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PEOPLE OF THE YEAR 2023

International Villain of the Year: Benjamin Netanyahu and Mohammed Deif

International Villain of the Year: Benjamin Netanyahu and Mohammed Deif
Mohammed Deif, the commander of the military arm of Hamas. (Photo: Wikimedia) | Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. (Photo: EPA-EFE / ABIR SULTAN / POOL)

Israel's Prime Minister and the commander of the military arm of Hamas stand out in the rogues' gallery for their blood-soaked acts of inhumanity.

In 2023, there was no shortage of candidates for International Villain of the Year, but two men stood head and shoulders above the rest: Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Hamas leader Mohammed Deif.

Netanyahu was the overwhelming choice of voting Daily Maverick readers, but in the interests of justice an editorial decision was taken to co-award this ignominious label to the Hamas commander believed to have been behind the 7 October attack on Israel.

There can be no gainsaying the horror that was unleashed by Hamas on that date, first from the sky – via rockets and paragliders – and then on land, as Hamas fighters broke through barricades and embarked on a killing spree. By the end of a single day, around 1,200 Israelis were dead, the vast majority of them civilians.

Particularly brutal was a massacre at an outdoor music festival near Re’im, alone accounting for the murder of around 260 young Israelis. In violation of the laws of war, somewhere in the region of 250 hostages were also taken by Hamas – among them young children and the elderly – with many still kept in captivity at the time of writing.

In response to the attack, the wrath unleashed by the Israeli military under the government of Netanyahu has been horrifying. The number of Palestinians killed in the Gaza Strip in the Israeli retaliatory onslaught has dwarfed the number of Israelis slain in the 7 October attack by at least 15 to one. The UN has warned that Gaza is becoming “a graveyard for children”, while the number of journalists killed has outstripped any modern conflict.

For South Africans, there was particular grief and outrage at the killing of Gift of the Givers’ Gaza head Ahmed Abbasi, a 34-year-old father of three, along with his brother.

The number of medical staff and NGO workers killed by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) should also be noted. In one case, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) says it provided the IDF with the GPS coordinates of a hospital where its staff would be working, to shield them from harm. The very next day, the facility in question – Al-Awda Hospital in north Gaza – was hit in a strike, killing two MSF doctors.

Although Hamas’ actions on 7 October deserve our strongest condemnation, it also cannot be denied that provocations towards Palestinians have escalated under Netanyahu’s increasingly right-wing coalition ­government.

In March this year, The New Yorker warned that Netanyahu’s administration was “overseeing – and encouraging – brutal attacks by settlers on Palestinians”, and that “the new government has announced ‘guidelines’ declaring its intent to ‘advance and develop settlement in all parts of the land of Israel’”.

Domestically, Netanyahu’s government has also led an assault on Israel’s democratic institutions – particularly the judiciary. Like a certain former head of state closer to home, Netanyahu has a corruption case hanging over his head, and limiting the powers of judges is a neat way to buy longer-term job security. Since January, Israel has been roiled by protests against a government widely judged as ultra-nationalist and illiberal.

It is now becoming clear that the Hamas attack was only able to happen thanks to multiple failures of intelligence and overconfidence on the part of the Israeli military. The New York Times recently reported that Israeli commanders were aware of Hamas’ plan a year in advance and dismissed it as “aspirational”. A poll by the Israeli Democracy Institute released in late October found that trust in Netanyahu’s government had collapsed to a 20-year low, with just 20% of Israelis saying they had faith in his Cabinet.

By the end of the year, tens of thousands of Israelis and Palestinians will be dead, with yet more blood soaking the soil of that tormented land. Hamas’ atrocious attack and Israel’s chilling response, meanwhile, will have virtually ensured that new generations on both sides of the conflict are re-radicalised for years to come. So much to grieve, and so little to hope for. DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

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  • John P says:

    Whilst Mohammed Deif certainly justifies a top 10 place in this of evil and Netanyahu probably deserves second the major villain of the year is undoubtably Putin.

  • Ari Potah says:

    A former Israeli official, Brig. Gen. Yitzhak Segev, who was the Israeli military governor in Gaza in the early 1980s told a New York Times reporter that he had helped finance the Palestinian Islamist movement (“Hamas”) as a “counterweight” to the secularists and leftists of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Fatah party, led by Yasser Arafat (who himself referred to Hamas as “a creature of Israel.”)

    • dexter m says:

      So Hamas growth spurt in the 80’s was as a result of Israeli Govt Policy. Now you never fund without some control or have a insider. Wonder who is that insider ? When did the double agent turn ? Is that why Israeli intelligence not believe the information that an attack was planned ?

  • Tim Bester says:

    The editor has his/her ‘villains’ thoroughly confused.

  • Darryl Accone says:

    Adjusting the vote in this category recalls the very famous and very short poem by Bertolt Brecht, ‘Die Lösung’ (The Solution):

    After the uprising of the 17th June
    The Secretary of the Writers Union
    Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
    Stating that the people
    Had forfeited the confidence of the government
    And could win it back only
    By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
    In that case for the government
    To dissolve the people
    And elect another?

