The concept of collateral damage is morally unacceptable. Such a vague term serves only one purpose — to diminish the perception of a tragedy involving real people. By disavowing the human element of a tragedy, society’s collective responsibility is diminished, thus making it possible for inaction, in the face of wrong, to continue unabated.
When one thinks of the current situation at hand in Gaza, where more than a thousand Palestinians have perished with thousands more gravely injured, it is all but inevitable to come to the conclusion that something is gravely wrong in the world. What is even more deplorable is that civilians account for more than half of all casualties in this conflict, with countless more suffering an even graver humanitarian crisis. With all this suffering at hand, the Israeli government’s position is that the casualties are merely the unfortunate result of a military offense in a densely populated urban setting.
Israelis claim that militants, belonging to the Hamas movement, have embedded themselves amongst a civilian population, thus making it impossible to avoid the number of civilian deaths. Simply stated as such, the statement is true. However, a thorough understanding of the geography and demographics of the Gaza Strip is needed to fully comprehend the situation. We do an injustice to our intellect by reducing such a complex conflict into a simple “matter of fact” statement.
The Gaza Strip is bordered by Egypt on the southwest, Israel on the north and east, and the Mediterranean on the west. It is an area of only 139 square miles (roughly one-fifth the size of the state of Rhode Island) with an estimated population of 1.4 million people, which makes the Gaza Strip one of the most densely populated areas in the world.
Why are these facts important? Both nations bordering the Gaza Strip, Israel and Egypt, have blockaded their respective borders thus holding the civilian population hostage along with the militants. In other words, Israel has forced the situation of having militants embedded amongst civilians to become inevitable. Furthermore, the blockade has exacerbated the situation by denying the inhabitants of Gaza the essential right to become refugees. This is deplorable, for the choice of becoming a refugee is an act of unimaginable desperation, and for the first time in recent memory a civilian population has been denied even this option of last resort.
The peoples of the Gaza Strip have been enduring a type of medieval siege unseen in modern times. Essentially, the Israeli military has heavily bombarded a densely populated urban setting without allowing a single civilian to seek refuge. To defer the entire responsibility of civilian deaths to the militants is irrational. For even if militants were attempting to use the civilian population as a human shield, which the Israeli government claims, these same militants would have no way of avoiding being amongst a civilian population.
It is evident that given the geography of Gaza, and the fact that it is sealed on all sides, the situation is as unavoidable for the militants as it is for the civilians. Israel must recognize its role as being the party that is primarily responsible for these deaths.
Without appealing to the status quo explanation often used to deflect responsibility, the simple fact of the situation is that Israeli bombs killed innocent civilians, and it is the Israeli blockades that are starving the Palestinian people. All this has been done through a military prerogative in the name of security, but is the security of one people worth more than another’s?
In this situation it appears so, with around three hundred Palestinian civilians killed for every Israeli death. The world tolerates this by thinking of the casualties in inhuman terms; they are a mere adverse result of an unavoidable situation. Sadly, this is the manner in which we deflect our collective responsibility.