by a US Army infantryman and veteran of Iraq & Afghanistan
In 70 AD the Roman Empire, having endured 30 years of near constant agitation from Judea, launched a military campaign that swept across the province, culminating in the siege and destruction of Jerusalem.
The first Jewish-Roman war was a devastating conflict that, according to Josephus in his history The Jewish War, resulted in the deaths of more than 1.2 million jews and the enslavement of 97,000 more. The conflict had far-reaching effects, the most acute of which was the total reshaping of the Jewish faith following the destruction of the Second Temple, and the beginning of the diaspora.
Hardened by the brutality of the Roman occupation, a threat emerged from the Judean masses. The Sicarii; ‘dagger men,’ a radicalized sect that, among other acts of terrorism, targeted and murdered Roman citizens and collaborators in huge numbers. In response, the Romans sent six legions under the command of future Emperor Vespatian to crush the nascent rebellion. However, as is repeated throughout history however, the death of a movement does not equate to the death of the idea that precipitated it.
After landing in the region, the Roman army cut a bloody swath across the province on their march to Jerusalem. They massacred untold thousands along the way, wiping entire towns and villages off the map. They sold many into slavery, dispersing the Jewish non-citizens to far-flung corners of the empire where they couldn’t challenge Roman supremacy with their religious extremism.
For five months the Romans laid siege to Jerusalem. In that time, no less than 11,000 Judeans died of starvation and disease inside the Holy City’s walls. When the defenses were breached, the Romans flooded into the city killing all in their path. Josephus writes:
“ …everywhere was slaughter and flight. Most of the victims were peaceful citizens, weak and unarmed, butchered wherever they were caught. Round the Altar the heaps of corpses grew higher and higher, while down the Sanctuary steps poured a river of blood….”
In the end Titus, Vespasian’s son and successor, ordered the complete destruction of the city. Few escaped with their lives and of those that did, even fewer escaped slavery. The Romans watched as Jerusalem, the center of the Jewish world, burned to the ground. And In the midst of that destruction? The Temple. The house of God. Rendered to dust and ruin, with no stone left upon another.
The Isrelites were a thorn in the side of the Roman Empire. After decades of agitation and strife, the State used overwhelming force to wipe the troublemakers from existence, destroying their homeland and scattering the survivors to the wind. Similarly, the Israelis now find themselves with a thorn of their very own. It is prickly, harnessing the power of religion and nationalism to nibble away at the fringes of Israeli society–digging into their side and drawing blood for nearly 80 years.
Like the Romans, the Israelis have endured senseless attacks by a fanatical class of non-citizens. In response and very much like their former oppressors, the Israelis are using collective punishment to cow their subjects into submission, besieging Gaza and heaping violence upon its occupants. Make no mistake, the Palestinians are subjects of the Israeli state in the same way the ancient Israelites were subservient to the Roman empire.
They are subject to taxation by the occupying authority. They are told where they can and cannot go within territory they feel is their own. They live under the crushing weight of a dual justice system. Where for Palestinians, offenses like protesting and throwing rocks at armored cars result in years long prison terms that oftentime come without formal charges. Meanwhile, their orthodox jewish cousins who happen to be citizens commit the same crimes and receive commuted sentences or relatively minor fines.
This piece is not written to arbitrate the issue of Palestinian sovereignty, though the author does feel the two-state solution is the only viable path forward. The goal is to highlight a piece of historical irony. The Palestinians, like the Israelites before them, find themselves besieged inside one of the last bastions of their people. Outside the walls is an overwhelmingly powerful enemy seemingly hell bent on their annihilation. Inside; a desperate mass of humanity that, while militant in its convictions, simply wants to live a peaceful life of self-determination.
Until very recently all water, electricity, and fuel was being withheld by Israel–and, if you need another example of the servant status of the Palestinians, look no further than the fact that all requirements for daily life must pass through the occupying authority. No aid trucks were being allowed in from Egypt and worse, to put a fine point on the issue of aid for Gazans, the Israelis bombed the border crossing not once, but twice.
The crimes of Hamas cannot be overstated. That much goes without question. What happens next is up to the Israelis. Going into Gaza to stamp out Hamas is a logical and necessary reaction to the horror visited on the Israeli people. October 7th was a tragedy. But the 8th, 9th, 10th, and so on are also tragedies. They were days that saw hundreds of Palestinian casualties as a result of relentless IDF bombing. In terms of civilian deaths, Israel has already claimed a four-fold increase over the losses they sustained. The wounded inside Gaza number in the tens of thousands. And what militarily do they have to show for it? The targeted assassination of a handful of Hamas leaders and their families. Leaders, which any decent insurgency is capable of replacing without a hiccup in their normal operations.
It is an open secret that Hamas operates out of a network of well concealed tunnels. How does the flattening of entire city blocks help the IDF penetrate that tunnel network? If anything, the Israelis are turning an already dense urban area into an even bigger nightmare by bombing near-indiscriminately. They are producing an urban battlespace that will rival Stalingrad in its complexity by the time they go in. One can only hope that in the end, Gaza doesn’t extract a similar cost to that of Stalin’s namesake city.
War is messy. It is brutish. As someone who was a practitioner in the urban wasteland of Southern Baghdad, I do not envy the IDF Infantry soldiers who will be entering Gaza sometime in the near future. I wish them well, but I fear that before too long, the dead will be streaming out of Gaza in numbers we haven’t yet seen from a western democracy. Not since Vietnam or Korea.
The Levant is soaked in the blood of Romans, Jews, Arabs, Turks, Persians, Mongols and the Europeans who crusaded there and fought in the world wars. The question of ownership of the land is not mine to answer. But what I do know is that once again, tragedy has struck on that coastal plain. It is tragedy that threatens to embroil the whole world.
Already, Iran is moving its proxy forces to the border and diplomatic overtures are being made between bitter regional enemies. NATO and the US are being drawn into the Mediterranean. Russia has planes and submarines on the periphery, watching and waiting. China stirs, sending navy vessels to the Middle East where they can project power and protect their Belt and Road investments. Religious wars are often the worst, most costly wars. They also have a propensity to draw in outside observers.
History is a guide. We would do well to pay attention.
As the Voice of the Veteran Community, The Havok Journal seeks to publish a variety of perspectives on a number of sensitive subjects. Unless specifically noted otherwise, nothing we publish is an official point of view of The Havok Journal or any part of the U.S. government.