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The Exchange Rate On Palestinian Life

In the eyes of Joe Biden and the U.S. government, Palestinian lives count for less. If can casually state it as fact in an interview, it’s not really that provocative of a thesis. The past six months in Gaza have provided heaps of evidence, but last week’s bombing of the World Central Kitchen workers re-emphasized that there is an on Palestinian life, and it is favorable to those doing a brisk trade in genocide.

On April 1, Israeli air strikes destroyed three different vehicles, all clearly marked by the WCK logo, and killed seven aid workers who had finished unloading supplies in Gaza. WCK founder José Andrés that the bombings were conducted “systematically, car by car.” An army doesn’t accidentally air-strike a fleeing group of people three times.

In the subsequent days, the Israeli government scrambled to come up with justification. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the killings were not deliberate; IDF spokesperson the military took “full responsibility”; and a retired general’s investigation led to the rare dismissal of two IDF officers and the reprimand of three others. The that it bombed the aid vehicles because an officer thought he’d spotted a gunman in the group, and that the drones did not see the WCK logos because it was nighttime. This military, gifted with high-end technology that could leave a in the roof of a vehicle, somehow did not notice any signs that this was an aid group, even though WCK was in communication with the military and had provided the location of the workers. The IDF was apologizing not for its sloppy method of consigning people to death from on high, but for having applied it to the wrong group of people. Regardless, it served a larger purpose: WCK and other aid organizations suspended aid to Gaza in response, fearful that they could not distribute aid without possibly falling in the crosshairs of a drone operator with no restrictions.

The reason that Israel, in this case as opposed to so many cases before, had to treat these killings as a serious matter was because Biden finally chose to exert the barest amount of diplomatic pressure. (At the same time, his administration was sending to Israel.) This time, the reaction was . It was the . These from all over the world—three of them British, one Australian, one Polish, one dual U.S.-Canadian citizen, and one Palestinian from Rafah—were seen as complete innocents. And they were. “Innocent people, doing good work to feed a starving population, have died for no reason at all,” . Did anyone stop to wonder how many of the 33,000 dead in Gaza were also innocent people doing good work?

The maddening part was how little it took to force Israel to admit that indiscriminate killing is wrong. All Biden needed to do—setting aside that dismissals and reprimands aren’t close to the appropriate punishment for killing humanitarian workers—was some threat of consequences. He doesn’t even have plans to follow through; his assorted flacks and lackeys all insist that the policy toward Israel will remain unchanged. They will continue to say that —an endlessly repeated talking point that fits in line with the Democratic Party’s broader philosophy of acknowledging needless death without doing anything about it. The red line is a mirage. Leverage exists and could be exercised, but is intentionally left untouched.

While the Biden administration might have its own unspoken exchange rate, the Israeli military has a literal one. An revealed the existence of an artificial-intelligence program called “Lavender,” used to identify targets for bombing and treated to be as accurate as a human. Essentially it functioned as a generator of collateral damage; a separate program called “Where’s Daddy?” would reportedly track targets and bomb them when they returned to their families. The number of acceptable civilian deaths fluctuated with no justification or discrimination between adult and child. Israel’s military was allowed to kill 20 innocents to get one person identified as part of Hamas—never mind whether that one person had been accurately identified as part of Hamas. From the investigation:

According to A., who was an officer in a target operation room in the current war, the army’s international law department has never before given such “sweeping approval” for such a high collateral damage degree. “It’s not just that you can kill any person who is a Hamas soldier, which is clearly permitted and legitimate in terms of international law,” A. said. “But they directly tell you: ‘You are allowed to kill them along with many civilians.’

“Every person who wore a Hamas uniform in the past year or two could be bombed with 20 [civilians killed as] collateral damage, even without special permission,” A. continued. “In practice, the principle of proportionality did not exist.”

According to A., this was the policy for most of the time that he served. Only later did the military lower the collateral damage degree. “In this calculation, it could also be 20 children for a junior operative … It really wasn’t like that in the past,” A. explained. Asked about the security rationale behind this policy, A. replied: “Lethality.”

This strategy was unchallenged for years, but then José Andrés’s workers fell victim to it. Now, and only now, something has to be done. Last week a group of Democratic U.S. representatives calling for Biden to halt arms transfers to Israel, until a full investigation is conducted into the WCK killings. What could have prompted the change of heart? In January, Nancy Pelosi was about how calling for a ceasefire was part of a psyop orchestrated by Vladimir Putin; now she wants no more bombs sent to Israel?

Western lives are seen as more important than Palestinian lives—again, this is not controversial. We see the discount being applied all the time, never more bloodlessly than when a dead American also happens to be Palestinian. In the years since of journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh, an American citizen, the Biden administration has not done anything beyond feign concern and gesture weakly toward a call for accountability. Earlier this year, Israeli forces fatally shot two Palestinian-American teenagers in . So far the White House has shown the minimum amount of curiosity, and it’s unlikely that it’ll show any more.

“The latest incident has also affected Joe Biden in a way earlier ones did not,” at the Financial Times. “Put simply, Andrés is a Washington celebrity.” The queasy-making part of Luce’s speculation is that he might be right: Because this horror is connected to José Andrés, a chef and humanitarian revered in D.C., it sprang a specific subset of American politician into action. “He was one of the pioneers of high-quality restaurants in an early 1990s Washington that had a well-deserved reputation for dowdy food,” Luce went on. “Andrés’s Jaleo introduced Spanish-style tapas food to America’s capital. In 2016, his restaurant, Minibar, was one of Washington’s first batch to merit a two-star Michelin award. Among others, Nancy Pelosi, the former US Speaker, has nominated him for a Nobel Peace Prize.”

How are Andrés and his workers any more innocent than a Palestinian family that hasn’t eaten in weeks, a whose parents have been erased by bombs, or the rest of the killed by Israel’s attacks? Where was this kind of honest and direct language for them? Well, of course, they’re from over there. The distance, combined with a relentless campaign of dehumanization, reduces them to numbers in a death toll rather than individual portraits, like the humanitarians who came to Deir al Balah from other parts of the world. And anyway, a U.S. congressman isn’t looking for a restaurant reservation in Gaza.

There is no relief to be found in Biden’s , a sharpness comparable to a butter knife. It’s not just the callousness of White House policy that reveals who and what is being valued; it’s also the moments where the administration chooses to care. As it stands, the exchange rate is six to 33,000, and counting.