A Humanist Perspective on the Causes, Reasonings and Consequences of the Israeli-Palestinian War


Wars always cause human suffering, even when they are justified. Although suffering is not measurable, it is possible to qualify it as an illegitimate endeavor. Therefore, wars are substantially immoral. If this is the case, one should ask why human beings resort to war and violence, causing much suffering. Many philosophers, historians, and social scientists have been engaged in answering this question (Mann, 2023; Gat, 2006; von Clausewitz, 2008). They have argued that it is rooted in human animalist aggressions and, therefore, part and parcel of human existential drives (Payne, 2015; Pinker, 2013). Others have emphasized the indispensability of war due to the scarcity of resources and the need to fight for their availability to guarantee survival (Mann, 2023; Bayman and van Evera, 1998). However, others view war in realist terms and as an integral component of a system composed of a balance of power between multiple players (Waltz, 1979; Wagner, 2007). According to this realist view, wars are never local and motivated by the will of a particular player, even when players have a central role in their instigation (Mann, 2023; Gilpin, 1981; Walt, 1987). Accordingly, wars result from polarity in a regional and international system of power in which players seek to either maintain the status quo or change it in their favor (Mearsheimer, 2001). That given, when seeking an explanation for a particular war, it is necessary to bring together all the causes of war mentioned above and look at the way local, regional, and international factors play in a structure of power that is systemic rather than solely agent-based (Bayman and van Evera, 1998).

Artist: Drew Martin

Notwithstanding the causes of a particular war, wars entail a hierarchy of suffering, according to which the suffering of one’s side is always more valued and counted than the sufferings of others. Therefore, we must consider the psycho-social dimensions of wars to understand them better (Payne, 2015). The hierarchy of suffering has strategic ramifications, especially when we consider the immediate relationship between suffering and humiliation, and the urge of human beings to retaliate or take revenge and to deter others (Zabad, 2019). The politics of feelings is a pivotal factor in that war continues to characterize human societies and those that have experienced enlightenment, modernization, and cultural elevation (Nussbaum, 2003). Although some would argue that the level of human damage resulting from wars has been markedly reduced in modern society compared to pre-modern societies, the enduring amount of human suffering necessitates thinking about the causes, reasoning, and ramifications of wars (Mann, 2018; Gat, 2012). In the following brief analysis of the 2023-2024 Israeli-Palestinian war, I aim to relate to its causes, reasoning, and the necessary measures to end human suffering. For that purpose, I locate it in its broader context and demonstrate how local, regional, and international factors interplay, causing human suffering that could be avoided (Huber, 2021). The argument is that the historical, regional and international context feeds the flames of war and keep it ongoing.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is over one hundred years old (Khalidi, 2021; Tessler, 2009). It has been undergoing significant shifts in the last three decades, in which the relations between the two sides have been shifting between peace accords and several cycles of vicious violence. Since October 7th, 2023, a turning point occurred in the relationship between the two sides. This war marks a watershed that seems to make the conflict even more intractable than it has been so far. The sudden, surprising, and unprecedented Palestinian attack on Israel caused hundreds of deaths and injuries in one day. It entailed atrocities, human rights violations, and humiliation of basic human dignity. This war marks the first time that the Palestinians gained a unique strategic success by surprising the Israeli intelligence, landing a blow to the strongest army in the region, and causing an unprecedented number of casualties that left the Israelis in shock, grief, rage, and humiliation. That said, the subsequent Israeli ruthless war on Gaza, killing tens of thousands, most of whom are innocent civilians, and the devastation of hundreds of thousands of residential buildings, leaving their inhabitants without shelter, has also been shocking, painful, infuriating, and exasperating. The conduct of the Israeli security forces has been in magnitude and scale not seen before (Levy, 2024). They also include human rights violations, humiliation of basic human dignity and violation of international humanitarian law. As a result, this war includes actions and sufferings that twist the asymmetry of power between the two sides in a way that has not been experienced before. The dread and awe in Israel caused by the Palestinian attack is on a scale that changes the balance of suffering to an extent. Israel, on its part, has been waging a vicious and revengeful war in Gaza and the occupied West Bank. Notwithstanding, the pain and suffering it has been causing, the Israeli army has not achieved any of the declared goals of the war until the end of June 2024. The enormous number of Palestinian casualties and devastation will leave physical and psychological scars that innocent people will endure for a long time. They will have a long-standing psycho-political impact on both sides’ future behavior and considerations, not that previous painful events have been missing between the two sides.

Questions Looking for Answers,

Many questions come to mind when seeking to explain this war and provide some logic to its timing, causes, reasonings, and implications. The war is still ongoing when writing these words, so it is impossible to answer all questions about it. Nonetheless, it is possible to tackle some of them, especially regarding what has happened so far. Why did the Palestinians attack Israel at a time when Israel is ruled by the most extreme nationalistic government in its history, knowing the disproportionate balance of power and a harsh retaliation would be expected? What are the goals of Hamas and its allies? Why did the Israeli army fail to prevent the attack despite the existence of sufficient intelligence about the intentions and training of Hamas soldiers? Why did Israel retaliate in the way it did, and what are the objectives the government is seeking to achieve? What is this war’s strategic meaning, and what are its possible ramifications for the two sides and the Middle East region?

Palestinians transport the injured to the Indonesian Hospital in Jabalia, north of the Gaza Strip on October 9, 2023.

