I’m not sure why I feel so strongly about the situation in Gaza. I think it is because injustice makes me angry, and hypocrisy and lies infuriate me. It is also because of the images, and words coming out of Gaza, the books I have read, and the people I have talked to. It is not possible, I believe, to read about the Palestinians and not feel that they have been the victims of 60 years of injustice, discrimination and violence at the hands of the Israeli government with the support of America and many other European and Western countries. I am, you should note, not talking about Hamas. I am talking about Palestinians. For Hamas I have no time. Unless their charter is changed, their armed wing disbanded, and violence renounced I would not consider supporting them for a moment.
In modern war there is always a media war too. One thing that is consistent about the Israeli media approach to the war is how “on message” all of the Israeli government representatives are. Even in New Zealand. On the day of the strike on the United Nations school in the Jabaliya Refugee Camp this is the message the Israeli Embassy in New Zealand put on its Facebook page:
I feel that this is an extraordinary message for the officials at the Israeli Embassy in New Zealand to put up, but it is a consistent theme on their page, the theme of Israel protecting and nurturing children.
I do not doubt for a moment that it is terribly, terribly stressful for the Israeli people living around Gaza. Hamas are firing rockets, three Israeli citizens have been killed, and even with Iron Dome there must be the sirens and the running to safe zones at all hours of the day and night. The woman and the baby in the photo above deserve every chance at a long and happy life, but in the context of the crisis unfolding in Gaza what I see when I look at this photo is a well-supplied, uncrowded hospital where nurture and care for the vulnerable can take place, and that is in stark contrast to the scenes and commentary coming out of the hospitals in Gaza which are in chaos dealing with the consequences of Israeli bombs, mortars and drone strikes.
As much as I dislike Hamas it is not possible to blame Hamas for the maiming and death of Palestinian children by the IDF, although we are told that it is Hamas’ fault. We are told this through images like the one at the top of the post, and posters like this:
This is a highly debatable point: whether Hamas use Palestinians as human shields. It is a debate worth getting to the bottom of, but in the first instance it is actually irrelevant. If – and this is very far from proven, and refuted by independent sources – Hamas did store weapons in a hospital, let’s say, then it would obviously be totally unacceptable to bomb that hospital because civilians and doctors and nurses and valuable medical resources are there. Even if Hamas are doing what the propaganda infographic is telling us, it does not make the lives of the civilians expendable. It makes Hamas contemptible, and the Israel’s offensive far more difficult, but it does not make civilian life expendable.
There is an astonishing lack of credibility to the information that the Israel in New Zealand Facebook page posts, but that information is imbued with the authority that government and military sources give their web pages and press releases. On 28 July, for example, we find a link to the inquiry into the bombing of the first UN School in Gaza:
BEHIND THE HEADLINES ON UNRWA SCHOOL: In light of the inquiry’s findings, the IDF rejects the claims that were made by various officials immediately following the incident, that people were killed in the school premises as a result of IDF operational activity.
This inquiry was conducted by the IDF. The credibility of an army investigating itself during war is extremely low.
I accept the right of Israel to defend itself, and the evidence of the Hamas tunnels looks pretty clear cut. Israel certainly has a right to put those tunnels out of action. It also has the right to expect that it will not have rockets fired at its citizens. But in the matter of rights we either all have them or none of us do. The people of Palestine also have the right to expect that they will not have rockets fired at them, or that they will not be blockaded, or exiled, or degraded at the whim of another people and their government. Martin Luther King understood it: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. If you wanted to know about injustice you could listen to the story of any number of Palestinians from the age of 9 to 90.
But then again, if we believe the news that appears on the Facebook and Twitter feeds of Israel in New Zealand, we shouldn’t even believe that so many have been killed. Israel in New Zealand links to an article from The Times of Israel that disputes Palestinian casualty figures.
As of Friday at 3 p.m. [28 July], the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported, 857 Palestinians had been killed, 649 of them civilians, of whom 194 were children.
That final figure is crushing. Even if it is highly inflated, and some of the children are actually teens who took part in the warfare, there is no stepping around the enormity of the tragedy for the families in Gaza.
Look how they do step around it though: “Even if it is highly inflated, and some of the children are actually teens who took part in the warfare”. Teens? Like 13 and 14? And what does “took part” mean – they threw stones?
The article goes on:
The Meir Amit Intelligence and Information Center found, on July 23, that 775 people had been killed in Gaza, of whom 229 were militants or terrorists (135 Hamas, 60 Islamic Jihad, 34 from other terror organizations); 267 were civilians; and 279 could not yet be classified.
The main thing to note is that the Meir Amit Intelligence and Information Centre maintains an office at the IDF headquarters and was set up by a retired Colonel from the IDF which means that this is not a news article but a press release from the IDF.
Israel in New Zealand has also tweeted a link to the Canon Media Awards 2014 Best Blog – Whale Oil – which informs us, among many other things, of how gullible the Western media is when it sees people being rushed past on stretchers in Gaza and calls them bodies (“A closer look reveals the “body” is very much alive, not a drop of blood on him and is quite happily moving his arms and even seems to be holding the cloth over his face with the other hand as he is carried past the waiting cameras in a staged Pallywood performance of a civilian casualty. I bet the rag over his face is concealing the biggest grin as the media swallows every bit of it hook line and sinker”). I wouldn’t care to speculate on this particular clip, but I suspect that Gaza right now is not an elaborate film set with actors milling around waiting to stage scenes for the foreign press.
It is this kind of commentary however that leads to a big problem. It leads us all to cynicism, a place where we believe only that no one is innocent and no one can be trusted so we had better not try to make an effort to understand. I think this is wrong. I think it is possible to think and read and ask questions and arrive at something that is mostly accurate. I feel confident that I know enough to be able to say that every civilian death is wrong regardless of which side they are on, and that a government that kills civilians in large numbers and tries to shift the blame is doing wrong. A government that kills civilians and posts pictures of itself protecting the very population it is ripping apart is engaged in harmful and insulting propaganda against the victims it has created and it should be told so.
I am sending my post to @IsraelinNZ. You should tweet them too, or find them on Facebook.