By Seth Tamarkin
In 2014 I found myself in a warzone. My summer camp took a month-long trip to the Holy Land itself, Israel. The same day we arrived, Israel waged war with their neighbor Gaza. The conflict became known as Operation Protective Edge, or the 2014 Gaza War.
A “warzone” for sure. I use air quotes because while I had the time of my life, not once living in fear, Gaza suffered brutally. With the recent conflict in Gaza and Israel, it’s important to realize how one-sided this conflict is.
Over the course of the month, we witnessed what it’s like to live in a warzone. One of our counselors left early to join the IDF’s tank division. On the news we watched where Hamas’s 6,000 rockets landed in the New Jersey-sized nation. On one particular night, we woke up at 4am to sirens blaring.
Blood red lights flashed outside. We all marched down the stairs past the hotel’s luxurious pool. The pool looked wildly out-of-place next to sirens warning of our (possible) impending doom from enemy missile fire. Finally, we reached the bomb shelter. Minutes went by, minutes where I observed the gamut of emotions on display.
Subtle nervousness was the overwhelming emotion emanating from the basement. There wasn’t much panic about how “we’re all gonna die!” like one might expect sixteen-year olds to react.
Even as young teens, we knew we were safe. For the entirety of my time in a warzone, that was the closest we got to violence. To be fair, our counselor and tour guides’ due diligence purposely kept us from locations considered potentially dangerous.
You got to wonder though, how many locations could be seen as potentially safe in Gaza? Gaza is approximately 139 square miles compared to Israel’s 8,355 square miles. That’s around 60 times smaller than Israel, yet they have almost 2 million citizens compared to Israel’s 9 million.
In one of the most densely populated places on the planet, that leaves little room to escape from violence. My group easily avoided rocket fire in New Jersey-sized Israel. Imagine how difficult it is to avoid 6,000 precision air strikes in the Detroit-sized Gaza.
There’s another element here as well. Israel has the Iron Dome, which intercepts incoming missiles with Israeli ones. Due to each missile’s expensiveness, Iron Dome only intercepts missiles headed towards population centers. In the Gaza War, this meant Iron Dome intercepted 80-95% of Hamas rockets. Meanwhile, there is no such equivalent in Gaza.
This helps explain why I was surfing, touring Jerusalem, and eating Israeli McDonalds with my friends in relative peace. While on the other side of the fence, hellfire reigned nonstop on the Gaza Strip.
It’s important to mention the effectiveness of Hamas’s weaponry too. They don’t have a military, navy, or air force. They have rockets, RPGs, and assault rifles. The large majority of those Hamas rockets didn’t land in populated areas. Meanwhile, Israel’s military has been called the most technologically advanced in the world.
That’s resulted in the disproportionate destruction that Gaza experienced. Israeli air strikes shredded Gaza’s infrastructure. They razed entire neighborhoods out of existence. “There are strong indications that these attacks could be disproportionate, and therefore amount to a war crime,” a UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) investigation later found.
Israel claims they have to target civilian areas because Hamas uses civilians as human shields. But following the war, an Amnesty report couldn’t verify those claims.
Due to Gaza’s density, there isn’t a safe place away from civilians to launch rockets. There aren’t even bomb shelters in Gaza.
Even if Hamas used human shields, Israel’s Dahiya Doctrine would on-purposely crush civilians anyways. The doctrine, named after a prior battle in Lebanon, urges Israel to completely destroy their enemies’ infrastructure, civilian or otherwise. This occurred so often in the Gaza War that the International Criminal Court is currently investigating Israel for war crimes.
This isn’t to say that Hamas acted in good faith. Their rocket attacks resulted in five civilian deaths. Although it’s hard to let that figure puncture when the civilian death toll in Gaza was over one thousand. Over 500 were children. One attack on a residential building resulted in at least 142 families losing three or more members, resulting in 742 deaths.
69 Israeli soldiers died in the conflict, while Hamas soldier deaths were again over one thousand.
In addition, Israel suffered no lasting infrastructure damage. Gaza, on the other hand, suffered over $40 billion worth of damage. How is Gaza supposed to afford that when they also deal with a crushing Israeli-Egyptian blockade that leaves them cut off from the outside world? In addition, they have sewage-contaminated water systems, widespread malnutrition, and a reported 80% of Gazans depending on international aid.
After returning from Israel, I had their propaganda down pat. “Maybe if Hamas didn’t start the fight, Israel wouldn’t punish Gaza’s civilians,” I’d say. Is that ethical in the slightest though? If anything, it sounds psychopathic. There’s only one outcome from punishing innocent people because of what guilty people did. It makes the innocent hate you and makes them empathize with the guilty ones.
It took me a few years to stop believing the hype. Israel’s frequent human rights abuses since then have solidified my position. The cherry on top was finding out that Israel helped create Hamas, much like America did with their number one enemy Iran.
As I write this, violence is escalating in Israel and Gaza. Israel again blames Hamas for firing the first rockets. However, there is clearly Israeli aggression from the start.
First, Israel allowed Jewish settlers to force Palestinians from their homes. “If I don’t steal your home, someone else will. So, what’s the problem?” One settler says on video.
Then, Israel stormed the third-holiest site in Islam during Ramadan. They used stun grenades and caused hundreds of injuries. At the same time, Jewish supremacists littered the streets assaulting Arabs and destroying their property.
Hamas has responded with rockets, killing ten so far. Then, Israel responded with blistering artillery, destroying civilian infrastructure. They’ve killed over 200 people already, including 61 children.
Recently, Israel destroyed a media tower and residential complex. “My colleague wrote that the AP office was “the only place in Gaza City I feel somewhat safe.” Israel destroyed the building today,” an AP writer tweeted. Once again, Israel blamed Hamas for using the journalists as “human shields.” Once again, they cited no evidence justifying their claim.
I was in the “warzone,” so let me reassure everyone worried about Israel’s safety – you have nothing to fear. In a world where I can float carefree in the Dead Sea while miles away Israel bombs a hospital, it’s clear there is a power imbalance.
Hopefully, journalists and politicians will remember that next time they say it’s a “clash” or that “both sides” are in equal danger.