Last week, on November 14, violence erupted once again as airstrikes were launched between Israel and Gaza. The conflict between Israel and Gaza is one with a long, bloody history and as is the case with recent events, the injustice and sheer tragedy of the situation can often be overwhelming.
For those of us far from this crisis, it may be all too easy to file these events under the ‘violence in the Middle East’ tab and move on with our daily lives. Unfortunately, I’m here to kick over your filing cabinet.
As the attacks continue to increase between Israel and Gaza, it is now more important than ever to sit up and take notice. Our positions in the West do not protect us from involvement. In fact, our situatedness is precisely the reason we must engage with this crisis.
Regardless of your religious beliefs, or personal political convictions, here are five things I would ask you to consider before you put your filing cabinet upright and begin to reorganize your files:
1. The Mainstream Media Sucks
Although most mainstream media sources, both in the UK and the US, are actively covering the conflict, their coverage is anything but even. I hate to insult your intelligence, but given the ways in which most news agencies have chosen to approach the events of the past week, it bears mentioning that there are two sides to this disaster.
An overwhelming majority of the news seems to be focused on the missiles being fired from Gaza into Israel, how Israel plans to respond, and what the potential damage might be within Israel. In terms of accurate and unbiased reporting, one might be tempted to think that Israel has found itself at the mercy of an unrelenting Gaza ‘offensive’. This is simply not the case. So far, the damage to Gaza, and the number of human casualties within its borders far and away outstrips any damages suffered in Israel.
It is also important to note (yet again) that the media often relies on oversimplified, polarizing viewpoints which not only gloss over human struggles for peace amidst the violence, but which also often exacerbate antagonism and ignorance. Yes, there is conflict between Israel and the leaders of Hamas but it would be a grievous error to assume that all Palestinian Arabs hate all Israeli Jews, or that all Jews celebrate the loss of Gazan lives.
2. This is Not a Fair Fight
Again, regardless of your thoughts on the politics of this situation, or where your feelings align regarding the religious currents, it would be a mistake to think that this is a fair fight between two, equally matched opponents. Israel’s wealth of resources, military power, and international allies make it a power to be reckoned with by any Middle Eastern country, let alone one of the most overcrowded and under-resourced.
In letters to The Guardian, British citizens of varying contexts highlight the preposterous implications made by Israel, and echoed by the media, that the force of each side’s attacks can be measured equally. Further, to suggest that Israel suffers on an equal plane with Gaza is to ignore the region’s history.
Fr Julian Dunn wrote in his letter to the Guardian:
‘The conflict between Palestinians and Israelis is not just about who started firing the most recent lot of missiles. It's about a decades-long refusal by the Israelis to acknowledge the background – their occupation, annexation and frequent destruction of Palestinian olive groves, homes and wells; their refusal to be bound by international law over their settlements; the "Berlin Wall" they have erected through farms; the checkpoints that prevent critically ill people from getting to hospital – that has provoked Hamas intransigence and bitterness’.
3. It’s Not a Case of Us vs. Them
This is not a problem for the Middle East to solve. The UK and the US are not only intimately involved in the past colonization of Palestine, and the establishment of the nation of Israel, they are also currently complicit in the funding of the violence through tax dollars. Furthermore, the US has taken a rather disappointing stance on this conflict by suggesting that Israel has every right to ‘defend’ itself from Hamas aggression. In a statement to the international press, President Obama asserted:
‘There is no country on earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens, from outside its borders. So, we are fully supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself from missiles landing on people’s homes and workplaces and potentially killing civilians’.
Potentially?! Mr. President, were you aware that Israel recently sent missiles over Gaza’s borders whereby an entire family was wiped out, including five women and four children? Did you know that in the last five days alone 84 Palestinians have been killed, and 720 of them wounded in comparison to only 26 Israelis killed in the last eight years? Hooray for US diplomacy.
4. The Language Says It All
I’ve been hinting at the ways in which Israel has characterized this campaign as one of defense, and alarmingly, at the ways in which the mainstream media seems to have taken all of this hook, line and sinker. If you have any doubt remaining as to whether Israel feels vulnerable and in need of more ‘defense’, I suggest reading a few statements made by Israeli officials.
In an interview with Army Radio, Matan Vilnai, deputy defence minister for Israel stated,
‘The more qassam fire intensifies and the rockets reach a longer range, they (the Palestinians) will bring upon themselves a bigger shoah because we will use all our might to defend ourselves’.
The Telegraph points out that the Hebrew word ‘shoah’ means holocaust and ‘tends to be used exclusively in Israel to describe the Nazi persecution of Jews’.
Gilad Sharon, the son of the former prime minister, Ariel Sharon, stated in The Jerusalem Post,
‘We need to flatten entire neighborhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza. The Americans didn’t stop with Hiroshima – the Japanese weren’t surrendering fast enough, so they hit Nagasaki, too’.
He goes on to say, ‘There should be no electricity in Gaza, no gasoline or moving vehicles, nothing. Then they’d really call for a ceasefire’.
No further comment.
5. Gaza is Not a Military Dogfight
The last, and most important point I would ask you to keep in mind as conditions in Gaza continue to worsen is that this is conflict is not restricted to the military. In fact, in recent attacks, at least 50% of casualties in Gaza were civilian; a high number of them are women and children.
Another letter to The Guardian, written by Professor Marc Saperstein, points out that Hamas ‘intentionally’ situates its missile sites in ‘overcrowded civilian areas’ such that collateral damage becomes unavoidable when Israel aims specifically for these ‘military’ sites. Moshe Yaalon, Israeli minister for strategic affairs, states, ‘If they position rockets in densely populated areas, such as mosques and schoolyards, we should not be blamed for the outcome’.
In fact, Israel should be blamed for the outcome. Although both sides have taken strong stances against establishing permanent peace, alternative strategies have been at least tentatively suggested and subsequently ignored by Israel. And yes, Hamas should be charged with the war crime of using human shields. Both sides have made it abundantly clear that human casualties are not only expected, but of little to no consequence in the grand scheme of their individual efforts to secure sovereignty.
This is a crisis for humanity. This conflict is unfolding before our very eyes, and in some cases, with our consent, and we are allowing hundreds of innocent lives to be extinguished. It is not simply about those who die under rocket-fire, but also those who die because of a lack of medical resources, unsafe water, a lack of food, and overcrowding. Don’t let the deficiency of media resources and biased propaganda blind you to the human injustices this crisis has wrought. Put the Gaza file back into your cabinet under, ‘Things I can do that make a difference’ and remember that this is a conflict we must all tackle together.
Special thanks to abenkato for help with research and for educating my ignorant butt, more generally.
Personal photo by Thomas Colquhoun-Alberts