What Israeli society just does not get
Yes, the overwhelming majority of Israelis have supported the war in Gaza. Even bastions of opposition to government policies in the West Bank, such as internationally celebrated author Amos Oz, gave an unequivocal thumbs up.
On the one hand, hundreds of lethal rockets have been lobbied callously into Israel every year from Gaza, and the world kept silent. The Hamas fire prior to Israel’s response had yet again turned tens of thousands into refugees. Using aid given as charity, Hamas has dug dozens of threatening tunnels under the homes of kibbutzim and other civilians. This netherworld has been furnished with weapons, chloroform, and even motorbikes – all to be used to kill, kidnap and maim – yet that is seen as a casus belli by Israel’s opponents.
However, when Hamas broke a UN-sponsored ceasefire last Friday with a murderous and premeditated act, the primary concern of Philip Hammond, the British Foreign Minister, was the plight of the poor Palestinians as opposed to Israelis blown to pieces (literally). Israeli society just does not get it. As I quipped previously on Facebook, the world appears interested in peace in Gaza – fair enough – but few are concerned about peace for Israelis.
Moving forwards and now that the fighting has ceased (for the moment), are neutral observers that interested why and how Israel believes that it went above and beyond the letter of international law in order to protect innocents during the fighting? The points below are not extensive, but I was warned how they might be interpreted as repetitive and even patronizing.
- As per international law, Israel informs populations in advance that their property will be in the line of fire. No other country does so. In contrast, Hamas has fired over 3,000 unsophisticated rockets aimlessly towards Israel. (For the record, around 10% landed on Gazan citizens and their property. One brought down Israel’s power supply line to Gaza!)
- An officer for humanitarian affairs is attached to every Israeli advance unit. Their job is to coordinate with the Red Cross etc cessations in local hostilities and thus ensure on-the spot repairs to essential utilities or evacuations of wounded. In parallel, while the fighting took place, Israel let in to Gaza hundreds of trucks of provisions almost daily.
- Israelis can run to bomb shelters, when Hamas attacks. In contrast, Hamas leaders have encouraged their civilians to remain in unprotected homes or to place themselves on rooftops.
- Israel built a field hospital for Gazans. Hamas booby-trapped homes, stored weapons in schools and fired rockets from hospitals. In a single street last week, Israeli soldiers discovered that 19 of 28 buildings had been booby-trapped.
And so the list goes on. Israel can justifiably pat itself on the back for its past achievements. Israel in 1948 was a country of refugees and today is a member of the OECD. Gazans consider themselves to be refugees, yet their rulers invest in teaching hatred and destruction, a tasteless recipe for poverty. Hamas main building project has been the construction of tunnels to attack and then murder its neighbours.
And yet most of Israel’s 8 million citizens do not understand why the neutral observer and many world leaders do not buy into their arguments. How else, they cry, can you defend yourself against Hamas, dedicated to the violent destruction of a Jewish-based democracy, protected by human shields?
This international rejection was driven home on Sunday. When it seemed that Israel had bombed a school and killed children, the international media rushed to cajole global leaders into condemning the Israeli military……..even though much of the story is turning out to be a sick and cynical hoax!
Similarly, in an interview on Channel 4, seasoned British reporter Jon Snow repeatedly challenged the Israeli ambassador to the UK as to when the killings will stop. The denigrating implication is that Israel is responsible for the deaths. What Mr Snow managed to forget was that Hamas had flagrantly broken six ceasefires.
And during the conflict, Israeli newspapers observed how ‘the neutrals’ have responded to news elsewhere in the world. Planes have been downed around the globe; ancient Christian communities have been wiped out; ISIS slaughtered children in Iraq; a few more thousand Syrians have perished, as thousands of others face torture. These are terrible acts, but the world, the UN and Ban Ki Moon have not been forced to move too far out of their comfort zone…. except when it comes to Gaza.
In an interesting anecdote on Al-Jazeera television, Israel’s Minister of Economics was interviewed. He explained that it comes down to: “Do I let Hamas kill my mother or do I take pre-emptive action?”. What characterizes this conflict from Syria and others is that Israel has fought back, without waiting for permission. And it is this proficiency that acts as an embarrassing projector on the inabilities of Hammond, Moon et al.
I offer that Israeli society should learn to accept that neutrals are not anti-Israel, yet they are driven by two intertwined considerations, which count against the Jewish State.
First, when the world sees pictures on destruction on their TV screens, the revulsion about tunnels and rockets and the facts of Hamas using human shields all become redundant. Blown up buildings imply de facto that Israel has not reacted ‘proportionally’. Such images do not appeal to a sense of fair play. In England, it is not cricket.
(For the record, it must be stated that many homes were destroyed and innocents lost their lives. This is not the place to drown in an argument over stats. However, it must also be stressed that Hamas fought the war in built up areas, as per their manual.)
So what is allowed, proportionally? Apparently 2 million poor Gazans can attack 8 million Israelis. Or as Rabbi Ari Kahn observed, Israel was encouraged to release over 1,000 Palestinians in return for Gilad Shalit. And David Miliband, leader of the British socialists, argues that Israel has his backing to defend itself, so long as Gaza is not attacked, whatever that may mean.
The true disconnect of the proportionality debate is that it is designed to force Israel to accept current UN standards, which demand …..… inaction. Proportionality is a baseless and malicious argument because its proponents fail to explain what Israel can do to ensure Hamas ceases to launch rockets from built up citizen areas. (And yes, that is a war crime in itself, yet ignored).
The other consideration about neutrals brings me to an interesting discussion on CNN led by Wolf Blitzer, who asked why the international media seem to target Israel. The BBC is a great example. (For the record, It is estimated that over 700 journalists form 42 countries entered Israel to cover the war, doubling the current high entourage.)
The CNN panel concluded that the ‘world expects more or better’ from Israel. Enough said, no?
No! Better than what? Than Hamas? Of course not, because there are no expectations about those naughty people. OK. Better than how the West has performed in the Middle East? Well, a thousand kids have been killed in Afghanistan so far in 2014. Or more moral than South Africa, whose countryperson is the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.? There, the abomination of rape is now an accepted instance of life, and commonly practiced by the teaching profession.
Israelis are livid. There is mounting evidence that Hamas bludgeons reporters into silence. Witness the features from Italian and other correspondents. So-called massacres in Sejaiyah have been miserably misreported. Networks like the BBC so rarely show Hamas soldiers in uniform. France24 has taken off its website a video showing the launch of a Kassam missile from the al-Shifa hospital, where the Hamas high command is encamped.
I think that the phrase ‘expecting more’ has the same function as ‘proportionality’. It is a polite way for the world to ask Israel to shut up. Politicians, diplomats, intellects and journalists around the globe are demanding that Israel does not force them to analyse some their own moral inadequacies.
So maybe I started out from the wrong premise. It is not really a case of what Israeli society does not understand about the world. More poignantly, it is time to consider what the world does not want to comprehend about Gaza. Just because Hamas operates with halo of the underdog, the biblical David, that in itself does not automatically mean it has ‘right’ on its side
In effect what Israel has done in the past three weeks is to force the so-called leaders of the world to ask what they would have done if they had been in her shoes. And that change in the way of thinking, just like many other changes in life, is very difficult to accept. And the consequences of that new opening are not too easy to digest.