Will justice prevail for the first time in the new multicentric world order? A short manual for damage control in the Middle East
Humankind is on the edge of an extremely dangerous military and moral precipice. It faces the prospect of internationally approved and widely applauded genocide (the destruction of an ethnic group) and radical ethnic cleansing (its forced displacement) on a large-scale in record time. To make things worse, the war crimes are being perpetrated by a state actor (Israel) that calls itself “democratic” against a disenfranchised people (the Palestinians) in a fight between David and Goliath that is likely to take a different turn than the biblical story.
On October 7, 2023, a group of utterly determined Hamas fighters launched a sophisticated attack on Israel, showcasing to the world how to apply blitzkrieg methods in the context of post-modern insurgency warfare. Apart from attacking Israeli military installations, the group killed innocent civilians—an act that, of course, can never be justified. Not surprisingly, paranoid Western observers immediately suspected a hidden link with Russia’s president Vladimir Putin’s birthday on the same day. In addition, security analysts interpreted the stunning events as a spectacular failure of Israeli intelligence and military preparedness.
In the immediate aftermath of the short-lived invasion, leaders of the Western world quickly condemned the attacks in the strongest words. They promised Israel “whatever-it-takes” military support and gave the Jewish state literally a free hand to take any action against the Palestinians it wanted—no matter how criminal and cruel. U.S. President Joe Biden described Hamas’ attack as an “act of sheer evil,” echoing language used to condemn Nazism (“absolute evil”).
After Anthony Blinken, the U.S. Secretary of State, called for restraint, demanding the “highest standards” to keep civilians out of harm’s way, social media messages from the U.S. Department of State to the same purport were quickly deleted. Western leaders justified their unconditional support for Israel by pointing to the right of Israel to “defend itself.”
However, even though a state clearly has the right (and obligation) to protect its borders and citizens, it should never be given carte blanche to act as it pleases, in contempt of international law, as Israel decided to do in the given crisis. Using a “gloves-off” approach, the Jewish state truly went berserk and committed an already long series and wide gamut of war crimes within a few days only. In particular, the occupation regime embarked on a systematic campaign of collective punishment and revenge killings, which are prohibited under International Humanitarian Law.
For example, Israel used the most modern warplanes (a far cry from Hamas’s oftentimes home-made weapons) to pulverize densely populated districts in the Gaza Strip on a scale unwitnessed before in Palestine. Essentially resorting to carpet bombing, it thus killed a reported 2,000 innocent civilians, who were not implicated in any crimes.
Nowadays, people are shocked when they hear about such tactics having been used during the Second World War. Back then, occupation forces routinely killed unarmed villagers in return for attacks by partisans. But Israel’s action—at a significantly larger scale—does not cause moral scruples among Western leaders and mainstream journalists.
While Western media outlet such as The Economist magazine described Hamas’s action as “carnage.” Israel was reported to conduct “retaliatory strikes.” Israelis are said to be “murdered,” while Palestinian are just “dead.”
Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) announced that on one day alone (October 11, 2023), it carried out 2,400 strikes on “Hamas targets.” As revealed by before-and-after satellite pictures (see Figure 1), the result of the scorched-earth policy is the wanton destruction of an entire city, an act that is categorized as a war crime. According to eyewitnesses, no road in Gaza is left undamaged (RT, 2023b).
Already now, hospitals in the Gaza Strip are only treating life-threatening conditions (BBC, 2023a). A Palestinian doctor described the humanitarian catastrophe in the hospital where he is working as follows: “The dead bodies arrive in pieces. I am a surgeon and yet I cannot stomach the scene of death.” He says that Palestinian homes were destroyed while people were staying in them, eradicating almost entire families, while leaving behind only one to two survivors with horrific injuries (BBC, 2023d). All of this is happening at lightning speed: According to the UN, Israel has made 180,000 Palestinians homeless within only four days.
In addition, the Jewish state has officially announced and swiftly implemented a complete medieval-type siege of the Gaza Strip, the home of over two million Palestinians. After sealing the access to their living spaces with iron, cement and earth (BBC, 2023b), it is blocking these people—fellow human beings after all—from access to water, food, medicine, fuel, electricity and communication, including all humanitarian aid. In similar fashion to burying people alive, in essence, Israel thus intends to kill hundreds of thousands of innocent people, employing some of the most barbaric torture methods imaginable, including starvation and death from untreated wounds.
Given the targeted nature of Israeli action, the resulting deaths cannot be euphemistically called “collateral damage,” but are the results of intentional killing. Using Fascist language (which degrades human beings) Yoav Gallant, the Israeli minister of defense, stated: “No power, no food, no gas, everything is closed. We are fighting human animals [sic] and we act accordingly.” In utter disregard of Natural Law (akin to the treatment of Antigone’s brother, Polyneices), the dead bodies of Palestinians are left to rot in the sun. To make things worse, Israeli drivers routinely drive their cars to trample on these dead Palestinians.
