Why is Israel Bombing Gaza Hospitals and Ambulances? It’s All About “Winning”

Photograph Source: Wafa (Q2915969) – CC BY-SA 3.0

Across Israel, huge billboards tower over central highways, while large placards have been placed in front of schools, supermarkets, and government buildings. They all feature a new slogan: “Together we will win.”

The slogan is short and sharp (in Hebrew, it is made up of two words, “beyahad nenatzeach”) and has been embraced by large segments of Israel’s Jewish population. Part of its attraction is likely due to its ambiguity, allowing each viewer to interpret the word “win” differently.

Despite different interpretations of what victory would look like, however, there appears to be wide consensus among Israelis that a victory of any type can only be achieved through unleashing lethal violence on Gaza.

Otherwise, how do we explain that when fleeing residents, traveling on a road Israel identified as a “safe route” to the south, are hit by a deadly air strike not a single voice on mainstream media is heard criticizing the assault? Nor do we hear any outrage when bombs are dropped in the middle of one of the most crowded neighborhoods in Jabalia refugee camp or when missiles strike a convoy of ambulances. For most Israelis, “winning” currently seems to justify almost any violence.

As the past month demonstrates, most Israelis appear to have had no qualms about the military dropping 30,000 tonnes of explosives on Gaza, damaging around 50 percent of all housing units throughout the Gaza Strip, and rendering at least 10 percent of these uninhabitable. Almost 70 percent of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million has been forcibly displaced from their homes due to bombing and raids. Half of the hospitals and 62 percent of primary care health centres are effectively out of service and one-third of all schools have been damaged and about nine percent are now out of service.

This, many Israeli Jews believe, is part of what is needed to “win” and, thus, the Palestinians will just have to suffer thousands of civilian casualties, including the deaths of the more than 4,000 children killed to date. They seem to accept that “winning” entails killing on average six children every hour since October 7, and transforming Gaza into a “graveyard for children,” as UN chief Antonio Guterres put it.

The kind of indiscriminate bombing we have seen in the past month is undoubtedly part of Israel’s effort to assert deterrence in relation to Hamas, as well as Hezbollah. The message is clear: look at the destruction in Gaza and beware.

Yet even the wholesale bombing of Gaza needed for this kind of deterrence is not really the end goal.  What “winning” ultimately means for most Jewish Israelis is the complete annihilation of Hamas, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Considering that Hamas is an ideology, a social movement and a governing apparatus that includes a military arm, the scope and feasibility of this goal are unclear, but it will definitely entail killing thousands of combatants, including their political and military leaders, demolishing the tunnel system Hamas has created, and destroying the weapons the group has amassed. And the killing of thousands of civilians, the massive displacement of the population, and the extensive destruction of civilian sites are considered legitimate “collateral damage”. But if the destruction of Hamas is the end goal, then “winning” also entails a regime change in Gaza as well as creating a new reality on the ground where Israel controls not only the borders surrounding the Gaza Strip, but also what happens within these borders. It is only at this point, however, that the current widespread consensus in Israel about the need to annihilate Hamas becomes fractured and “winning” is interpreted differently according to the political group to which one belongs.

For the religious right, the heinous Hamas massacre is considered an opportunity to resettle the Gaza Strip with Jewish settlers. The blanket bombing and the displacement of more than a million Palestinians make it possible to slice the Strip into different parts and to create Palestinian-free zones where Jewish settlers can take over land and rebuild settlements. Resettlement of the Gaza Strip is, however, part of a larger plan to Judaise the entire region – from the river to the sea. At this very moment – and under the cover of Israel’s violence in the Gaza Strip – settlers belonging to this political group are expelling Palestinian communities from the hills east of Ramallah, the Jordan Valley and the South Hebron Hills in the West Bank. “Winning” for them is completing the Nakba once and for all by replacing the indigenous population with Jews throughout the Biblical land of Israel.

For the Israeli political right and many on the political center, “winning” means transforming parts of northern Gaza and a large perimeter around the Strip’s northern, eastern and southern borders into a no-man’s land. It means the permanent removal of populations from the north to the south and from Gaza’s borders inward while confining the Palestinians into an even smaller prison than the one they have lived in for the past 16 years. It entails creating a puppet government responsible for running municipal tasks, not unlike the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, and it means Israeli soldiers will periodically enter the Gaza Strip to “mow the lawn,” similar to what the military does in Jenin.

The remaining political center and many Jewish Israeli liberals do not really know what “winning” means beyond the exertion of horrific violence to “destroy Hamas.” Trapped in a militaristic and now retributive paradigm, they seem to think that Israelis and Palestinians are locked in a fatalistic zero-sum game where only the application of violence against Palestinians will somehow ensure Jews are safe. Not entirely sure about what victory means, but desiring this end result, nonetheless, they, too, support the violence. Thus, whether the vast majority of Jewish Israelis admit to it or not, “winning” involves a widescale eliminationist drive that is directed against the Palestinian people and not merely Hamas.

Only a tiny segment of Israel’s Jewish society is refusing these forms of “winning” and is calling for an immediate ceasefire. For them, then, winning entails a complete and total paradigm shift, transforming Israel into a single democratic state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea where Jews and Palestinians can live together as equals.

For this group, the “together” in the slogan “together we will win” is not the Jewish exceptionalism that reigns in Israel (and in many quarters around the world) but a Jewish-Palestinian alliance, something that today seems like a far-fetched dream. This prophetic vision, however, is the only notion of winning worth fighting for. And our only hope for a peaceful future in this historic land. 

This article was first published in Al Jazeera English.

Neve Gordon is a Leverhulme Visiting Professor in the Department of Politics and International Studies and the co-author of The Human Right to Dominate.