This article aims to answer some of these questions by providing a psycho-political and strategic analysis of the timing, causes, and reasonings behind the war, while locating it in its regional and international context. The assumption behind the analysis is that one cannot understand the Palestinian attack and the nature of the Israeli response without theorizing war as a combination of psycho-political motivations and strategic action within regional and international systems of power (Dierauer, 2013). This argument obliges us to go beyond the standard framing of current events and look at regional and international factors.

It is argued that although the Palestinians were the ones to open the war this time, their decision was not disconnected from a good reading of the regional and international scene, especially given the Israeli strategy to sideline them when promoting the normalization of Israel’s relations with Arab countries (Jamal, 2022). The profound interrelationship between internal developments on both sides of the conflict on the one hand and regional and international polarization on the other provides the reasoning behind the tragic events of October 7th, 2023 and what has been occurring since then. Although the impact of the sides on the conflict is incomparable, it is the antagonistic developments within them that have led to the recent explosion. On the internal level, it is the rise of messianic nationalism in Israel and its occupation of the highest ranks in government and partially the security forces and simultaneously the rise of fundamental religious forces, especially Hamas, in Palestinian society. There is disproportionate power between the Israeli state, as the sovereign state in the entire area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, and the Palestinian resistance movement, which has been operating under occupation and siege for decades (Shafir, 2017). Nonetheless, the internal developments have increasingly become negatively dialectical. This is especially true, given the fact that Israel has been an important active player behind the rising power of Hamas, aiming to weaken the Palestinian Authority (PA) as an officially recognized representative of the Palestinian cause and thereby avoid negotiations based on former peace agreements with it. This antagonistic dialectic has to be placed in its regional and international context in order to be better understood as a central factor in leading to the war. One must consider the efforts made by subsequent US administrations and its allies in Europe to promote normalization between what they have defined as moderate Arab states and Israel, thereby accepting the Israeli strategy of sidelining the Palestinians and subsiding their aspiration for liberation and statehood.

That said, the timing of this war provides a partial explanation not only of the reasons behind its breakout, but also of its brutality and ruthlessness. The Palestinian attack did not only lead to the falling astray of many Israeli misconceptions and prejudices regarding the daring and capacity of the Palestinians in Gaza, but also of the black holes in the Israeli defense strategy. It led to national humiliation, reminding many Jews of past events when they had no one to protect them, and to the sabotaging of strategic plans and goals the nationalist Israeli government thought to be able to realize. Therefore, contextualizing this war, going beyond the official discourse of the sides enables us to avoid the trap of the propaganda war and provide comprehensive answers to part of the questions raised above (Tiripelli, 2016). The contextualization of grand events in the psyche and memory of the two sides is of great epistemological and ethical importance (Hesselgrave & Rommen, 2013; Stocking, 1993). It allows us to better understand the players’ behavior and strategic goals without belittling the tremendous human suffering and pain. Contextualization means path-dependent analysis and process tracking (Mahoney, 2000; Goertz, 1994), following what has been recommended by many philosophers of social science. Furthermore, contextualization, unlike some viewpoints, mainly in Israel, does not necessarily imply falling into the trap of relativization or justification.[1] To comprehend the cycle of violence that has been ongoing since October 7th, we must meticulously trace the steps taken by all sides. This includes their initial intentions, the extent to which they could implement their plans, unforeseen events, and why these factors should be considered when attempting to explain the complex reality we are discussing. What they thought they would achieve, the extent to which they could enact what they had planned, what unplanned occurrences took place, and why that could or should be considered when trying to explicate the complex reality of which we speak. Nothing in contextualizing the war relativizes or justifies the violations of human dignity and the killing and kidnapping of innocent civilians.

While the context provides a reasoning for the war, it does not explain the cruelty inflicted by both sides and the disproportionate damage and human suffering it causes. Notwithstanding, the ongoing tragic events require a realistic understanding of both sides’ planned steps and calculated measures to achieve their goals, making realist theory necessary. However, a simple, realistic understanding is not sufficient. The cold-mindedness of realism must be combined with an understanding of the psychology of maltreatment, fear, shock, and awe. Political philosophers, from Aristotle and Thomas Hobbes to Martha Nussbaum (2003), have recognized that human conduct is loaded with emotions and pathos. Every human action entails acting upon something or someone and being affected by it (Rorty, 1984). Human interactions involve multiple aspects, including rational, psychological, and ethical factors. If we seek a comprehensive understanding of the motivations, meaning, and implications of such interactions, whether they are calculated behaviors, emotional ones, or a combination of the two, these aspects are important. In conflict settings and wars, the two processes of acting and being acted upon are essential features of the human condition. Understanding this can provide a constructive perspective to better explain the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and ways to heal the wounds it has caused. This understanding also helps us clarify why the unfolding reality’s severity necessitates a different pattern of international intervention (Spitka, 2016; Tannam, 2014).

The Why and How of the Palestinian Attack   

Hamas’ attack on October 7th is called the “Al-Aqsa Flood”. Although it has an immediate religious connotation because Hamas and Islamic Jihad are religious movements, this attack has a strategic purpose that serves political goals. Therefore, to understand the reasoning of the attack, we need to consider the official documents issued by Hamas on 21 January 2024. According to Hamas, the operation against Israel is a response to Israel’s long-standing colonization of Palestine, which can be justified based on seven factors.[2] These factors include Israel’s plans to Judaize the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the annexation plans of the Israeli government, the thousands of Palestinian detainees in Israeli jails, the blockade on Gaza, the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, the seven million Palestinian refugees living in extreme conditions in refugee camps, and the prevention of establishing a Palestinian state by the superpowers.

