D009 Swords Into Plowshares: U.S. Accountability and Responsibility in Rebuilding Gaza

At the time of this writing in early March 2024, at least 30,000 Gazans have been killed in the Gaza war, likely many more given the number of uncounted dead under the rubble, including at least 13,000 children. Even assuming a certain percentage of these numbers to be Hamas fighters, it is clear from all reports that most of the deaths are women, children, and the elderly. The number of wounded, including severely wounded, is reportedly over 72,000; 17,000 children have been orphaned, many of them grievously wounded, so that the phrase “wounded child, no surviving family” is an actual category of reporting for the hospitals. Hundreds of entire family lines, extended families of multiple generations, have been completely wiped out.

Meanwhile, 300,000 desperate people in northern Gaza are living on the verge of famine due to the severe restrictions imposed by Israel on incoming humanitarian aid over the past five months in violation of international humanitarian law, and refugees in the south of the barricaded enclave are still being bombed even in the tiny so-called “safe zones” to which 1.5 million people have fled on Israel army orders.

Gaza has also suffered profound loss of educated professionals that will leave a gaping hole in Gazan civil society, for example: six hundred healthcare workers as of January, according to the World Health Organization; over one hundred university professors and many more teachers; and nearly one hundred journalists per the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Over half of the housing stock of Gaza has been leveled. All the hospitals have been damaged, with most reduced to providing first aid only. Our beloved Al-Ahli Hospital, which is owned by the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, has miraculously remained in open despite significant damage and a dire lack of supplies, including clean water, and is receiving hundreds of people a day and even doing surgeries—but it will need to be rebuilt along with all the other hospitals. Schools, universities, and libraries have been blown up. Bakeries, factories, and farms have been bulldozed. Ancient cultural sites, including the Great Omari Mosque, which was built on the site of an ancient Philistine temple and the later site of a fifth-century Byzantine church, have been blown to bits.

Although we are still in a fog of war, we already know that Israel has waged this war in a more indiscriminate way than past conflicts with Gaza, both from reporting on how the government of Israel and the Israeli Defense Forces are making its targeting decisions (see the reporting in The Guardian on the IDF’s use of an AI system, dubbed “the Gospel,” to set bombing targets—“we are not being surgical,” said one source[i]), and also simply from the historic scale of destruction in such a short period of time.

The International Court of Justice will take its time to reach a decision on whether this scale of destruction constitutes genocide, as alleged by the Republic of South Africa. The fact that their emergency ruling suggested that genocide could be unfolding in this case should be a huge warning to the United States as a major funder of the conflict, as the United States Government might reasonably also be named as complicit in genocide, ethnic cleansing, and at the very least, a great number of war crimes.

In no way does our church deny the trauma and devastation of October 7 attack for the people of Israel. We weep for the almost 1,200 people killed, and for all who were assaulted and wounded, and the 230 people kidnapped from the Gaza border area of Israel, and for their families. We pray every day for the remaining hostages held in Gaza, and for their anguished families who only want their loved ones safe at home. We recognize the effects of multigenerational trauma as a terrible and shocking event like this carries with it the deeper memories of the Holocaust. The Hamas organization, its leaders and members, bear responsibility for the acts they planned and carried out that day and they should be held to account.

That is all true, and it is also true that two traumas can exist in the same time and place. In the case of the trauma inflicted upon the people of Gaza, which also has also triggered multigenerational traumatic memories, in this case of the Nakba of 1948, the United States bears a particular responsibility as it is a major funder and diplomatic partner for Israel that it has not been for Hamas in Gaza.

We understand the responsibility of Israel to protect its people from further harm and to call Hamas to account for the atrocities of October 7. However, under rules of war and international humanitarian law, having a cause to engage in conflict does not mean there are no rules for how to wage that conflict. Israel’s war on Gaza has not destroyed Hamas, but it has largely destroyed Gaza and inflicted terror upon the civilian population of Gaza as whole. No one living in Gaza is untouched by unspeakable devastation. The conduct of the war is the basis for South Africa’s petition to the International Court of Justice.

As the main provider of weapons and diplomatic support to Israel for this war, the United States may very well be complicit in Israel’s war crimes or other violations of international law in this conflict because the U.S. government put few if any conditions on that assistance—in effect, there were no guardrails imposed. As of this writing, over one hundred separate military sales have been made from the United States to Israel since the invasion of Gaza, even as the nature and scope of the devastation has horrified the world.

In a deeper sense, the United States Government is also complicit in this conflict because of its own complacency in providing assistance to Israel for many years—Israel has been the largest recipient of U.S. assistance, by far, in the world over many decades—without insisting or pushing hard enough for a sustainable peace, even as Israel has allowed and even encouraged the illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem to grow and metastasize, thereby jeopardizing the Oslo Accords; even as longtime Prime Minister Netanyahu has tacitly supported Hamas’s rule of the imprisoned enclave of Gaza for years in order to weaken the Palestinian Authority and divide the Palestinian national project so as to postpone the peace process (as described in a biting account[ii] in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz shortly after October 7).

Without removing responsibility from Hamas for their actions, the deeper context for this conflict is the ongoing occupation and inequality of rights in the entire region, and the United States as a funder and diplomatic partner bears responsibility for funding and supporting that unsustainable system of occupation and inequality.

The minimal legal and moral responsibility of the United States Government to the people of Gaza in the wake of such massive destruction is to help fund in a significant way the rebuilding of Gaza. We would not expect that the Episcopal Church alone can move U.S. policy on these issues, but we should join our voice with other faith groups, including our ecumenical Christian partners and our Jewish, Muslim and other interfaith partners for peace, to hold our government to this most basic standard of accountability and responsibility for its part in this war by committing to the rebuilding of hope and life in the land.


[i] “‘The Gospel’: how Israel uses AI to select bombing targets in Gaza,” by Harry Davies, Bethan, McKernan, and Dan Sabbagh, in The Guardian, December 1, 2023. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/dec/01/the-gospel-how-israel-uses-ai-to-select-bombing-targets?CMP=share_btn_url

[ii] “A Brief History of the Netanyahu-Hamas Alliance,” by Adam Raz, October 20, 2023. https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/2023-10-20/ty-article-opinion/.premium/a-brief-history-of-the-netanyahu-hamas-alliance/0000018b-47d9-d242-abef-57ff1be90000?gift=e15fc5f989c34a86abfb4ab16cf169f4


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