized Israeli violence and actions, deflects attention away from many events in Gaza, and contributes to the dehumanization of Palestinians.

Furthermore, Israel has not allowed independent reporters into the Gaza Strip for the six months of the war so far, amplifying its own voice while limiting the world’s ability to understand the experience of war within the strip.

Israeli Hostages

On October 7, 2023, Hamas militants attacked Israel, killing about 1,200 people in Israel, most of whom were civilians, and taking about 250 people hostage to Gaza. These atrocities are war crimes and crimes against humanity. The horrible events of October 7 — themselves part of a historical context that returns to the century-long conflict between Israel and the Palestinians — initiated the current war.

To date, Israel has released exactly three hostages through military operations, while killing many others directly or indirectly through its actions.

One of the purposes of the war, according to the Israeli government, is to release the hostages — over 130 of whom remain in captivity by Hamas. Here, too, the evidence suggests that a military operation is not the way to release them. To date, Israel has released exactly three hostages through military operations, while killing many others directly or indirectly through its actions. Israeli society is currently divided around the hostage issue, which is at least partially the result of the actions of the Israeli government.

The military operation that released two of the three hostages to date also killed dozens of Gazans, mostly civilians. Three other Israeli hostages were killed by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) within Gaza despite waving white flags and calling for help. Another was killed during an attempted rescue operation. Three others were supposedly killed by gas with which the IDF flooded the tunnels.

In late February, an Israeli report found that at least ten hostages were killed by the IDF’s actions, including a case where the IDF bombed a building that it suspected had a Israeli hostage. In late March, a senior journalist specializing in military intelligence shared an estimate that only sixty to seventy of the hostages are still alive.

On the other hand, a temporary cease-fire has resulted in the release of 105 hostages. Instead of negotiating additional hostage releases, the Israeli government prefers to continue its military operation, despite the obvious risk to the hostages. Those released in the previous exchange have repeatedly stated that Israeli bombardments were among the most terrifying things they experienced during their captivity.

In mid-March, the chief of staff of the IDF unit responsible for the hostages resigned as he felt that Israel’s political leadership was not interested in moving toward a deal. Similar feelings have been expressed within Israel’s security apparatus. Several government members scorned the relatives of the hostages.

In late March, some of the family members of the hostages publicly blamed Israel’s prime minister for continuously postponing a deal to release them. In mid-April, two members of Israel’s negotiations team, at least one of whom was involved in it for six months, said explicitly that the government and especially Israel’s prime minister are trying to delay and even prevent a deal to release the hostages. Foreign sources said similar things.

A War on Civilians

Despite the aforementioned atrocities by Hamas, I believe Israel’s response to the events of October 7 over the past six months continues to be wholly disproportionate, immoral, and criminal. My position on these matters represents a tiny minority in Israeli society. In polls on this issue only 1.8 percent (October), 7 percent (December), and 3.2 percent (January) of Jewish Israelis believed the IDF was using too much firepower in Gaza.

Israel’s response to the events of October 7 over the past six months continues to be wholly disproportionate, immoral, and criminal.

Palestinian lives are incredibly cheap. In one case, a car with six civilians was attacked, killing four. A fifteen-year-old girl called the Palestinian Red Crescent from the car but was apparently killed during the conversation. Her cousin, the six-year-old Hind Rajab, called again and stayed on the line, terrified and surrounded by her dead family members, for three hours.

The Palestinian Red Crescent sent two paramedics to retrieve her, informing the IDF of their movement. All connections with Hind and the paramedics were lost. Twelve days later, Hind’s decomposing corpse was found in the car, while the paramedics were killed nearby when an IDF tank shot up their ambulance.

On another occasion, IDF troops entered a family home and killed the two parents in sight of their children (aged eleven, nine, and five; the youngest, with cerebral palsy, lost his eye to a grenade the soldiers threw). In a different case, the IDF sent a handcuffed prisoner to deliver a message to evacuate a hospital in Khan Younis, then shot him as he tried to walk outside the gate. The IDF subsequently bombed the hospital. Several doctors returning from Gaza told the Guardian that IDF snipers shot at children, causing “single bullet wounds to the head or chest” that killed some of them.

A detained Gazan had his hands zip-tied before driven over by an Israeli tank, potentially while he was still alive. An image of his mutilated corpse was shared on a popular Israeli telegram channel with a post stating that “You are going to love this!!!” A human rights organization documented other occasions in which Israeli soldiers have deliberately driven over dozens of Palestinian civilians while they were alive.

In another case, an IDF soldier shot and killed a Palestinian man with special needs in front of his mother in a Gaza hospital after the man shouted in fear and did not keep quiet as the soldier commanded. A different soldier killed an unarmed seventy-three-year-old Palestinian who signaled to him not to shoot. In response, the soldier’s commander said: “He signaled ‘no no [with his hands]’ and you took him down? Excellent.” There are many similar stories of IDF soldiers purposefully killing civilians.