Disaster Victim Identification after 2023 Hamas attack on Israel.

Despite the circumstances, the operation was meticulously planned using advanced rational and strategic calculations. From a military standpoint, Hamas and its allies managed to strike the most powerful regional force at the heart of its strategic doctrine, which includes early warning, deterrence, and quick, short, and decisive warfare on enemy territory (Rodman, 2024; Eilam, 2018). The fact that they were able to neutralize all Israeli surveillance mechanisms, subdue all security forces, and launch a coordinated air, sea, and land attack reflects a military capability gained through training for years under the watchful eye of Israeli intelligence.

The planners of the attack were aware of the power imbalance between their abilities and the Israeli army’s capabilities. Therefore, they chose October 7th as the attack date for five interrelated reasons:

1-The first reason was symbolic. It had to do with the sudden and surprising attack of the Egyptian and Syrian armies on Israel on 6 October 1973 and their ability to quickly change the balance of strategic power between the two sides.

2-The second reason was tactical. The attack was planned on the Israeli holiday and was kept secret until the last moment. The Hamas leadership based their plan on well-studied intelligence, taking into account that the Israelis would not be on high alert during one of the central Jewish holidays. They had information that there would not be many soldiers on the border with Gaza, and those who were there would not be ready for a sudden and heavy attack from the outside. This was a decisive factor in carrying out the operation on that day. According to the Israeli army’s information, the Hamas leadership was entirely correct. The Israelis believed that Hamas and its allies were deterred and had no intention of engaging in a new war. Therefore, the number of soldiers was too small to face thousands of Palestinians, some of whom were highly trained and determined to break the siege, occupy Israeli territory, and kidnap as many Israelis as possible.

3-The timing of the October 7th attack was strategically planned to take advantage of the internal division in Israel over judicial reform. Many pilots in the Air Force, as well as officers in other elite army units, had threatened to suspend their voluntary service, which prompted the defense minister to publicly warn of the dangers to Israel’s national security. These threats created a sense of vulnerability and unpreparedness in Israel’s special elite army units.

4-Additionally, on the strategic level, there were rumors of a possible breakthrough in the normalization of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia.. In the lead-up to October, the media in Israel were discussing a possible breakthrough in the US-sponsored Israeli-Saudi normalization negotiations. If this normalization were to occur, it would deal a heavy blow to the Palestinians, especially since Saudi Arabia holds significant symbolic weight as the guardian of the holiest sites in Islam and a leading Arab country in the Gulf. This factor has most likely played a role in determining the timing of the attack and the efforts to sabotage the normalization process between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

5- Hamas and its other religious allies have been seeking to place themselves as the authentic representatives of the Palestinian struggle for liberation and independence and for that purpose they sought to further weaken the PA and destabilize its power in the West Bank.

Based on the events of October 7th, it seems that Hamas and its allies were not only able to surprise the Israeli army, but they also surprised themselves. Initially, they did not expect their operation to be as successful as it was, with their forces being able to occupy Israeli territory for hours and kidnap as many Israelis as they did. Based on interviews with their leaders, they probably did not anticipate that their operation would break the Israeli security myth so quickly. Secondly, they were taken aback by the fact that many Palestinian civilians participated in the attack, causing damage and unnecessary civilian casualties, as well as kidnapping civilians that became difficult to hide and sustain for an extended period of time for an exchange deal. The fact that hundreds of civilians were involved in the attack, conducting atrocities, overshadowed the military success of the operation. The kidnapping of women, the elderly, and children played a decisive role not only in how the Israeli response took place, but also in the response of many Muslim countries that condemned the violation of Islamic principles in war. Thirdly, they were taken aback by the fact that Israel had been allowed to invade Gaza without any hindrance. Even when it became evident that Israel’s actions clearly violated international humanitarian law, the official support for its right for self-defense, also when it has been widely translated, remained unchanged. Fourthly, they were surprised that their allies, particularly those from Lebanon, shied away from total war with Israel, which could have drastically altered the situation.

Hamas and its allies misjudged the reactions of the world’s superpowers to Israel’s systematically and brutally conducting massive killings by bombing and bombarding densely populated areas with tons of explosives from the air and the ground. They may have expected the Israeli retaliation to be severe, causing regional instability and leading to significant international intervention. Otherwise, it is plausible to assume that the Hamas leaders and their allies believe that the price all Palestinians would pay is worth the risk and better than the humiliating and undignified reality in which they have lived under arrogant Israeli control for years.

Based on interviews given by Hamas leaders, the recent attack was a long-planned operation, with daily training conducted in front of the Israeli intelligence forces.[3] Hamas and its allies demonstrated the capacity to carry out a broad-scale attack. They successfully faced one of the world’s most sophisticated and well-equipped armies, overcoming fences built with the best technology. This operation displayed sophistication and the ability to wage war, with humble air forces, land troops, and marines coordinating their attack to surprise and destabilize the other side’s ability to respond. These tactics were successful, leading to the humiliation of the Israeli army. The goal was to retaliate and defeat the Israeli arrogant sense of human and technological superiority, leading to a change in the strategic local and regional military and political formula.

