The humanitarian pause in Gaza has allowed for footage of the destruction in the northern part of the enclave to be seen. This brings to mind Thomas Friedman’s “Hama rules” and the violent razing of the city of Hama in 1982 by then-Syrian President Hafez al-Assad. The destruction in Gaza suggests that the Israeli government and military have embraced brute force as a means of legitimacy.
Israel’s war on Gaza has similarities to events in Syria, particularly in the tactics of collective punishment and dehumanization of the opposition. The siege on Gaza, which cut off supplies and dehumanized its residents, is similar to the actions of the al-Assad regime in Syria.
The dehumanization campaign in Gaza included Israeli officials using language that appeared to make the use of starvation as a weapon of war acceptable. Social media also played a role, with videos of Israelis mocking the residents of Gaza under siege and producing racist vignettes making fun of Palestinian victims of Israeli bombardment.
The dehumanization campaign expanded as Israeli military targets included Gaza’s hospitals and other civilian structures. The official government narrative justified these actions, stating that “terrorists had used hospitals as military bases” and that medical staff and patients were “terrorist collaborators” and “human shields”.
The campaign of dehumanization is not unique to Gaza. Since 2011, al-Assad has relied on similar strategies to justify military sieges and attacks on civilian infrastructure in rebel-held territories in Syria.
The siege on the town of Madaya near Damascus in 2015 is similar to the weaponization of starvation in Gaza. The al-Assad regime dismissed the local residents as “agents of terror”, and social media was filled with images and videos of detractors enjoying lavish meals and mocking their starvation. More than 420 people died in Madaya as a result of the blockade.
The al-Assad regime continued the policy of “starve or surrender” in multiple rebel-held territories, targeting civilian infrastructure, especially hospitals, as a war tactic. The international community has not responded meaningfully to these actions.
Israel is playing by al-Assad’s rules of war, in part because the Syrian leader has not been held to account for his war crimes. Instead, al-Assad has emerged from isolation by the international community and has been invited to international conferences.
The victims of the Syrian regime’s brutality have recognized the parallels with Gaza. International silence must end immediately, both in Syria and in Gaza. The Israeli government must face swift pushback from the international community for its dehumanization of the people of Gaza and for the collective punishment it is inflicting on them.
Otherwise, starvation and the deliberate bombardment of hospitals as war tactics will become chillingly normalized as par for the course.
World, Politics, Military