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The Killing in Gaza Has to Stop
Israel must regain its moral compass
It is time for the western powers to recognize that the massacre by the Nazis of millions of Jews 75 years ago does not give the Israelis today the right to massacre Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. What Israel is doing, with the western nations, particularly the US egging them on, is senseless savagery which can only increase the likelihood of yet more bloodshed while playing havoc with the delicate international balance.
The current ratio of dead Palestinians to Israelis since Hamas staged its barbaric invasion on October 7 from Gaza is about 5:1, according to the news media, a considerable distance to go to reach the 10:1 kill ratio that the Israeli Defense Force maintains on the West Bank. But the IDF seems to mean to reach that goal.
For better or worse and despite their tragic history, the Israelis are mostly of European and Russian origin who have been colonizing a land since 1947 that some of their semitic ancestors left behind over the past two millennia. The Palestinians, the Samaritans, the Fellahin (and many of their Jewish brethren) didn’t leave. Colonization, especially a colonization including apartheid, land appropriation, confinement, and subjugation, exacts a price. It was paid horribly on October 7 by the villages and kibbutzim near the border.
One hundred years after the League of Nations in 1923 gave Britain the Mandate to rule the former Ottoman territory of Palestine, "until such time as to be able to stand alone," the population of Jews has risen from about 10 percent to about 50 percent. The other half, about 7 million Palestinians, are variously under the Israeli thumb in Israel itself and the West Bank and at the mercy of Israeli bombs and tanks in Gaza. The United Nations’ vote to create Israel in 1947 may have been a humanitarian response to the Holocaust and antisemitism in Europe but was against the wishes of the Palestinian majority. Since the UN vote, the division of Palestine land under Israel's control, driven by religious zealots, has expanded continuously so it is not surprising that many, not just Arabs, see Israel as a product of British and US colonialism.
There is no way to reverse all of this but unless a way is found to address the genuine grievances of the Palestinians, more atrocities are inevitable. Indeed they become more likely as the very youthful population of Gaza survives to seek its own vengeance. Hamas's combination of violence, nationalism, and radical Islam is itself a reflection of the years of failure of secular Palestinians, Muslim and Christian, to achieve independence, justice and equality within the borders of the former Palestine mandate. Israel is not going away but decades of overwhelming firepower have simply increased alienation while western tacit support has enabled the expansionist right-wing in Israeli politics, headed by Netanyahu to give almost free rein to Jewish racism and land-grabbing.
Israel, whatever violence it is visiting in Gaza, cannot extinguish Palestinian resistance. The Palestinians’ thoughts of winning anything outside another monstrous pyrrhic spasm of violence are laughable.
The Hamas attackers, according to videos of those captured by the IDF, were given instructions to kill every male they encountered and to capture the women and children and commit unspeakable acts. They seem to have exceeded their remit, killing everybody they could see before packing off 200-odd luckless hostages back to Gaza. Delivery of a hostage got an award of a flat and US$10,00O, small enough reward in Gaza today, where the Israelis are seeking to make the rubble bounce, a trope left over from another unfortunate war. The raiders were told, according to one surviving Hamas combatant, to stomp on heads, to commit dreadful savagery. They seem to have taken on the task with enthusiasm given the reports of murdered babies (the body count varies depending on which western media you read or see).
Gaza is 41 km long and from 6 to 12 km wide. With around 2 million Palestinians forced onto 365 sq km, population density is comparable to Hong Kong’s. It is sealed off, with nowhere to run and increasingly nowhere to hide. The intention seems to be, as Tacitus famously said of the Romans in Gaul, to make a desert and call it peace. The body count so far, if you accept Palestinian figures, is at least 6,747 Palestinians, including 2,913 children, to 1,400 total in Israel. Nearly 600,000 Palestinians have been forced from their homes. The Israelis seem to have decided that, having been nearly exterminated 75 years ago, they have the moral high ground to at least run the kill ratio up to 10:1. Killing children by JDAM and Soltam M-71, it seems, is much more moral than by the bayonet.
It is not. The Jews’ history of near-extermination does not give the Israelis the right to consign a population whose land they usurped to apartheid. They continue to dispossess Palestinians of the land they have lived on for centuries, convinced they have the right as defined by their religious works to confine them, subjugate them, and in large measure drive them to the edge of extermination. Every new paroxysm of religious fundamentalism seems to result in the new theft of Palestinian land. The US, which gives Israel US$3 billion a year to bolster its defense, holds a considerable deterrent if it threatens to stop the money. But at least eight presidents have only thrown their hands aimlessly in the air while the theft of Palestinian lands continues. Hamas struck with unbelievable fury. There are indeed beheaded babies. But it is possible to see why there was this spasm of unspeakable violence. It is also understandable to see why a fair proportion of the rest of the world believes the Israelis had it coming.
What is not understandable is why Washington and the European capitals seem to be egging the Israelis on. President Joe Biden calls himself a Zionist. The Defense Department is diverting tens of thousands more 151 mm artillery shells from Ukraine for the Soltams to rain onto Palestinian heads. In the meantime, what Israel is doing in Gaza, with the backing of most of the EU and the US, is being cheered on by most of the US press. When the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Israel was responsible for clear violations of human rights, and called for an immediate ceasefire, Israel’s UN ambassador said Guterres should resign. There was much nodding of heads in the west.
This blind acceptance of Israel’s version of events is costing the United States and its European pilot fish in terms of the rest of the world, which has a clearer view of the Israelis, who, according to an April 2021 report by Human Rights Watch, “methodically privilege Jewish Israelis and discriminate against Palestinians. Laws, policies, and statements by leading Israeli officials make plain that the objective of maintaining Jewish Israeli control over demographics, political power, and land has long guided government policy. In pursuit of this goal, authorities have dispossessed, confined, forcibly separated, and subjugated Palestinians by virtue of their identity to varying degrees of intensity. In certain areas, these deprivations are so severe that they amount to the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.”
The western press has had a sorry record of charging in to cheer on both the US and the Israelis, as they have done too often in the Middle East. They seem to be doing it again. The problem with western media is years of conditioning by Washington and the level of representation of sympathetic journalists and editors in the major media. Another is a simple lack of historical knowledge combined with the fear of being branded antisemitic – the leftover legacy of the Holocaust. There is less media automatic acceptance of the Israeli line than used to be the case but nonetheless it is almost impossible for US politicians to be openly critical and call out apartheid.
The US government, having crowned itself Zionist, is paying for it in confusion and prestige in like amounts in much of the world and robbing it of its much more important attention to places where it serves as the world’s policeman, including Ukraine and the South China Sea, where Beijing is merrily taking advantage of the lack of American attention by seeking to bulldoze the Filipinos off the Second Thomas Shoal, with a PLA Coast Guard ship and an accompanying vessel ramming a Philippine coast guard ship and a military-run supply boat on October 22. Ironically, the Chinese claim to the South China Sea is founded on the same kind of fictional history the Israelis claim as their entitlement to the disputed lands that are now such a global flashpoint.
John Berthelsen and Philip Bowring are the founders of Asia Sentinel. While this subject is far outside of our geographical remit, we thought it too important to ignore