One of the most emotive and polarising struggles in the last 100 years has been the Israel-Palestine conflict and with the 2014 Israel incursion and alarming number of civilian deaths it’s only intensified in its divisiveness. Some maintain that the Israeli government are entitled to defend themselves against Hamas, who have indiscriminately fired rockets, others assert that Israel are engaged in ethnic cleansing and are committing genocide while others are somewhat ambivalent harbouring equal animosity both towards Hamas and the IDF. Determining who is the afflicted and who are the oppressors is imperative before we can attempt to resolve this protracted conflict.
While a historical perspective is not essential in making judgements about the contemporary conflict, it can provide context and shed light on the motives of the respective sides.
You have to go all the way back to the 19th century and to the formation of Zionism, with Theodore Herzl theorising about the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. With anti-Semitism proliferating in Europe, accentuated by the Dreyfus affair in France, the conception of a Jewish state was becoming more appealing to a legion of Jews and Zionism’s popularity soared. The unfathomable suffering inflicted on the Jews by Hitler galvanised the Jews into coalescing and led to almost unanimous support of the Zionist ambition. At approximately the same time a Arab nationalistic movement rose to prominence during the demise of the Ottoman empire. Throughout the war Britain had been a primary subsidiser of them to expedite the disintegration of the Ottomans. One of the assurances given to the Arabs was a state with much of the Arabian peninsula but this never came to fruition. Most of the territory was divided by two imperial powers: France and Britain. Resentment towards the hegemony inevitably arose and culminated in the Iraqi revolt of 1920 which resulted in an emasculation of Britain’s power. Uprisings also occurred towards the French in Syria and the French retaliated by bombarding the city causing thousands of deaths. The imperialists tried to appease the Arabs by giving them quasi-independence but they couldn’t reconcile this with colonialism. The frameworks of both Zionism and Arab nationalism were manifestly irreconcilable and the prospect of a gory encounter was increasing. Following the end of the British mandate in 1948 the UN proposed a two state solution in an attempt to placate both Arab nationalists and Jewish Zionists. However, this did not appease the Palestinian people and following the formation of Israel on May 14th 1948, war ensued. The other Arab countries allied with Palestine and fought the state of Israel. After much calamity Israel eventually won the war and this had profound implications for the region with Palestinian people sustaining the bulk of the damage; the causalities consisted of predominately Palestinian civilians and the war also entailed a mass exodus of Palestinian people.
During the war approximately 750,000 Palestinians were displaced from their home and forced to flee; refugee camps were created throughout the Arab region to accommodate them.
Israel appropriated significantly more land than the UN allotted and considering the demise of enemy forces there was little form of resistance; Jordan annexed the West Bank and Egypt claimed the Gaza strip with an All-Palestine government declared by the Arab league but this was later abandoned by Egypt.
Relations between Israel and the rest of Arabic countries festered and in 1967 the 6 day war transpired. Defeating Israel proved insurmountable once again for the Arabs as Israel were better equipped militarily and strategically. The death toll was again disproportionate with Israel sustaining relatively little loss of life, conversely the Arabs lost thousands of people due to Israel’s bombardment. Ergo Israel assumed control over more land including the Gaza Strip and The West Bank. Palestinian civilians were once again dislodged from their homes and fled the territory. In 1988 Hamas was founded and this gave new impetus to Palestinian resistance; its objective was to liberate Palestine from Israeli occupation and eradicate Israel but their tactics included controversial methods like suicide bombing and since 2001 rocket attacks. Hamas has also provided essential services to the Palestinian people including relief programs, school funding, healthcare clinics & soup kitchens; their contributions to the health sector have been substantial with them also facilitating free or inexpensive healthcare. In 2005 Israel enacted a plan to withdraw their troops from Gaza and dismantle all illegal settlements, however many were critical of the plan claiming it did not address issues such as Isreal’s control over Gaza’s airspace, borders, infrastructure, coastline and power. Hamas omitted the call for the destruction of Israel from their charter in 2006 and were democratically elected by the Palestinian people. After the election they offered a 10 year truce on the condition that Israel withdraw from the 1967 borders and recognised Palestinian rights including the right of return, But Israel weren’t willing to make any concessions. In 2009 the Gaza massacre occurred and the death toll was lopsided anew, Israel rationalised its brutality by affirming that they were attempting to prevent rocket fire into Israel. 13 Israelis died including 3 civilians contrasted with the 1417 Palestinians who died including an estimated 926 civilians. Israel were victorious again, but their reputation was faltering, they received scathing UN reports and criticism from human rights groups who were enraged at Israel’s barbarism which they claimed amounted to collective punishment.
