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We’re All ‘Human Animals’

ByJeremy Salt
A man stands in Gaza with his hands outstretched in a house extensively damaged by shelling. Photo by Motaz Azaiza

The Author

Jeremy Salt is an independent researcher who previously taught the history of the modern Middle East at the University of Melbourne, Bosporus University in Istanbul and Bilkent University in Ankara. His publications include The Last Ottoman Wars. The Human Cost 1877-1923 (University of Utah Press, 2019) and The Unmaking of the Middle East. A History of Western Disorder in Arab Lands (2008), which was shortlisted (five books) in 2009 for the US Council on Foreign Relations Arthur Ross award for “books that make an outstanding contribution to the understanding of foreign policy or international relations.

Human beings have been slaughtering each other through all of recorded history. As ‘western civilisation’ alone has 2000 years of writing laws and covenants to make the world a safer place, why haven’t we managed to stop this genocidal culling of millions of human lives in every generation?

More than 10,000 people have now been slaughtered in Gaza, 4000 of them children. ‘Slaughter’ is the right word, not the antiseptic ‘die.’ This is not a war between but a war on, an onslaught by one of the world’s most powerful armies on a civilian population defended by lightly armed guerrillas. Assault rifles and grenade launchers pitted against tanks, artillery, warships, fighter aircraft, troop carriers and the massive D9 bulldozers being used to clear the land before clearing the people.

Over three days, the biggest bombs in Israel’s arsenal (apart from nuclear) were dropped on the Jabaliyya refugee camp. The Israelis have no evidence of the death of the Hamas commander they said they killed on day one, which raises the question of why they dropped more bombs on Jabaliyya on days two and three.

The Israeli ‘defence’ minister, Yoav Gallant, says the Palestinians are ‘human animals,’ somehow different from the rest of us, who are not human animals, but enlightened, civilised, moral human beings. Sons are not to be blamed for the sins of the father, but there is a clear parallel in Galllant’s case. He was named after Operation Yoav, alternatively Operation Ten Plagues, in which his father fought in 1948.

Military success preceded ethnic cleansing and one of the worst massacres of the time, at Al Dawayima, where regular soldiers slaughtered about 500 civilians, on the streets and in the mosque, shooting the adults and breaking the heads of children with sticks, on the evidence of one of the soldiers.

To murder in such a fashion, these soldiers would have had to regard their victims as ‘human animals,’ deserving of death or being sent back to the Stone Age, as Gallant the son has also said will be the fate of Lebanon in the next war with Hizbullah. Surely an extraordinary surname for a man who thinks like this but there are many like him, who regard the Palestinians as cockroaches, snakes or “beasts on two legs” as Menahim Begin, the terrorist elected as Israel’s prime minister, once called them.

As ‘human animals,’ the Palestinians must be cropped and culled as necessary but always kept in their open-air prison in Gaza or caged on the West Bank. ‘Mowing the lawn’ is what the Israelis call keeping the Palestinians under control but now that a Palestinian group has done a small amount of mowing itself, their long-term tormentor is enraged.

Hundreds of the slain Israelis were soldiers and police who have killed or would kill Palestinians. They included members of the Duvdevan, the undercover unit that murders young men on the West Bank. Reserve soldiers and armed settlers were among the rest and as the Israeli military killed many others, on the evidence of Israelis themselves, the number actually killed by the Palestinians shrinks.

Hamas fighters certainly terrorised people on October 7 but Israel has been terrorising Palestinians ever since 1948, on an infinitely greater scale than Hamas or any other Palestinian movement. If terror is the point you want to make, who is better at it? If there is a quantitative difference, it lies between the consequences of an attack by assault rifle and grenade on the one side and, apart from the US naval armada standing off the coast, F-16 fighter aircraft, tanks, artillery, missiles and warships on the other. There is no end to how many people an army can terrorise, yet in ‘western’ government and mainstream media vernacular it is only the armed guerrilla who is the ‘terrorist’– in this case attacking settlements established on the land from which his people were ethnically cleansed 75 years ago. However many millions of people fall victim to state terrorism, (the US in Iraq, Vietnam etc., Israel in Palestine and Lebanon), only the resistance fighter is the terrorist.

As ‘human animals’, homo sapiens does what other animals do, mostly for the same reasons, which is kill to gain control of territory and unimpeded access to its resources, food and water for other species, oil, uranium, timber, natural gas, gold, precious metals etc. for us. What is different is that while some animals kill within their own species, we do it wholesale, as a matter of course, obliterating millions of other human beings in every generation as well as killing trillions of other animals. This brings us back to the question asked at the beginning of this article: – why are we like this, when we have all the laws, covenants and treaties needed to stop it?

The short answer is that governments comply with treaties only when it suits them and for a
century it has suited ‘western’ governments to arm and finance the state they implanted in
Palestine, irrespective of law, justice and morality.

