Gaza, Israel and Palestine


Empathising with all sides in a conflict usually is seen as an abhorrence for war. Dismay at the horrific scenes of bloodshed and mayhem. Anger, at the dehumanising used to justify atrocities.

My humanism denounces mentalities that see people as less than human. Both sides in Gaza and Israel have failed on this score. The failure is death and destruction. The murder of kidnapped children rather than bringing communities together, showing solidarity with one another, has led instead to each side bombing one another.

Hamas are evil theological thugs that deny freedom to Palestinians in daily life, let alone any chance for a two state solution. Launching rockets that send Israelis running for cover achieve one thing. The invitation for Israel to respond militarily. Hamas human shields are in place to increase the civilian death toll in an already compact, densely populated area.

Somehow the destruction of disabled centres, and the killing of a Hamas police chief with 17 members of his families included in the attack, are made viable by some. This is what demands for security do. Israel has the right to defend itself from attacks, rather than just rely on the Iron Dome missile defence system. Yet the retaliation goes beyond the concept of legitimate military targets.

Airstrikes oblige Hamas with the pictures that reverberate around the world. The horror is visual. Charred flesh, bloodied infants. The deflection is that Israel should not live in fear and Palestinians must stop Hamas. Or else this will be the response. Get a backbone I am told, and accept collateral damage is inevitable and a price worth paying. Never mind this appears as collective punishment on the innocent. Because it is.

There is an iron dome to criticism of Israel playing into terrorist hands, and the delay of a peaceful solution. A proportionate response is replaced with shock and awe. So forget the illegal settlements, because people in Tel Aviv are running for their lives as sirens ring out. Netanyahu will get a poll bounce as a hawk defending the State of Israel, against backdrop of countries that wish to annihilate it. If they could.

The dove of peace is cowed once again. The peacemakers are in hiding as people run for cover. Those cheering on the bombardment from either side will denounce this piece as naive and giving succour to one side.

Those kidnapped murdered children have been failed twice, once in life and now in death. The world watches. But we should not be silent. A ceasefire must be called by all sides, a way to peace must be found. That gives dignity to Palestinians and security to Israel.

How to achieve? Only by goodwill and abhorrence of violence on all sides talking to each other. At present that is a pipe dream buried under the smouldering rubble in Gaza.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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Filed under politics, Religion, World

21 responses to “Gaza, Israel and Palestine

  1. I agree with elements of this, and of course share your dismay at what is happening to innocent people. I agree, for example, that dehumanisation is used to justify atrocities – on both sides, although the Palestinians are suffering so much more at present of course.

    I also completely agree that launching rockets is terrible both because the attacks are indiscriminate (and will have zero military impact) and because they seem designed to invite a response, as you say. This is bad enough, but is compounded by Hamas’s apparent indifference to its own people, indeed its apparent wish to cause their deaths to use as propaganda.

    Of course those who take that further, and assert or imply that Palestinians want their children to die are contributing to the dehumanisation you mention (though I accept there may be a minority of fanatics who seek martyrdom).

    I assume Israel would have much preferred not to have destroyed a disabled centre, or the innocent relatives of the police chief. I am not sure that it is unreasonable to argue that Israel makes genuine efforts to avoid collateral damage but cannot avoid all errors. There was a good Alan Johnson piece on this.

    When you say ‘Yet the retaliation goes beyond the concept of legitimate military targets’ are you saying that Israel is deliberately targeting civilians? Maybe it is – I’m just unsure what the evidence is – it seems more likely that it is either making mistakes, or targeting civilian buildings which are being used to store weapons.

    You say it is ‘collective punishment’, but it seems important to distinguish between an effect of collective punishment, and an active intention to impose a collective punishment. I think some elements of the blockade’s implementation might fall into the latter category, but I’m not so sure about this attack, even though its effects are so much more horrifying.

    Similarly it’s very difficult to feel sure what a ‘proportionate’ response should look like. I don’t think the much higher death rate is sufficient reason to conclude the Israeli response is disproportionate – there are many reasons for that, including Israel’s better security/shelters. But that doesn’t mean that the Israeli response is not disproportionate. I feel stuck between thinking it’s intolerable that Israel should face these rocket attacks but not at all sure how much will be achieved by its airstrikes, particularly in the longer term.

    I don’t fully agree with you, but that doesn’t mean I am ‘cheering on the bombardment’. It’s horrible seeing people in Southern Israel doing that, and if one wants to explain or contextualise that, then one must also contextualise any Palestinian glee at attacks on Israel.

    • My point was those disagreeing suggesting I was supporting all acts of one side or the other. Bit like Robert Spencer did. No one could accuse you of that.

