Tim Burton 2015 Election Campaign Fund

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Eyeless in Gaza

Over the past three weeks, I have been struck by the tendency of presenters in the mainstream media, and in particular the BBC, to implicate Israel in perpetrating a “disproportionate assault” that underlies the current humanitarian disaster in Gaza. While these doubtlessly well-intended individuals seek the moral high ground in calling for “an immediate cessation of hostilities,” they unfortunately ignore the realities of the situation. I would be remiss if I did not attempt to provide a clearer picture of the reality in Gaza, as the invocation of an alleged “moral voice” in the face of a complex political situation without a full understanding of the facts is irresponsible and unprofessional.

A brief chronology of the latest saga of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is crucial to a proper appreciation of the issues involved in the current war. In August 2005, after five years of fighting in the Second Intifada with no resolution in sight, Israel unilaterally withdrew all of its soldiers and citizens from the Gaza strip in hopes of fostering a lasting peace. Since the Israeli withdrawal, however, Hamas, an internationally recognized terrorist organization funded by Iran, has fired over 6,000 deadly rockets from Gaza targeting Israeli civilians. It is against these war crimes, the indiscriminate targeting of innocent civilians, that the Israeli military has been forced to respond.

As President-elect Obama asserted in a campaign visit to Israel in July 2008, "If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I would do everything to stop that, and would expect Israel to do the same thing." After years of restraint and after exhausting all diplomatic avenues, it is this very principle of defending its civilians, one of the foundational tenets of a democratic nation, which has driven Israel to take up arms against Hamas.

There is no question that the loss of Palestinian life in Gaza is terribly tragic and that every effort should be made to avoid civilian casualties and to provide medical aid and supplies to those suffering. While no party is blameless for the tragic Palestinian death toll, the stark contrast between Israel's and Hamas' treatment of the people in Gaza must be unequivocally asserted.

Israel's defense of its own citizens has gone hand in hand with extraordinary efforts to protect the civilians of Gaza. Israel distributes leaflets, sends voicemails and text messages, and uses radio and TV announcements to warn Gazan civilians to clear areas of imminent attacks. Israel seeks to minimize civilian casualties through surgical strikes on military objectives, and frequently aborts key missions due to concerns for civilian casualties. Moreover, since the beginning of the war, Israel has transported thousands of pounds of food and medical supplies to ease the Gazans’ plight.

Unfortunately, Israel's efforts to minimize harm to the civilians of Gaza have been confounded by Hamas which consistently places civilians in the line of fire. Hamas, in clear violation of international law, gathers women and children around military targets to use them as human shields. This terrorist regime endangers the people of Gaza by using civilian homes, schools, mosques and hospitals as launching grounds for rockets fired at Israeli civilians and prides itself on the number of its own people martyred to the destruction of Israel. It preys on the moral conscience of the democratic world, which places a premium on innocent lives, knowing that Israel seeks to avoid killing the very same Palestinian civilians whom Hamas militants hide behind and deem dispensable. It is these abominable tactics of Hamas that leads to the "disproportionate" number of Palestinian civilian casualties and which should evoke international condemnation and outrage.

Obviously there are hardships and painful losses incurred by both sides of this conflict, but simplistic solutions based on distorted facts are not the answer. Blind calls for an “immediate cessation of hostilities” outside the context of a viable and sustainable security are short-sighted. While this may seem to be an attractive and “humanitarian” solution in the short term, it will not alleviate the plight of Palestinians who suffer under the policies of the Hamas regime nor bring safety to the civilians of Israel who currently live in terror of Hamas rockets.

Every decent, civilized person on the planet should rightly be pained by the death and suffering of innocent people wherever they may be. Nevertheless, espousing moral indignation in the face of a skewed and one-sided picture of an immensely complex situation simply delays finding appropriate solutions. How can presenters in the mainstream media, especially the BBC, whilst calling for humanitarian and civilian protection, point to Israel’s “brutal attacks” while ignoring the countless Israeli efforts to protect Gazan civilians? Why is it deemed irrelevant to mention the significant role of Hamas in the number of Gazan civilian deaths? How can they attempt to value the lives and security of one people over the lives and security of another, and to express solidarity with some innocents while ignoring others?

Personally, I hope for a speedy and viable resolution so that both Gazans and Israelis can live in peace and safety, but the onus is on Hamas to cease its daily rocket attacks into Israel. I’m not holding my breath, though.

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