Genocide of Palestinians by Israel, one of World’s Most Militarized Countries, No Surprise 

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

In the last few weeks, after the Hamas attack of October 7, Israel has unleashed a horrific wave of violence upon the Palestinians, both in the Gaza Strip and in the West Bank, killing over 11,000 people, the large majority civilians. These actions, according to genocide scholar Raz Segal and others, constitute a genocide. Moreover, documents were recently discovered describing Israeli plans to expel the entire population of the Gaza Strip to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, a textbook case of ethnic cleansing that some have called the Nakba 2.0. Given diplomatic cover by its superpower patron, the United States, and supported by nearly every country in the West, Israel acts as if it is not bound by international law. United Nations Security Council resolutions calling for a ceasefire have been labeled as pro-Hamas, vetoed by the US and ignored by Israel. In the General Assembly, a similar resolution, which is non-binding, has been passed with overwhelming support. Most of the world is horrified by the impunity with which Israel conducts itself.

But should we really be surprised by its behavior? By most measures, Israel is one of the most militarized countries in the world, and like any settler colonial project, it relies on violence to expel and/or subjugate the native population. This was made clear years before the country’s founding by Ze’ev Jabotinsky, considered the founder of right-wing Zionism, who wrote in 1923, “Settlement can thus develop under the protection of a force … behind an iron wall which they will be powerless to break down. ….a voluntary agreement is just not possible.”

The views of some Western governments notwithstanding, Israel is not and has never been a democracy. This is obvious in the territories occupied in 1967—after all, Israel has complete control over the lives of five million of its residents who do not have the right to vote—but even in Israel proper, the discrimination against the Palestinian citizens of Israel is enshrined in law, as documented by Ilan Pappe and others. But there is another reason Israel fails the test of democracy, and it has to do with the outsized role of the army in politics. “In a true democracy,” wrote Josef Avesar of the Israeli-Palestinian Confederation, “the politicians restrain the military, but in Israel it’s the other way around.

David Ben Gurion, often called the founder of the State of Israel, knew that it would be difficult to turn a country made up of immigrants of various origins into a single, unified nation, and his vision was for the Israeli army to accomplish that feat. He saw it not as “an instrument for the exceptional moment of war, but the foundational institution of the new state, its guarantor of identity and existence.”[1]

And this is precisely what happened. Today the army is virtually indistinguishable from the state. “The military-industrial complex is Israel’s largest industrial sector, employing hundreds of thousands of highly skilled scientists, engineers and researchers. Israel has transformed the conflict with the Palestinians from a serious difficulty into a lucrative operation; it lives off the conflict and depends on its continuation.”[2]

Israel’s defense budget is enormous. In 2021, it trailed only Qatar when it came to defense spending per capita. Other than North Korea, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) has the longest compulsory military service in the world at thirty-two months for men and twenty-four months for women. Following the completion of their initial service, the majority of Israelis remain liable for reserve duty should a national emergency arise. The Israeli army boasts a total of 670,000 personnel, including 170,000 professionals. Additionally, approximately 36% of its population, which equates to just over 3 million individuals, are prepared for active combat duty. Experts estimate that the nation is capable of executing a full-scale mobilization within a timeframe of 48 to 72 hours.

One of the roles of the armed forces seems to be to inflame anti-Arab sentiment.

“So you dehumanize them and once you dehumanize a group of people there is no turning back. You dehumanize them just so you can say “no” at a checkpoint,” conscientious objector Sarah Vardi told Al Jazeera. “And then, when you have to shoot them, it’ll be easy enough for you to shoot them. After a few months, you lose all touch with humanity. This culture stems from the military and eventually becomes part of civil society – and today – racism is a legitimate part of the Israeli discourse.”

As statements made by Israeli politicians during the current crisis have shown, the army has been successful in this role. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said on October 9 that “we are imposing a complete siege on Gaza. No electricity, no food, no water, no fuel. Everything is closed. We are fighting human animals, and we will act accordingly.” (He later said that those Gazans who could help the hostages would be protected, but “the rest deserve to die.”) Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife Sarah went a step further. “I don’t call them human animals,” she wrote on X, “because that would be insulting to animals.” Galit Distel Atbaryan, a member of parliament, tweeted that Israel should erase “all of Gaza from the face of the earth.” Israeli heritage minister Amichai Eliyahu, who has since been suspended, said that Israel should consider using nuclear weapons in Gaza.

One might argue that the above statements should not be given such weight, since they were made when emotions were running high. However, Israeli leaders have regularly described Palestinians as “a cancer”, “vermin”, “dirty”, “primitive” and called for them to be “annihilated”, language that reminds journalist Chris McGeal, who covered the Rwandan genocide, of the terms used by Hutus to describe Tutsis.

Statements such as these would be shocking in most democratic societies, but in Israel they are accepted as merely reflective of the views of the population. Indeed, there are many polls revealing that Israeli Jews have extremely negative views of Arabs. A 2016 survey showed that nearly half of Israeli Jews wanted the over two million Palestinian citizens of Israel to be transferred from the country. 55% of Israeli Jews say they would not want to live in the same building as an Arab, while 93% would feel uncomfortable or afraid to hear Arabic spoken around them in Israel.

On October 18 and 19, Jewish Israelis were asked whether the IDF should take Palestinian suffering into account when planning the next phase of the war. 83.% responded with “not at all” or “not so much.”

The militarization of Israeli society has negative consequences not only for the Palestinians but for Israeli Jews as well. The ubiquity of the army in civilian life forces a violent response to every crisis, whether it is appropriate or not. As the saying goes, to a hammer everything looks like a nail.

Examples are numerous. When the Gaza Freedom Flotilla attempted to break the siege on Gaza in 2010 by bringing in humanitarian aid, the IDF murdered nine activists. When residents of Gaza peacefully marched to the fence dividing the strip from Israel during the Great March of Return that began in 2018, the IDF responded by firing teargas upon the protestors, killing 266 people and injuring almost 30,000 others. (A United Nations report later concluded that the IDF had targeted and killed  children, health workers, journalists, and people with disabilities.) When Hamas took power in Gaza in 2006, Israel immediately imposed a brutal siege on the Strip.

Even the violent response to the October 7 attack was reflexive. Israel’s reaction was simply to do what it had always done. The need for a political situation is obvious, but Israel is a settler-colonial power that was founded in a paroxysm of violence in 1948 and has initiated conflict dozens of times since then. Diplomacy, compromise and negotiation are simply not part of its DNA.


[1] An Army Like No Other, Haim Bresheeth Žabner, Verso Books, 2020.

[2] An Army Like No Other, Haim Bresheeth Žabner, Verso Books, 2020.

Richard Hardigan is a university professor based in California. He is the author of  The Other Side of the Wall. His website is, and you can follow him on Twitter @RichardHardigan.