      Unfortunately, not wanting collateral damage is at odds with bombing residential areas and disabled homes. It is justified because the targets are seen as viable – that was Louise Mensch to me yesterday incidentally.

      That is what is disproportionate – I have not made a comparison of death rates in conflict to measure proportionality. No civilian population deserve to be terrified by what is coming from the sky.

      A more proportionate response would have been judicial apprehension of the children’s killers and reaching out to end bloodshed. That though is seen as weak. The response is to fight back, hard.

      Whether a ground invasion might be more precise in ending Hamas rockets than racking up the civilian body count we wait to see. Hence calling for ceasefire on all sides.

      Prospect of peace looks ever distant, and more children will die otherwise.

  2. I feel unsure what the precise sequence of events was – it was my impression that the airstrikes were responses to attacks from Hamas rockets rather than to murders of the teenagers.

    • Israel bombed the murder suspects homes … not that one thing excuses another.

      • Roy

        “Israel bombed the murder suspects homes”

        No they didn’t. The suspects are from the West Bank. Israeli airstrikes are in Gaza and, as Sarah said, are a direct result of Gaza rockets attacks.
        Check you facts John.

      • I didn’t say the suspects were in Gaza or that it was an airstrike on the homes.

        Check what I said Roy.

      • Roy

        Well John, Israel does not bomb terrorist houses in the West Bank. at most it demolishes them. so I dont think it was a stretch to assume what I did when you said “bomb”

        In any case, they didn’t even do that. they raided the house in search for the suspects and pretty much broke everything inside, including some walls. While I think it was foolish, it’s still different than “Israel bombed the house”.

        And if we really want to be factual about things then it must be said that Hamas launched the rockets not because of the raid on the suspects house, but because of a much more complex geo-political developments (like its isolation in the Arab world and its weakening power and influence in the West Bank).

        So ya, I think I read you just fine the first time.

      • Nor did I say Hamas launched rockets because of the detonation/bombing (whichever word you prefer) of suspect homes in retailation.

        I made very clear that *nothing* could excuse Hamas launching rockets/missiles.

        What you are doing is building a straw man to knock down.

        Which is a waste of everyone’s time.

  3. Mark

    Checkmate. Checked trousers. Or something.

  4. Roy

    You said that “A more proportionate response would have been judicial apprehension of the children’s killers … That though is seen as weak. The response is to fight back, hard.”
    Sarah rightly pointed out that “the response” was not because of the boys murder but because of the rocket attacks.
    You responded by mentioning that Israel “bombed” the suspects houses, which could only be understood as you implying that the supposed house bombing led to the rocket attacks.
    So, talking about straw man, I never said nor implied you justified Hamas actions, but corrected you regarding the set of events that led to Hamas rockets and Israel air-raids.

    • Now see where this interpretation has gone wrong of what I said/meant.

      My point is Israel is geared to a disproportionate response. Rather than just apprehend suspects, the house is emptied then exploded. A tougher response. (Comments)

      Rather then target launch sites, the family homes of chief of police and homes for the disabled become valid targets. A tougher response. (Post)

      Some justify, but for me this is not a proportionate response but a shock and awe tactic, as I write in post.

      I answered Sarah’s question of chronology of events A to B – not stating A caused B.

      Hopefully that clarifies.

      • Roy

        I accept your clarification.

        Regarding the proportionate/disproportionate issue, I agree with you in relation to the suspects home, but strongly disagree about the chief of police (and other officials) bombings for 2 important points:

        First, its almost always not only about eliminating the official in itself. in the vast majority of cases officials hide in their homes stashes of military equipment, even rockets. its also used as a militants hub via the tunnels. so really its much less simplistic than just about awe inspiring operations.

        Second, dont underestimate the actual impact, on the ground, of eliminating top military officials, especially if Israel is planing to go inside on the ground.

      • I suppose it depends if killing 17-20 civilians is worth that one person’s death. I suspect probably not though makes a responding to a ground invasion problematic.

        Yes, the air strikes are also to reduce IDF ground assault casualties. Whether a ground assault by itself would have reduced civilian casualties (compared to missile strikes etc) cannot honestly say. My impression is operation handled correctly might, but increase risk to IDF troops.

        The shock and awe tactic is not just about a spectacle. The war doctrine includes taking out military targets and accepting resulting civilian deaths as justified by the aim. Devastation aids, even if a by product rather than the goal. The psychological aim is to traumatise by sheer brutality of weapons and force used.

        Problem is it does not work out that way.

        While not suggesting Israel wants to maximise civilian carnage, those civilian deaths are inevitable. Result is peace becomes further out of crasp. Hatred of Israel intensifies. More terrorists will rise up to replace those killed. Infrastructure and human capital is lost in an already impoverished Gaza.