The Flour Massacre

In one particularly notable event, the “flour massacre,” at least 118 civilians were killed and over seven hundred were injured as they attempted to get food from a convoy of lorries bringing in humanitarian aid. Palestinians insisted that the IDF shot them, while the IDF claimed that most casualties died because of overcrowding and the general mayhem in which the lorries ran over the civilians. In either case, the IDF would be responsible for the deaths of civilians.

At least 118 civilians were killed and over seven hundred were injured as they attempted to get food from a convoy of lorries bringing in humanitarian aid.

The international media tended to confirm the Palestinian version of the story, partly because the IDF did not provide evidence to support their claims (an IDF video supposedly showing the event was clearly edited several times, and the IDF refused to release the full video), and partly because of testimonials from Gazans who experienced the massacre. UN experts and human rights organizations agree more strongly. A recent CNN investigation found inconsistencies with the IDF version and cast further doubts on it, strongly suggesting that massive IDF fire toward Palestinians preceded the general chaos.

According to the director of the al-Awda hospital, the vast majority of those who came to receive treatment for injuries after the event (142 of 176) suffered from gunshot wounds. UN experts, as well as online sources and videos, suggest that Palestinians seeking food were shot on many occasions on the days before and after the “flour massacre.”

Israel’s national security minister praised the IDF soldiers for their conduct during this event. International law stipulates that Israel is required to supply food and water in the areas where it is an occupying power. Notably in this context, Israel and the United States were the only two countries who voted against declaring food a human right at the United Nations in 2021.

The UN high commissioner for human rights has reiterated that there is no safe space in Gaza. There have been multiple mass graves where corpses of Palestinians have been deposited, with additional decomposed corpses in the streets. Reports have documented dozens of examples of field executions carried out by the Israeli army.

In one such event, on December 19, IDF troops are said to have executed at least nineteen unarmed Palestinian men in front of their family members. In another, more than thirty Palestinian corpses were found in black plastic bags, blindfolded and handcuffed.

Few of these cases have even been covered in the Israeli media. In a January poll, two-thirds of Israelis preferred to continue the war in its current form of excessive bombardment and violence. In a poll from February, about three-quarters of Israeli Jews supported the continuation of the military operation to Rafah.

Starvation Siege

Israel has placed a stranglehold on the Palestinian population of Gaza since the beginning of the war. The amounts of food, fuel, medicine, and water available are extremely limited. The absence of supplies in Gaza — a siege — has been the stated policy of top Israeli officials since the beginning of the war. Until early April, only about 20 to 30 percent of the five hundred trucks necessary to supply Gaza for humanitarian causes had been allowed in daily, and encountered multiple problems as they tried to do so, including attacks by the IDF.

Israel has placed a stranglehold on the Palestinian population of Gaza since the beginning of the war.

Since the beginning of the war, Gaza has been experiencing a full electricity blackout. A study revealed that by January nighttime light across Gaza has been reduced by 84 percent. Testimonies from the strip reveal that university library books were burned as kindling for cooking fires. In April, the price of a liter of gasoline reached 150 shekels (about $40).

In the northern parts of the Gaza Strip in early February, the price of a bag of flour, which had been 30 shekels (about $8) before the war, reached 500 to 1000 shekels (about $125-250), fifteen to thirty times higher. In late February, the price of a plate with some raw meat and rice reached $95 according to social media, while a nurse in al-Shifa Hospital claimed he had not eaten bread for two months, during which he consumed animal feed. By April, the price of a kilogram of sugar reached 70 shekels ($19).

At the same time, the UN’s leading expert on the right to food described the circumstances as “a situation of genocide,” while the World Food Program stated that “people are already dying from hunger-related causes.” As of early April, thirty-two people (of which twenty-eight were children) in Gaza had died of malnutrition or dehydration. In this context, the high representative of the EU for foreign affairs and security policy stated in front of the UN Security Council that “starvation is being used [by Israel] as a war arm.”

As a result, the vast majority of Gaza’s population is at risk of famine. Virtually all households are skipping meals every day, with 50 to 80 percent of households going entire days and nights without eating. Some 90 percent of civilians in Gaza experience “high levels of acute food insecurity.” In late January, the World Health Organization’s director-general noted the food shortages that result in medical staffs and patients receiving only one meal per day.

About 265,000 people are facing crisis levels of food insecurity, and 854,000 people are facing emergency levels of food insecurity. The other half of Gaza’s population (1.1 million) suffer from catastrophic levels of food insecurity. The chief economist of the World Food Program has stressed that “in my life, I’ve never seen anything like this in terms of severity, in terms of scale, and then in terms of speed.”

