There are three constants in life: death, taxes, and Israel taking the blame for every misery suffered by the Palestinians. The Western media’s coverage of the latest conflict in Gaza between Israel and Hamas is no exception. We can already see a general consensus: Israel is accused of being belligerent and trigger happy, a practitioner of human rights violations.
It is not surprising that most observers have offered little to no appropriate context in which to view these events. For example, none of the major media outlets have deemed it necessary to point out the elephant in the room: Hamas, an avowed terrorist organization that presides over the Palestinian Authority in Gaza, is constitutionally committed to Israel’s destruction (“Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it”—The Hamas Charter). In ruminating on why Israel has completely “moved to the right” and seemingly “crossed off” diplomacy as a viable solution, my colleague Mr. Mahmoud and others would do well to keep Hamas’ nature in mind. Coupled with repeated violations of established cease-fires and a constant rain of rockets on Israeli civilian centres, is it any wonder that Israeli citizens usually regard peace overtures with cynicism?
The issue of human rights needs context as well. My colleague criticizes Israel for kicking out U.N. Human Rights special rapporteur Richard Falk, arguing that such a move was “undemocratic.” But Falk—a man who has previously called Israel’s practices in the occupied territories “genocidal” and deemed suicide bombings against Israeli civilians a valid method of “struggle”—is indicative of the U.N.’s abject failure in objectivity. With no criterion for member selection other than geography, the current U.N. Human Rights Council features an all-star cast of human rights violators, including Cuba, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan. In its first year of operation in 2007, the council condemned only one state—Israel—despite the ongoing genocide in Darfur and the systematic starvation of the North Korean people by their dictator Kim Jong-il. Israel has committed its share of human rights violations, but one cannot objectively assess its flaws with information from such a biased source.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the term “disproportionate force” should be clarified. It is true that current UN estimates place Palestinian deaths at 400 and injuries at 2,100, while only three Israeli civilians have been killed. But behind these numbers lies a clear distinction: while Hamas specifically targets Israeli civilians, the IDF operates on the basis of minimizing civilian casualties against an enemy that uses its own population for cover and camouflage. It is not surprising that so many Palestinian civilians have been killed or injured in the ongoing violence when its own elected government uses them as human shields. The current conflict gives us the example of a responsible, democratic Israeli government defending its people by hunting down the initiators of violence, contrasted with a manipulative Hamas government that defends its militants through its citizenry.
Even under an alleged blockade, Israel has transferred 6,500 tons of food and medicine to Gaza since operations began, while the World Food Program has discontinued shipments of food because Gaza’s warehouses are full. It is entirely possible, especially given the horrible conditions my colleague describes, that most of this humanitarian aid will go to waste as Hamas confiscates it for its own militants and party operatives.
What does 2009 hold for the Middle East conflict?
My colleague ends with a legitimate question: how can Israel expect peace? As someone who believes that Palestinians need and deserve their own state, it is difficult to see any good following from Israel’s current actions. Israel certainly lays its own obstacles to peace in the form of continuous settlements in the West Bank (carried out by rogue Jewish zealots), ironically undermining the legitimacy of its more moderate Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas. But if violence is slowly becoming the only road for Israel to go down, it is just as much a result of Palestinian militancy as it is Israeli bellicosity. Peace and diplomacy requires a modicum of mutual trust, but it is hard to trust an opposing side whose government desires your destruction and wantonly attacks your civilians. And consider Israel’s disappointments: Camp David failed in 2000 despite Israel giving in to almost all of Yasser Arafat’s demands; a 2005 unilateral withdrawal from Gaza has only seen more rockets hit closer to the Israeli interior; and a democratic Palestinian election replaced a corrupt negotiating partner in Fatah with the terrorist outfit Hamas. In provoking Israeli retaliation, it is not Israel but Hamas who has hammered the final nail in the coffin of a lasting peace deal.
Joshua Xiong is the President of Zionists @ University of Toronto