        We cannot rewind the clock, but the autonomy given to Gaza should have been dependent on effective security against terrorism. The tunnels etc, and supplies of long range missiles do show a failure.

        Maybe Israel is damned if it responds, damned if it does not. But the heavy handed response will have lost it friends while some will no doubt scream louder with full throated support that to criticise Israel is to support Hamas.

        Which is most certainly not the case.

  5. Nap

    There is a documentary called ‘Occupation 101’ that won a lot of awards for displaying the ground realities in Gaza and West Bank. Though it largely took the Palestinian side, what is your opinion on that ?

    Also, since Israel is basically occupying the Palestinian lands and causing extraordinary hardships to people there, isn’t it the right of Palestinians to resist the occupation (of course, not by killing innocent Israelis) ? To that end, if they launch rockets that they know are going to be intercepted, and in the meantime, invite the wrath of the Israelis, are they justified in showing the world the heavy-handedness of Israel, or to at least get the attention of people across the world to the Palestinian suffering ? (twisted, and sick though it might be). As shown in the above documentary, experts agree that during the Oslo peace process also, the Palestinian condition only worsened and Israel continued to build settlements upon settlements in occupied territory, showing that it never intends to “free” the country.

    It was also shown in the documentary (and in the one called ‘The iron gate’) that the settlements are located strategically in places that makes sure there can never be a contiguous Palestinian territory, and giving its residents huge incentives to come and live in those settlements (residents living there were interviewed).

    I mean, all of this would just stop if Israel destroys its settlements from occupied territory, and stop controlling people’s lives in Palestine. No ? Give a generous share to the Palestinian state from which Palestinians were driven out en masse to form the state of Israel.

    I know its stupid, but could you please watch the above documentary, and write an article about what is wrong (if anything) in that documentary ? Sounded pretty convincing to me.

    • The issue would be Hamas rockets make a solution impossible. A peace solution means accepting the State of Israel. Some never will. Gaza is by all accounts an economically deprived area. Which the 2k odd missile strikes on it will not help.

      Israel probably knew it’s offer would be rejected by Arafat. I don’t know if we will ever get that close to peace again. But it will take tremendous restraint by Israel and a brave leadership on the other side to emerge.

      Not seen the documentary. Hamas have to be shown not to be the only game in town esp with proper investment in the area. Maybe then the path to peace might finally happen if Israel feels secure.

  6. A proportionate response is of course a response that renders the aggressor unable or unwilling to again break the peace.

    By this measure, previous Israeli responses to Hamas aggression have been disproportionate – much too soft, because here we are back at war again after an all too brief period of only relative calm.

  7. John, Seriously, I think the idea of “stopping the conflict” is too grand. At this point, the aim is to manage the conflict, with the aim of enabling Israelis to live in peace as much as possible.
    I’d also be overjoyed to see the Palestinians improve their conditions, But that’s primarily up to them. Perhaps someday the Arab spring will come to Gaza and the West Bank (and not quickly descend into winter). I’m not holding my breath, though.

  8. P.S. I did notice that the discussion of “proportionate response” here was about specific incidents, But that’s largely a parlour game, as we don’t have the information needed to make informed comments.
    Was it worth it for 17 bystanders to die in order to hit one Hamas commander?
    Here’s a partial list of what we don’t know:
    Were they actually innocent by standers or were some or all Hamas operatives? Our information on casualties comes primarily from an area controlled by a terrorist group, and we know that part of their strategy is to exaggerate casualties and, indeed, to cause civilian casualties on their own side.
    What did Israel know ahead of time as opposed to what (we think) we know in hindsight? Did Israel believe the target was more isolated or surrounded exclusively or primarily by Hamas operatives?
    What was the target? Was it just the one Hamas commander or were there other legitimate targets at the house – other Hamas operatives and/or missiles or other munitions?
    Were the deaths caused by the Israeli missile or by secondary explosions?

    I could go on all morning. I think the point should be clear: absent detailed information, we cannot make realistic judgements.

    • This is the latest on the incident I refer to:

      He survived. Two year old and 13 year old family members among the dead (seven children up to age 28).

      Point is – target family home of an alleged operative (it works both ways the parlour game) you will get family and civilian casualties. Targeting rocket launch sites/ammo dumps in a civilian area plays out differently compared to this.

      But we could ask how accurate information is or precise, and whether civil servants rather than terrorists are being considered legitimate targets.

      Regards your other comment, my point is we do need a lasting peace or else this will keep happening. Key thing is all sides agreeing a ceasefire. Than work from there to prepare groundwork for negotiations to begin. Not suggesting it’s just a matter of screaming “No more.”

  9. Pingback: Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Antisemitism | Homo economicus' Weblog

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