The Why of the Israeli Surprise  

Regarding the Israeli side, numerous questions need answering, which may not all be covered in this context. Nevertheless, the questions about why Israel was caught off-guard and defeated, why it took the army many hours to respond, what the objectives of the Israeli war are, and how future relations between the two sides would develop after such a brutal war can be briefly answered.

Demonstrators at Trafalgar Square, November 4, 2023. (Alisdaire Hickson)

It is reasonable to argue that Israel’s surprise and defeat on October 7th was a result of a combination of arrogance, contempt and a deep conviction in Israeli superiority and unique security capabilities (Goodman, 2024). As the historian Uri Bar-Joseph argued, there was a significant measure of indifference in the Israeli security forces, which is rooted in two interconnected factors.[4] The first factor relates to the methods of collecting information about the opposing side, which proved inadequate in providing a complete picture of Hamas’ intentions and plans. The second factor relates to the government’s dominant political perspective, which viewed Hamas as a partner in sabotaging any peace process with the PA based on the initiative of the Arab League. As a result, despite the information available to the Israeli army intelligence and the National Security Service (Shabak), they were unable to decipher Hamas’ plans, misread its intentions, and underestimated its capabilities. They believed that they would have enough time to react and “ring the bell” if Hamas and its allies decided to attack.  The army thought that even if they did not manage to know of an attack in advance, they had enough power to defend the border and the settlements close to it until reinforcements arrived. However, this assumption also proved to be false.

The army did not come as fast as expected and faced significant difficulties in responding to the Palestinian forces that had infiltrated deep into many settlements and towns, making it challenging to locate them and directly fight them in densely populated areas, such as in Sderot. The delay in a massive and organized response, even though many individuals volunteered to fight and protect the civilians, gave the invading forces time to occupy Israeli territory for the first time since 1948, killing hundreds, injuring thousands, and traumatizing an enormous number of civilians. The chief of staff, Herzi Halevi, has repeatedly admitted that the army did not do its job,[5] which could be attributed to its belief in its own invincibility. The Israeli army was also influenced by the dispute over the judicial reform, causing most units to be ill-prepared for quick action during the combat on October 7th.[6]

The attack led by Hamas caused chaos and terror among most Israelis, as it was broadcast live, making it personal for everyone, regardless of where they lived in Israel. Israelis suddenly realized that they could be vulnerable to a sudden, sophisticated attack and subjected to acts of revenge and humiliation. The inability of the security forces, especially the air force to utilize their advantage, as a result of the fact that it was impossible for them to clearly differentiate between Israeli civilians and the invading Palestinians, created a sense of helplessness among most civilians. If such a frightening possibility became a reality within a few hours by what Israelis considered to be under-equipped and poorly trained Palestinians, it could become even worse with better-trained forces like the Radwan (commandos) of Hezbollah on the northern border (Kannaneh, 2021; Gleis & Bertti, 2012). This realization established a considerable gap between the image of security created by Israeli security forces and the reality on the ground. Many civilians and soldiers were neglected during the attack, and the government’s decision to evacuate all residents of the area, as well as many settlements near the northern border, created a deep sense of insecurity. The displacement of Israelis by their own government in such security situations, not being able to allow them back for more than nine months after the beginning of the war, was unprecedented and unforgivable from the standpoint of these citizens. It became an alarming example for all Israelis of what could happen to people living near the borders of the country (Goodman, 2024).

The strategic defeat of Israel, the humiliation of its army, and the abuses of civilian dignity made the Israeli response indispensable. Too many Israelis were hurt, and the state sovereignty was violated. Given the combination of the two and the fact that Israel is led by the most nationalist government in its history (Del Sarto, 2017) and by the most experienced prime minister, whose worldview is around the arrogant manifestation of power, the retaliation was a question of time. Although Israel is neither innocent when it comes to the Palestinians nor is the underdog in the conflict with them, the Palestinian attack reminded the Israelis of the Jewish past in exile (Goodman, 2024). The inefficiency of the government and the dysfunctionality of the army twisted the feeling of many people in Israel from being confident and completely trusting in their capabilities to shock and awe.

After the attack, officials portrayed Israel as the victim and attempted to create an image of it as an innocent oasis of peace, attacked by “human animals” and savages.[7] This perception obscured the fact that Israel is the colonial power that has been leading a brutal policy of oppression and systematic repression of the Palestinian aspiration for liberation and statehood for decades. This framing prepared the way for a brutal response that ignored the fact that Israel’s actions were a continuation of long-standing military attacks on the Palestinians. Israel aimed to win the support of its Western allies, especially the US, UK, Germany, and France, by framing the conflict as a war between good and evil and between the liberal West and Islamic fundamentalism.

This enabled Israel to respond brutally, viciously, and inhumanely with a free hand. The Israeli brutality has led to accusing it of conducting genocide and causing intentional unnecessary destruction all over the Gaza Strip. The Israeli brutal war has led to accusing its army of conducting war crimes and breaking international humanitarian law. The evidence is that over 37,600 were killed, 15,800 out of whom are children, 10,475 are women and 85,911 have been injured. The Israeli air strikes have not differentiated between combatants and innocent civilians. These strikes have led to the destruction of tens of thousands of buildings and houses, leaving numerous people under the rubble. The devastating Israeli military war, in which tens of thousands of soldiers are taking part in a densely populated area, has also led to the displacement of most Palestinians from their homes to which they cannot return, creating a new Palestinian Nakba with over 1.8 million refugees, suffering from starvation and famine.

