OPINION: Israel’s horrific, unlawful assault on Palestinians must end now

Until recently, I knew nothing about Ta-Nehisi Coates or Palestinian-American journalist Rami Khouri. And I knew very little about Amy Goodman, a longtime, award-winning white American journalist who hosts the public TV and radio program “Democracy Now.” What brought them into my life was Israel’s unrelenting and horrific — and, in the minds of a growing number of people, genocidal — assault on the Palestinian people. And a bit of serendipity.

I happened to be “channel surfing” on a late-October evening when Democracy Now caught my attention. And held it. At least partly that’s because it offered insights into the Israel-Hamas war that I couldn’t get from America’s “mainstream” broadcast media, including PBS, my usual go-to TV network.

Before continuing, I need to be clear about something: I condemn the Hamas invasion of Israel on Oct. 7. It was a horrific and barbaric slaughter of innocents.

Yet the Israeli government’s response — weeks of an unrelenting bombardment of the trapped Palestinian population, millions of people with no safe place to go while under a state of siege, with no food, water, medicine or other humanitarian aid allowed for much of that time, and only a trickle of aid permitted — has been even more barbaric and horrific, on a much larger scale.

It would seem that our nation, and the larger international community, would do everything in its power to stop Israel’s ever more gruesome and immoral slaughter of civilians, especially children. But that wasn’t happening (and still hasn’t happened in any significant way at the time of this writing). I wanted to know why. I wanted to know more.

That first night on Democracy Now, Khouri (who’s also a senior fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government) was a guest on the newscast. In a calm, straightforward way, he discussed Israel’s decadeslong oppression of the Palestinian people in Gaza and the West Bank. In his view — and he made his case why this is so — the modern Israel state represents a form of white, racist colonialism in its relationship with the Palestinians; and the United States and much of Europe have been complicit in Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians.

Khouri also argued that Israel’s occupation of Gaza and the West Bank is a form of apartheid, and that the decadeslong oppression of Palestinians has led to an “anti-colonial struggle,” most violently manifest in militant — or extremist — groups like Hamas.


Khouri’s reasoned arguments made sense to me, but his interview with Goodman was only the first step in my new education on Middle East politics and conflicts. Coates, who has been on the ground in Palestine and spoken at length with both Palestinians and Jews who live in the region, continued that education by providing the perspective of someone who sees clear parallels between Israel’s decadeslong oppression of the Palestinians and the history of African Americans in our country.

“Bombs are being dropped, 9,000 dead, ungodly numbers of them children, in the service of Jim Crow and segregation ... They drop bombs to defend a segregationist regime ... There’s no way for an African American to witness segregation and not speak out on it,” Coates commented. “Segregation is evil.”

Like Coates and Khouri, I reject the idea that Israel has been a nation simply defending itself. Israel’s leaders have chosen to kill thousands of civilians, many of them children, in actions that violate international “laws of war.”

Here I’ll bring in American human rights attorney Craig Mokhiber, whom I also came to know via Democracy Now. For many years Mokhiber was director of the New York office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. He recently resigned his position because he believes the UN has wrongfully ignored “a textbook case of genocide,” in Israel’s assault on the Palestinians.

“In Gaza,” Mokhiber says, “civilian homes, schools, churches, mosques and medical institutions are wantonly attacked as thousands of civilians are massacred” by Israeli airstrikes, while Israeli authorities make clear “their intention to not distinguish between civilians and combatants” in violation of international law. That in itself, Mokhiber argues, “makes the case for genocide.”

Like Coates and Khouri and me — and a growing number of others — Mokhiber sees our country, the United States, as complicit in these genocidal acts:

“The governments of the United States, the United Kingdom and much of Europe are wholly complicit in the horrific assault (of Palestinians).”

“Not only are these governments refusing to meet their treaty obligations to ensure respect for the Geneva Conventions, but they are in fact actively arming the assaults, providing economic and intelligence support and giving diplomatic cover for Israel’s atrocities.”

“It’s interesting, he adds, “that we have a formula at the UN that is applied to virtually every other conflict but when it comes to the situation of Israel and Palestine, there’s a different set of rules apparently.”

Our nation’s staunch support for Israel’s assault and lukewarm calls for a “humanitarian pause” in the war, combined with our long history of tolerating Israel’s segregationist, apartheid treatment of Palestinians, is especially infuriating and disheartening to me and others who don’t understand how this can be allowed to continue. I applaud all those who are protesting Israel’s inhumane and unlawful actions, including — and perhaps especially — those Jews in the United States and elsewhere who loudly proclaim, “Not in my name!”

As Mokhiber says, we need not only a ceasefire but a new approach, a new paradigm, in which Muslims, Christians and Jews are all treated equally and human rights apply to everyone.

Anchorage nature writer wildlands and wildlife advocate Bill Sherwonit is a widely published essayist and the author of more than a dozen books, including “Alaska’s Bears” and “Animal Stories: Encounters with Alaska’s Wildlife.”

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Bill Sherwonit

Anchorage nature writer Bill Sherwonit is the author of more than a dozen books, including "Alaska's Bears" and "Animal Stories: Encounters with Alaska's Wildlife."