The ‘international rules order’ they claim to live by is lipstick on a pig, more ordure than order. In the real order, the weak suffer; the strong do whatever they like.

A situation in which only the weak have to obey the law is no law at all. The fact that Tony
Blair, George Bush, Barack Obama and many others involved in the destruction of Iraq and
Libya are not in prison underlines the point.

Laws and principles that exist only on paper take us straight into the history of Palestine.
Arthur James Balfour had no right to give Palestine to an alien population in 1917. The 1947
UN partition plan violated the right of self-determination and would not have been passed
without US interference behind the scenes. The Jewish state was established on land owned
and populated by another people.

Even then, a Jewish state had no right under any law or UN resolution to expel the native
population and destroy or seize all its property. Protected by the ‘west’, it has been allowed to do whatever it wants ever since, with the catastrophic consequences we are now seeing
in Gaza. This is the tangled ball that needs to be unravelled to understand how and why it is
that at least 10,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza so far. Condemnation of ‘terrorism’ might be morally satisfying but keeps us stuck in the rut. Condemn ‘Iranian-backed’ Hamas if you like but also condemn ‘US-backed Israel’ for the massively greater crimes it has committed over the past 75 years, including those in the world’s only open-air prison, Gaza.

Palestinian refugees during the 1948 Nakba. (Image: By Hanini / Creative Commons)

Condemn the governments that have refused to take responsibility for what they have done
in and to Palestine over the past century. Condemn them for failing to stop the atrocious
slaughter in Gaza. Condemn them for their cowardice and hypocrisy. Condemn them for
their cold-blooded indifference to the mass murder of thousands of children. Condemn
them for supporting the government doing this.

Condemn the media for its propaganda and lies. If condemnation is what you want, there is
a 100-year list of what you need to condemn– but how does this help? What we need is
what we have never had, not the laws themselves, as we have had those for a very long
time, but finally, the determination to see that they are obeyed.

Israel’s politicians and generals have made their intentions clear and have followed up on
them. Gaza is being annihilated. One hundred members of a group called Doctors for the
Rights of the Israeli Soldier, doctors who have taken the Hippocratic Oath to protect human
life, have called for the bombing of the Shifa hospital, thus killing other doctors, nurses and

Numerous hospitals, including Shifa, have already been bombed anyway. Giora Eiland, a
former head of the National Security Council calls for a military operation against the
hospital, even if it leaves thousands of bodies lying in the streets afterwards. The
government’s ‘heritage minister’ has called for Gaza to be nuked. Netanyahu quotes the
Bible and God’s injunction to the Hebrews to wipe out the people of Amalek, man, woman
and child and even their beasts of the field. Others want them driven into the desert.
Whatever it takes, Israel has to be stopped yet western governments are refusing even to
demand a ceasefire. Scott Morrison, flying to Israel with Boris Johnson, says there should
not be one, thus lending his hand-clapping Pentacostal support to the continuing daily
slaughter of the Palestinians.

In the 1950s, the Palestinian choice was a secular democratic state for everyone– Muslims,
Jews and Christians– but Israel didn’t want that. Then it was two states, settling for 22 per
cent of their land, living alongside Israel, but Israel didn’t want that either. The West Bank
has already been colonised so intensively that a Palestinian state is inconceivable. What
Israel does want is what the Zionists wanted in the 19 th century; a Jewish state over all of

At the same time, its central dilemma has not changed for a century. There are now
probably more Muslim and Christian Palestinians between the river and the sea than Jews.
The alternatives for Israel, if it is to remain a Jewish state, is permanent apartheid or the
ethnic cleansing that twice – 1948 and 1967 – has been its solution to the demographic

A third round is now underway in Gaza. Just like 1948, when some 500 villages were
destroyed, everything above ground being steadily demolished. For the Palestinians driven
to the south, there will be nothing left for them in the north.

Since October 7, Israel has dropped more than 25,000 tons of explosives on Gaza, the
equivalent of the two nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or more than 10
kilograms for each Gazan, according to the Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor. Israel is also
reportedly using white phosphorous bombs and, according to Euro-Med, cluster bombs in
what it describes as the single greatest threat to civilian life in modern armed conflicts.
Behind their pusillanimous language, the champions of the ‘western civilisation’ that have
created this mess are in full support of it. Backed by western governments, Israel has left
the Palestinians without a peaceful option.

The genocidal destruction in Gaza is the evidence of how far Israel is prepared to go in the
name of self-defence. Pushed even further, they have nuclear weapons to take everyone
else down with them, if it ever gets to that point. This should make their western backers
fearful of what they have created.

The intractable has now become even more intractable. Destroying Hamas or pushing the
Palestinians into Sinai will no more solve the problem than pushing them into Lebanon,
Syria and Jordan did.

We are animals, human animals, all of us, but other species don’t tear each other to pieces
as we do. In their own self-interest, other animals learn. No matter how many lessons the
past delivers, we don’t. Why?



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