Innocent of what?
"Israel targets Hamas terrorists and not innocent civilians. By contrast, Hamas targets Israeli civilians while hiding behind Palestinian civilians. Hamas, therefore, bears full responsibility for any harm that comes to Israeli and Palestinian civilians alike."
This filthy syllogism is familiar enough. We heard it during the invasion of Iraq. We hear it whenever US bombs fall. We heard it during the Lebanon war
. Unsurprisingly, it is a habitual theme of the Israeli state, which cannot exist except as a colonial regime. It needs no detailed unpicking here.
Suffice to say, as Nimer Sultany
points out, the IDF has been systematically obliterating the category of civilian
for some years. Israel, whenever it attacks Gaza, never neglects to specifically attack and kill non-combatants. It never neglects to attack civilian infrastructures such as schools, hospitals, mosques, and so on. According to the IDF's 'Dahiya doctrine'
, these are military bases anyway. And as we recall from Cast Lead, the Israeli government assumed that there was no such thing as an adult civilian male.
None of this is particular to Israel. It is a trend in modern imperialist war, linked to two tendencies which the sociologist Martin Shaw calls 'risk transfer war' (bombing from great heights, so that non-combatants bear the risk of death) and 'degenerative war' (in which the category of civilian is eroded, as the war starts to be waged more openly against the popular base of the military opposition). What is
particular to Israel, perhaps, is the extent to which grassroots, popular culture openly embraces the implicit genocidal logic
of Israeli violence.
For in the context of Gaza, what this tendency means is this: the entire population of Gaza is structurally, necessarily, in opposition to Israel. It cannot be otherwise, because Israel's existence depends upon the progressive emaciation of the Palestinians as a political and demographic entity. When Israelis say that every Palestinian child is a potential future 'terrorist', they are being vicious and racist, but not stupid. The racism inheres in assigning the Palestinian resistance to Israeli colonialism to some obscure 'Arab' traits, some native fanaticism, rather than to the colonial system itself.
It is, of course, a commonplace of colonial violence
that the 'civilised states' are permitted the full range of kinetic force, while their opponents are beyond normal political rationality, their violence criminalised. They are magnanimous, humane, only ever resort to violence after all else fails, take all precautions to protect 'the innocent' with whom they have no quarrel, and only wage war for benevolent or defensive purposes. Their opponents are barbaric, narrow, 'fanatical'. Violence is their first resort, they have contempt for human life and make no exceptions for 'the innocent', and they wage war for atavistic purposes.
This is the binary stratification of global violence whose precepts pervade every single news report on the front lines of empire, and every single utterance of imperialist states.
This is why the language of 'innocence' is loaded. The only way for a Palestinian to be 'innocent' in this context is to acquiesce, to cease to exist as a Palestinian. The only Palestinians who have a chance of achieving this status are those who do not resist - and even they will be murdered in cold blood if it serves Israeli military objectives.
So when the argument is about who kills 'innocent civilians', it is important to remember how heavily pre-structured the terrain is.