Sitting here in Tel Aviv – complete with air raid sirens and explosions – it is perhaps a good moment to reflect on the current hostilities between the Israeli government and militant factions in Gaza.
Despite the threat of missiles, things are relatively calm here. Every rocket aimed towards the city has been intercepted by the Israeli Iron Dome missile defence system. In fact, in Israel altogether, the death toll stands at three since the escalation began.
In Gaza, things are very different. Israel has been quick to point out that, since the start of hostilities, Gaza has fired 580 missiles into Israel, with many intercepted by Iron Dome. But we must ask: what has gone the other way? Israel says it has hit over 1,000 targets in Gaza – how many missiles does that equate to?
The death toll amongst Palestinians is climbing towards the 100 mark, many of them are women, children and innocent civilians – the result of Israel’s so-called “precision attacks”. On Wednesday, according Yousef Munayyer, writing in the Daily Beast, more Palestinians were killed in Gaza than the total number of Israelis that have been killed by missiles from Gaza during the last three years. A proportional response?
According to Haaretz, Israel’s Interior Minister, Eli Yishai, was quoted as saying: “The goal of the operation is to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages.” Make of that what you will.
These numbers are important. Loss of civilian life is unforgivable, no matter which side you are on. And terrorism is wrong. Full stop.
It’s interesting that when terrorism is mentioned in this conflict, it’s only in relation to “Palestinian attacks” (note too that it is the Palestinians that ‘attack’ and the Israelis that ‘defend’). But what about the terror that ordinary civilians in Gaza feel? And not just in the last few days but for many years before?
Why there is such animosity from Palestinians? The answer is simple. While Israelis sit in Tel Aviv drinking fancy cocktails in the chic bars and restaurants and lounging in the sun on the beach, Gaza is – as academic Noam Chomsky put it recently – an “open air prison”. And the prison guards are the IDF.
Palestinians across the West Bank and Gaza have faced Israeli occupation since 1967. This occupation is illegal under international law (UN resolution 242). Palestinians are terrorised on a regular basis and live their lives as second class citizens. There are numerous examples of human rights violations by Israel and contraventions of Geneva Conventions. The US and the rest of the world seem happy to look elsewhere.
In Hamas-controlled Gaza (Hamas – a party that Israel helped to take power in the 80s when it suited, but would rather you forgot about that) things are even worse. Gaza is a tiny area of land, home to 1.4m squashed Palestinians, many of them refugees.
There is a sad reality in this region that many are afraid to confront. Can you imagine what your response would be to continued and sustained occupation? Your response to your inability to cross borders, to travel freely? Your response to being unable to visit your friends and family just a few miles away? To restrictions on trading, on buying goods, on setting up a business? To being unable to build or extend your house? To continued military attacks on your city? To the deaths of innocent friends and family members?
What would your reaction be? How would you feel as the world looks the other way while international laws are broken?
So who’s at fault? Who is to blame for this conflict? Israel would have you believe that its actions are purely self-defence. So ask then about two incidents that occurred towards the beginning of November that you won’t find publicised on Israeli Twitter accounts – the killing of a small boy and a mentally unfit Palestinian male by the IDF in Gaza? Ask about the extra-judicial assassination of Ahmed Jaabari (someone who was actively working towards a ceasefire) that significantly stoked the flames of the fire.
This timeline shows that no side is blameless, despite what the media would have you believe. Is this what you mean by Gaza being fully responsible, Mr Hague?
It’s worth just commenting on the role of the international community while we are at it. Be in no doubt about the position of the US government. This is a country that for over half a century has backed Israel financially, militarily and diplomatically. It’s a country that sends over $3bn in “aid” to Israel every year – in terms of foreign aid, it has been beaten only in recent years by the money spent on Afghanistan. If only the recession-plagued American public knew this dirty little secret that the US-Israeli lobby does everything it can to keep quiet. The rockets being sent to kill whole families in Gaza should have American flags on them – just as much as the Gazan rockets should have Iranian ones.
The fact is it doesn’t really matter who started the violence this time round because this current conflict is a total waste of time and of human life. Israel has been trying to use its military power to “defend its citizens” and “root out terror” for the past 64 years. It doesn’t work.
Of course, my bias is obvious. I’ve spent the past month in Palestine, with Palestinians. All I would say to that is do some reading around. Don’t rely on the mainstream media and state-sponsored rhetoric. Check out what others have to say. You could do a lot worse than by starting with this film looking at the role of the media and Israeli propaganda in the Middle East crisis.
The ultimate irony of this entire situation is that Israel’s actions will do the complete opposite of what it says it is looking to achieve. It will incense Palestinians and other Arab states. It will increase the likelihood of militant cells. It will make Israelis less safe in their own homes. It will potentially threaten the entire Israeli state.
And it will certainly kill more Palestinians and make their lives even more unbearable.
It will move the entire concept of peace in the Middle East further and further away. Is this really what Netanyahu and his right-wing government want?
As Munayyer states: “Why, then, would Israel choose to revert to a failed strategy that will undoubtedly only escalate the situation? Because it is far easier for politicians to lie to voters, vilify their adversaries, and tell them ‘we will hit them hard’ than to come clean and say instead, ‘we’ve failed and there is no military solution to this problem.’”
Israel’s politicians are showing again that restraint, diplomacy and compromise isn’t in their DNA. Whether that is seen through IDF violence, the building of more settlements in the West Bank or even the entire illegal occupation itself.
Until this attitude changes, citizens – on both sides of the border – won’t be safe. But don’t hold your breath.