After the 9/11 attacks, the psyche of the United States was permanently damaged. The nation that champions human rights on the international stage suddenly fell into an unbridled rage, urging no mercy for the terrorists responsible. Of course, no one who witnessed the horrors of 9/11 with their own eyes sought any mercy for al-Qaeda. The attacks were monstrous, killing nearly 3,000 innocent people and leaving effects that still reverberate today. Yet, that lust for revenge quickly spiraled out of control. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, despite how righteous they seemed at the time, turned into maelstroms of death and destruction. The “War on Terror”, as coined by President George W. Bush, cost the American public $8 trillion dollars and caused the deaths of 4.7 million people, a majority being innocent civilians.
Many in the mainstream media, as well as Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S., have referred to the Israel-Hamas War as “Israel’s 9/11.” Both al-Qaeda and Hamas’ horrific and sudden attacks share common ground in their brutality and the loss of innocent life. Both, as well, represent perilous moments for their respective nations. These moments, however, are not just perilous in terms of national security. The invasion by Hamas, like the terrorist attacks by al-Qaeda, has the very real chance to spiral into a humanitarian crisis where innocent civilians bear the bloodshed.
As the war began its first days, I found myself retreating from social media. This was not to avoid seeing what was happening on the ground in the region; that is an unpleasant truth that everyone must confront. Instead, it was to avoid the flood of vicious and often genocidal rhetoric. Posts urging Israel to bomb the Gaza Strip into nothingness were equally as common as posts defending Hamas’ music festival massacre and mass hostage taking. Social media websites represent a global village, and in this village I saw flashes of the same resentment that rose in the post-9/11 U.S.
More real than social media posts is the effects the accelerating war has on the ground. The war has already claimed thousands of lives, and incited the mutual and now inconsolable fury between the two parties. As Israel claims it has nearly expelled the final pockets of Hamas-backed militants from its territory, the nation is now facing a new front of its own design in the war. Israel has imposed a “complete siege” of food, water and energy in the Gaza Strip and gave the territory’s northern half 24 hours to evacuate, putting its population of nearly 2.5 million people in peril and garnering concern and condemnation from United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Human Rights Watch.
After 9/11, the U.S. channeled their grief into firepower, U.S. troops were on the ground in Afghanistan within a month on a mission to bring Osama Bin Laden to justice and depose the Taliban-led government. The war ended with Bin Laden killed, but also the Taliban returned to power, nearly $2 trillion wasted, and tens of thousands of allied troops as well as Afghan civilians killed. The U.S. followed its entry in Afghanistan with a war in Iraq to depose the country’s president, Saddam Hussein. The mission was based on Hussein's supposed possession of weapons of mass destruction and his ties to al-Qaeda; claims that proved to be complete and utter lies. The Iraq War is estimated to have cost the U.S. upwards of $3 trillion and killed around 300,000 Iraqi civilians, as well as 4,431 U.S. troops.
This is not to say that Israel’s response should be no response. The nation has faced a heinous attack that has rattled the very foundation of its existence. Israel, however, must not forget the cost of war that was so brazenly shown by America’s post-9/11 conflicts. Before the war, Israel had already imposed a land, air and sea blockade of the Gaza Strip that plunged the populace into poverty. With Israel preparing for a ground invasion on all fronts of the third most densely populated territory in the world, the crisis is reaching a tipping point of humanitarian catastrophe at a breakneck pace.
Just as America sought to defang the Taliban and overthrow their rule, Israel seeks to end Hamas’ control of the Gaza Strip. Once America completed this task, the War in Afghanistan fell into disarray. Civilians suffered, soldiers died, and the extremist Taliban garnered support and wrested back power. The destruction of Hamas will provide Israel needed security and garner few tears shed, but the destruction of the Gaza Strip will bring ruin to millions of people and ignite a hatred that will cause anti-Israel sentiment in the region to explode. If Israel completes its mission of destroying Hamas successfully, it must not forget the lessons of 9/11. The environment of war calls for reason, not bloodshed, and the Palestinian people must be alleviated of suffering, not forced to account for Hamas’ terrorist attacks.