  • Cameron Kendall Peters says:

    But if readers voted Benjamin Netanyahu as the Villain of the Year with practically a majority, why is this International Villain of the Year being awarded to both him and Hamas? This poll doesn’t make sense. The editor had her mind made up.

  • dexter m says:

    Odd, editors choice ? is that not to accused of antisemitism. But for me the co-winners should be Sudan’s Generals Hemetti (RSF) and Fatah al-Burhan ( Sudan Army) both do not seem to care for their own citizens .

  • Robin Rain says:

    I used to think that Daily Maverick was the best of the South African news media channels. It’s very disappointing to see that logic has turned to populism!

  • Steve Du Plessis says:

    Somebody has lost their moral compass….. there are many villains in this world and plenty to choose from in our country. Putting Netanyahu (and I’m no fan) in the same sentence as Hamas is ridiculous and shows a moral degeneration that will be very costly. The world needs to wake up!

  • Denise Smit says:

    Hamas the innocent victim and the Jews the evil. how can you be captured by the propagandists DM insiders?

    • Kenneth FAKUDE says:

      Denise we tend to confuse the extreme right wing Israel regime with Jews or Hamas with Palestinians that is wrong the only alignment is exposure of the Jews and Palestinians to these two contagious factions, any information provided by these two should be thoroughly scrutinized as propaganda is their big secret weapon, for instance confessions now coming out from disgusted Israel forces that on october 7 there was a shoot out between the security forces and Hamas where a lot of the civilians were killed by the Israel armed forces in the cross fire, no children were baked in ovens by Hamas whose sole intent was to wrongly capture hostages to later trade with Israel which is a common practice in that Land, America is hiding a lot of information which worries them that if there is a cease fire will come out hence the strong opposition, America supplied non precision bombs because they knew Israel war plan was Genocide against Palestinians, Israel supported Hamas financially to unseat the PA, the tunnels were well known by Israel as they were used to enter goods into Gaza from Egypt and other countries and they were never a threat to Israel until Hamas came to the picture with the blessing of the rightwing regime,yes there are settler Jews who explore the situation for personal gain but a majority of them are peace loving victims who want to live their lives same for Palestinians there are those who have resigned their lives to the unfair occupation but there are those who dont

      • Denise Smit says:

        Where do you get the information that lots of Israelis were killed by Israel soldiers on 7 October. Please give your source. Or are you part of the anti Jew propaganda mashinery?

        • dexter m says:

          Read the Ynet article with the IDF statement on friendly fire as it relates to events on 7 Oct . Does not quantify numbers and i do not think anyone we will ever know how many were killed . If you follow some of my comments on other posts i give articles with links to Israeli news reports . I only refer to Israeli news reports or NY Times , so not anti-jew propaganda.

  • Nick Griffon says:

    Rebecca lost the plot!!!

    • Kenneth FAKUDE says:

      Rebecca got it right in a bigger way it wakes us up to the fact that the 7th of October didn’t happen in a vacuum further on the ongoing developments are more important not only the unfolding Genocide but the implications it has on other countries South Africa not an exception, the smaller powers are in sympathy with Palestinians for humanity reasons and for deterrence to western nations who bully their ways inside lowly armed states to enrode sovereign policies, the super powers are looking at the weakened international security structures like the UN, ICC to name a few to gauge what will be their chances, China is eying Taiwan, there visible USA and Russia tensions in the arctic, Iran and Syria is preparing for hostilities, the Arab nations are being dragged in, North Korea gearing up we don’t have an effective self reliant economy with oil and import iterm that is at risk of being blocked by wars, perhaps we are missing that crucial part no one buys minerals during wars except if essential for weapons

  • Kenneth FAKUDE says:

    Rebecca did exclude crucial Israel policies since 2006, the total financial blockage of Gaza, the complete blockage of food and Palestine movements in and out of Gaza, the rationing of food going to Gaza to starvation levels, the comments of Israel soldiers who say they are instructed to empty explosive on anything that moves in Gaza, the practice of periodically mowing the lawn in Gaza this means periodic massacres,the UK foreign minister calling Gaza a concentration, the statements of the Prime minister, defence minister and the war cabinet of flattening Gaza saying everyone there is a terrorist including babies, Hamas is a factor that exists among people who are pushed to the wall and we like it or not no one will say fine I am against the wall crush me to death, we try to strike a balance between Israel vs Hamas but killing Palestinians in the process, this is normal in Israel history says so, we slept through state capture, we are sleeping again until there is no fuel for power, tractors, police and ambulances, perhaps we must stop thinking that western cape is another country in south africa

  • Denise Smit says:

    DM or its supposed insiders are loosing the plot. Perhaps we have to look at where funding comes from

  • Hersheela Narsee says:

    I am deeply disappointed with the Rebecca Davis article which equates Netehayu with the Hamas leader. It is unthinkable to equate these two men given the background and contexts of Palestinian oppression since 1917. I am a committed subscriber to DM and this analysis by Rebecca Davis is disgusting!!

  • Clinton Herring says:

    I didn’t know polls work like that. I vote with money though. Sorry dm.

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