Moreover, Israel blocked all escape routes to Israeli territory. Due to Israel’s persistent and methodical bombing campaign, Egypt had to close its borders, too. One can ask why Israel is preventing people from leaving the most dangerous place on earth. The quick answer would be: To prevent Hamas leaders from escaping.
However, this privileged group of people most likely will be able to flee anyway (possibly through tunnels that are leading to Egypt), while ordinary Palestinians will remain trapped in the Gaza Strip, waiting for an almost certain death. This means that Israel intends to kill countless innocent civilians, who belong to a specific ethnic group, which is called genocide. By killing Palestinians instead of “only” expelling them, it prevents a huge gathering of Palestinian refugees who could exert pressure on Israel in the future. The Stalin-like logic seems to be as follows: A Palestinian, a problem; no Palestinian, no problem.
Curiously, at the beginning of the hot conflict, the number of dead Israelis and Palestinians moved almost in tandem. Obviously, Israel, which in this case acted after October 7, wanted to ensure that it killed a sufficient number of Palestinians in revenge. Given subdued activity by Hamas after the initial attack and an escalation of violence committed by Israel, there will be a significantly larger number of dead Palestinians than Israelis in a few days, as happened so often in the past.
In addition, Israel showed utter disrespect for international borders, for example, bombing targets in Lebanon. In general, one has to remember that the violence originating from Hamas was perpetrated by a formation that several countries label as a terrorist organization, while the Israeli killings are officially ordered by a state that wants to be perceived as being democratic.
According to Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, all of these radical measures are “just the beginning.” Among other things, he declared that every member of Hamas is “a dead man.” This means that he aims for the extraterritorial and extrajudicial killings of at least of 30.000-40.000 people (the estimated number of Hamas fighters), even though only several hundred combatants participated in the attack on Israel. Depending on how Hamas membership is defined, Israel might embark on an even more extensive killing spree, including Hamas-affiliated bookkeepers and cleaners, for example.
If left unchecked, Netanyahu’s megalomaniacal quest to “change the Middle East” and create a new order there will not end at this point. In the next step, the Israeli army is likely to launch a full-scale invasion of the Gaza Strip and possibly the West Bank, too. Already now, Israel is massing hundreds of thousand troops at the border with Palestinian territories, ready for this assault. They eclipse the small group of a few hundred Hamas fighters who attacked Israel. It is possible that Israel will engage in acts of ethnic cleansing, expelling the entire remaining population of both Palestinian territories and annex them. When the last Palestinian homeland will have become an “official” part of the state of Israel, the Palestinian people will only continue to exist in a diaspora.
Alas, Israel probably is not going to be willing to stop even there. Its big dream seems to be drawing the U.S. into a full-scale regional war with Iran, Lebanon, and other arch enemies. This, in turn, might result in a global conflict if other non-regional players were to get involved. Most likely, such a worldwide contest would also entail large-scale domestic conflicts in countries with large groups of Muslim immigrants, such as France, the UK and Germany—showing again that many Western leaders are not acting in the interest of their own peoples. As happened so often, Western governments allow a huge damage to occur and later—in order to demonstrate that democracy seemingly works—allow information about the true scale of destruction brought about by Israel to emerge. But at that time, it will already be too late.
While Western powers are resorting to habitual war mongering and Israel is engaging in what could be called state-sponsored rape and the wanton destruction of an ethnic group, it is up to Russia and China to intervene in a determined fashion. More specifically, these top leaders of an envisioned multicentric word order, where objective standards of justice are to be enforced, should act as powerful peacemakers. Russia can play a particularly important role in this regard, since it maintains constructive ties with all countries that directly or indirectly are involved in the conflict, including Israel, the Palestinian National Authority, Iran, Syria and many other Arab states.
Here is a short, three-step manual of what the new multicentric leaders need to do:
1. Counter misinformation
Russian and Chinese government officials and media outlets should separate facts from propaganda, so that there will be a reliable information base for making rational decisions that benefit humankind. For example, Israeli propagandists are calling the Hamas attack the worst day in the history of Israel. This is a remarkable hyperbole if one recalls biblical accounts of how terribly Jews suffered on many occasions and if one looks back at modern history. Exploiting “labeling bias” and “vividness bias,” these misinformation officers also describe the short-lived Hamas incursion as Israel’s Pearl Harbor and 9/11 combined, thus justifying violent action comparable to what the U.S. did after these events.
Again, Westerners are numbed by such psychological tricks, holding vigils for Israelis only, while Israel is committing atrocities against Palestinians. As part of an objective analysis, the statistics must be put into perspective: The number of dead Israelis—no matter how tragic each death is—is significantly lower than the sum of Palestinians killed by Israel during the decades-long conflict.
2. Ask cui bono
Although many are raising legitimate questions, the attack on Israel cannot be portrayed as a false-flag operation executed by the Israeli secret service if Hamas prided itself of its spectacular attack. However, the forensic question of cui bono (to whom does it a benefit), is still relevant in the current situation. In particular, Israel stands to profit enormously from this event.