Several psycho-strategic factors are behind the nature of the Israeli brutal war (Bar-Tal, 2024). These factors demonstrate the use of illegitimate and immoral means to achieve goals more related to revenge and purposeless collective punishment than to self-defense or facilitating a reality that could lead to future reconciliation between the two peoples. The Israeli government has defined two main goals for the war, namely dismantling Hamas’ military and governmental capabilities and the return of the hostages. Nine months after the beginning of the war, and despite the Israeli military upper hand, Israel has not achieved any of its declared war goals. It does not seem to be able to achieve what has been repeatedly defined as “total victory” by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.[8] This failure casts doubt on the declared goals of the war and brings to the fore the mere option of creating chaos in Gaza, making their life impossible. Such a reality would encourage an increasing number of people to leave, given the fact that Israel has not been able to expel the Gazans from Gaza.

The Why of the Israeli Brutal War  

A key factor that led to the brutal and immoral Israeli response was strategic-psychological. The fact that the entire Israeli security forces and there are many, having the best technology available, were taken by surprise led to the breakdown of the Israeli’s internal conviction as superior and undefeatable and humiliated their honor. This is especially true given the fact that the Israelis have built the most sophisticated fences possible, have the technology that allows them to oversee every movement and gesture in Gaza, and have engaged in several cycles of violence against the Palestinian resistance movement to guarantee their deterrence. Neither of these means and policies has stood the reality of a sudden attack by thousands of well-trained Palestinians who utilized relatively primitive technology to manipulate the entire Israeli security system. As a result, and beyond the suffering and pain caused to many citizens, the patriotic code of the security personnel was disgraced. This sense of betrayal of the code of duty made vengeance necessary to compensate, regain honor, and reacquire the confidence of the Israeli public. This is done in light of the world’s initial empathy with Israelis, who paid the price of the politics of arrogance and neglect.

Palestinians transport the injured to the Indonesian Hospital in Jabalia, north of the Gaza Strip on October 9, 2023.

The Israeli security forces exploited the circumstances to “teach the Palestinians a lesson” and take revenge not only on Hamas’ people, but on all Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip. Many Israeli leaders spoke of the affinity between the brutal and intentional killing and destruction and the aspiration to deter other enemies, especially Iranian-sponsored movements, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon. To justify revenge, many Israeli leaders have argued that it is necessary to speak a language that the Palestinians best understand (Harari, 2024). This orientalist tribal claim has been rooted in the Israeli colonial mind for years. It is utilized every time the arrogant Israeli self-perception is broken by a Palestinian resistance operation (Thrall, 2017). Therefore, when looking at the scale of violence against civilians and the devastation of almost all human facilities, one can argue that the Israelis are seeking to topple not only Hamas, which they have not managed to do in over nine months since the beginning of the war, but also the idea of a Palestinian national problem. Politicide, as Baruch Kimmerling (2003) had depicted the Israeli policies of the 1980s-90s has returned, this time on the wings of the F-16s and the wheels of panzers in Gaza. As most of the Knesset (99 out of 120) clarified in its decision on 21 February 2024, this war is about killing the dream of liberation and independence.[9]

The second factor behind Israel’s brutal war is the long-standing colonial mentality that is evident in the disrespect for Palestinian lives and the failure to recognize their right to liberation and statehood (Harari, 2024). This attitude has been evident in the mainstream Israeli discourse, which has referred to Palestinians as “human animals” who are responsible for their own suffering and have themselves to blame for what is happening to them. This disregard for Palestinian lives is not new. Israel has always treated Palestinians as inferior (Bar-Tal & Teichman, 2007). This policy has been declared publicly, framing all Palestinians as responsible for the actions of Hamas and other resistance groups. This framing has made Israel’s retaliation against all Palestinians seem legitimate to Israelis and has prevented sufficient criticism to stop the war.  The Israeli president, the minister of defense, several prominent politicians, army officers and ordinary citizens have accused all Palestinians of being responsible for the attack and the atrocities conducted against Israeli civilians on October 7th. The International Court of Justice documented these accusations after South Africa accused Israel of violating the UN Genocide Convention. Whereas many Israelis, including the president, have named all Palestinians as “human animals,” “Amalek,” “savages,” “monsters,” and “Satan” and wished them painful deaths, the Israeli media has refrained from showing the devastation in Gaza and censored any use of wording utilized in the world to criticize the inhumane conduct of the Israeli army.[10] Despite the existence of a small minority and various channels of communication, such as Haaretz, 972, Sicha Mekomit, and several human rights organizations that report on the ongoing war in Gaza, they hold little influence in shaping the minds and emotions of the Israeli public (Tiripelli, 2016). When the public is exposed to graphic footage from Gaza, their primary reaction tends to be either that the people of Gaza have brought the violence upon themselves or that the footage is fake news and rooted in anti-Semitic propaganda.