5 years on and the Israeli government are still wreaking havoc in Gaza. On the 15th of May 2014 the IDF shot two Palestinian teenagers to death despite them posing no threat to them, then in June following the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers, Israel accused Hamas of being behind the murders, after that Israel endeavoured to restrain Hamas which led to increased rocket attacks, this precipitated operation protective edge which expanded to a ground incursion of Gaza, with Israel systemically killing scores of Palestinians. It was civilians who bore the brunt of the arbitrary use of the armaments with the total number of Palestinian civilians casualties exceeding 1000 including the harrowing number of 513 children. Many were wounded too with civilians losing limbs and incurring considerable psychological damage. 17,000 homes were brought to ruins and IDF soldiers reportedly vandalised some homes by spreading excrement and inscribing on walls and tables “death to arabs” “Gaza will die”. Amnesty International condemned Israel for intentionally targeting civilian objects. On some occasions Israel warned civilians of imminent bombs in accordance with international law, but many of these warnings were inadequate and futile. Amnesty said: “although the Israeli authorities claim to be warning civilians in Gaza, a consistent pattern has emerged that their actions do not constitute an “effective warning” under international humanitarian law.” The IDF also killed 13 journalists during the conflict which is another infringement of international law. Israel deliberately targeted Hamas’ al-aqsa radio and tv stations in a strategic move because of the propaganda diffusion capabilities. After the NATO Bombing of the Radio Television of Serbia headquarters in 1999 an ICC panel convened to assess the legality of the attack. They concluded by saying: “A journalist or media organisation is not a legitimate target merely because it broadcasts or disseminates propaganda.” Another odious war crime committed by Israel was the use of shells at UNRWA facilities which were designated to shelter civilians. As a result of misfire at least 46 civilians were killed including UN staff. They also repugnantly targeted a school in Rafah where many Palestinians found refuge; does the depth of their depravity know no bounds? Israel’s attacks also corroded the infrastructure of Gaza: Water, sewage and electricity systems were all compromised by air strikes and it was yet another violation of international law; Amnesty said it amounted to collective punishment. Similar to Israel, Hamas were no stranger to contemptible acts. Most notably the killing of suspected sympathisers or collaborators with Israel; Palestinian president Abbas denounced the killings calling them a crime against humanity. Hamas also used civilian buildings for military objectives endangering the lives of many innocent Gazans, which is prohibited under international law. Hamas have also been castigated for the indiscriminate firing of rockets in Israel. The iron dome which was built to counteract missiles by intercepting them played a pivotal role in the war, Iron Dome systems were deployed throughout the conflict and achieved a success rate of 90 percent. While Hamas’ rockets are mostly ineffective this doesn’t mitigate the abhorrence of firing at civilians.
The reductive claim that Israel are just defending themselves just doesn’t compute, despite their insistence that they’re not targeting non-combatants, their actions run contrary to this claim and by any objective observation it’s indisputable that their arbitrary targeting of hospitals, schools, and homes amounts to collective punishment. When you indiscriminately fire bombs into neighbourhoods, schools and hospitals that is tantamount to malevolence towards innocents. Considering the population density of Gaza they are cognisant that the inevitable outcome of their operation is the large scale killing of innocents. No amount of obfuscation will shroud that. What’s equally disturbing is the lack of remorse, anytime Israel are accused of war crimes they will deploy the platitude that Hamas are culpable regardless of the multitude of evidence to the contrary – this is an extreme form of nationalism with undertones of perceived infallibility – the IDF embody the most undesirable elements of a jingoistic force and seemingly are willing to do anything at the behest of their commander. Netanyahu also shamefully accused proponents of a boycott towards Israel of anti-Semitism, a pathetic attempt to conflate morally obligatory criticism of Israel’s crimes with deplorable anti-semitism. Netanyahu trivialises legitimate anti-semitism by attempting to exploit people’s healthy tendency to be wary of anti-semitism. He’s almost the Israel equivalent of Dick Cheney, not a modicum of remorse, undeterred by any criticism in his pursuit of supremacy and utterly convinced of infallibility; the level of arrogance & hubris that radiates from him really ought to concern people considering the power he wields. The contrast in the number of casualties between the sides which the graph below demonstrates is often swept under the rug but it provides a clear picture of the side enduring the preponderance of the damage – one of the pernicious ways Israel defenders try to trivialise the difference is by speciously asserting that if Hamas were in their position of power they would be less merciful – Irrespective of whether that’s true or not and it’s impossible to ascertain whether it is, justifying evil by pointing to worse examples of evil, and in this case hypothetical examples, is logically absurd; if you want to atone for your evil, contrition opposed to fallacious rationalisation is the more optimal route. There’s a fundamental disregard for Palestinian life by the Israeli’s and the fact that many of their war crimes have been perpetrated with impunity is not only an indictment of their allies but also of the application of international law against the powerful.
Another form of collective punishment is the Gaza blockade which was first imposed in 2007 and is deemed by many international bodies as an inhumane imposition on the Gazans. As an occupying power Israel bears responsibility for the welfare of Gazans and by restricting steady access to essential supplies they have abjectly failed in that regard. The blockade was predicated on the goal of sabotaging the Gazan economy in an attempt to weaken Hamas. To mollify growing international criticism Israel reduced restrictions both in 2011 and 2013 but the continuance of it hampers attempts to rebuild Gaza and strengthen its economy. In addition to that, the illegal settlements built by Israel, in the West Bank contravenes international law as construction of communities on occupied territory is a flagrant violation of the Geneva convention. This has been repeatedly upheld by the United Nations and even Israel’s most staunch ally considers them inimical to peace negotiations. Israel appear to have no qualms regarding this clear breach of international law and have tried to justify it numerous times. If Israel had any desire for an end in hostilities they wouldn’t perpetuate these illegalities which clearly undermines peace negotiations.