Given that Netanyahu’s government beforehand pursued a radical course against the Palestinians, wanted to take even harsher measures, but was paralyzed facing massive public opposition to his ‘reform’ of Israel’s judicial structures and demonstrations by Israelis by a host of domestic struggles, it stands to gain tremendously from the tragedy. It thus had a clear and strong incentive to ignore the warnings of an imminent attack coming from Egypt and other places and not to act decisively to protect Israeli civilians in the course of Hamas’s onslaught.
Cynics would argue that the Israeli government might have been willing to sacrifice a comparatively small number of its own people (the number of which is difficult to be checked and, in the worst case, might be inflated), to achieve much larger, visionary goals: It first unified Israelis and galvanized them and Western powers (in particular, the previously rather lethargic U.S.) to action.
After gaining considerable strength in this manner, the Israeli government can pursue the following vision: The elimination of all Palestinians from its territory, the annexation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and possibly even the destruction (or at least, decapacitating) of its regional foes, such as Iran. In this context, it is noteworthy how swiftly and methodically Israel reacted to the Hamas attack. This appears to be impossible without having developed and rehearsed a master plan for such an eventuality beforehand.
3. Lead a high-impact alliance for freedom
Russia and China need to form a coalition of states that are serious about establishing a just multicentric world order. If Israel does not heed calls to stop its illegal acts, this new “alliance for freedom” should send a protection group to Palestine. This formation should ensure that no more Palestinian people are killed by Israelis and that this ethnic group can keep its homeland. Of course, the Palestinian leadership must also commit to act according to internationally recognized legal principles. Hamas and other armed groups should be transformed into a regular Palestinian army an unlikelihood if Israel’s invasion kills all of the Hamas followers. In the last step, a lasting peace needs to be negotiated and implemented in the Middle East. Its cornerstone has to be a two-state solution (Israel and Palestine) and the enforcement of all UN resolutions related to the Middle East.
In our times, the Old Testament command “an eye for an eye” (Exodus 21:24)—a particular manifestation of the ius talionis (law of revenge)—is often criticized as being barbaric and cruel. However, at the time it was formulated, it represented a progressive step towards the rationalization and humanization of law, which found its full realization in subsequent Christian legal doctrines. In particular, this maxim from the second book of the Tora (Shemot) codified the principle not only of reciprocal, but also of proportional justice. It thus eliminated arbitrary “draconian” punishments whose severity far exceeded the damage created in the first place.
Alas, the state of Israel, as many times before, behaves like a self-appointed rogue, not even respecting its own biblical laws, since the damage it is inflicting on its enemies by far exceeds the loss it suffered. In essence, Israel returns to stone-age methods to send its enemy—in this case, an entire people—back to the stone age.
The given crisis is a test as to whether a new, fair international order has already emerged or, at least, has good chances to surface. Those countries that want to establish a multicentric global community of the just (diametrically opposite to the infamous “coalition of the willing” during the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003), especially Russia and China, should not just stand by and look elsewhere. Instead, these states should actively support and liberate the Palestinian people, who have been victimized for such a long time, from the yoke of Israeli occupation and oppression. Put in a nutshell, the path trailers of a better world should adopt the following noble principle: When they go low, we go high!
BBC. (2023a, 11 October). Gaza hospitals treating only life-threatening cases. https://www.bbc.com/news/live/world-middle-east-67073970/page/5
BBC. (2023b, 9 October). Israel imposes complete closure of West Bank. https://www.bbc.com/news/live/world-middle-east-67050350
BBC. (2023c, 11 October). Satellite images show scale of destruction. https://www.bbc.com/news/live/world-middle-east-67073970/page/5
BBC. (2023d, 11 October). The smell of death is all around now in Gaza – doctor. https://www.bbc.com/news/live/world-middle-east-67073970/page/5
BBC. (2023e, 11 October). Thousands of Hamas targets hit, Israeli military says. https://www.bbc.com/news/live/world-middle-east-67050350
Reuters. (2023, 10 October). Israel pulverises Gaza after Hamas attack as it collects its dead. https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/hamas-threatens-kill-captives-if-israel-strikes-civilians-2023-10-09/
RT. (2023a, 11 October). Netanyahu wants US involved in war – ex-Pentagon official. https://www.rt.com/news/584669-maloof-israel-us-tonkin
RT. (2023b, 8 October). ‘We are completely shocked by the damage’: What are ordinary people in Gaza saying about Israel’s retaliation? https://www.rt.com/news/584328-we-are-completely-shocked/
The Economist. (2023, 9 October). Hamas’s carnage upends Joe Biden’s plans for the Middle East. The Economist. https://www.economist.com/united-states/2023/10/09/hamass-carnage-upends-joe-bidens-plans-for-the-middle-east
- Article submission date October 12, 2023.
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About the Author
He has served as Full University Professor at the Graduate School of Management (GSOM), St. Petersburg State University (Russia), where he held the University-Endowed Chair in Strategic Leadership.
He also held professorships at the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Peking University.