About 265,000 people are facing crisis levels of food insecurity, and 854,000 people are facing emergency levels of food insecurity.

A prominent scholar of famine and executive director of the World Peace Foundation stated that he had never seen the war crime of starvation perpetrated on such a scale over the forty years of his career: “The rigor, scale and speed of the destruction of the structures necessary for survival, and enforcement of the siege, surpasses any other case of man-made famine in the last 75 years.” An aid organization stated on CNN that Gaza was suffering the fastest decline in nutritional status ever recorded in a human population.

Media coverage refers to people eating grass and drinking contaminated water or sea water. A group of aid organizations that includes UNICEF stated in late February that over 90 percent of children under the age of five in Gaza were facing “severe food poverty.” A similar percentage of children was suffering from infectious diseases, with 70 percent of them having diarrhea over two weeks in February. Images and videos from the strip appear to confirm these findings.

“Apocalyptic Conditions”

Despite this situation, IDF officers demanded a further lowering of the humanitarian aid to Gaza. About 60 percent of Israeli Jews oppose humanitarian aid to Gaza, a stable figure over time. Jewish activists have completely blocked the entrance of aid to Gaza on several occasions in recent months. IDF soldiers recorded themselves destroying and burning food warehouses in Gaza.

The lack of medical supplies has resulted in the conduction of medical operations, including C-sections and amputations, without anesthesia or blood supplies.

In November, the average water supply per person in Gaza was between 1.5 and 1.8 liters daily, when the minimum average volume of water for drinking and domestic hygiene should be fifteen liters. This number decreased to less than one liter on average in February.

The lack of medical supplies has resulted in the conduction of medical operations, including C-sections and amputations, without anesthesia or blood supplies. An online video shows a Gazan doctor who had to amputate his daughter’s foot on the dining table in their home without anesthesia.

A medical student at al-Shifa Hospital recounts how he had to stitch the face of a boy who was wounded in an Israeli bombardment for three hours in darkness and without anesthesia. There are many similar stories. As a result of the lack of supplies, women who face postpartum bleeding as they give birth have undergone hysterotomies for lack of medicine and blood supply, preventing them from giving birth in the future.

According to Oxfam’s Middle East regional director:

We are now at the abhorrent stage of babies dying because of diarrhoea and hypothermia. It is shattering that newborns are coming into the world and due to the apocalyptic conditions, stand little chance of survival.

In some cases, mothers had to give birth in classrooms full with seventy other people, which the director described as “simply inhumane.” Miscarriages in Gaza have increased by 300 percent compared to the prewar situation.

Gaza’s health system has all but collapsed, with only a third of Gaza’s hospitals and a quarter of its primary health centers still partially operational. There are at least many hundreds of thousands of reported cases of diseases in Gaza so far. By December, over one hundred thousand cases of diarrhea had been reported, half of which were among children aged five or less (twenty-five times the prewar frequency).

Gaza’s health system has all but collapsed, with only a third of Gaza’s hospitals and a quarter of its primary health centers still partially operational.

On average, there is one shower in Gaza for every 4,500 people, and a toilet for every 220. Important public voices in Israel — such as Giora Eiland, a former general and head of Israel’s National Security Council and official wartime advisor to Israel’s defense minister — have spoken in favor of allowing diseases to decimate the civilian population in Gaza.

Israel has systematically dismantled the health system in Gaza. In late February, the head of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) stated that “there is no health system to speak of left in Gaza.” Israel justified much of this by stating that the medical facilities were used for military purposes, but the head of MSF also stated that his organization has “seen zero independently verified evidence of this.”

The chair of global public health at the University of Edinburgh stated in December that

the world faces the prospect of almost a quarter of Gaza’s 2 million population — close to half- a million human beings — dying within a year. These would be largely deaths from preventable health causes and the collapse of the medical system.

Other academics reached similar and more detailed conclusions.

Ethnic Cleansing

Ethnic cleansing is openly discussed in Israeli discourse, including by ministers in the ruling government. This includes the ministers of finance and national security, the former minister of information, and a former minister of justice. Israel MPs have also participated in the discussion. An Israeli government proposal to repopulate all Gazans to the Sinai Peninsula (part of Egypt) has been leaked.

Ethnic cleansing is openly discussed in Israeli discourse, including by ministers in the ruling government.

Israel has also attempted to get the United States to pressure Egypt into accepting Gazan refugees, and has sought to convince several other countries, including Congo, to accept Palestinian refugees. Other locations that members of Israel’s government suggested as potential resettlement locations include Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Chile, and member states of the European Union.

According to Israeli media reports, Chad and Rwanda have expressed interest in accepting tens of thousands of Palestinians in exchange for generous financial support that included military support. In mid-February, a local human rights organization revealed that Egypt was building a high-security area for the reception of Palestinian refugees.