It seems that Israel’s strategy in this ongoing war between Israel and Palestine is two-fold. Firstly, Israel aims to prevent Palestinians from having any options for self-defense. Secondly, they aim to undermine the dream of Palestinians having self-government, which could lead to their right to self-determination in the future. Israel’s actions of massive killing, devastation, and destruction in Gaza are intended to revert the region to what it was like fifty years ago so that Palestinians have to start their struggle against occupation all over again. This means that Israel is not looking to end its occupation, but rather to make it easier to deal with its costs in the future.

The Israeli war on Hamas is framed as a total war against a splinter group of a broader radical Islamic jihadist movement, equating it with Daesh (ISIS). This approach aims to leave the door open for a long-standing Israeli military intervention in Gaza, similar to the ongoing American war on terror, without losing the official support Israel receives from Western countries. However, this approach has not been successful in the international media, leading to significant public pressure from Israel’s allies. Despite this pressure, the official positions of the US, the UK, Germany, France, and several other European countries have not seriously changed. Israel has been accused of targeting densely populated areas with intense air strikes, leading to the killing of thousands of innocent civilians, destroying their homes, and leaving public institutions and infrastructure dysfunctional. Despite these accusations, Israel claims that it does everything possible to avoid harming civilians, and this claim is met with partial consent. When Israeli officials are faced with criticism of their military operations, they often make references to the colonial history of European states, arguing that they have not done any better. Israeli officials make the same claim made by the US after 9/11, 2001, and the attack on the World Trade Center that self-defense is not only necessary, but also obligatory when confronting what the Western world considers to be an existential threat, namely fundamentalist Islam. Israel is positioning itself as a defender of the Western world, waging war in their name, and is using the just war doctrine, which was developed in the West, to justify its actions (Brooks, 2013; Walzer, 2000). Western states have officially supported Israel’s right to self-defense, a position that Israel has exploited in its efforts to carry out a second Palestinian Nakba.  However, in practical terms and the context of the current war, as it was before 1948, the Palestinians are not granted, as if not deserving, the right to defend themselves.

The strategic factors driving Israel’s brutal military strategy in Gaza are not only local, but also regional, and international. As already clarified, on the local level, the Israeli security forces operate under the urgent need to regain the confidence of the Israeli public, who fear that they would not be defended if attacked. The ease with which civilian settlements were invaded and the government’s decision to evacuate thousands of Israelis from the southern and northern borders have led to a psychological factor where returning the confidence of the Israeli public is crucial. It is widely accepted by the Israeli military elite that this can be achieved by demonstrating the Israeli army’s superiority and ability to inflict significant damage on Palestinian civilians who show empathy with the October 7th attack.

At the regional level, Israel has been striving to establish itself as a powerful regional player that cannot be defeated and is, therefore, a valuable ally in the battle for power and leadership. This strategic framing has been used to promote the recent normalization of relations with Arab countries. However, when negotiations to normalize relations with Saudi Arabia were at their peak, the attack by Hamas and its Palestinian allies, the Israeli military’s inadequate response, and the government’s inability to take control of the situation created an impression that Israel is not a reliable partner. This gap between the image projected by Israel and the reality on the ground has made it necessary for the Israeli leadership to demonstrate the country’s military might and strength, especially since Hamas and its allies are backed by Iran, which Israel considers to be its major enemy in the region. This Israeli effort, despite some critical statements and slight differences, is fully backed by the American administration that has been fully drawn into the war by providing endless military and logistical help to the Israeli army, estimated to be around $6.5 billion, in order to rebuild its deterring image and strategic reliability.

Israel is required to prove that it is a dependable ally that can not only defend itself and cause harm to its enemies but also assist in promoting Western interests in the region. This is particularly true regarding American interests in ensuring the security of Arab states that cannot face Iran alone. Nevertheless, the Israeli government’s misconduct and security forces’ failure could undermine its position as a trustworthy ally. The war on Gaza’s brutality is an attempt to exert pressure on Western allies to uphold their commitments to Israel’s security. Otherwise, Israel may resort to other methods to achieve its goals. However, these tactics have sparked public outrage in most Western countries, and governments remain loyal to their commitments while urging Israel to ease its hand on civilians and concentrate on defeating Hamas. As a result, Israel has managed to hold Western powers hostage to its brutal measures.

The How of the International Community: A Way Out

The war in Gaza has captured global attention due to its shocking atrocities, war crimes, and violations of international humanitarian law. It has sparked unprecedented widespread protests in many cities worldwide, having regional and international repercussions and causing regional instability. The high number of casualties and devastation and, as a result, the starvation of hundreds of thousands of fleeing Palestinians have drawn massive public criticism in many countries of the world. Israel’s brutal and inhumane response, which has caused intense human suffering without achieving the declared goals of its war, has led to a shift in world opinion, causing many countries, especially the most prominent Israeli allies, the US and Germany, to feel uneasy. Although these two countries have not changed their official policy towards the war, providing Israel with sophisticated weapons and lethal ammunition even in the face of criticism, they publicly express concern and pressure Israel to minimize civilian casualties and provide enough aid to avoid starvation and famine. This pressure, which comes rather too late and is mainly practiced for internal political reasons, does not reflect a sudden discovery of human morality and may leave no choice, but to impose changes in the Israeli determination not to allow the possibility for normal life anymore in the Gaza Strip.

