By Vincent DiFonzo ’25 Managing Editor, Ike’s Anvil
Last March, I had the opportunity to travel to Israel as part of the Eisenhower Institute’s Contours of the Middle East program. I visited during a time of political crisis. Israel’s young democracy was being challenged—not by a foreign power—but by their own prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. During the trip, our group met with a diverse range of people from the region, including both a retired Israeli Defense Force (IDF) general and a member of the Palestinian National Authority, the provisional government of the West Bank. These two people, from opposite sides of the conflict, disagreed on many things, yet they likely would have agreed on one: Netanyahu’s attempted judicial reforms, which would allow him to end his own corruption trial, are harmful to Israel. Israelis overwhelmingly opposed the changes and took to the streets in massive numbers to protest Netanyahu’s power grab.
On the trip, I was most impacted by our visit to Yad Vashem (Hebrew: יָד וַשֵׁם), which directly translates to “a memorial and a name.” Yad Vashem, located on Jerusalem’s Mount of Remembrance, serves as a leader in the study of genocide, why it has happened in the past and how we can best prevent it in the future. Yad Vashem’s Holocaust Museum is disturbing and challenging, but incredibly important. Understanding how humans have justified genocide to themselves in the past is essential to preventing its recurrence in the future. The Holocaust is unique in that its roots lie in the long history of anti-semitism that has plagued humanity for thousands of years. It also stands out as the only example of genocide on such a quick, efficient and industrial scale. Israel emerged as an independent Jewish state as Jews around the world reflected on their immense loss and decided, once and for all, “never again.”
It’s happening again.
On Saturday, Israel was attacked. Over 3000 rockets were fired, quickly followed by an incursion into Israel by approximately 1000 Hamas insurgents. They murdered and kidnapped every Israeli they came across. Residents of Sderot, Netiv HaAsara and other surrounding towns experienced horrors beyond comprehension as militants indiscriminately shot at anyone they saw. Currently, 150 hostages are being held by Hamas, who is threatening to kill them at any moment.
Israel has faced threats from across its borders since its founding. It’s a long, terrible conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands on both sides. Saturday’s events are just the latest escalation of the conflict, but the way that Hamas massacred Israeli civilians is unprecedented in recent memory.
The atrocities committed by Hamas are disgusting, abhorrent and inexcusable. Hamas is a terrorist organization that will stop at nothing to murder Jews. Especially terrifying is the hostage crisis that Israel now faces. Hamas does not demonstrate any concern for the two million Gazans who they rule over. Hamas kidnapped, raped and massacured Israeli civilians. There is absolutely no excuse for this.
I empathize with the Jewish community around the world, who again find themselves targeted by increasing anti-semetic attacks, as they have throughout their entire history. Israel is completely within its boundaries to retaliate against Hamas to defend its people against terror.
But war crimes are not the answer. Blocking all food, water and power supply from entering Gaza, firing rockets indiscriminately, without regard for civilian casualties, destroying ports of exit from Gaza and the use of white phosphorus on densely populated areas is not the reasonable answer. Yet, these are the actions taken by Israel since Saturday.
The Gaza Strip, where Hamas has governed since their electoral victory in 2006, is home to over two million people, nearly half of whom are under 18. These people live among one of the densest, most impoverished and underdeveloped 141 square miles of land in the world. Gazans essentially live in an open-air prison. To their north and east is the border with Israel, which they cannot enter without permission that is rarely granted. To their south is Egypt, who in collaboration with Israel, closed its border to Gazans years ago. To the west is the Mediterranean Sea, where just a few miles off the coast the Israeli navy maintains a blockade, preventing anyone from going in or out of Gaza without permission. 300,000 are newly homeless while hospitals shut down. Now, there is fear of food shortage and even starvation. These are humans.
Regardless of your opinion on the conflict, the actions taken, including the blockade of vital supplies and the targeting of civilian homes, schools and places of worship by Israel, violates international criminal law, despite the International Criminal Court’s hesitation to prosecute. The United States, along with its Western allies, are complicit in this when we continue funding Israel’s military, supplying weapons and ignoring Gazan suffering as Palestinians are disproportionately killed by Israeli military action.
Israel has been and continues to be heavily dependent on Western, particularly American, aid. Without their history of Western support, Israel likely would not exist, although Israel is becoming increasingly self-sufficient. While Israel mainains their siege, Gazans are suffering. The escalation of the conflict into full-blown war has and will continue to worsen the lives of Gazans who did not ask for this war. The Israeli government is capable of responding with regard for the civilians of Gaza. They do not have to cut food and water supply to millions of human beings. I understand that Israel is shocked, suffering under the threat of Hamas rocket fire, and faced with the horrible prospect of Hamas holding 150 people hostage in Gaza, but this is not the answer. As the much more powerful, wealthy and organized force of the conflict, Israel is capable of a response to Hamas’ barbaric attack in a forceful manner while complying with international law, including supplying Gazans with the food and water they depend upon.
The Biden Administration has previously called out Netanyahu for his corrupt and anti-democratic actions, but is now pledging more military support for Israel. War crimes are illegal for all nations for a reason and Israel is not an exception. Americans, when our allies commit acts that go against our values, don’t turn a blind eye. Call them out and hold them accountable.
Being pro-Palestine is not anti-semetic. Criticism of Israel for their violent acts is not anti-semetic. Defending Israel’s right to protect itself is not anti-Palestine. Thousands of innocent people are dead on both sides, and we shouldn’t care what the nationality of the deceased is.
Americans, let’s hold our government accountable. Israel is a close ally that still depends on our aid. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Tel Aviv as I write this, meeting with Netanyahu. Demand that President Biden, Secretary Blinken and Congress use America’s leverage to pressure Israel into ceasing their human rights violations.
I encourage students to respond to this article. Direct Ike’s Anvil submissions, whether you agree or disagree, to Difovi01@gettysburg.edu. Submissions can be on any public policy-related topic. I especially encourage submissions that criticize, or offer a different perspective to, this piece. Dialogue across differences leads us closer to the best path forward.