Is an Israeli life worth more than a Palestinian life? Much of the commentary on the bombing of Gaza seems to suggest so. 5 Israelis and 156 Palestinians have been killed, yet the story seems to be how Israel is the victim. Great emphasis is put on Israel’s right to exist, little thought is given to the fact that Palestinians do not have a state of their own. Israel claims the right to defend itself while denying Palestinians right to do the same. It is a tragedy when an Israeli is killed, while little attention is paid to vast number of dead Palestinians. Great attention is given to Palestinian extremists while Israeli extremists are ignored. The history and root causes of the conflict are ignored and little effort is made to understand the conflict.
This conflict began when Israel fired a missile that killed a Hamas leader, Ahmed Jabari. Jabari was in the process of negotiating a truce with Israel when he was killed. This treacherous act would have horrified the world had Hamas did it, when the Israeli Defence Forces did it, it was quietly forgotten. Many have noted that this round of fighting took place just before Israeli election planned in January 2013. By starting a conflict 2 months before an election, Netanyahu can claim to be a strong leader who is defending Israel. (Netanyahu is the leader of the hardline Likud party, to put this in perspective, imagine if the American Tea Party was in charge of foreign policy).
Israel has claimed it has a right to defend itself from attack. But does Gaza not have the same right? Do the helpless Palestinians not have the right to live in peace without the constant threat of bombardment? While I pity the poor Israelis who have to hide in bomb shelters, it must be remembered that the Palestinians don’t have any air raid sirens or bomb shelters. While great attention is paid to the number of rockets Hamas fires, most of them land harmlessly in the desert. The few that head towards urban areas are shot down by Israeli anti-missile defence. The Palestinians have no anti-missile defence to protect them and the density of the Gaza Strip means that nearly every missile hits something.
Israel claims it is under constant rocket attack. However, between November 2011 and October 2012, not a single person was killed by a rocket. The myth that Israel was under constant attack or was provoked is a fiction. It is quite clear that Operation Pillar Of Cloud will not make Israel safer or reduce the number of rockets. Instead it has increased the number of rockets being fired. All it has done is provoke the militants and make the Palestinians hate Israel even more. Hamas does not any recruiters, Israeli jets do that job.
Israel claims its right to exist while simultaneously denying Palestine’s. This hypocrisy was clearly seen when Palestine attempted to receive UN recognition as a state. This was blocked by America and Israel. While the President of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been (misquoted) saying that “Israel should be wiped off the map”, nobody points out the fact that Palestine isn’t on any map. It doesn’t exist as a state. How come nobody requires a recognition of Palestine’s right to exist as a precondition for negotiations?
None of the reports on Gaza discuss the history of the land. It is easy to get the impression that this conflict sprung out of nowhere for no particular reason. This ignores the fact that the Palestinians have been disposed of their land and country and expelled to become refugees. In fact a majority of the population of Gaza are refugees. The creation of the state of Israel was followed by mass expulsions and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians (which shows that those who have undergone great suffering are capable of inflicting great suffering). Since 1967 Palestinians have been oppressed by Israel. They have been occupied and denied their own homeland. They are subject to raids, bombings, searches and checkpoints. It is rarely noted that there are currently Israelis settlements expanding across the West Bank, which is little more than a land grab.
If the Israelis had to suffer one tenth of what the people of Gaza go through there would be outcry across America. Gaza has been described as little more than an open-air prison by British Prime Minister David Cameron and former President Jimmy Carter, neither of whom could be called radicals. Gaza is under constant siege with many necessities blocked from entering. The blockade includes medicine, some types of food, cement, glass and most of the necessities for any economy. It has destroyed the local economy and lead to mass unemployment and crushing poverty. This is collective punishment of the innocent civilians, an act which is outlawed under the Geneva Convention. The UN estimates that 70% of the population lives on less than one dollar a day and 75% are dependent on food aid. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, ninety-six per cent of Gaza’s industrial sector collapsed after Operation Cast Lead and unemployment is near universal. The population is being crushed by Israel, yet the international community cannot understand why so many rockets are fired.
While many are quick to condemn the backwardness of Hamas (a position I don’t disagree with) they gloss over the views of many Israelis. In fact a recent poll found that many Israelis view Palestinians the same way white South Africans viewed blacks during the Apartheid era. 47% believed Arabs living in Israel (who make up 20% of Israels population) should be denied citizenship. 59% believed Jews should be given preference in public sector jobs and 42% believe schools should be segregated between Jews and Muslims. Even if the West Bank was annexed to Israel, 69% would still oppose giving Palestinians the right to vote. 74% even believed there should be separate roads for Palestinians and Israelis. These apartheid views are generally hushed up and it is presumed that only the Palestinians are intolerant. (This was a public poll so the true numbers are actually higher as people tend to downplay any views that could be interpreted as racist.)
It is regularly claimed that Hamas uses civilians as human shields. This is a despicable attempt to lie about Israel’s killing of civilians. Rather than acknowledge that Israel’s heavy bombing campaign is bound to kill innocent people (especially in Gaza which is extremely densely populated) they blame the other side for their own mistakes. When Israel blows up a school they try to avoid blame by claiming it’s really Hamas’ fault. In fact, Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem found evidence of Israel using human shields during Operation Cast Lead, as did Human Rights Watch. A report by Amnesty International condemned both sides, finding that the Israeli army often occupied homes of Palestinian civilians and detained them there, effectively using them as human shields. The Goldstone Report found Israel guilty of using human shields (which was confirmed Israeli internal investigation).
These double standards can be seen whenever someone criticises Israel. They are usually accused of being anti-Semitic, yet if someone criticises Hamas they are not accused of being anti-Islam (I personally dislike the term Islamophobia as it denotes fear not hatred). While there are undoubtedly some anti-Semites in the world, they represent only a tiny fraction of those who criticise Israel. Just as although many critics of Hamas play on the stereotype of dark, shifty, lying and malicious Arabs, they are only a minority. While there are undoubtedly some anti-Semites in the world, they represent only a tiny fraction of those who criticise Israel. Just as although many critics of Hamas play on the stereotype of dark, shifty, lying and malicious Arabs, they are only a minority.
Gilad Sharon, son of the former Israeli Prime Minister has recently called for Gaza to be flattened and drew analogies with the dropping of a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima. He further proclaimed that “There should be no electricity in Gaza, no gasoline or moving vehicles, nothing.” Knesset (Israeli Parliament) member Michael Ben-Ari told soldiers to ignore any thoughts of mercy because “There are no innocents in Gaza.” The Israeli Minister of the Interior, Eli Yishai declared that “The goal of the operation is to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages. Only then will Israel be calm for forty years.” A protest at Haifa University was marked by Israeli students chanting “Death to the Arabs”. If you only listened to American television you would think only Arabs said stuff like that. No the Israelis do it as well.
There is the false attempt at balance by somehow claiming, each side is as bad as the other. A simple look at the numbers shows the flaw in this argument. 30 Palestinians have been killed for every Israeli killed. Hamas deserves to be condemned for its killing of civilians but Israel should be condemned 30 times that. Gaza is not a story of Arab aggression or one side being as bad as the other, but rather one of Israel oppressing innocent people for generations. To paraphrase Patrick Pearse, “Gaza unfree shall never be at peace.”
Update: The Israeli Minister For Defence has claimed that Israel has dropped 1,000 tons of explosives on Gaza for every ton that Hamas dropped on Israel. Yet Israel claims it is the victim.