Propaganda is a salient utility during war and is utilised by both sides to engender support for their side. However unlike previous times the landscape has irrevocably changed. With the advent of social media a new major tool has emerged to propagandise and disseminate biased information. It has developed into a component of war and can be influential in impacting public opinion. Both Hamas and the IDF are aware of the importance of social media in either shaping or reinforcing biases. But while social media can be utilised to propagate falsehoods or misconceptions by the powerful it is also indispensable to the powerless. During many conflicts in the past much of the bloodshed has been concealed or kept hidden from the public, but during this conflict much of the calamity was reported and described in real time courtesy of increased access to smartphones. Individuals in the midst of the carnage were providing updates and imagery of the course of events including graphic and gory pictures of amputees and people who were maimed which would have left indelible memories in many. Many aghast at the horror conveyed their sympathy and support to the victims. The evocative and harrowing nature of these pictures gave people a tangible understanding of the grisly crimes committed by the IDF and immunised some to the toxic rhetoric of Israel defenders. The US media coverage of the conflict hasn’t deviated from convention. It’s been skewed towards Israel; the bulk of the scorn is usually reserved for Hamas, on rare occasions we get a glimpse of the IDF’s depravity but this often rationalised with the self-defence banality. In Israel expressing the ‘controversial’ sentiment that war is bad is heretical and it’s an increasingly perilous position to hold. If you don’t docilely accept the narrative that the IDF are courageous fighters you are susceptible to harassment and accusations of being a traitor. There have been multiple reports of this, and it stands to reason considering how supportive of the war Israelis are.
It would be negligent to analyse Israel’s depravity without focusing on America’s complicity. Israel has many powerful allies, but none more powerful than America. From a young age it’s inculcated into you that Israel is the moral power. You’d be hard-pressed to find another issue where congress is as unanimous and bipartisan as it is regarding Israel and this despite the palpable enmity that exists between the two parties today. America is an indispensable source of military funding and have been pivotal in the aggrandisement of Israel; Israel have been their largest cumulative recipient of aid since world war 2. Today the lion share of funding is used to consolidate the IDF. Furthermore America also provides Israel with political leverage, they’ve used their UN security council veto power 42 times pertaining to issues affecting Israel. America have no interest in recognising Palestinian statehood and have consistently impeded any resolution that may grant Palestinian sovereignty. Following a UN rejection of a Palestinian bid to end the occupation within 3 years, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas signed international agreements in a request to join the ICC, this could provide the court with the jurisdiction over Palestine territories and renders the possibility of war crimes being filed against Israel and Hamas. America responded by claiming they believe Palestine isn’t a sovereign state, and is ineligible to join the ICC. Both Israel and America took vindictive measures to deter the Palestine authority from joining by threatening and then imposing financial repercussions. This underscores the charade of the claim that America and Israel desire peace, it’s dominance and impunity they want to sustain and if Palestinians don’t acquiesce to that expectation they must face the wrath. America’s obstructionism has facilitated and contributed to Israel’s crimes, and it’s long overdue that the EU overcomes it supineness and stands up to Israel. Thankfully over the last few months some EU states have stated their intention to recognise Palestinian statehood. Sweden, Ireland, France and Britain have all taken steps to acknowledge Palestinian independence and each time were condemned by Israel. While it’s mostly symbolic it does signify less deference to Israel which is essential, subservience to Israel and America is now clearly antithetical to justice.
The pursuit for peace goes on but it will not come in the form of a two-state solution, Israel is a colonial state with a government who have repeatedly displayed their disregard for international law. Every action to date suggests they have no interest in a two-state solution and are in fact gradually destroying Palestine with illegal settlement expansion and murderous bombing. Because the United States guarantees impunity to them regardless of how unlawful and heinous their actions are, there is absolutely no incentive for Israel to stop.
The only legitimate chance of peace is a one-state solution where Palestinians and Jews are afforded equal rights. South African apartheid ended because of the pressure exerted on the powerful Western governments who enabled it, boycotts were effective and yielded a successful outcome. The BDS movement is really the only mechanism we have for applying pressure on the Israeli government, this is why they and their allies respond with such fervent hostility, because they know it has the potential to work.
While the troubles linger we must continue to express our solidarity to Palestinian people and our disdain to the people perpetuating their persecution. It’s appealing to dismiss the impact of protests and gestures but viscerally they’re important; they elevate awareness of the suffering and can be a great source of solace for Palestinian people. In addition we can donate to aid in the supply of necessities, which many are deprived of. What we mustn’t do is become apathetic or fatalistic because that would just enable the cycle of oppression.