A U.S. Air Force C-130J Super Hercules conducts airdrop of humanitarian assistance over Gaza, Mar. 2, 2024. (U.S. Air Force)

It is hard to predict how this war will end. However, it is clear that the scale of human loss, devastation, and the growing number of Palestinian refugees who are starving is unprecedented. This will likely lead to further violence, at least by some of those who have lost their families and, as a result, lost hope for a better life. Even though Istishhad (martyr death) is not necessarily a proactive act of seeking death and does not mean belittling the value of life, as Israeli and Western propaganda asserts, given the vast numbers of people who lost their houses and families, the willingness to make sacrifices in the search for justice through revenge, may become a common phenomenon in the future. This is a real possibility because the dismantling of Hamas’ military capabilities does not mean the repression of the Palestinian people’s ability to resist and retaliate. The Gaza war has established the psychological and political motivation for carrying on the struggle for liberation and independence, convincing every Palestinian that Israel is determined to keep oppressing their aspirations and violating their national and individual rights.

Despite its military might, Israel is vincible. The combination of emotional grief and mourning, psychological entrapment, and deep belief in their just struggle will continue to motivate Palestinians to resist what they have endured for decades. Therefore, if not given a glimpse of hope for a better future (Mihaylova & Ezekiel, 2023; Shade, 2001; Bloch, 1974), the willingness of an increasing number of Palestinians to take revenge will soar. Meanwhile, the radical nationalist Israeli government is intentionally prolonging the war, endangering its own hostage civilians, for reasons that cannot be strategically explained. Nine months after the beginning of the Israeli military operation, the Israeli army has not managed to dismantle Hamas’ ability to fight or free the hostages. It seeks an exchange deal that allows an honorable exit from the indecisive situation while indirectly admitting that Hamas is a partner with whom to negotiate. This reality unfolds amid widespread public rage and increasing condemnation and boycott of Israel in many countries in the world. The Israeli government continues to act based on the long-standing and ineffective belief that military might is the only way to facilitate the freeing of the hostages without having to pay the necessary political price for it. The unfortunate result of such a failed strategy could be the tragic death of all the hostages, a price that the current Israeli government seems to be willing to pay, as its behavior and the announcements made by some of its members demonstrate.

The current war in Gaza is having a significant impact on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the balance of power in the region. No matter how much harm remains to be caused and how many lives are still to be lost, Israelis have learned that they have a weak enemy they can defeat in battle, but cannot effectively overcome in war despite their superior military and technological power. This economic, military, and technological superiority has become Israel’s Achilles’ heel in its conflict with the Palestinian resistance movements. Israel is too strong to be able to use its capabilities against the Palestinians and to further justify its endless and merciless control of millions of Palestinians while the world is constantly watching. Therefore, Israelis must accept that there are around seven million Palestinians between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea who intend to remain and defend their right to a dignified life in their homeland. The Israelis’ military and technological upper hand has proven to be ineffective against sudden attacks by Palestinians who face the daily aggression of the Israeli army and seek revenge (Natanel, 2016; Azoulay & Ophir, 2012). Even though the Palestinians do not pose an existential threat, they have the potential to cause harm and disrupt the normal way of life for many Israelis. The Palestinian situation also presents a moral dilemma for Israel, which has a technological and economic advantage, as it appears unjust compared to the misery of Palestinians facing aggressive, well-equipped Israelis. Furthermore, the Israelis are realizing that no matter how many peace agreements they sign with the Arab states, their real challenge is with the Palestinians. Israel needs Palestinian recognition if it seeks to legitimize its claim to the land both people consider home.

Therefore, it is important to acknowledge that any attempt to sideline the Palestinians or ignore their national rights will only lead to more violence and prevent Israelis from feeling secure. Peace and reconciliation have been proven to be the only way to guarantee security. Therefore, they must be an integral part of Israel’s strategy to resolve its conflict with the indigenous Palestinians. It is crucial to recognize that the conflict did not start on October 7th, and the attempt to reduce it to a conflict between a righteous state and a terrorist organization, ignoring Israeli settler colonial policies in the areas occupied by the state in 1967, does not help avoid human suffering or save innocent lives. While it is true that the Palestinians must take responsibility for their actions, especially the atrocities conducted on October 7th, it is vital to acknowledge that Israel’s upper hand and its ability to disrupt any peaceful solution make it more responsible for the unfolding tragic reality. It is essential to remember that all inhabitants of Israel/Palestine have the unalienable right to security, prosperity, and happiness.

The resolution of the conflict should follow a fundamental principle that both sides agree upon, but the lack of trust between them has made it difficult. The conflict is not just between the two sides, but also involves the regional and international community. Therefore, it is important to promote a long confidence-building process involving international intervention and pressure. However, for such a process to work, it must be ethical (Finlay, 2015; Walzer, 2006; Waldron, 2010). This cannot be achieved as long as Israel’s leading Western allies, which speak the language of human rights and morality, continue to apply them selectively and manipulatively, denying the Palestinians the fundamental right to have rights. It also cannot be realized if moral agents in world politics continue to either sit on the fence or lead a policy of one-sidedness, according to which only the victims of one side count (Weizman, 2012). This one-sidedness is demonstrated in the way the superpowers have been acting in the conflict and is a significant cause behind the despair of many Palestinians and the arrogance of nationalist Israelis. It is this one-sidedness that provides the enemies of peace, especially those that have the power to push others into the hill of war, with the reasoning and justifications they need to advance their inhumane behavior. Therefore, all parties involved must act fairly and justly to achieve peace. It is difficult to have hope, given the grim reality in Palestine/Israel. However, hope can be fostered and wisely created in people’s hearts and minds if we are to facilitate their ability to forgive (Lysaker, 2023). People need to avoid desperate actions and instead work towards peaceful solutions. Public protests around the world against the war grant Palestinians hope that somebody hears their call. These protests do not and should not be exclusively perceived as being anti-Israeli, but rather as a way to show empathy towards the innocent victims. This urge was behind the empathy that Israelis received after October 7th, but unfortunately, it was wasted by the behavior of their government. This same empathy is now being extended to hundreds of thousands of fleeing and starving Palestinians. It is essential for those seeking ethical human coexistence to direct public empathy toward creating hope for a better future for all. For this to happen, both sides must be encouraged to give peace a chance.