The absence of clear war goals or a clear endgame to the war has allowed many Israelis to support the resettling of Gaza with Jewish settlements after the war. Over thirty right-wing organizations supported this goal in a late January conference. A total of eleven ministers and fifteen MPs (of a total of 120) participated in the conference. Several IDF soldiers have stated their will to resettle Gaza while uniformed and within Gaza. Polls from February and March reveal that some 20 percent of Israeli Jews believe that Israel should resettle Gaza.

The aspirations to resettle the Gaza Strip are common in discourse. A video from late February shows an Israeli civilian tractor sowing fields within the Gaza Strip as a “victory photo.” In early March, Jewish activists were able to briefly enter the Gaza Strip in an attempt to build a settlement there. Earlier in the war, IDF soldiers constructed “the first synagogue in Khan Younis” and another synagogue there, as well as inaugurating a Torah scroll on three occasions (Sheikh Radwan in Gaza City, the Islamic University in Gaza, and Khan Younis).

One soldier filmed himself spray-painting the Temple in Jerusalem on the ruins of a destroyed mosque in Gaza. Earlier in the war, Donna Italia (an international pizzeria chain) appears to have opened a pizzeria in a displaced family’s home in Khan Younis to support IDF troops. An IDF military “pizzeria” had allegedly operated in Khan Younis, and soldiers placed a sign of a fast-food restaurant that might soon open in Gaza. Other soldiers held a commercial sign of a US construction company from New Jersey (and an American flag) with the destroyed buildings of Gaza in the background.

Systematic Destruction

All the evidence I have seen indicates that Israel is systematically destroying Gaza to make it unlivable in the future. Israel is said to have dropped over five hundred two-thousand-pound bombs within the densely populated urban area, despite the massive collateral damage these bombs cause (causing death or injury in a radius of up to 365 meters around the target). These bombs are four times heavier than the largest devices the United States used when fighting ISIS in Mosul.

All the evidence I have seen indicates that Israel is systematically destroying Gaza to make it unlivable in the future.

Over 60 percent of Gaza’s housing units have been destroyed or damaged. As of mid-January, experts estimated on the basis on satellite imagery that between 142,900 to 176,900 buildings had been damaged. By early March, 54.8 percent of the buildings in the Gaza Strip were likely damaged or destroyed. A report by the World Bank and the UN found that the cost of damage to buildings in the Strip reached $18.5 billion.

By the end of March, Israeli military activity resulted in the complete destruction of between a quarter and a third of greenhouses, the damaging of 40 to 48 percent of tree crops in Gaza, the loss or damage of 48 percent of tree cover, and the destruction of 38 percent of farmland. As a result of the massive destruction, 89 percent of Gazan workers lost their jobs by December.

Israel has destroyed not only buildings whose connection to Hamas militants is weak, but also a long list of cultural institutions, historical and archaeological sites, dozens of governmental buildings (including the parliament and the main courthouse), religious buildings (over 223 mosques and three churches), universities (most or all universities in Gaza have been destroyed according to Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor), hospitals, public libraries, and archives.

Already in early December, Israeli attacks had destroyed or damaged more than one hundred heritage sites, including buildings from Gaza’s medieval, Byzantine, and Roman periods. Soldiers have been filmed within a warehouse filled with antiquities, and there appears to have been a post by the director of the Israel Antiquities Authority that claimed that some of those antiquities were taken to Israel and presented in the Knesset (the post was later deleted). Over 60 percent of all school buildings have sustained damage.

One IDF soldier claims his unit received orders to destroy the village of Khuzaʽa and uploaded a video showing that they accomplished the mission over two weeks. At least sixteen cemeteries have been desecrated by the IDF, often by bulldozing. A video shows the results of such an operation, with corpses left scattered across the landscape. Another video depicts the torching of the Shujjaiya neighborhood in a military operation.

The IDF further bulldozed broad areas in the Gaza Strip. The amount of debris created by the destruction of residential areas (about twenty-six million metric tons) will take many years to remove, according to estimates. In late March, a UNICEF spokesperson described “utter annihilation” in Khan Younis, stating that “the depth of the horror surpasses our ability to describe it.”

After two months of fighting, Israel had already caused more destruction in Gaza than Syria in Aleppo (2012–16), Russia in Mariupol in 2022, or (proportionally) the Allied bombing of Germany in World War II, as well as the fights against ISIS in Mosul (2016–17) and Raqqa (2017). The destruction in Gaza has resulted in the displacement of some 75 percent of Gaza’s population.

As I hope to have demonstrated through the evidence above, the situation in Gaza is a horrible catastrophe that continues to unfold daily in front of our eyes. The least I can do is to gather the evidence and speak up now.

This is an abridged version of a longer essay by Israeli academic Lee Mordechai, “Bearing Witness to the Israel-Gaza War.”

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