Israel’s defense minister on Monday announced a “complete siege” of Gaza, describing the Palestinian fighters who attacked Israel over the weekend as “human animals.”
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant called for more destruction on top of the massive number of airstrikes Israel has launched into the Hamas-ruled territory of 2.3 million people, in retaliation for Hamas’ surprise attack this weekend that left more than 700 people in Israel dead.
Israel formally declared war on the Hamas militant group on Sunday, pointing to the large military mobilization that has already killed nearly 500 people in Gaza, including women and children. Hamas claims it has taken about 100 captives from the attacks.
“We are fighting human animals and we act accordingly,” Gallant said.
While it appears that Gallant was specifically referring to Hamas fighters in that comment, the rest of the minister’s remarks called for further oppression of all people in Gaza by denying them basic human needs.
“We are imposing a complete siege on Gaza,” Gallant said. “There will be no electricity, no food, no water, no fuel. Everything will be closed.”
It is not uncommon for oppressive regimes to use language that dehumanizes the oppressed population in order to justify inflicting violence on them. In the case of Israel’s apartheid, Gallant’s comments contribute to an atmosphere where it’s easier for anti-Palestinian individuals and politicians ― including Israel’s current far-right government ― to regard people in Gaza as less than human, and therefore undeserving of water, food, electricity or a way to escape violence.
“Defense Minister Gallant’s statements are abhorrent,” Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine director at the rights group Human Rights Watch, said in a statement Monday.
“Depriving the population in an occupied territory of food and electricity is collective punishment, which is a war crime, as is using starvation as a weapon of war,” Shakir continued. “The International Criminal Court should take note of this call to commit a war crime.”
According to the United Nations, more than 123,000 Palestinians have fled their homes in Gaza, where families were already struggling under a 15-year Israeli blockade. Human rights groups like HRW have long considered Gaza to be, effectively, an open-air prison.
Hamas claims it launched its attack in response to the decades of violence and apartheid Palestinians have faced from the Israeli government. Experts on the region and Palestinian people themselves have noted that this weekend’s bloodshed exists in a context of years’ worth of occupation, displacement and death, particularly in Gaza, Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank.
An Israeli military well-supported by Western nations like the U.S. has long participated in the violence and dehumanization of Palestinian civilians. This summer, two powerful GOP lawmakers withheld $75 million in American aid from the poorest Palestinians.
It’s unclear if Gallant’s call to block Gazans’ access to basic needs will have any effect on Western sympathy or the promises of aid Israel has received in response to Hamas’ attack.