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[1]   Eva Illouz has argued that the contextualization made by Judith Butler of the October 7th events may sound like justifying them. See: https://www.lemonde.fr/en/opinion/article/2024/03/16/eva-illouz-judith-butler-s-remarks-on-hamas-remind-us-that-intellectuals-too-can-indulge-in-deception_6624620_23.html

[2]   The Hamas document is titled “This is our Story: Why the Al-Aqsa Flood.”


[3] Interview with Saleh Al-Arouri before his assassination in Beirut. https://www.presstv.ir/Detail/2023/12/18/716613/interview-with-Saleh-al-Arouri

[4]   Uri Bar-Joseph, “The Indifference that led to War is not Rooted in an Intelligence Failure Only,” Haaretz, 1.11.2023.

[5]   Emanuel Fabian and Amy Spiro, “IDF chief admits failures and promises investigation; vows to ‘dismantle’ Hamas,” Times of Israel, 12.10.2023. https://www.timesofisrael.com/idf-chief-admits-failures-and-promises-investigation-vows-to-dismantle-hamas/

[6] TOI Staff, “IDF had no Plan for Responding to a Hamas Attack of October 7’s magnitude – NY Times”, Times of Israel, 30 December, 2023. https://www.timesofisrael.com/idf-had-no-plan-for-a-hamas-attack-of-october-7s-magnitude-ny-times-reports/

[7] TOI Staff, “Likening Hamas ‘Savages’ to IS, Netanyahu Vows Victory in War for ‘Our Existence'”, Times of Israel, 9 October, 2023. https://www.timesofisrael.com/likening-hamas-to-isis-netanyahu-vows-victory-in-war-for-our-existence/

[8]    Amos Harel, “After Six Months, Few of the Israel – Gaza War’s Goals Have Been Achieved,” Haaretz, 5 April, 2024.https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/2024-04-05/ty-article/.premium/after-six-months-few-of-the-israel-gaza-wars-goals-have-been-achieved/0000018e-aa80-d029-a78f-faa25a8a0000

[9] Tovah Lazaroff, “Israel’s Knesset Votes against Unilateral Recognition of Palestinian State”, The Jerusalem Post, 21 February, 2024. https://www.jpost.com/breaking-news/article-788123

[10] B. Michael, “The Updated War Lexicon,” Haaretz, January 23rd, 2024.



  • Amal Jamal

    Amal Jamal is Romulo Betancourt Chair in political science in the School of Political Science, Government and International Affairs and vice dean in the Faculty of Social Sciences at Tel Aviv University. He is currently the head of the Walter Lebach Institute for the Study of Jewish-Arab Coexistence and editor-in-chief of the Hebrew political science journal, The Public Sphere. His scholarly interests focus on political theory and culture, political communication, civil society, and postcolonial studies. He has published over one hundred articles in five languages in leading academic journals and books and over twenty books that include Reconstructing the Civic: Palestinian Civil Activism in Israel (SUNY Press, 2020).

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Latest Issue

2024: Vol. 23, No. 2

Latest Issue

2024: Vol. 23, No. 2

By Amal Jamal: A Humanist Perspective on the Causes, Reasonings and Consequences of the Israeli-Palestinian War

By Menachem Klein: A New Judaism?*

By Melvyn Dubofsky: Has Labor Reawakened?

By Loren T. Cannon: The Backlash Continues: How Two Recent SCOTUS Rulings Pose a Threat to LGBTQ+ and Especially Trans and Gender Non-Binary Persons

By Larry N. Gerston: The Rise of Trumpism

By Andrew Kolin: Trump and Trumpism: An American Brand of Fascism

By Allen Wood: Kant After Three Centuries

By Joy James: Marcuse’s Most Famous Student: Angela Davis on Critical Theory and German Idealism*

By Frank M. Kirkland: Africa, We the Underdeveloped: Wynter’s Discontent in the Light of Hegel’s Conception of Development

By Mark Epstein: Pasolini’s Aesthetics

By Rainer Funk: Erich Fromm’s Contribution to Critical Theory

By Marsha Hinds Myrie , Lex Dulong , Jillian Uniacke: Joy James’s New Bones Abolition

By Peter Hudis: Determinism and Freedom: A Review of Michael Löwy’s Rosa Luxemburg: The Incendiary Spark

By Brian Robert Hischier: Fred Camper’s Seeking Brakhage

By Marybeth Tamborra: Chelsea Schields’s Offshore Attachments